Meditations (Web)Church

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

Posts Tagged ‘theology

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?


Written by NickCharalambous

March 14, 2010 at 3:54 pm

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 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

“Online church is sick”

with 8 comments

A little while back, I mused about whether my two reformed heroes, John Piper and Mark Driscoll, considered the Web church blasphemy.

Mark Driscoll responded in the last 8 or 10 minutes of his Advance ’09 talk on What is the Church? recapping his arguments (direct link) in Vintage Church.

Now it’s John Piper’s turn to weigh in, and he doesn’t mince words. Here’s the full transcript of the question, “what are your thoughts on worshiping and being part of Christ’s body through an online church?” sent in to “Ask Pastor John.”

“If the question means, “as your only experience of worship,” it seems sick. We are created in bodies, not just in minds. And there is something docetic about this. That may not mean anything to a lot of people. Docetism was an early heresy that said that the body is not very important, and that life in the flesh and the created world is not very important, and that Jesus Christ only seemed to have a body. And usually material is evil.

God made us with bodies. He made us to give holy kisses to one another—embraces, handshakes, eyeball-to-eyeball conversation. He made husband and wife not to have imaginary video sex through Skype. He made them to go to bed together in the same bed. He made them to raise children in the same house, with hands-on hugs and spanks on the bottom and love. And he made churches to get together to hear each other sing, and to look at each other and talk to teach other, and minister to each other and help each other die well.

So to dispense with the entire bodily dimension of togetherness in order to substitute a video dimension of togetherness—like this right now—would, I think, be spiritually defective, would be contrary to Christ’s understanding of the church, and would be hurtful to the soul.

There are mysteries here in human relationships that we can’t quantify. And I don’t think that they can be replaced by electronic symbols.”

I think this critique, like Pastor Mark’s, takes the Web church too literally. The NewSpring Web Campus and other churches are actively encouraging relationships in the real world to complete the web campus experience.

But he also is clear that communal worship must be physical and is not sufficient if it is only a sense of communal gathering, as would happen in a chatroom.

What’s your take?

Written by NickCharalambous

June 29, 2009 at 9:55 am

Posted in community, web campus

Tagged with ,

Why hold web church to a higher standard than other churches?

with 4 comments

By now, you probably know that I’m pretty serious about exploring whether the church can be the church online.

I feel like I’m called to that purpose, and I feel like we need to be brave enough to try things that we aren’t entirely comfortable with in order to “by testing discern what is the will of God.” I have plans to take Mark Driscoll’s critique of the Web Church and offer my view of whether his theological points are sufficient to disqualify the web church at this point in its maturity.

I don’t want to be an uncritical apologist for the Web Church. There are many aspects of the Web Church that I’ve got personal reservations about, and many others that I think need to be tested before we can claim that it can fit within Biblical orthodoxy.

But what does bother me is that so often the critiques are coming from the point of view that the web church is a church expression that is incomplete, artificial (p.14 of link) or limited.

To which my response is: When has any church at any time not struggled with those things in one form or another?

Overall, it just seems like the church — even the early church! — was and is always and gloriously in the process of reaching toward the full expression of God’s grace and glory in the world — and failing backwards and forwards.

Why should the web church be held to a higher standard?

Written by NickCharalambous

June 25, 2009 at 10:32 am

Posted in web campus

Tagged with ,

Can churches deny human choice?

with one comment

A lot of the critical and necessary debate on this blog comes around one way or the other to: How does the church handle the rising tide of consumerism in its expression?

It’s not an accident: The web has empowered the individual like no other time in history, and the act of accomplishing ministry in this context is bound to flirt, sometimes dangerously, with abetting the self-seeking, vain, prideful human heart without God, rather than calling it to repentence in light of the manifest glories of God.

It seems to me that man has always seen himself at the center of all things. This is not new. What is new is the extent to which man can now do it in almost all phases of life. And the remedy for this heart sickness is and always will be the cross of Jesus.

So here’s my question: When God calls you to salvation, do you really have a choice to “opt out” of the body of Christ? Is it not one of the most magnificent promises of scripture that it’s not possible?

Only “Christians” with unregenerate hearts go shopping for God “experiences,” rather than surrender to him.

Only “Christians” with no understanding of Lordship believe that God is a vending machine of blessings.

Only “Christians” who have never heard the truth will allow themselves to be swayed by every wind of doctrine.

Is it not the gospel, the good news, the freedom from captivity, that human agency, human choice, for the regenerated heart, is always for good?

Our hyper-consumerist society is still relatively young, probably 100 years old at best. And for the church, for thousands of years a local phenomenon, our history with it is even shorter. Perhaps 50, if that. And i think that, if anything, there is a reckoning coming for the church as it wrestles with this, which probably explains some of my passion for the Web Church: It accelerates the urgency of figuring this out.

I submit that the battle is not between consumerism and whatever some Christians think can control it — authority structures, whatever. The battle is to get anointed, gospel-saturated teaching that places the supremacy of Christ above all things into earshot of as many dead hearts as possible so they can be convicted and awakened to life in Christ.

We need to make sure that people choose the church rather than Oprah, Dr. Phil, Tom Cruise and every other self-help guru who is leading people dancing and singing straight to the gates of hell.

Only then will they know difference between a true and false gospel.

Only then will they know the difference between a life that glorifies self and a life that serves God

Only then will they know that Jesus’ call to total surrender can not be resisted except with tears.

And only then will the Holy Spirit magnificently insist that the appetite for seeing, savoring and treasuring the joy of Christ be fed insatiably.

I ask again: Where does the path lead for Christ-centered churches who work in this “crooked and twisted generation” without an understanding of choice?

