A few years back I did a series of sermons entitled Ancient Faith in a Digital Age.
I guess like a lot of preachers at that time my main concern was to highlight that the internet was a mixed blessing and to help wean people off an over dependence on digital technology.
Here we are a few years later and every church building is closed on a Sunday and the internet is our communication lifeline.
Preachers who tried to get people to be online less are now urging hearers to connect to live streamed sermons, podcasts and Zoom meetings.
From seeking to control the traffic in the information highway, preachers have turned into high priests of the digital world.
The message “handle with care”, has been replaced by “log in, and don’t forget to check your email!”
It is ironic that one of the popular books of 2020, especially among younger pastors, is ‘The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry’ by John Mark Comer. In the foreword John Ortberg writes, “The average iPhone user touches his or her phone 2,617 times a day … What would my life be like if God touched my mind as frequently as I touch my phone?”
Comer writes to encourage us to take the idea of Sabbath seriously, so that we will have space to breathe, reflect, refocus and re-centre.
I guess he didn’t anticipate that during this year most people would find that they had time on their hands!
People forced into isolation have found creative ways to connect because we are wired up to be parts of a community.
Some of my friends have spoken to me about how many non-Christians have begun to tune in to their services.
How do preachers and hearers use this time to the best effect?
Be at rest. Do not become anxious about trying to do too much. Graham Tomlin, the Bishop of Kensington has spoken recently on Twitter (@gtomlin) about “Zoom fatigue”.
Be sustainable. One pastor I spoke to recently has said that the church has set off on a sprint with their digital interaction, when we are actually running a marathon. We need wisdom to shape our approach to what the church provides week by week.
Be focused. We might need to do things in different ways, but we are still preachers who want to connect with the church and a watching world. Change is essential in our church life but there is a danger of changing so much and so fast that people become disorientated.
Be intentional: This week’s Spectator Magazine contained a thoughtful article entitled ‘In this strange new world, where do we find purpose?’ by the journalist Douglas Murray. Murray asks where we are likely to find meaning during this crisis and makes the suggestive comment: “…we are most likely to find meaning in the places where meaning has been found before. That what has seen our forebears through, and nourished them, will see us through and nourish us in turn.”
We have seen an increase in talking with the ones we love, walking in the fresh air, cooking our own food, listening to great music and reading good books.
What a golden opportunity for the church to point people to those places where meaning has been found before.
The internet provides contemporary tools to help us re-discover the old paths.
Maybe that is what John Mark Comer has in mind in the subtitle of his book:
‘How to stay emotionally healthy and spiritually alive in the chaos of the modern world’
“Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest”. (Matthew 11: 28)