Meditations (Web)Church

A year (and a bit) in the life of NewSpring's first Web pastor

Web Church challenges, part 3: Is it dangerous?

with 4 comments

Part 1, of this blog series bidding goodbye to web pastoring focused on the Biblical warrant for only physical church planting. And Part 2 questioned whether web churches might be helpful in discipling believers into local churches.

In this final post, I reach the end of my thoughts on web church – and the end of my time as NewSpring web pastor – praising God for the opportunity to learn so much in such a short time about pastoring in an environment that will define our world over the next 50 years.

I also want to honor the many serious and astute pastors and church leaders dedicated to the cause of Christ who are seeking to “pioneer” the new mission field of the Internet. I was one of them, and I saw instantly the tremendous need to connect with the “lost sheep” in our communities who would never find their way to a local church, or who might not be willing to give faith a chance were it not for the easy on ramps and off ramps that the web offers.

My contention is simply this: The web church doesn’t solve any problems that Jesus hasn’t prepared and equipped the church to handle in the past, the present, or the future by physical means. In fact, the Web church may, in time, cause problems for the larger church that are harder to fix than the original problem of the declining evangelistic power of our physical church communities.

For perspective on a similar effort to analyze “online church,” I would refer to Paul Steinbrueck’s series of posts, although I was not aware of it until after writing.

So far, the argument for online church has tended to revolve around whether we can constitute churches in the online space with a kind of “functional equivalency” to the real thing to the do the work others can’t or won’t.

I would question why we wouldn’t work to invest in and improve the original disciplemaking “machine” — physical church as defined by Romans 12 and Corinthians 12 — rather than settle for a simulation?

I see a disturbing trend of online church attenders, if they are not also connected to local churches, behaving like “super-consumers” chasing the best teaching or the best worship or the convenience of the web church every week. Few of these people are “churchless” in any true sense of the word. They’ve decided their local churches simply aren’t good enough.

The danger is as obvious as it is serious: web church “gatherings” could create an even more deceptive path than “lone-ranger Christianity” for the unchurched and the dechurched to sidestep the sometimes ugly but always sanctifying realities of true church membership. And all the while, they may believe that this partial experience is, in fact, reflective of true Christian community.

There’s a chilling bonus danger, too: Physical churchgoers who attend online churches only for extra teaching, might also, almost imperceptibly, begin to question their commitment, participation and submission to their local church.

One of the intriguing aspects of the web church was the potential for the Internet’s powerful network effects to bring people together, expose them to values and beliefs, and provide a supportive environment for faith. I saw the possibility of the web overcoming the isolation and disruption of physical community in especially modern, western, urban societies, which has aggravated the decline of institutional churches over the last 150 years.

But it occurs to me that these network effects, while real, may be too open and fluid for them to produce adequate spiritual formation over the long haul. And they may be too distributed to create the epidemic-style effects of true community revival.

Only physical relationships anchored in time and space — and now perhaps leveraged through the web — can provide the relational density and relational layering over time to maximally expand the reach of our faith and, most importantly, deepen the lived-understanding of our faith needed for orthodoxy and orthopraxis.

I know I haven’t thought this through nearly enough, but it seems to me that there’s just a spiritual power to proximity and “locality” that we must continue to pursue — and that Jesus meant for us to pursue.

Again, the bottom line is not whether the Web Church can do anything spiritually fruitful.

My question is whether all the effort in the Web Church reflects a Biblical missiology that is likely to produce the kind of rapidly growing, robust, orthodox Christian communities of faith long term that will leave the church healthier than it is now.

What do you think?

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Written by NickCharalambous

March 14, 2010 at 3:54 pm

4 Responses

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  1. Bottom line: God’s Grace.
    My criticism of modern church thinking is that much effort and time is spent on finding the right way to do something, whether it is corporate congregational activity or personal spiritual endeavors.
    So what?
    None of our reaching for God or reaching out to others as one of God’s redeemed is perfect. All of our efforts, as indicated in the scriptures, are “as filthy rags.”
    We walk in God’s grace. As Martin Luther said, “Sin boldly.” The context is that we should accept the unmerited mercy of God in our lives through Christ, both in its redemptive nature for eternal salvation, but also in its moment-by-moment walk with the Spirit as we fearlessly reach out to others in the love motivated by our forgiveness.
    God will find a way to use the internet for good even as Satan finds a way to use it for evil. Anyone heard of dynamite or atomic power? Both have uses that are beneficial and also uses that harm others.
    Christians need not second-guess others who are using the internet. Of course there are possible problems. But we must boldly move to use all means to proclaim the love, joy, and peace of Jesus. The net is just one means.
    Just like the flawed perspective that the use of computers can create a paperless society, it is best to to think that technology will supplement and enhance the purpose and effectiveness of the local congregation with individual Christians touching the lives of each other and using that relationship to move out into the world.
    The angels in heaven rejoice if someone is brought to Christ and then becomes another voice for Him, even if through technology.

    Rich Steinbrueck

    March 15, 2010 at 9:03 am

    • I agree with you that we cannot anticipate the way God will use technology, and that we must use all means to proclaim the love, joy and peace of Jesus. As you state, there’s a huge amount of opportunity to leverage the ordinary work of every church in America using these new, powerful technologies. However, I’m not sure I fully buy into the idea that there isn’t a right way and a wrong way to make a disciple. The ways we reach people for Jesus communicate just as much as the message we’re preaching. And how we live for Christ is the true demonstration of whether we truly love him and trust in him. I think it’s more than fair to question whether some evangelistic activity, such as reconstituting the church, the very core of God’s plan of salvation, from an embodied community to a disembodied spiritual network, is more likely to lead to true discipleship than others.

      NickCharalambous

      March 15, 2010 at 10:51 am

  2. […] My contention is simply this: The web church doesn’t solve any problems that Jesus hasn’t prepar…. […]

  3. […] Web Church Challenges, parts 1, 2, and 3 […]


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