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ChurchNext III: The Need for Real Community in an Online World

COVID-19 has necessitated many worldwide shifts, but it is of paramount importance that we don’t cut ourselves off from community

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The ChurchNext series is a collection of conversations with pastors and prophets from around the world, to canvass thoughts surrounding the unique events that the year 2020 has presented us. This is the third in a series of articles from that conversation.

What would you say to someone who tells you, “I can watch church from home. I can watch church on-demand.  I’ll fellowship with other believers on my own schedule. I have no need to go back to regular services.”

Katia Adams (Senior Pastor and Founder, The Table Boston, USA): The biblical imperative is meeting together – do not give up meeting together. Unless you’re in the context of persecution, work harder to knit together.  Any kind of online church is the second option. The first goal is to meet together.

Sanctification, the work of the Spirit, evangelism – in a biblical context these things are always done in community. The simplest, the most beautiful picture of God is community, the Father, Son, and Spirit. That’s how He operates. The Church is an extension of His image, and what he looks like can never be done in isolation. It must always be in community.

I would say that you’re being unbiblical if you’re not part of a regular community. The ideology that says, “I am the church, therefore I don’t need anyone else,” is contrary to any of the Biblical pictures of the Church. When Paul wrote, he addressed the church in Galatia, in Rome, in Colosse. We want to create communities that look like heaven on earth. We show the world what community can actually look like.

One of the central values of the Gospel is that my life is not about me. The world, and the culture of the world, is so me-centric – it’s all about me, everything must be built to my preference. It’s all about my truth and my thoughts. If we’re not careful, the church can get sucked into this same culture and these values of the world, where we build Christianity around my preferences and my schedule.

Katia Adams speaking to a church visitor at The Table Boston, USA, 2020

 

In the wisdom of God, He created His Body to be shaped, so that we can bear with one another and prefer one another. It is designed to draw us into a kingdom that is not about ourselves, but to understand what it looks like to walk alongside others in a greater adventure.

In a world that increasingly says, “Go online and follow your own schedule,” we need to go out of our way to be in community. Submitting to the preferences of others and bearing with the weaknesses of others is a crucial element of following the purposes of the Kingdom.

Another emphasis I would give is that the sacrament of communion is so important, and it can only be done in community. Breaking bread, drinking the cup, and remembering the Body of Christ only has its ultimate expression in community. We can do it as a personal discipline, but Jesus commanded us to keep His supper in community, in remembrance of Him.

So something is wrong with our theology if we are okay with disconnecting from the Body. You can’t have the Head without the Body.

Vincent Lun (Senior Pastor, Kingdom Community Church, Singapore): I will say we need to go back to the Bible, and ask what it means to be a disciple of Christ. We need to examine how discipleship takes place effectively, and what it means to be part of a local church.

“Jesus’s model of discipleship is relational discipleship.” -Vincent Lun

Jesus’s model of discipleship is relational discipleship.  This can only happen when we are living in community with one another and when the local church becomes a biblically functioning community.

A certain level of relationship building can be done online but there must be sufficient in-person interactions for a deeper level of community and mutual accountability to take place.

You can learn a lot from sermons online but you cannot build a relationship with the preachers.  Paul reminded the believers in Corinth, “ For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (1 Cor 4:15).

The downside of such “church on demand” is that it may cultivate a consumer mentality.  Church and Christianity can become just another commodity to make life better. This is one of the greatest threats to our spirituality.

Benny Ho (Senior Pastor, Faith Community Church, Perth, Australia): COVID-19 has been a separator.  It has separated the committed from the crowd.  I have observed that those who are committed became more committed but those who are on the fringe have literally walked away.

I would want them to know that even though the online church is here to stay, we must be very clear that there are certain aspects of our faith that cannot find its full expression online.

If people are not wanting to come back to physical gatherings based on convenience, I will want them to consider if they have bowed their knees to the god of convenience.  The very act of getting out of bed on a Sunday morning, getting changed and driving to the gathering of God’s people for worship is an act of consecration.

One concern I do have is that there is a certain passivity that has set over the church due to the online experience.  Christianity has been turned into a spectator sport.  We have gotten so used to just watching the screen that the level of worship engagement and Word receptivity has gone down.  Those who have returned to physical gathering are worshipping with less intensity and lower engagement.  It takes longer to get people to respond to altar calls after the preaching of the Word compared to pre-COVID-19.  This is a matter of grave concern to many pastors.

This is the third part of our Church Next series of conversations. Part four will be coming soon, and in the meantime check out our previous conversations:

ChurchNext I: What Shifts Are Necessary in the Church?

ChurchNext II: Will the Church Look the Same after COVID-19?