Hey, Calvary Fremont –
When I was growing up in the 50s and 60s, “The Wizard of Oz” came on TV once a year. If you missed it, you had to wait a whole year to get the opportunity to watch it. Once, for a punishment, my dad made me stay in my room while the rest of the family watched it. I was devastated. It was pure torture hearing the Munchkins sing, “We represent the lollipop guild,” and not be able to see it. In my world, after Christmas, my birthday, and Halloween – “The Wizard of Oz” was next on the list. Today, as you know, all that has changed.
My Smart TV has video On Demand provided by my cable company. I can push a button on my remote control and say, “FBI International – on demand.” And like magic, ‘FBI International’ comes up on my TV. It’s almost like having a genie in a lamp that grants all my wishes. I don’t have to hunt for what channels the World Series is on or NFL Football – I just speak my desired selection while pushing the audio button on my remote control, and there it is. It is so convenient. If I am not able to watch an event while it’s actually occurring, I can always watch it later. The same is true of various programs and series and movies. I can pause the program to go to the bathroom, or get a snack, or talk to someone on the phone. It’s all designed with me in mind. Everything is on my time table. I can watch when I want, where I want, and how I want. It’s all designed for my convenience. And though some programs don’t allow me to fast-forward through commercials – I can mute my TV and don’t have to pay attention to it.
Well, you guessed it – the Digital Ecclesiastical Community is designing Church On Demand. If going to church is inconvenient for you, if something else is more important than attending an actual church service, if attendance is inconvenient, not possible, not desirable – it’s alright. You can do church where you want, when you want, and how you want. No more fussing with getting ready, finding a parking space, talking to people you don’t know or don’t like, listening to worship music not to your preference, or having to endure a mediocre sermon. With Church On Demand you can mute, fast-forward, or turn off a service that doesn’t touch you. Non-Christians don’t have to wade through the Sunday morning hassle of getting out and going to a physical church – they can check Jesus out via Church On Demand. This is how most people do things these days and the Church needs to keep abreast with the culture.
Church On Demand is an unstoppable inevitability. It will be tremendously used by God and terribly abused by people. Church On Demand will bless the sick and the shut-ins, the traveler and the seeker, the curious and the quarantined. Some argue that Church On Demand serves as an extension of the church’s front doors and lobby. That’s great, yet there will be a significant percentage of people who will stay in the lobby and not come into the church. Meaning – all they will do is watch church online and never gather with the actual assembly of believers they are watching week by week. This is the equivalent of online dating. A lot of sweet-nothings can be said, and a lot of commitments can be spoken to one another – and I’m sure some emotional and relational needs can be met strictly via digital communion. Yet relationships are meant to mature into a contact sport. Digital relationships can provide, at best, a pseudo-intimacy falling far short of marriage and consummation. Those who settle for digital only, settle for far less than what they were designed for.
Enthusiasts of Church On Demand put a lot of emphasis on seeking to facilitate community among the digital watchers – as well they should. But this will have a spotty track record for the very reason that many “digital only Christians” are digital for the very reason of avoiding community and relationships. Which means accountability is avoided. Church On Demand rolls out the Red Carpet for those who will make their way to our church while at the same time pulls back the covers of the bed for those who want to hunker down at home far from the madding crowd. Church On Demand is an unstoppable inevitability. It will be tremendously used by God and terribly abused by people.
Church On Demand will serve as a guide for some and a home for others. Some will use it like they use the movie guide. Where is such-and-such a movie playing and what time? Is the trailer interesting? If they like it, they will shut the lid of their laptop and get in their car and go sit with others and watch the movie. Others will stream the movie from their laptop.
Here’s the deal – Christianity is a contact sport. God designed the Church for people to be actually together – not virtually or digitally. Even as online daters can’t get the full feel and taste of relationship from digital dancing, Christians can’t get the full feel and taste of relationship with God from digital discipleship. And one of the reasons is that God flows to us through other believers. If I participate in the worship from home digitally – that’s great. If I hear from God while I’m at home listening to the pastor – that’s wonderful. Yet even as online lovers can’t kiss each other, so online Christians miss God flowing into them from other brothers and sisters in the church. Christianity is a contact sport. Church On Demand should be a doorway for the seeker and the church shopper. Church On Demand should be a temporary resource for the sick and the traveler. Church On Demand should be a haven for the shut in. But the Incarnated Church calls to you.
Let me sound the trumpet clearly – if you can physically be at church and be part of this beautiful, boisterous, bruised, blessed group of people called the saints of God – and yet you settle for the arid digital desert – you are missing out on what God has for you and are settling for thin gruel. You will live on a starvation diet as you avoid full obedience to God. And you who have settled into this pattern know this to be true. Come on back!
Church On Demand is an unstoppable inevitability. It will be tremendously used by God and terribly abused by people. Church on Demand appeals to you as a consumer and is designed for your convenience. Actual Church appeals to you as a follower of Jesus and is not designed for your convenience, but for your transformation into the image of Jesus Christ.
Be blessed and stay healthy and follow Jesus – Pastor Tim