I went to bed last night around 10:25pm. There was nothing unusual about that but while I was sleeping, just eight minutes later at 10:33pm, another terrorist attack, this time in Manchester, England, terminated the lives of umpteen young people, adults and children.
This is the immediate and very relevant backdrop to this blog piece.
The Future of the Church
In Hebrews 10:24-25 the Bible says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
As I think about what the future of the church may or may not look like, whether or not technology will fit into this, I will be led by what the Bible says rather than the predictions or trends of the digital world. No question. If, like me, you are a lover and follower of Jesus, the Bible is also the number one authority of your life because it is the living, breathing word of the resurrected Christ (Colossians 3:16).
This verse from Hebrews tells us five important things relating to the future of the church:
1) Consider Methods
In this verse we’re told that it’s right to actually think about how we might spur other believers on towards love and good deeds. Notice that it doesn’t tell us to think about whether or not we will encourage each other to these ends but, rather, to think about the ways, the methods, the options and opportunities before us via which we might, we could and we should. We absolutely should be considering how our individual and corporate use of digital technology is going to feature in our overall objective to encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ. (The Bible assumes that we are in fact encouraging each other and presses us to think about how).
2) Towards Love and Goodness
Part of the end goal of this verse is that we’re encouraging each other towards love and goodness. This is very specific. In what ways could you and I, and our churches, harness digital technology specifically to encourage love and goodness? For example, does our corporate use of Facebook Live actually encourage the people in our worlds to ‘spur’ each other along towards being more loving? Or does it simply share information with a burden only for marketing?
The image that this verse conjures in my mind is of a jockey encouraging their horse to run faster to win the race. Does the emerging church of the future, utilising various digital elements, serve to spur each other on to the right things…to win the race? (1 Cor. 9:24). I believe that our use of digital technology should encourage biblical literacy as one of the main elements towards our loving goodness. Does your use of digital technology prioritise encouraging others to love and know Jesus and His word? E-church should always point to Him.
3) Not Giving Up
Talking of trends, digital or otherwise, this verse tells us that one major trend in the days leading up to Jesus’ future return will be that some people will give up meeting together – sheep separated from the flock. There can be many reasons that people arrive at this point in their journey but a major one is that love and goodness aren’t genuinely in the DNA of the community of faith – a love/goodness famine. This is very common in church life: more of an emphasis on tasks and rotas and events rather than the simple but profound call on us all us to prioritise loving and extending goodness to each other.
So, any expressions of “E-church” must genuinely enable people to feel the safety, attraction and presence of meeting together within the conditions of genuine love and goodness. In a day and age where counterfeit versions of love and goodness parade like Pharisees preening themselves in mirrors of self-admiration, we must ensure digital technology teaches what genuine Jesus-love looks like, completely perfect in both grace and truth.
4) All the More
It’s important to notice that this verse includes a quantifiable element – i.e increasing frequency. The use of digital elements in the church of the future must be in line with believers not just meeting together to encourage towards love and goodness but also to encourage them to do so increasingly! Rather than church being a Sunday event once a week, this verse tells us that that the church of the future will look like Sunday more often (in the sense that we meet together more often). God-honouring use of digital technology will therefore enable believers to meet more often. Rather than regurgitated ‘church news’ or ‘notices’, E-church will bring people together in love and worship much more regularly and, possibly, even 24/7. Have you ever thought why it is that these types of technology are emerging at this time in history?
5) Watching the Thief Approach
Finally, on the one hand, the Bible says that the Day of the Lord will be like a thief in the night (1 Thes. 5:2; 2 Pet.3:10) meaning that it will be a moment in history that no-one will imminently expect, or in one sense, be completely prepared for. On the other, Hebrews 10:25 clearly says that we will see the day approaching. This paints an interesting picture similar to ten-year-old Kevin in the classic Home Alone movie who knew that the two burglars would be returning to his house at exactly 9pm to break and enter. What’s the point? That the Bible is saying that we won’t know exactly when “The Day” will be, (we won’t know the precise time), and yet we will still be able to see it approaching. We’re seeing that now as the conditions ripen in the Nations, almost weekly, for Jesus Christ to split the sky. The context of the church of the future is the return of Jesus Christ and, therefore, how do we use digital technology with that in mind?
E-church and Your Church
So, I would ask, again, how are the electronic or digital aspects of the church of the now and the emerging church of the future actually responding to our times? As you consider your church’s digital strategy and activity, are you prioritising the timeless and prophetic wisdom from this verse in Hebrews?
Consider the options open to you that would enable your people to become increasingly encouraged towards love and goodness, meeting together in a genuinely loving (not busy) community and, crucially, how all of this will happen increasingly.
For one example of this, please see the Jesus Come project here.
Nick Franks is a freelance digital leader living in resplendent Edinburgh, Scotland. Learning to love as he should, Nick is engrossed in living a contagious lifestyle of worship and prayer. He sweats under his eyes when he eats too much cheese, adores Liverpool FC and has a strong preference for Earl Grey leaf tea. Nick is married to the beautiful Mairi. Consider contacting Nick at www.nicholasfranks.com for any of your media-related projects in photography, writing and film.
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