All About the Internet
Three things about church planting for this week.
This week I’ll finishing preaching my 30th online sermon (and don’t worry, we haven’t been in lock down for that long, I’ve done a few extras for when I finish at NCCC). When COVID-19 hit I, along with so many other pastors, was grateful for the internet and the ability it gave to continue some form of formal church meeting. Of course, it is different to what we were used to, but it gave people a chance to feel a part of a church community and connect through online services and/or by video chat. It was a game changer that no other generation of the church ever had. But the truth is that the internet has been changing the game for Churches and Christians long before we were gathering for zoom small groups and online worship. In todays 3 things I want to talk a little about how the internet is changing the way we learn and understand God and the Bible, and it might not be the way we first thought.
The Information Superhighway
I’m an obsessive googler. To the point where I often have to pull the car over to fact check the podcast I’m listening to, or try and find out more information. We have so much information in the palm of our hand,and it’s available whenever we’re in range of the 4G (so not in my front yard or the underground carpark at Narellan Town Center). This has to be something the church needs to understand if it wants to engage well with the younger generations that know no other way to live.
In the 1500’s the reformation was ushered in by the invention of the printing press. It created the ability to print the Bible for the masses and changed the way church was done forever. The internet places information in peoples hands immediately. If you have a question, a quick google search will provide you with thousands of websites, essays, podcast, videos and books you can go through. Lets be real about it, google is this generations default destination for questions. Honestly I think this is great! Information is great! The challenge is how to be discerning about what information we take in and how we process it. Which leads us to the next point…
The Bible is Clear
Have you ever heard someone make the bold statement “the bible is clear on this!” but you’re not entirely sure that’s true? To make that kind of statement is a sort of a theological trump card… we may ask “Well if the bible is clear, who am I to argue?”. There’s just one problem, the Bible is often not clear.
I grew up in a church that never taught about the Holy Spirit so it was a great surprise to me when I started speaking in tongues. Did you ever read the book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”? It had so much hype, claiming biblical proof that Christians shouldn’t date. The only problem is that the Bible never mentions dating once, it wasn’t even a thing back then. There are so many examples like this - if I made a list we might have to make this 3000 things I’m thinking about.
Different churches and different denominations have different interpretations of what the Bible is saying and they’re all available on the internet. Now the instinct, of course, is to try and lock this down… i.e. don’t look at the internet/don’t listen to that podcast/don’t read that author/we can’t trust them… but this is an authoritarian way of thinking. I believe if the church is going to engage future generations it needs to embrace the information. We must figure out what are the non-negotiables, the very heart of what we believe and what makes us followers of Jesus. Then provide people with the information and work towards discerning together what God is saying, doing and teaching us.
In the near future we’ll start providing more information about the Church Project. One of the things you may notice is that our doctrinal statement will be pretty short - only what we see as the non-negotiables. The rest we want to work out together, to ask the tough questions of faith and leave space for conversation, discernment and even differing opinions. Which means we need to create….
A Safe Place to Unpack
The internet is a great place to find information and it does its best to help people connect with each other, and to work through that information. I’m a part of a few great facebook groups that are attempting to do just this and I’m really grateful for them. Yet one thing I notice is that a lot of people are in these groups because they don’t know where else to work through their faith in this way. I hope the Church Project becomes a place where people feel safe to do this.
We’re all growing and maturing and changing, and as we do that our beliefs and opinions sometimes change too. Rather than thinking of this as a challenge to truth, we can call it pursuing truth. In this context humility is crucial. Humility allows us to move past the belief that we have all the answers, to realize that we can learn from each other, from church history, and from different Christian traditions and leaders.
So often when we have questions about God, faith and the Bible it’s easy to feel alone - like no one else is thinking like me. I’ve found that the more I’m willing to ask questions, the more I find that other people have the same questions. I’m longing for a church where this is part of the culture.