Written by NickCharalambous

June 23, 2009 at 8:25 am

A Web campus: More than a podcast with bells and whistles

with 10 comments

Web Campuses or Internet Campuses or whatever you want to call them are all the rage.

And as the Web Campus pastor for NewSpring Church, I’m blessed to have a small part in leading the Big C church to rightly embrace the web for church, broadly defined, as an environment for worship, a vehicle for community and discipleship, and a medium for evangelism.

I take what I do seriously enough that I’m always sharpening my theological understanding of what we’re trying to do through the web campus. So, inspired by this page on Rick Warren‘s Saddleback Church Internet Campus, i thought I’d share here my internal vision statement for the web campus that has been in place since before we launched.

It’s aimed at getting my ministry team and volunteers on the same page. It’s a work in progress. It’s not proof-texted. It’s not officially endorsed by my church leadership. But it is I think a healthy approach that recognizes a web campus as something far more than a podcast with bells on.

Come on. You know you want to help critique it. 🙂

Our mission is to make Jesus famous one person at a time, helping people worship God, grow in faith and live in Christ-centered community online.

We believe the web campus can follow the model of a Biblical church. It provides a venue for worship of God, Biblical teaching, and opportunity for community, discipleship and evangelism.

For the lost, it can be a very powerful tool in welcoming spiritual seekers to hear the word of truth in a setting that may not be as intimidating as physically attending a church.

For those Christians who are not fully committed to a local church, it can be a more open and inviting path to involvement in a local body of serving, discipling, evangelizing believers who are passionate about Jesus and obedient to his word.

We believe that online attenders can and should participate fully in the life of NewSpring Church, which considers itself one church in many locations.

As with every NewSpring campus, our online attenders will be strongly encouraged to get baptized by immersion after a decision for Christ, give, serve each other and the church in online and offline venues and proclaim the good news as the Lord gifts them and leads them. Periodically, we also will celebrate communion together, rightly instructed by a pastor, with online attenders gathering and taking their own elements. (See our five purposes below)

Attendence of the Web Campus should never be viewed as a legitimate way to “go to church” while avoiding the challenges or the commitments involved in faithful participation of a local church body. We do, however, believe that full, consistent, surrendered worship among a body of believers on the web campus is to be preferred to infrequent attendance of a local church and membership of it in name only for whatever reason.

We believe that online social and communication tools can be used to ensure that we are “meeting together” in worship and in Christ-exalting relationship with believers as well as serving as a witness to God corporately. But as the body of Christ, each with a role in discipling, serving and evangelizing within “communities of grace,” our success can only come through deep investment in individual lives and communities that must include some element of offline, bodily interaction.

Although we donʼt believe that physical presence is the only way we can fulfill our role in the body of Christ, we do want to strongly encourage people to gather physically wherever possible, such as by viewing the web campus in physical groups.

Overall, the web campus is more than just a podcast with a chat room. In fact, we recognize that some podcasters may be using our media to create a personal church experience that risks isolating them and tends toward a false understanding of the Christian life as private and solitary, rather than public and communal. The web campus offers a chance to lead podcasters toward a more complete experience and participation in church.

Our theological conviction is to offer attenders a 360-degree church experience: communal worship experience realized through our chat room or in physical gatherings, pastoral guidance from me and other NewSpring pastors, and abundant opportunities to take “next steps” in their walk with Jesus. I think you’ll agree that taken as a whole, the web campus can serve as someone’s church home, should they need it.

We want out attenders to:

  • Worship God through time, talent, treasure and prayer.
  • Grow Biblical relationships that spur greater communion and connection with God, the church and each other.
  • Grow spiritually through Bible reading and study and other resources to develop their spiritual understanding, gifts and leadership abilities.
  • Serve their church and community by meeting needs in ministry and missions
  • Share their faith with unchurched people by sharing testimony and inviting people to worship services online or offline.

Written by NickCharalambous

May 13, 2009 at 9:02 am

Whatever happened to the sacred?

with 7 comments

My ministry is the web church, so it’s not surprising that my heart skips a beat when I come across critiques of what God laid on my heart to do.

I actually welcome criticism, partly because I love God too much to be outside his will, and also because I want to be humble about what I think I know about the majestic God that I worship with my life.

In one such critique below, there was one point (or maybe I’m misunderstanding?) that made me pause: Can we truly experience the sacred online?

[the cyber-church] … risks the danger that in the electronically mediated virtual world the experience of the holy will become visual and secularized. It also faces the danger that the Word of God pervading the depth of the soul will be changed into the on-screen messages of the electronically reduced multimedia.”

Yuang Han Kim (HT: Tall Skinny Kiwi)

The concept of reverence seems stuffy and unfashionable. I get that. And I know all the theoretical and theological stuff about God being part of your everyday life, God being your friend.

The problem for me is that there are just too many words like “awe” and “fear” and “glory” and their synonyms in the scriptures to not believe that the question of sacredness is valid.

Growing up Greek Orthodox, I was clueless about a lot of things, including Jesus, but I definitely knew the moment that I stepped foot inside the church that I was supposed to feel oh-so-small and unworthy in the presence of a Holy, Holy, Holy God.

In megachurches like NewSpring, the lights, the music and the sheer size of the congregation help build that sense, I think. But that doesn’t really transfer on the web.

Of course, God being God, there are times when the move of the Holy Spirit is dramatic and unmistakable no matter what environment we’re in.

Such as when RoseAngela breaks down while singing the old hymn “Softly and Tenderly”.

Or when evangelist Clayton King decides to make an invitation before a single word is preached and sees hundreds declare Jesus as Lord and Savior. (Watch at least part of the 20-minute portion of this service, beginning at 21:30)

What do you think?

Written by NickCharalambous

May 6, 2009 at 9:09 am

Posted in ruminations

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