"That’s the Way We’ve Always Done It."

Pastors dread those words.

Pastors in their new assignments believe, understandably, that part of the reason that they are there (at their new assignment) is because they are new and will bring the new. As any new pastor quickly learns, however, the new is often only welcome when it fits within the established framework of the church pre-pastor.

An Easy One

My wife and I were recently called (or assigned) to a long-established church. During our interview with the church’s board, we asked, "what can’t we change?" It’s a dangerous question, but in many regards, I think it better than, "what do you want to do", or "what is your vision?"

A framework is set. (What is now) Our church said, don’t change the time of the Sunday Service. That’s it. We warned them, "that’s a pretty small thing." We can live with that time. Now, if God blesses our ministry and church (and we are faithful, of course), we may have to worry about the time, but that is for the future.


My wife and I are big into bringing Church Year and other liturgical elements into church life. This is not some mis-guided attempt at being Romanist or "High Church", but we find meaning in it, and it helps tell the story of God in visual ways.

We’ve haven’t gone over-the-top, I think. We’ve done a bit of the colors and the Candle of the Presence (just added that). We are quick to say this is a symbol, a visual reminder or cue. Honestly, we probably won’t add much more. If one does too much, it all gets lost anyway and loses its meaning.

We’ll somewhat follow the lectionary, perhaps not for all the Scriptures, but to maintain the rhythm of the church year, which is valuable to tell all the story of God, rather than the choice parts.

Taking Away

Honestly, we haven’t done much of that. No real need to, that we see. However, there was a structural issue that resulted in the "erasing" of our library (mostly ignored) and an "office". It was necessary for the health of people and the integrity of the building.

Things treasure had to be tossed. People’s "spaces" were removed. No promises have been made to restore them to what they were, instead we now ask, "what is God asking us to do with these spaces?" Meeting space? Chapel? Cry Room? It could be all of that.

This one was easy because of health and structure, but there will be hard ones.

The Hard Ones

As someone who is digitally-inclined (obviously with Nazarene.Digital being the home of this post), I’ve been pondering the future of digital and my (new) local church. Digital isn’t going away. How our little expression will "do" digital (other than a live stream) is yet to be determined. I will stil continue to do VR.

It is my wrestling with digital, though, that caused me to go down a different path of thinking and questioning.

Pastoral Introspection

Perhaps as the church wrestles with digital (more than merely live streaming or even web page content or video prayer meetings), we as the leaders (both pastors and non-pastors) need to recognize that much of our conversation about church, attendance, post-COVID "returns", and the like is really us saying, "That’s the way we’ve always done it."

The liturgy and church year customs are for some traditions, "that’s the way we’ve always done it." As such, it has lost much of its power and become background noise, because "that’s the way they’ve always done it." Of course, "always" is still not all that long ago.

We in the more evangelical Christian strains are just as bad. We’ve "always" had four songs, a prayer, and a sermon. The Evangelical Christian tradition has long elevated the sermon above almost everything else. The liturgical traditions (Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran), often elevate the Eucharist (communion) over everything.

I believe (having experience much of it) that all are valuable. The danger always being that they become, “that’s the way we’ve always done it." Thinking critically is always important.

Traditionalist Evangelical Christians (which, really, is only a century old, young in church years) are wrestling, again, with what the "new" church looks like, but keep looking at what use to be.

In other words, are pastors now the worst about, "that’s the way we’ve always done it?"

As someone who is bringing old (i.e., non-"traditional" Church of the Nazarene) stuff into the church, I regularly ask myself if I am bringing something both new (to this church) and old (tradition) because, "that’s the way they (the traditional-types) always did it," or because it is something I believe will add to our people’s worship of God.

Stop Learning

I am regularly asking myself, "what do I need to unlearn?" We must be willing to unlearn.

For the last few decades in the Evangelical Christian church (especially, though not exclusively), we have focused on what new things, modes, methods, models, information we need to learn and implement. As we feel threatened by changes in the culture (morals, technology, other faiths, etc.), we want to hold onto what we know, because we view it as safe, at it worked before.

This was the impact of a knowledge culture upon the church. We were deeply impacted by the knowledge culture.

