After Digital Church, What? | Influence Podcast


Over the past few weeks, churches have creatively responded to public health orders that closed their doors by going digital, offering worship experiences and small group meetings online. Is this use of digital technology a “new normal”? Or is it merely a temporary expedient to for extraordinary circumstances?

Those are some of the questions I talk with Jay Kim about in this episode of the Influence Podcast. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host.

Jay Kim is pastor of teaching and leadership at Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California, and author of Analog Church: Why We Need Real People, Places, and Things in the Digital Age, published by InterVarsity Press.

Analog Church | Book Review


Jay Y. Kim’s Analog Church had the misfortune of hitting bookstores at the precise moment American churches were rushing to go digital due to COVID-19-related shelter-at-home orders in many places across the nation.

Bad timing aside, the book’s message is timely. “People are hungry for human experiences,” Kim writes, “and the church is perfectly positioned to offer exactly that.” The longer people shelter at home, the more that hunger will grow, and the greater the Church’s opportunity will be.

But will churches be able to satisfy that hunger? Kim worries they won’t. (His worries long predate the current crisis.) The reason is not that churches use digital technology. Rather, it is that they often embrace digital values, which Kim enumerates:

  1. Speed. We have access to what we want when we want, as quickly as our fingers can type and scroll.
  2. Choices. We have access to an endless array of options when it comes to just about anything.
  3. Individualism. Everything, from online profiles to gadgets is endlessly customizable, allowing us to emphasize our preferences and personalities.

Kim acknowledges that digital technology has made “major contributions to the improvement of human experience.” Sheltered at home with my family, I can confirm that a speedy internet, multiple iPads, and an array of online entertainment choices vastly improved our experience of confinement. Additionally, digital technology made church services and small groups accessible to believers who couldn’t walk through their church doors.

And yet, those digital values also have a downside. In Kim’s words:

The speed of the digital age has made us impatient.
The choices of the digital age have made us shallow.
The individualism of the digital age has made us isolated.

Digital values are good if you’re talking about consuming things. If you’re talking about making disciples, however, impatience, shallowness and isolation are nonstarters. Consequently, Kim warns: “Leading our churches headlong into digital spaces in hopes of creating an easy-to-consume Christian product severely diminishes our ability to meaningfully impact the culture around us and invite them into more meaningful spaces.”

Because of this danger, Kim encourages churches to “lean into analog opportunities” in three areas: worship, community and Scripture. He captures the basic difference between digital and analog with this couplet: “Digital informs. Analog transforms.”

Both information and transformation are important, of course — the former as the means, the latter as an end. But, as opposed to analog, digital has the quality of seeing rather than being. (These are my words, not Kim’s.) Seeing pictures of Yosemite, for example, simply cannot capture the wonder of being there.

So how does this information-transformation distinction apply to worship, community and Scripture?

By worship, Kim means the public gatherings of Christians characterized by “songs and sermons,” two forms easy to represent via digital media. The danger of digital worship is that it takes place in your head, not your whole body. Seeing others sing or preach isn’t the same as being in the room where it happened. An observer isn’t a participant.

The being-there quality of analog applies even more to community. “Digital technologies are exceptional and efficient when it comes to the exchange of information,” Kim writes, “but they are abject failures when it comes to the exchange of presence.” We may speak of “online communities,” but that is a useful fiction. Communities must commune, not just communicate.

The gospel didn’t come to us as a movie played on the screen of heaven, after all. It came as Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, who gathered around himself a community called His “body.” Digital technology cannot do this. It cannot reproduce the embodied character of community.

Finally, Bible. Digital technology provides tremendous tools for Bible study. I use YouVersion’s search function all the time, for example. The problem is that a search-function approach to Scripture is reductive.

Consider that God did not inspire the Bible as an answer to a Google prompt, “What does the Bible say about ______?” Instead, over the course of 1,500 years, He inspired 66 books that tell a unified story: the gospel. Understanding that story requires reading slowly for “deep comprehension,” rather than swiftly searching for “self-help tidbits or small morsels of encouragement or inspiration for the day.” Unfortunately, this latter approach is how millions now “read” the Bible.

Kim concludes Analog Church by talking about Communion, which is so analog — “you can’t eat and drink together online” — that it is an antidote to digital values. Given the extraordinary circumstances of the current pandemic, some have experimented with “virtual communion” as a concession to short-term realities.

Pandemic aside, though, the long-term reality is that the Church is intrinsically analog. Facebook and FaceTime may supplement a church’s communication capabilities, especially in a crisis, but they cannot substitute for face-to-face experience. If we Christians fail to remember this, we fail to feed the very hunger our contemporaries so strongly feel.

Book Reviewed
Jay Y. Kim, Analog Church: Why We Need Real People, Places, and Things in the Digital Age (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2020).

P.S. If you like this review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review appears in the May-June 2020 issue of Influence magazine.

