So this is our reality at the moment, social distancing and the onslaught of everything virtual. As we adapt ourselves to these necessary transitions, there are just a couple of observations that I’ve been thinking about. As one who tries to operate with a Kingdom mindset, and knowing that God will use every challenge and circumstance to move His plans and purposes forward, I’m asking simply “Lord what do we need to be watching for here?”, and basically “Lord what are you up to?”
As I hold those questions before Him, there are a couple of things I’m feeling we need to be aware of and be careful for, especially as it pertains to the church and how we relate to one another. Now I know at the moment there are different schools of thought, generally one being the church should maybe take some extra precautions but it’s not going to stop us from meeting no matter who says no matter what, and the other that we totally submit to whatever edict comes down and totally alter or cancel our programs. I’m not endorsing either one of those camps, the fact is we do need to be wise, and we do need to be creative in these unique times.
So the answer has been for the most part, understandably so, that the church move to a “virtual” existence as much as possible. While this is a necessary course of action in the short term, I sense a danger in becoming too comfortable in relying on the “virtual experience” moving forward. Just from a variety of comments that I’ve heard, such as “I really loved being able to just turn on the livestream from the comfort of my living room”, and from a ministry leader, “Wow we had more people viewing online that we’ve ever had at one of our services, maybe we’re on to something”, gives me cause for concern. Not that there was really anything wrong with either of those comments, they do highlight the value that technology has in communicating to people, but if we start to think that this should be our new reality, or as a viable replacement for an “in person” experience we are dead wrong.
The onslaught of social media and our reliance on it, has in fact moved us to becoming less socially connected in many ways. And our fascination with all things virtual, from games to a “virtual reality” experience, which is anything but “real” has become commonplace in our culture.
Just as virtual reality is no reality at all, virtual church is church in name only – it is nothing like what Jesus died for and what was birthed by the Holy Spirit as we see in scripture.
How so? In the unerring wisdom of God, we are created to be connected to one another, to be fitly joined together, and in so doing to be conformed to the image of Jesus. The church was established in the context of doing life together, in close proximity, in covenantal relationship. It was in this context that we were to “make disciples”, and to put on display the glory of Jesus as we loved one another as He commanded us and as He exemplified for us (John 13:34). It is in covenant relationship, bearing with one another and forgiving one another as we do life in close proximity that we most completely “become like Jesus”, which is our main purpose in life.
Social distancing is good for now to achieve a desired purpose but it cannot become the new norm and something we become accustomed to. Virtual church has its place for the same reason, but it must not be a substitute for the original design. If it does surely we will be incapable of carrying out our mandate to fulfill “The Great Commandment” and the “Great Commission”. Virtual church may be able to communicate the gospel message but it is incapable of making disciples and loving God and others in practical ways.