Some say the current culture is now an experience culture. They might be right. So much of what we are seeing is an emotive culture. The funny thing is, though, that the church thought this was the way to get people to Jesus not that long ago.

We’re learning. We’re learning to unlearn.

We’re unlearning emotive worship. We’re unlearning that "just one more Bible Study" or "one more curriculum" will save the church.

Some churches are unlearning that ("traditional") Sunday morning service is the most effective way of being church. Some churches are unlearning that most of their efforts and expenditures must be spent for Sunday.

Some churches are unlearning that in-person is best on Sunday rather than other days and times. Some churches are unlearning the physical centralized gathering by replacing it with digital and then releasing the people to be the church in the world.

Concluding Thoughts

As we try to figure out what’s next, I want us to ask ourselves, "what do I(we) need to unlearn?" We must recognize that the splinter ("That’s the way we’ve always done it") in others’ eyes may well be (and probably is) a plank in our own (see Luke 6:41–42 or Matthew 7:3–5).

Psalm 29v2 (REB) reads, “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due to his name; in holy attire worship the LORD.”

The REB translates הֲדָרָה as attire, while other translations use splendor. The nuance may be what one means by adornment. In context, the verse is about Heavenly/angelic beings the difference between attire/adornment/splendor may not be so clear cut as it is in more human existence or English.

This translation obviously caught my attention. Then in Exodus 40v30-32 (as the next part of the day’s reading in the lectionary), we read that the head priests would wash their hands and feet prior to entering the most Holy place of the Tabernacle. This was in addition to another cleansing ritual and ritually clean clothes they had to put on.

Church Clothes

These verses brought to mind a memory of as a child where there were 2 churches sharing a space, and the Methodists (I think that’s who they were) would all put on blue robes (like choir robes) prior to entering the sanctuary and participating in their worship service. My childhood memory may be flawed, granted, yet it seemed strange to all put on different clothes to go to church.

As I got older, I ran across the “Sunday best” concept, which makes sense, as we want to be our best selves for God, yet, I think that it was often the best self to be seen by others. On the other hand, I can see the habit of putting on the blue gowns as two-fold: (1) you’re not wearing clothes to be seen, but clean enough to not smell, comfortable to fit under hot robes; (2) by putting it on before entering the sanctuary, there is a physical “trigger” that causes one to realize that they are entering a place specifically set aside to worship God.

Ritual Power

As I begin my journey into VR, I can see how many of the ancient church rituals may be rejuvenated in VR.

In a number of traditions, there are remembrance baptistries. As a person enters the sanctuary, a small sink or tub contains water that a person dips their fingers into and makes the sign of the cross on their forehead (pre-COVID).

Then there is the wearing of specific clothes—specifically, a robe—while attending a worship service.

What this brings to mind is how these rituals could be revitalized in VR.

Yes, that water may not be real, but programmatically, one could receive physical feedback (i.e., haptic) when one touches the water in the virtual container, then receive more feedback when you touch your avatar with that same water.

Putting on a robe as you enter a place wouldn’t be difficult either (says the non-programmer). While VR is, in many respects, chaos and a place of so-called freedom, putting the robe over the avatar may do some NSFW coverage, but it also creates a sense of visual unity. Granted, not sure how it would work with a non-humanesque shape (I saw a dragon avatar the other day).

As the move to VR strengthens, rituals (whether religious or secular) will need to be developed. Based on some stories floating around, I wonder if rituals may be a necessary thing, so that people cannot behave like trolls in VR as they have been elsewhere online, because they might then truly associate their avatar with theirself.

“Online church” is not your best life. It’s life-support.

It’s better than being totally disconnected, but it’s not as good as being fully connected.

We aren’t designed for extended periods away from community.

Someone reading this needs to go back to church. If not now, then when?

The above was shared by an acquaintance. This is not an uncommon sentiment in “traditional” churches, and (to be blunt) it is a runaway train in my particular denomination. Because it is shared within a generally “churched” context, there are a lot of agreements with it. Yet, there are some major underlying flaws in the words.

