Meditations (Web)Church

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

Parting thoughts on my year as NewSpring’s Web Campus pastor, part 1

with 14 comments

(Update: You can read the other three parts of this blog series, here, here and here.)

A new chapter in NewSpring’s web ministry begins Sunday with the launch of NewSpringLive, a live streaming webcast of each of our four Sunday services on the Anderson campus.

The new webcast replaces the “Web Service,” which was launched in February 2009 as an experiment in “online church” but evolved quickly to become an environment focused on leveraging web attenders and seekers toward local churches.

The webcast continues to allow us to serve attenders of our physical campuses who cannot make it to church and to offer an extra teaching resource to the broader movement of the gospel in the world. What it doesn’t do is make any promises — real or implied — that this can or should replace physical church attendance over the short, medium or long term.

It was humbling and, frankly, scary to have the opportunity to begin my ministry career in such a pioneering role. I learned quickly the healthy desperation for God’s guidance that every good pastor needs. This blog now stands as an archive to the values, ideas, and debates that framed my work in this area of ministry.

Some of what I wrote now makes me wince because of its naivety. Some is no longer relevant given the changing online environment. But I believe some of what I wrote may have been written with prophetic force that may remain useful to church leaders and pastors who are only now engaging in this area.

Over the next few posts, I plan to offer some personal observations about the “Web Campus” phenomenon and to suggest a few ways we might be able to evaluate its spiritual health.

The change to a pure “webcast” is, I think, another triumph of NewSpring’s “simple church” philosophy, a reflection of our pastor Perry Noble’s single-minded desire to stay focused on the vision God has given him as well as a demonstration of the humility we try and bring to everything we do for Jesus’ fame.

Technology offers the church amazing opportunities to bring God glory. But when it comes to the church Christ died for, there’s no reason to doubt that the Biblical bedrock of all our efforts to multiply the faith is the planting of real, physical churches until the glory of God covers the earth.

We can and should discuss how churches must remain culturally relevant.

We can and should explore ways to extend onto the web the relational bonds that are the basis of disciple-making.

But I don’t see anything in the history of civilization or technology that warrants departing from the priority of preaching the Gospel of Christ within local, physical bodies of believers under right authority and rightly administering the sacraments.

More than 1,000 people on average joined us for one of our interactive “Web Services” each week during the year that NewSpring experimented with the video-chatroom form of online church that has been popularized by LifeChurch.tv and inspired many others.

We recorded more than 120 decisions for Christ.

We enabled hundreds of conversations that reminded people in need of the hope in Christ.

And we were used by God in his sovereign glory in many thousands of instances to bring his children one step closer to him.

But as great church leaders such as Perry Noble have discovered through the ages, the mark of our surrender to Christ is when we are willing to sacrifice our ministry success for the sake of surrender to God’s plan for His church; when we forego the good idea for the God idea.

Written by NickCharalambous

March 5, 2010 at 4:47 pm

Digging SimChurch

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I’ve been excited about Doug Estes book SimChurch ever since I heard about it in the spring.

I’ve been among a number of web pastors/bloggers who have been trying to break through the resistance to online church by explaining both what we are trying to do and not trying to do.

But I’ve been looking forward to someone with credibility and maturity offering up a reasonable, respectable and theologically sound book-length case for why gathering as the church online can be powerful and God-honoring. (Books still seem to be the ultimate path to credibility, no?)

If the Q&A with Doug Estes at ChurchRelevance.com was anything to go by, all practitioners of online church might be strengthened and encouraged — and in some cases humbled, no doubt — by the book.

I was nodding my head all the way through.

(And, selfishly, it was comforting to see echoes of many positions I’ve expressed here over the last year.)

This quote really stood out for me:

“… a lot of testimonies from virtual churchgoers that I saw, read, heard, or heard about are in fact from people the world would write off—but why would the church do this? Just because a person feels uncomfortable in a Western-style brick and mortar church makes them unworthy of Christian community?”

I would read the whole interview. And buy the book.

Written by NickCharalambous

October 22, 2009 at 10:21 am

Posted in ruminations

A tuneup for the NewSpring Web Service

with 5 comments

It doesn’t feel like 8 months since NewSpring launched Sunday worship services on the Web, and it’s hard to believe how much they have become a part of NewSpring life for nearly 800 people week after week who otherwise wouldn’t be able to be part of the NewSpring family.