I Choose Honor | Book Review


The dictionary definition of honor is “to regard or treat (someone) with admiration and respect.” In I Choose Honor, Rich Wilkerson starts with this definition but goes on to show that the biblical conception of honor is more far-reaching. He also shows that honor is a pervasive biblical theme: “The stories of honor contained in the Word of God start from the verses in Genesis and continue to the last words in Revelation.” Along the way, he demonstrates how to honor family members, God’s creation, the poor and outcast, and God himself (through worship.” He then discusses how to create circles of honor, practice honor within relationships, honor the Holy Spirit, and practice honor day-to-day. For me personally, the chapters on honoring God’s creation and the poor and outcast were the most thought-provoking.

Book Reviewed
Rich Wilkerson, I Choose Honor: The Key to Reltationships, Faith, and Life (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2019).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Value, Worship, and Evangelism | Luke 2:1-20


Today’s Scripture reading: Luke 2:1–20

 

The Christmas story in Luke 2:1–20 teaches us five lessons. We looked at the lessons of sovereignty and humility yesterday. God rules over all creation, directing the course of history toward the fulfillment of His purposes. And one of His purposes is to draw all people to himself, which He does by sending His Son in the humble form of a baby in a manger. Today, we’ll look at three other lessons the Christmas story teaches about value, worship and evangelism.

What is most valuable to you? All right-minded people will say they care most about their relationships. The value of a loving family and good friends far outweighs that of material possessions. God values relationships too, to a degree that we will never fully understand. Most of our significant relationships are mutually beneficial; we supply what our friends lack, and they supply what we lack. But we have nothing God needs or wants. He loves us, not because of any benefits we provide Him, but simply because He loves us and because we need Him.

We see God’s values at work in the angel’s announcement of Christ’s birth to the shepherds. In Jesus’ day, shepherds rated low on the hierarchy of valuable relationships. They were considered dishonest and disreputable. And that, it seems to me, is precisely why God sent an army of angels to shepherds to celebrate the birth of Jesus. It was His way of reversing worldly values and saying, “I value these men. I love them. I want to save them.”

At Christmas, we ought to pay special attention to people whom the world doesn’t value, precisely because that is what God does.

Worship is a way that we express God’s value to us. Notice the song of the angels: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (verse 14).

This song makes two statements: (1) that glory belongs to God and (2) that the byproduct of grace (divine favor) is peace among people. Unfortunately, we too often focus only on the second statement. We want peace on earth. But peace comes as the result of right values. Jesus said, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6.33). The only way to have “all these things,” including peace, is to seek first God’s kingdom. God values you. Do you value God?

If you do, the next obvious question is this: Do you share God with others? The angel said to the shepherds, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (verse 10). And the shepherds shared the good news of Christ’s birth with everyone they talked to. “When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child” (verse 17). The Christmas story is the gospel, and all who tell it become evangelists.

God values you. Do you value Him? And are you helping others to value Him? Those are good questions to ask yourself at this time of year.

 

P.S. This article is cross-posted at InfluenceMagazine.com. For earlier posts in the Songs of Christmas devotional, see here:

Magnificat! | Luke 1:46-56


Today’s Scripture reading: Luke 1:46–56.

 

As I wrote at the outset of this series, Christmas is a singing season. With today’s Scripture reading (Luke 1:46–56), we get to the first of the four songs Luke records. It has come to be known as the Magnificat because that is the first word in its Latin translation, meaning “My soul glorifies!” And it is sung by Mary, who is “the Lord’s servant” (Luke 1:38) and a profound theologian.

Mary begins by praising God for His goodness to her personally:

My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me —
holy is his name (verses 46–49).

All true worship begins with personal testimony. It is rooted in the story of the encounter between “the Mighty One” and “me.” Although none of us can claim Mary’s particular story as our own, we have stories of “great things” God has done for us. What is the story of your encounter with God? Do you praise God daily for it?

Of course, true worship never ends with personal testimony. It is rooted in personal encounter, but it sees that God’s purposes lie beyond our small selves. While He is “my Savior,” He also desires to save others:

His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation (verse 50).

The favor (literally, “grace”) God gave Mary (Luke 1:28, 30) is available to us as well — and to all others. But grace must be received with faith, that is, trust. Unfortunately, too many people trust in idols, not God. So, in order to save us, God becomes a great iconoclast:

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty (verses 51–53).

When I mentioned idols, perhaps you thought of gods of stone and metal and wood. But the idols God opposes most are idols of faithless hearts. And so, here, Mary teaches us that God opposes pride, power and possessions. Why? They keep us from seeing our need for God. Instead, we should be humble in God’s presence and hungry for His grace. God can do nothing for those who think they already have everything, but He can do everything for those who know they have nothing to offer Him but themselves.

Mary concludes her song with these words:

He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised to our ancestors” (verses 54–55).

Is God worthy of our praise? Is He good to us today, but not tomorrow? Will He oppose pride, power and possessions today, but change His mind tomorrow? No. His character is consistent. But so is His history. Mary cites the history of Israel’s relationship with God to remind us of this important point: God has been merciful. He is merciful. He will be merciful.

Magnificat!