The Online False Church

I reacted negatively to this quote. Yes, I’m biased (still the digital guy). The way “Online church” is defined by the context isn’t church. Yet, because of the wording, all church online is tossed out, and that is a grave fallacy. Do I think “broadcast” church is bad? No. While I would agree with the quote that it is definitely life support, there is a huge “but”.

Broadcast church has been the norm for a generation or more. Come, sit in the pew, watch a show, be lectured at, go home. That is broadcast church. That mentality has been very strong within the 4 walls and remains so. What COVID has brought to our attention is that we lost the Way. It’s just that it became a mirror, and we don’t like the image we’re seeing (and that is a good thing).

The Real Church Online

Many churches struggle to have their online people connect. I will be the first to say that my church is no different, AND THAT IS MY “AREA”. Bluntly, it’s humiliating and depressing.

However, there are plenty of examples of churches that are being successful in building community online. By community, I mean a community that makes disciples that makes disciples. It includes people that are being transformed within their community. It includes people whose lives are being utterly transformed. It includes people that have found a place where they matter and can be honest with themselves and others.

Whom to trust?

As for placing a lot of weight on the physical gathering within the 4 walls, I do get it. We are wired for community, and physicality is a huge factor. There are other factors that are equally, if not more, important.

Pastors and church folks, we’ve got an issue. We are not trusted, including by ourselves. Think about many of the conversations in your church lobby, fellowship hall, classroom, parking lot, etcetera. How many honest, deep, and Jesus-centered conversations were being had pre-COVID? There were already issue with thin conversations, and rarely sharing of honest pain.

Even before my current church, I became trained to be very careful what I shared. I still overshared contextually, in that I shared deeper thoughts and concerns than others did because I wanted to model the behavior I wanted to characterize the church. Was that a mistake? From a human standpoint, definitely. From a pastoral standpoint, probably not (again, because I wanted to model the “goal” behavior).

The number of conversations I’ve had with people about not trusting people they worship with (even for years), hurts everytime. I understand that this undermines any commonality and any community we think we have.

“How are you?”


“How about them [enter sports team here]?”


Choose your innocuous topic. It’s being discussed openly, freely, and even (maybe) happily in your lobby (or wherever). That doesn’t make a community as the New Testament would have us understand it.

The 4 Walled Box

A lot of people aren’t returning to church and it isn’t because they’ve been consuming online. They aren’t returning because they don’t see why church matters to their lives. “Gathering” isn’t the issue. “Church” is the issue. What do the 4 walls of the church matter to people? Honestly, the church building is merely a symbol. It has, in many respects, become an empty one (and in these times that can seem to be literal).

I’m currently in a “class” called Communities on Mission. One of the quotes from the opening session is…

The Church doesn’t have a mission. The Mission has the Church.”

If you’re like me, I had a negative visceral reaction to the first sentence. Then I heard the second sentence. I replayed it to make sure I heard it right. I thought about it and realized that it was accurate.

What is especially accurate is how it pokes at us who are pastors.

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Ephesians 4:11–13 [NIV]

The “works of service” is what we are supposed to be equipping our people to do. I could point out that certain non-Christian traditions do a much better job than we do. It is part of their ethos. It is also (granted) part of their work to earn salvation (which is a different issue). Yet, ultimately, they do it because they believe they should.

To Gather

On to the next issue…the gathering. I understand that people do not perceive gathering digitally as, well, gathering. I understand that they do not understand. Except, we need to develop a missional mindset, and gathering within the 4 walls of the church may not be our future.

Some might say that, yes, missional for those outside of the church. That would be the majority of the population, so, yes. It is also, at this point, a significant proportion of our pre-COVID attendees.

It can be reasonably argued that the majority of the pre-COVID attendees who haven’t come back to church (even online) are an even more important of a missional field than those who have never attended. They were somewhat connected at some point, but are no longer. The embers of faith may not be yet dead.

Was This Really Needed?

Now, here comes my inference, which probably comes from some of my own woundedness. I emotionally took that last statement as arrogant and condescending. Knowing the person who posted it, I do not believe that this was their heart. Nor do I believe the people who liked or “Amen”‘d it were thinking that way either.

Even as I write this post, I am concerned that someone will respond to me in the say way (i.e., he’s arrogant and condescending). It is not my intent.