Everyone knew online services are a major opportunity to expand NewSpring’s mission to spread the word about Jesus and see people far from Christ come to know him as Lord and Savior.

But we also knew that it was the kind of experiment that would lead us into territory whose theology and methodology was far from clear, and for which we would beg desperately for God’s grace and leading.

No one felt that dangerous tension more than me, as NewSpring’s first “web pastor” — and a non-ministry, non-religious professional at that.

Anyone who’s followed this blog can trace the “arc” of my thinking.

From the early excitement about how Web services could pioneer a new frontier in church growth, offering a response to a post-Christian world where “going to church” is not the first or natural place one thinks to encounter a life-giving spiritual message.

To a prophetic recognition that our use of the Web will radically and inevitably reshape the way we minister to one another and worship.

To a sobering view of the practical challenges of ministering in an online environment where the motivations, learnings, and behaviors of attenders are hard to fathom and even more difficult to guide.

And finally — now — to a theological “peace” about the fact that worship on the Web is just another tool in realizing and actualizing the “visible church.” As messy, flawed, inspiring, and incomplete as any gathering of believers in a sanctuary in Anytown, USA.

The last month of silence on this blog has coincided with a refining of the vision of the NewSpring Web Service that focuses the vision, resources and efforts of everyone on our team toward maxing out our opportunity for evangelism.

There’s a lot we don’t know about how to “do church” online. And we want to be humble as we seek to shepherd people online. We certainly don’t want to — inadvertently, naively — lower the bar for what it means to belong to and “be” the church.

But what we do know is that the Web gives us an opportunity — just like the printing press, radio and television before it — to spread the message of God in a new world without boundaries — geographic, temporal or cultural.

I came to know Jesus because NewSpring did everything in its power to remove barriers to hearing, believing and living the Gospel of Jesus.

As long as there are people who are intimidated to step foot in church …

As long as there are people who have never heard the good news of Jesus …

As long as there are people who do not live near a church where Jesus is lifted up …

The NewSpring Web Service will be valued, needed and used.

We figure that when people are connecting and engaging and surrendering to Jesus, that’s when we have the true opportunity to disciple people into local, physical, grace-filled and grace-giving communities of faith that are God’s plan A for glorifying himself through his son Jesus Christ.

Perhaps we don’t need to reinvent the church online? Perhaps the wisest thing to do is work with other Christ-centered churches and courageous church planters to help seed communities of faith?

Our strategy is to be OK in taking this journey one faith step at a time.

if you’re active in web ministry and web evangelism, where are you on this learning curve?

Written by NickCharalambous

August 27, 2009 at 10:19 am

Posted in ruminations

“The local sermon is crumbling”

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A few months ago, I caused quite a stir with my post “The Rise of Net Campuses: Are Local Churches on the Ropes?” It picked up 903 page views, and dozens of comments, which in my opinion far outclassed the quality of my ideas.

In a post that seems to take up where I left off, Matthew Anderson challenged evangelicals to “properly articulate why the Church gathers and hears the Word of God, and then shapes its churches accordingly, [or] we will continue to be co-opted by technologism.”

I think Anderson is right to suggest that the “local sermon is crumbling” amid the abundance of excellent teaching now available online — in video podcasts, live web services, and even services like VideoTeaching.com. In fact, Kent Shaffer wrote an excellent blog series on why VideoTeaching.com is the next big church model.

NewSpring is a multi-site church, so I obviously believe in the power of video teaching as it is used in the context of a local body of believers overseen by a local pastor.

But where I worry is not that mediocre local teaching will be superseded by excellent remote teaching, but that this trend will be accompanied by an erosion of understanding of the importance of both local gathering and local authority.

Ecclesiology isn’t sexy in church circles. And I don’t think it packs pews or auditoriums. But the stakes are high enough that we need to do better in explaining the importance of being the church in a local context, and why membership of the “universal church” is not sufficient.

Typically, we cast the importance of local church as the ministry of the body. But I wonder whether it has to be more expansive even than that, perhaps along the lines of Frank Viola’s recent musings on Ekklesia and discipleship.

Anderson will be debating Andrew Jones as part of the Christian Web Conference at Biola in September.

