I am attending church in my boxer shorts. I haven’t showered yet, but I am enjoying my morning coffee. And I’m sitting in the front row, listening to the pastor. No one has made any remarks about my wardrobe, or my coffee, and I’m certain that they won’t. I am attending a live church service over the internet from the confines of my cabin at the lake.
A few weeks ago, my wife sat with me and listened to a downloaded sermon while traveling to visit family. We listened to inspired words of hope from a message presented by Erwin McManus, an informative and refreshing voice of truth. I was able to remain in this reflective environment for a few hours, and think on how God was at work in my life.
During my morning commute, I often start my day with a great community of like-minded individuals who revive me in my faith. Sometimes I am deeply challenged by the interaction; other times I am encouraged through shared laughter. I am in the subway, listening to a Christian podcast that I enjoy.
There is a considerable movement within Christian ministries to venture beyond having a static online presence to creating an online ministry that extends beyond the walls of traditional church. Many ministries and church leaders are making use of iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, RSS feeds, blogs, and podcasts (to name a few) as a way to reach a greater audience. While it’s not meant to replace the local church (remember, God wants community!), it is a great way to spend a few moments each day interacting with the online community of God.
I am encouraged by the fact that ministry leaders are undertaking such a creative venture. Efforts to reach a generation connected by the internet should continue to be applauded and encouraged (even if they fail!). However, it is important to keep in mind the purpose for the technology. While it’s outstanding that there are resources available to help me deepen my faith, I need to be careful not to become engrossed in the consumerist mindset.
In the age of technology, it is easy to search out the most charismatic, polished, informative speaker or most elaborate worship band and regard my local church as the “amateur hour” (although my church is great at what they do). Anything less than the most innovative worship bands or keynote speakers can quickly cause us to be discouraged and write off the local church’s efforts. In addition, Christian podcasts or chat groups can easily become just another way to fill my spiritual “need”, when instead I need to be focused on Jesus’ calling on me for the world. During my morning commute, I enjoy listening to the Relevant podcast (look it up on iTunes) and tuning out the crowded train.
As my fellow passengers jostle and bump each other (and me), I can lose sight of the fact that I am surrounded by people. I am surrounded by inner city, with its apparent needs and brokenness. As Brian McLaren once wrote, “we should always use it [technology] with care, remembering that Jesus modeled personal incarnation, not projection and amplification.” I believe that my Christian faith needs to remember to take off the headphones and engage the world around me. Otherwise, I have bought in to the deception of consumerism, where it’s all about me and my needs.
The gospel, with its eternal truths, needs to continue to be presented through culturally relevant methods that point new generations to Jesus. Because after all, it is not about rolling out the edgiest podcast, or the most up-to-date Twitter feed. It’s about the One who gave me the ability to think of new ideas, and impact those around me in fresh ways. It’s about the message of hope, and life, and belonging – things that each individual and every generation desires to fully realize in their own life. The message of hope that comes from One source – Jesus Himself.
What are ways that technology can add to our spiritual lives? Where are the pitfalls of spirituality in the age of the internet?