I acknowledge that there are some Christians that watch church online that need to have their faith rekindled and their joy in Christ restored. However, I would say that the same applies to many who enter our doors.

“Forget Going Back to the Office—People Are Just Quitting Instead” was posted a few days ago in the Wall Street Journal (14 June 2021). It’s probably my wiring (and focus) to ask, “what will the church do with this?

My expectation? Nothing.

A few days ago, Rey De Armes was with Jeff Reed on The Church Digital Podcast. Rey was the Digital Pastor for Christ Fellowship Miami. Pre-COVID, he was already feeling the nudge of God to (re-)pursue his joy of medicine. He’s out of ministry…or is he?

While Rey’s journey back to medicine started pre-COVID, there are a lot of pastors, church staff, and everyday Christians who will be moving on in the next few months (nope, not a statement about myself). There is a strong expectation that the next year will see a huge exit from the churches, not just the laypeople (though that is estimated to be 30%). It is expected that many staff and other leaders will be leaving, too.

Many are flat-out burned out. Others look back at COVID, and realize what their church had become, bound. Others realize that COVID has freed them of their (and perhaps even their denomination’s) expectations and even understanding of what it means to lead the church…and, even more positively, what it means to be the church.

The Industrial Revolution drew people into the cities pursuing a better life. The post-COVID revolution may send many people away from the cities. It used to be that the knowledge workers (including banks, lawyers, clergy, educators) would collect in particular places. Technology frees them (to some degree) from that.

10 years ago, I was the exception. My company decided that they wanted to keep me, even though I was moving away. We arranged a way for me to do remote work. I would still commute 2 days a week (approximately), but for manufacturing this was huge.

Fast forward to today, and what was revolutionary 10 years ago is now common. In fact, one of my sales contacts recently moved hundreds of miles away. She kept her job. She prefers the place that isn’t insanely expensive. Whole industries will be changing.

Will the people in the WSJ article be the norm? Probably not. Does a nearly double change reflect a new reality? Yes. Are we watching wages increase in leaps? Yes. Do we know exactly how things will change? No.

Many people are waiting to see how things will change. This may be the fatal mistake. My take is that things will be fluid for a number of years. How will organizations respond in a few years? Will they even be around to respond in a few years? Doing nothing is not a plan, or at least not a plan for success.

What does this have to do with Rey? Well, one of the big changes I see is that the church really needs to equip its people to be the ministers.

We clergy are to equip non-clergy folks to do the work of the ministry. Discipleship is definitely part of this. Discipleship is to be forming others to form others to be more like Jesus in love and mission. We talk a lot about love and holiness in regard to “Christ-like-ness”. We seem to skip the mission part.

We (the church and its clergy) are at a crossroads. We can hunker down behind the 4 walls that will fall down around our ears, or we move beyond the four walls and embrace the “Wild Goose” of the Holy Spirit and move forward into the world.

Digital isn’t great because it’s the newest shiny toy. Digital works best when it serves its purpose. The purpose of digital church (or the digital expression of it) is the mission. It is a structure. If we cannot rightly divide structure from serving mission, then we are either looking at the structure wrong or the mission.

The structure never was the mission. The mission is Christ’s…serve to save the world.

Innovation is only worthwhile if it’s of God.

Jeff Reed — “Intro to Multi-Modal“, Stadia Innovation March 2021 Meetup.

As someone who frequently says (regarding church things), “move fast and break stuff,” Jeff’s words are both encouraging and cautionary. Jeff’s words caused a visceral response in me, too.

Unblessed Sameness

“Staying in the same place, the same mode, the same way is only worthwhile if it’s of God.” Now, as I write this (and thought it) I haven’t completed (beyond the 2:45 mark) the presentation of Multi-Modal, but I’d hazard a guess that there will be something along the lines of this presented.

I love my denomination. Like any denomination (or any organization that is beyond around 2 years old), it will only move as needed (unless there is a visionary leader who can motivate others to transform the organization). I’m deeply concerned that the majority culture of the USA/Canada (region) church is stuck in its favored model.