I’m going to do my best to be there. It should be fun.

Written by NickCharalambous

July 31, 2009 at 9:40 am

Posted in ruminations

The Big Question

with 3 comments

“Instead of asking, “Is virtual community real community?” Let’s spend more time considering “What is Biblical community?” Which leads us to consider “How can technology assist the life of a Biblical community?” — Drew Goodmanson, Is Online Community Real Community?

Wisdom.

Check out Matthew Lee Anderson’s response.

Does an online community of believers function as the body of Christ is exactly the standard by which we should be testing church online.

That’s why I’m increasingly more comfortable thinking about the web as a ministry tool, not an actualization of the visible church.

Agreed?

Written by NickCharalambous

July 30, 2009 at 2:42 pm

Posted in ruminations

Eavesdropping on the soul in the statussphere can help you fight for joy

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“When the Word of God, tailored to our need, comes to us in a per-
son who gives us his very self, there is a great triumph of love that almost
always leads to joy.” – John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God, p. 132.

A lot is being written about the new social media age, but i think it’s easy to over-complicate the payoff for the church in leveraging web social tools for ministry to the church.

Like never before, services like Twitter and Facebook and blogs give everyone an opportunity to walk alongside other Christians and listen to their hearts as they grapple with what it means to live out faith.

This seam of gold, incarnation and imitation, is of the highest value in the equipping of the saints. Is this not the power of so many of the psalms?

The word of God — its power, its joy, its truth — is meant to be proved all-good and all-sufficient when it is embodied in the lives of faithful, enduring saints.

And from old to young, we are meant to be engaged in the daily habit of “holy emulation” as we seek to embody that word. First we follow Christ, but as the Apostle Paul mercifully advised, “Be imitators of me,” or of elders or of entire churches.

If social media did nothing more than encourage imitation and incarnation it will have made a dramatic contribution to the church and the individuals lives of so many Christians laboring to fight for joy and perseverence where true Christian community is rare, and daily support and encouragement is generally unavailable.

Can social media be a vacuuous, trivial exercise in self-glorification? Of course. But that does not mean it cannot add to our spiritual armor.

Do you have people in your network who are remarkable in this way?

Written by NickCharalambous

July 30, 2009 at 10:15 am

Posted in ruminations

How to be the church on the web

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I’m enjoying the recent spike in Christian blog chatter about the web and the church, which is being touched off by the impending Christian Web Conference, which I am hoping to attend.

I thought Tall Skinny Kiwi Andrew Jones had a really thoughtful piece challenging our biases.

“Why ask if an online community is really a church when we can ask “how can we as the church use the tools of the internet to fulfill the church’s mission”?

Did that global-based web-community experience “real” fellowship or should they all fly to the same city to do it right? Did the pastor’s phone call count as “real” counseling or do we demand a return to the neglected practise of pastoral home visitation? Did those Christian soldiers in WWII experience “real” church as they sat around the radio broadcasts, or just a shadow of the real? Did those paypal money transfers to missionaries constitute “real” giving and therefore “real” worship?

He goes on to wonder whether all church is virtual, since the New Jerusalem has not yet been fully “actualized,” and he connects this thought to the letter to the Hebrews.

When I read through the letter to the Hebrews, I am reminded that we, the church of God, are essentially the invisible, virtual, spiritual, mystical body of Christ operating in the world in ways that are tangible and lasting and transforming, although not always visible. There is no defining boundary that divides the on-line church that meets in cyberspace with the off-line church that meets in buildings. We are a spiritual, invisible, community that represents the firstfruts of an unshakeable Kingdom that will last forever. We are a virtual church that finds tangible ways to live out our calling in the world, whether the forms we chose are touchable or not. Reality is not found in bricks and mortar. Reality is found in the ways in which our worship and service correspond to the God’s invisible Kingdom reality and purposes.

I think his concluding point is where I have landed in this debate until the Lord directs me otherwise:

The virtual online church happens every day as believers in Christ aggregate on the web around missional tasks, fulfil their obligation to each other to share all things and exhort each other daily, as they publish glad tidings daily in electronic forms that will outlast paper books, as they meet globally in ways that could never be achieved in the physical realm.

Go ahead and read the whole thing.

Written by NickCharalambous

July 28, 2009 at 2:22 pm

Posted in ruminations