Monday, May 16, 2011

Live Church vs. Virtual Church

OK, I admit I am completely biased in this area.

For me a live church experience beats a virtual church every time. There is something to be said for being in the room as opposed to watching it on television or streaming over the internet.While I love the new opportunities that technology brings I find that it often brings more limitations to our spirits than we realize.

Virtual church is not something all that innovative; it has actually been around since the 1920’s when radios began to proliferate the country. People could listen to a church service over their radio in the home. With the advent of television after World War II many preachers took to the airwaves the so called “TV evangelists”.  Some did good work; others gave complete justification for the negative stereotypes that have developed around them. With the growth of the internet in the 1990’s many more grasped the idea that the church could be broadcast directly into the home. Many churches today have virtual church ministries that stream over the internet to computers, tablets, and mobile phones. Most are just broadcasts, but some who realize the limitations are trying to make them more interactive and leverage the available social networking tools particularly Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook vs. Face to Face

While I myself use these same tools in my daily life and find them useful for certain things, there are some things that Facebook, Twitter, and the like are not able to do well at all. They do work well in helping people maintain contact over distance and time, to give people short updates about what is going on in their lives, and they can certainly get a whole bunch of people out to a party or flash mob very quickly.

What they are not able to do is tell a good story. They are also of little use for you to hear a good story. Listening and telling stories are the foundations of meaningful relationships. In a healthy marriage, a husband and wife find time to tell the stories of their lives each day. A healing conversation for a friend in trouble can only happen if you take time to hear his or her story; there are no shortcuts. While a broadcast can tell a church’s story, or more accurately, stories that people like me want you to hear, they are exclusively a one-way street. A virtual church is not able to hear your story in a meaningful way. The only way I can explain it is while a Facebook chat is nice, sitting with an old friend on my back deck sharing food and drink is way better. I really don’t know your true story until I am face to face with you sharing real food and real
drink. Therefore, a virtual church can never be sacramental, because to be so requires real physical contact. There are no hugs in cyberspace. Sacred things need a physical reality.

Live Church: Home and Away

I do share some things with those who advocate the virtual church. I am convinced they can be good tools to help people learn about Jesus and engage a real church. More importantly, I share the goal of the attempt to bring the church into your home. However, I am unwilling to settle for “virtual” church, at Holy Cross we want to bring the real church home. It is written the book of Acts Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts (Acts 2:46NRSV). It is a vision of church at home and at a community location.

It is much in line with what Moses taught Israel to do to bring their faith home. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:5-9NRSV). This is much more than passively staring at screen, it is really living the faith. So I invite you to come out again to church, bring the best of it home, and most of all, keep it real.

Keep the Faith,

Pastor Knecht

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Why Church?

In the coming weeks in worship, I will be exploring the question of “why church?” Why did Jesus leave us this vehicle that seems so imperfect at times? Some of you may wonder why even ask this question. The Church has always been there for you and you see the values of it plainly.

Unfortunately, this is not the case for many these days; church attendance in the United States overall has been in decline for many years. While there are examples of growing and thriving churches, their gains have been more than offset by the decline of the vast majority of Christian congregations. Society’s support for the church is also on the wane, the courts, the media, and the schools no longer encourage the activity of the church they way they once did. Left wing extremists blame the church for all the world’s problems even as its influence and power declines. Some libertarians and extreme individualists argue that one doesn’t need a church at,all that matters is your individual choice. Harold Camping and his so-called “Family Radio” says that every church is apostate (working against God) and that all you need to be saved is individual Bible study. The Church seems to be under attack from all directions.

Jesus’ Strategy

But as I heard while I visited another local church while on vacation this past Sunday, the Bible teaches that the Church is Jesus’ plan A, there is no plan B. The sad fact is that the attacks on the Church and its own acts of self-destruction over the years have left many confused about what he Church really is and why they should bother. Many are drifting off into false paths happiness and meaning, which only lead to further deterioration of individual lives and the health of our society. What is the greatest tragedy is that these people are the ones who may benefit from Jesus’ gift of the Church the most.

Reconnect with Your Faith

I recently completed reading a fascinating book by Dan Buettner called Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way. As part of a research project for the National Geographic Society, he examined what factors lead people to report high levels of happiness in surveys. When comes to conclusions about what a typical person can do to help promote happiness in his or her life, he writes the following:

“Just about every study done on the connection between religion and well-being shows that the two go hand in hand. While we’re not sure if churchgoing makes you happy or if happy people tend to be religious, research shows that people who belong to a faith-based community—regardless of the particular faith—and attend at least four times per month may live as much as 14 years longer than people who don’t. Churchgoers are less likely to engage in risky behaviors (which can lead to profound unhappiness), are satisfied with less money, have less stress, and—to the point of this section—have built-in social networks. You’ll amplify benefits if you join thechurch choir, volunteer as a greeter, or commit to read for the congregation. If you don’t belong to a church or have drifted away from the church of your birth, seek out a new church that matches your current values and worldview.”

The Abundant Life

Jesus told us in John 10:10 “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” The Church is part of God’s plan to bring this about. The good news is that this plan still works. Never get blinded by numbers. Remember Jesus started out with 12 disciples. The book of Acts tells us in its first chapter that at the time of Jesus’ ascension the church only had 120 people. And while the Church is in numerical decline in the United States it is growing exponentially in Africa and Asia. The question for you is whether you want to come aboard for the abundant life or not. Does the Church need you, yes! However, never forget that you need the Church.

I invite you to rededicate yourself to Jesus, or come to him for the first time and become part of the Church, which is nothing less than God’s strategy to fulfill His plan for you and our world. Come to Holy Cross this May and June and learn why God answers the question of why Church, with a resounding yes!

Keep the Faith,
Pastor Knecht