This is beyond digital. Even physically, the USA/Canada region seems to be stuck on that singular building concept. As property becomes more expensive, and older buildings become harder to maintain, this may be the financial death knell of the region. If the church cannot break its emotional dependency upon a single model, I wonder if God will honor that.

A Question of Models

Currently, much of the Western church is asking, “how do we adapt our model [singular church building] to world?” The church building and all its activities remain at the center.

What if we asked, “what model will reach our community for Christ, and what place, if any, does this building or mode have to do with it?”

This is not to diminish the history of the building. By no means. There are many church buildings that move (emotionally) me closer to God the moment I step through their doors. I am a strong believer in the power of place. We just have to be open (myself included) to what the place is and will be to bring the light of Christ to the world.

Warning: this is a long post.

My Place

As this reflection may appear to be “anti” Church of the Nazarene, I want to be perfectly clear that while I address (what I perceive as) issues within the Church of the Nazarene (as a whole, and in particular my context of USA/Canada), it remains the denomination that God continues to draw me to remain. This is the denomination that God called me as a pastor. It will take much more than this post to change it.

However, Nazarene.Digital exists as my wake-up call to myself and to others that the Church of the Nazarene is not a digital denomination, and we are just as (if not more) called to the digital world as the physical world.

Digital More Than “Just” Matters

A few months ago, I was part of Stadia‘s Phygital 2.0 Cohort. As part of the pre-acceptance interview, I mentioned my denomination. The response was disappointing. This is not to knock the person in question’s perspective, but that it was the perspective was the disappointment. [An aside: that this response continues to rattle around in my head, heart, and spirit, is also telling]

The basic (gross paraphrase) response was that the denomination is so focused on the church building (despite unequivocally stating that “the church is the people; not the building”), that church planting seems to be doomed to failure in the current cultural context. I, it seems, was a breath of fresh air (and I’m sure I’m not the only one in the denomination, to be clear).

This was a church planter (and planter coach/coordinator’s) perspective of the denomination. It hurt, really.

To Plant

A number of years ago, I took a church planting course. One of the lessons from that course (offered within my local denominational district) was that new churches were statistically (there are always exceptions) more likely to draw new believers in (there are a number of reasons for this, which are far beyond this particular post or site).

My local district took that concept and ran with it (which deserves cheers and accolades). I observed, however, that it ran out of steam (at least to my eyes). I wonder if it is because of what was/is defined denominationally as a successful church plant: a building.

In the Puget Sound area (where I am currently), that is a huge stretch/ask. The best way to think of it is this, if a church is shut down and the property sold, there is no financial way to ever have a denominationally owned building again (Generally. I can think of a few non-traditional ways for that to occur. Then again, that’s non-traditional.).

If one applies that same financial reality to church planting, basing the success of a church plant on a building is setting the plant up to fail.

So, why all the pre-amble? One, it’s been building up for a while. Two, I read a Facebook post (targeted toward pastors within the denomination) from the last few days, and it finally caused me to put this into writing.

Here To Stay

The reality is that while our denomination and pastors have “embraced” digital during COVID and somewhat prior to that, it seems that it is more of a necessity than a perspective it is of equal value to gathering as a corporate body in a building. Even small groups (as allowed per COVID) or “home churches” are viewed as “less than” the “so-called” church.

The straw, so to speak, that broke my internal “camel’s” back was an approximate statement that if the person were not called to be a pastor, they wouldn’t attend any digital service. While that may have been only a single person’s words, the gist of too much of the pastoral conversation falls along this line. If it’s digital…forget it.

This is a denomination whose “mission” statement “…is to make Christlike disciples in the nations.” For me, “the nations” are just as much digital as they are political/tribal/social boundaries.

The Digital Nations

There is an irony here. We accept (denominationally and theologically) being missionaries to foreign countries. When we do such, we understand that we must change to present the Gospel. The mission and the Word don’t change. Just the methodology changes.

When it comes to physical, we don’t have a problem with it. When it is digital, it seems that our perspective is different. Digital doesn’t seem to even qualify as third-class.

I completely understand that for many (even most) people digital doesn’t “scratch” their (in-)person itch. I even understand that many people cannot equate “church” to digital. However, if we are truly to reach the nations, how we “feel” about digital is…irrelevant.

