Online Yet Offline
What a year it has been for all of us. A pandemic that has overstayed its welcome. Unwelcome additions added to our everyday outfits in our face masks and our hand sanitisers. Zoom has become our place to hang out and meet people virtually. We have become more dependent on our phones and gadgets than ever. Life is not the same!
What changed most though was the look and feel of the church. Every Christian no matter which church or denomination they are from, has a tendency to look forward to a Sunday just because it keeps the week anchored in some sense. Or even if not anchored, it provides a clear start to a new week. For a year now this gathering has shifted into an online experience where the entire service is either pre-recorded or live and available for church members and non-church members to access and view whenever they are free. ‘What ease!’ ‘What convenience’ ‘What technology can do!’
While these were the obvious responses in the early days of lockdown in 2020 these changed over the next many months to ‘I'm online already too much. I need a break' 'Not another zoom gathering.' 'I prefer face to face meetings' 'The worship is not working for me' and a whole bunch of other comments from the global Christian community.
The interesting thing though, is that as church planters our view widened. Our perspective shifted. We began to really understand what the Body of Christ looked like. We saw how we may be diverse yet we are so similar. We found our common ground in learning to care for fellow believers in remote and learning to stay awake on issues that affected the world and not just our little bubble shaped world.
We church leaders found in zoom a lifesaver where much time and resources were saved with gatherings beginning and ending on time while also giving us extra time to fellowship with each other. Wow! Technology is a blessing! The church may have been shaken up but it's of the good kind where we have stopped being so inward focussed and have begun to look around us and see where we can step in or at least lend a helping hand. We have stopped being about a location but about hearts and minds transformed by Christ wherever we are and in whatever we do.
My heart still aches though, for those who have not ventured back into the community. For those who choose isolation over the risky yet great blessing of community. For those who avoid the study groups and the fellowship times and keep to themselves because it's become easier that way.
I was reading the book of Judges in my quiet time last week and this inconspicuous passage got my attention. It's from Judges 18:27-29
“But the people of Dan took what Micah had made, and the priest who belonged to him, and they came to Laish, to a people quiet and unsuspecting, and struck them with the edge of the sword and burned the city with fire. And there was no deliverer because it was far from Sidon, and they had no dealings with anyone. It was in the valley that belongs to Beth-Rehob. Then they rebuilt the city and lived in it. And they named the city Dan, after the name of Dan their ancestor, who was born to Israel; but the name of the city was Laish at the first.”
The people of Laish were good people. There is no doubt about that. Unfortunately, they had no allies not even in neighbouring Sidon which was quite a distance away. The town was in a valley enclosed and isolated. Do you see where I'm going with this? Good people, isolated and having no dealings with anyone else were attacked and wiped out by the tribe of Dan from Israel and the town was renamed to Dan after their ancestor. I definitely do not endorse a gloom and doom message from just this passage but I do want us to see the picture that this offers. Isolation and a lack of community will be detrimental to anyone. Our mental health, our physical wellness and our spiritual tenacity are all built in the context of community. Without being connected to a faith community we cannot expect to grow in our faith nor can we be in genuinely enriching relationships. While no church is perfect in this respect, every church has God's grace and the Holy Spirit's anointing upon it for the people who call it home and who choose to walk into it.
It's time we all take a chance again at church.
We can no longer say that we are hurt by the church or are afraid of relationships in the church because of the past because like the writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 10:24-25
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
You see from this passage that the past cannot control what the future is going to hold unless we allow it to. The future doesn't promise to be easy and so as the day (the second coming of Christ) approaches, we need to be all the more connected to one another, leaning on each other, supporting one another and praying earnestly for each other. Alone, we will be ripe prey for the enemy to knock us out. Together, we will be stronger, more equipped and battle-ready alongside fellow warriors with their swords and shields in place. I don't know about you- but I want to find myself surrounded with the beloved of God rather than to find myself alone, safe from a disease-ridden and complicated world, yet fighting my battles with no armour bearers insight.
Will you take the dive into community again? Don't wait till it's too late. Maybe your church only meets online but they have different midweek groups that meet online - why not venture into those and see how God shows up there. He is the God of online church and on-site church.
He is present in that Zoom meeting room same as that old church hall. His power is not different for an online service. Worship doesn't need a live band or the greatest equipment to light His face up. You being present and being fully committed to hearing Him and obeying Him and loving His people is an act of worship in itself.
Let's dive into a new season of church fully prepared to adapt and become the church of Jesus!
"The True Church can never fail. For it is based upon a rock."
~ T S Elliot
Contributed by Gershom