Years ago before social media, televangelists and online ministries people would walk to a pastor’s home for advice. If they didn’t think it was such a serious matter they’d share with a friend or a few in the fellowship. But life has changed. We now live on one end of the city and go to church on the other side. Our favourite men of God live in a different continent from us. We send our prayers across the seas with a small gift to make sure they are answered. And anonymity means we can share very personal issues to strangers and get advice from people removed from our local context.
But while there are benefits that comes from this global village church I think there’s a lot we overlook. You see the most gifted televangelist can do very little pastoring to us with the millions who follow them. The renowned life coach can only truly walk and do life with a few. And though anonymity allows us to open up to a stranger they’ll never do what God intended for the local church to do.
Think about it, Jesus chose to be born in a small village in the first century and walk with a group of 12 men for most of his ministry. You’d think if he waited a few more centuries, technology would have given him a global ministry. But would Jesus do it that way today? Would he have 3k friends he doesn’t know? Would he run his ministry behind a desktop or have a mega church?
I think Jesus would still go for the smaller group. I doubt the effectiveness of these online ministries that sit in America to pastor a Kenyan based here. I acknowledge the resources they avail for smaller churches. I’m not ignorant that we have all been blessed by talks and articles written by men of God far abroad. But I still think a brother at church would be more appropriate to walk with. I know God hears prayers from any corner of the world but I think you might see more practical answers in the life of a local fellowship.
But the question we need to ask is how come this is not happening in our churches. Why do we prefer going to a stranger for advice? How come we send our prayer requests to a man of God overseas when we have a local fellowship? Why are we doing life with strangers when we have the blessing of a local church? We need to do more reflection here especially for us in Christian ministry. But I can think of at least 3 reasons why.
The Boldness of Anonymity
Social Media thrives on anonymity. The fact that I can have 3k “friends” most of whom I have never met says a lot. That I can post and comment on people’s lives with little knowledge of their unique context. And more so that I can share my mind, build an audience and make a ministry out of it while sitting on my desk. It’s scary to imagine that’s the future of the church. That this is where teaching and discipleship will happen. That it’s easier to approach a life coach abroad or even within the country as long as they don’t know me personally.
There’s a boldness that comes with anonymity but I don’t think we get what we need. Life is a bit more complicated and sometimes it’s not answers we need. Sometimes we just want to vent to someone. Sometimes what looks like the end of a marriage is just a missing step in communication. I think only those committed to walk with us in the thin and thick can genuinely help. It’s those who really know us, our temperaments and shortcomings that can truly help us. And God in his sovereign wisdom has designed the local fellowship of believers and the leadership of that not so popular pastor to be where we find such refuge.
Megachurches and Small Group Dilemma
The rise of mega churches without intentionality with small group fellowships has created a church of strangers. This is where you sit next to a new person every Sunday. Where you talk to a pastor once a year and you don’t have a single friend from church. Worse with online ministries anybody can become a pastor and form a fellowship with little care of the 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 criteria. And even less concern for God’s flock as long as their brand sells.
Small group fellowships opens a door to do life together especially if the church is intentional. It gives you brothers and sisters to vent with before going on Facebook. It allows people to walk with us not only when we are facing big issues but in the normal mundane life issues. The fellowship of the word in the company of brothers and sisters in the faith also prepares us for future eventualities. This is where discipleship happens as we open the word and walk together. You’d find greater help with a bunch of Christian friends who know your specific life circumstances than a self proclaimed life coach out there.
The Rise of Individualism
Perhaps the reason we like anonymity and why small groups and small local churches aren’t popular is because we’ve learnt to do life solo. Most people think this is a problem of the Western church but I think it’s also the reality especially in our cities. We don’t like people getting into our business. We want to go, hear God’s word and go home. If we like the sermon we’ll give but don’t ask us to commit to anything more. We want a church mall. I come pick and choose and go home without the attendants bothering with what I do out there.
Social Media doesn’t help it either because I can also pick and choose who to friend request and who to follow as long as they tell me what I want to hear. Perhaps before we blame the church and the local fellowship we need to ask ourselves how are we letting ourselves be known? How are we availing ourselves to help and be helped? Perhaps we need to deal with our favourite man inside first. We need to challenge him to go out, to stay a bit longer after the sermon, to get out of social media and talk to real people.
Where do we go from here?
We need to realise that though Technology has many benefits there are things that are better the old fashioned way. Isn’t it scary that today with all our advancement in science and technology we have more social and mental health issues. How strange that someone can be surrounded by a sea of “friends” yet remain so lonely. That we can have access to the most professional counselors out there and yet feel so lost and confused.
Maybe we should go back in time. Try walking with a few friends. Belong to a real and local fellowship where you can be known, serve, be encouraged and corrected. Go to your local pastor before sharing your issues on Social Media. If we tried this we might be surprised just how healing the normal life of a local church is to our deep seated anxieties.