What may be the real stretch for pastors, the denomination, and even the wider church, is the coming digital-only churches.

Only—Not, Going—Digitial

Did you know that a number of new plants (no Church of the Nazarene that I am aware of) accelerated their planting strategy to become digital-first (and even digital-only) during COVID? They didn’t postpone their original physical plan (whether for 2020 or 2021). They wholescale changed it to digital, and started!

That may well be what comes next. Breaking the tie between physical and digital is not ideal. However, it may be necessary as too much training and culture is based on physical.

The Hard Part

It might be that we can bring the two together, someday. As there will likely be some sort of COVID-constrained behavior through 2021, the break may be necessary. A new mindset may be required.

If the Church of the Nazarene rises or falls is not really the point. The reality is that we (as Christians) are called to find ways to connect people to Jesus Christ. As hard as it may be to hear, the treasured buildings aren’t it.

God Does

If we believe that God is omnipresent, then would God not exist digitally, too?

I have received a lot of support that we need to do digital. I have come to realize, though, that almost all of it is intellectual assent. It isn’t belief.

There is a difference in a Christian who assents to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and one who believes it in heart and soul. So, too, is there a difference in a person who assents to digital, and the person who believes it.

Campus Versus Broadcast

Now for the more personal part. My current job title is Online Campus Pastor. Broadcasting isn’t an Online Campus.

I actually agree with many that live streaming (i.e., broadcasting) isn’t the community in which we are called to be part. The digital expression of church is not seeing what’s happening inside the building. I believe in actual groups of learning and accountability.

Rarely, would anyone disagree with groups of learning and accountability. Usually, we get equivocations, rationales, excuses, and reasoning (many of which are understandable) as why people do not belong to groups of learning and accountability. We get them all the time when it comes to physical.

It is just that these can happen effectually and deeply online. All it takes is people willing to be so. Wait, that sounds like physical, too.

Tech to Fulfill the Mission

There is definitely a transformation that is needed. The real issue isn’t COVID. It isn’t Zoom fatigue. It isn’t Facebook. It isn’t Twitter.

The real issue it that digital pervades, and the church seems to be doing its best to do the bare minimum, and usually a few years behind.

What if the church didn’t use the Roman Road? A brief historical recap. The Roman Road was a historic marvel. The Roman Empire build a road of stone (versus dirt and mud) across the empire. Along with the Pax Romana (the military enforced peace across the empire), the road allowed the church to spread. Where the Roman Road was, so, too, was the church (eventually).

If the church stuck to the dirt byways because it was “traditional”, would the churches of Philippi, Ephesus, Laodicea and even have existed to have letters written to them (also spread by the Roman Road)? Digital is the Roman Road.

Digital’s Pending Physical Reality

Even amidst my concern for the now, it is the future that concerns me most. Extended Reality (covering both the Augmented—Google Glass, Magic Leap, Holo Lens—and Virtual—Oculus, Vive, Gear—Reality) is coming. The church has to start addressing it now.

Much of the same theological and cultural issues will be applicable. One of the pending ones, touch, is where the church needs to really be looking at it. Even most of my digital peers, I don’t think, are covering this.

The tech exists, now, to “touch”. Think about that. The excuse of being unable to “hug” a person goes away. Researchers at the University of Birmingham studied Rayleigh Waves. They discovered an electronic (i.e., performable by a future digital interface) way to “tell” the brain we “felt” something. We already have the simplified haptic system, but this ushers in something far greater.

VR baptisms are already a thing. They are dismissed. What if you can feel the water cover you?

One of the things that comes to mind as I listen to DC Talk’s Mind’s Eye is Billy Graham’s riff on the wind (yes, he was talking about the Holy Spirit). We know it exists. We see its effects. We never see it.

Why is it so hard to apply that same thought digitally?

Vaporware Campus

If you’ve made it this far down this post, I’m amazed (and, thank you for your time). This isn’t an “optimized” digital post (too long, I know).

As I reflect of almost a year of COVID, and being “the digital” pastor, I’ve come to a conclusion. The term of Online Campus Pastor does not apply. In my current context (with nothing against my church, its staff, or its people), I don’t see that becoming a reality.

