During Covid we created a live stream so that those that were unable to come to our corporate gatherings due to health concerns could still take part. It was an imperfect solution, but one that I regret not having done even before Covid. Many of you don’t know this, but in 2019 my mom spent 4 and a half months in the hospital before passing away and I know that had she been able to participate, even imperfectly, in our gathering it would have served her well during those last days with us. You might notice that in the Weekly we’ve started posting a link to our live-stream once again. We do so in order to serve those of you, who like my mom, are unable to join us in our corporate gathering. We hope that doing so serves you well, but we have decided not to make the live-stream available to the general public, nor do we encourage you to use it except in rare cases. In an age where live-streaming seems to be a strategy that churches are increasingly encouraging and investing in this might seem like an odd decision.
There are several reasons why:
1. Church isn’t something you go to (or watch on a device), it is a community that you belong to. Oz Guinness describes that reality in this way:
“The call of Jesus runs counter to these modern trends[i] because it is inescapably a corporate calling. Our word church translates the common, secular Greek word for a popular “assembly.” But with its root meaning in the word for “called out” and its Old Testament meaning in the idea of a “called out people,” the church is the assembly of God’s people, called out by him and belonging to him. Each of us is summoned individually and therefore uniquely and personally. But we are not summoned to be a bunch of individual believers, rather to be a community of faith.[ii]”
If we encourage people to “participate” in the life of the church by simply joining us on our live stream we are failing to encourage the richness of what God has for his children—a richness that is only discovered in the messy realities of gospel centered community.
2. We are embodied people, created in the image of God for real relationship–with God and relationship with each other. When we dilute church down to simply something that can be streamed through the internet, that we come to as consumers, we detach ourselves from what we really need. The Bible describes the ideal context for our growth to be in deep, committed relationship with each other—a relationship often described as being members of the same body. That kind of relationship requires us to be physically present, it requires us to give of ourselves to others. Without each of us participating in our gatherings, we rob each other of fully experiencing what God has for us in the body of Christ.
3. We want the first experience that people have with us infused with the richness of who we are as a community, not just what we provide in a Sunday service. Nothing can be a substitute for the kindness of a warm greeting, of having the opportunity to be prayed for, of being welcomed into our family gathering, and catching a glimpse of the life of the church. Our mission isn’t simply to craft a service where people can have a religious experience, it is to gather as a community of people, united under Jesus and his word, to put on display his love for the world. Jesus himself describes it this way as he prays for his church:
John 17:22–23 (ESV)
22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. The first thing we want people to see when they come to one of our gatherings, whether they are just investigating who Jesus is or have walked with him for years, is a glimpse of the glory that he speaks of. A glory that is expressed in our unity with one another so that the world will know that God has sent Jesus, and that God loves them. The glory of God manifested in his church, even as we imperfectly reflect it, is a glory that is seen in the beauty of human relationships.
[i] Oz Guinness isn’t speaking about live-streaming, but we would include it as an example of the trends that he speaks of.
[ii] Oz Guinness, The Call, p. 101