 

P.S. This article is cross-posted at InfluenceMagazine.com. For earlier posts in the Songs of Christmas devotional, see here:

Monday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Matt Marcantonio offers some good advice for overcoming the generation gap at church.
  • I interview Kristi Northup about worship ministry pet peeves for the #InfluencePodcast.
  • Christina Quick notes a Pew Research report that finds evangelical Millennials more liberal on some issues than older evangelicals.

Please make sure to follow and like InfluenceInfluence magazine on Facebook, Twitter, and iTunes!

‘Come Up Here’ (Revelation 4:1)


Today, many American congregations are casualty-strewn battlefields of the “worship wars,” in which defenders of traditional hymns, pianos, and organs face off against partisans of contemporary choruses, guitars, and drums. Such wars, I fear, reduce the worship of God to a question of style rather than substance: “How do we worship?” instead of “Whom do we worship, and why?” Revelation 4–5 counters this reductionism with a mind-expanding vision of God and his Lamb, whose character and actions call forth our unceasing, full-throated, knee-bending “glory and honor and thanks” (4:9).

Let’s take a closer look.

The worship of God begins with an invitation.

John writes, “After this, I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this’” (4:1). This trumpet-like voice is clearly that of Jesus Christ (see 1:10, 17–20), who has just dictated to John letters to the seven churches of Roman Asia (chapters 2–3).

Now, as John hears the voice, he sees an open door in heaven. In the letter to the Laodicean church, Jesus Christ said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock” (3:20). The Laodiceans had closed their hearts to Jesus, but Jesus had not closed his heart to them—nor to us. Rather, through John, he calls to us to walk through heaven’s door and into God’s presence. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).

The seven churches certainly needed help in their time. Ephesus needed love; Smyrna, endurance; Pergamum, truth; Thyatira, holiness; Sardis, authenticity; Philadelphia, courage for its mission; and Laodicea, wholeheartedness. Some of them (Smyrna, Pergamum, and Philadelphia) were tested by persecution. Others (Thyatira and Laodicea) were tempted by laxity and luxury. Whatever its situation, each church needed a fresh vision of God in order to understand its temporary circumstances in the light of his eternal glory.

It goes without saying that we need help in our time too. Like Thyatira and Laodicea, we are tempted by laxity and luxury rather than tested by persecution, as is too often the fate of our brother and sister Christians around the globe. Our lives in America are so healthy and wealthy that we forget God, neglect our prayers, loosen our morals, and live easy lives. If we see God, we will not be easily tempted to do such foolish things.

Worship is a way of seeing God. Through worship—whether by means of prayer, Scripture meditation, singing, or living a holy life (Rom. 12:1–2)—we take our eyes off our selves and focus our mental vision on God. As John looks through heaven’s door, he sees many things, including “twenty-four elders” (4:4), “four living creatures” (4:6), and “many angels” (5:11). But at the center of his vision is “one seated on the throne” (4:2) and a Lamb (5:6), God the Father and Jesus Christ his Son. Everything else exists “around the throne” (4:4, 6; 5:11). In worship, as in reality, God is central; all else is peripheral.

Peripheral, but not unimportant. Jesus says, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” The worship of God is not irrelevant to everyday concerns. Rather, worship helps us keep those everyday concerns in proper perspective.

Are you tested by adversity? Are you tempted by prosperity? Are you burdened with anxiety? Then, “Come up here”!

The World Wide (Religious) Web for Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Rod Dreher writes, “This poor old world, weary of words and endless strife, religious and otherwise, doesn’t need more theological books, sermons, doctrinal discourses and debates. It needs more saints. And more storytellers.”

Defending the Constitution, and the Right to Be a Jerk. It’s about Terry Jones, natch.

Why conservative Christians shouldn’t give Ayn Rand a pass.

How should we talk about God online. Advice from James. (And contrary to this op-ed writer’s uncertainty, James wrote James.)

James Nuechterlein: “It is the assurance of the gospel that should free Christians from the compulsion to grasp for the illusory assurances that ideologies put on offer. It is not wrong for us to attempt to discern, according to our best lights, that set of beliefs about human flourishing that most adequately approximates, however provisionally and imperfectly, the God-given ends of justice in a fallen world. That is what in any case people do by nature. But even as we are well advised to put not our faith in princes, so also does it make equivalent sense not to place on our schemes of human betterment more moral weight than they can bear.”

Evidently, it’s okay to defend accused terrorists but not to defend the law of the land. For the record, I disagree with Jennifer Rubin’s assessment of the Defense of Marriage Act.)

In case you were wondering (which I’m not): Why (Evangelicals) Love Amish Romances.

This past Sunday, my wife and I watched this very interesting 60 Minutes report on Mount Athos, the heart of Greek Orthodox monasticism. As a Protestant, though, I think these guys might become more like Christ if they left Mount Athos and got involved with the hurly-burly of life.

Do Christianity and capitalism clash? A plurality of Americans thinks they do. My guess is that we’d see different answers if the economy were doing better.

Marshall Shelley reflects on the medium and message of worship: “When entertainment is perhaps the most prevalent form of communication, what does that mean for preachers, disciplers, worship leaders, and others in positions of Christian influence? Do we become entertainers ourselves? Do we refuse to become entertainers? Or do we land somewhere in between?”

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