This isn’t its way. It is the mirror I look at my denomination. My local church was far ahead of many Church of the Nazarene churches.

The tech concept of do new things and break them (you still have to have a plan, though) often is, for many, contrary to the way of the church. I get it from a church history and theology standpoint. I support it to great extent.

I am just at a different place for what that means in regard to church expression. What that means for the near-, medium-, and long-term, I don’t know. I can only be faithful to where I discern God is calling me, even while I try to learn what exactly that means.

If I’m talking for an hour a week, and they’re feeding their souls with something else 15 hours a week,” Bezner said, “I simply can’t win.”

A pastor’s life depends on a coronavirus vaccine. Now he faces skeptics in his church. Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Washington Post. Dec. 11, 2020 (web).

One of the reality checks that “the church” received during the COVID-19 restrictions is that the “teaching” done on Sundays isn’t enough. There has long been an assumption that people show up, so they must be being spiritually trained and discipled.

The Small Group movement had some recognition that this wasn’t actually true. However, many churches used small groups more as an attraction and assimilation rather than inculcation. In other words, always focusing on felt needs and “interest” issues resulted in people untrained and undiscipled.

There are many folks who talk about “consumer” Christianity. This might well be it. Bezner makes a solid point, and it has come to prominence in certain “church” circles. So, what are we doing for the remaining 167 hours a week (which is way more than Bezner’s 15 hours)?

In the COVID-19 environment, churches are building out Facebook—and other platform—groups. Churches are posting large amounts of pithy pictures and sayings. A church page may be getting likes, but likes do not equal engagement.

Engagement is the new “buzzword”. That doesn’t invalidate it. On the contrary, “engagement” has become part of the necessary language due to how social media works (especially, Facebook).

However, what has been happening is that somehow engagement has become an assumption that people have been discipled. Engagement does not equal discipleship.

The hardest part about North American and European Christians is that discipleship has a cost, and most do not want to pay it. The cost? Time.

This may not be a battle the church can win. That sounds depressing. This also may be the truth that sets the church free.

The church has been running with blinders for too many decades. Even, it seems, its “faithful” are not quite the “faithful” that the Scriptures have in mind. Nickels and noses is no longer adequate (and it really never was). Engagement may be marginally better than nickels and noses.

Even so, the church and all Christians are called to make disciples.

Has our definition of ministry become so focused on the building that we can’t change lives outside of it?

Nona Jones, From Social Media to Social Ministry

Nona Jones is concerned that the church is overly focused on the plane. And everything it does, is concerned with building.

I think she is correct in that our definition of ministry is too entrenched in the building.

Reality is, however, that we have been deluding ourselves into thinking any transformation is occurring in the building at all.

Digital ministry gives us the freedom to reach people wherever and whenever they are. It also removes our pride and our blinders from our assumption that Sunday is the day when it all “happens”.

One of the big struggles with the current church online scenario is what to do with kids. Churches are struggling with it. In many ways the problem can be summarized this way…

Don’t try to digitize the past or the present. We need to invent the industry of tomorrow.

Erik Swedberg

The quote is actually from a Dassault webinar I watched, but the application is wide-ranging. Churches are asking how can we do kids ministry online the same way we used to. The answer…we can’t.

We can’t just approximate what we did physically for children in the digital space.

We may have to go “old school” and disciple and equip the parents to engage their kids.

We may all have to act as if the time of church programs that often acted as free (or discount) kid watching (and, yes, brought lots of people in and built relationships) is over.

Emily Flake wrote a piece titled, My Kid Sold Her Soul to Roblox: It’s my daughter’s main social outlet, and I’m not taking it away from her. In it we read a parent’s struggle with the current reality of living remotely.

This is not to argue against gathering physically (Flake certainly isn’t). It is to recognize that part of the church’s struggle with kids ministry in the current context is that we’re trying to do it the same way that we’ve been doing it for decades.

Here’s the question, though. If kids ministry has been so effective the way we’ve been doing it for the last few decades, then why has the percentage of identifying Christians continued to drop at an increasing rate?

Maybe COVID is our guilt-free way of pressing reset on church.