There’s a saying I’ve heard for as long as I’ve been in ministry that community is the best environment for discipleship.
While there’s definitely some truth to that statement, I don’t feel like it’s completely true. There’re nuances that are worth exploring, especially when digitally discipling. Community can take various forms, and sometimes when one thinks they’re creating community, they’re really just creating proximity.
You can gather people together, but that doesn’t always mean they’re family.
You can even get family together, but that doesn’t always mean they’re acting like one.
The Power of Community
This week I came across the new ‘Lausanne Occasional Paper: Being Church in a Digital Age’. It's worth the read as it’s thoughtfully balanced. In that paper, I came across a section that articulated some of the same ideas I’ve been wrestling down over the years regarding ‘Digital Church and Authentic Community’.
I love some of the ways that the Church is recognizing the power of digital connections. It comes just in time, especially considering the mental health problems mushrooming in society from the epidemic of loneliness and isolation found in our post-Christian, post-COVID culture. The dearth of community in society is slowly killing us, since lacking in social connection is as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day as stated on page 11 of The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community. Fascinating in that advisory is discovery of 3 vital components of Social Connection: Structure, Function, Quality.
Since I can’t turn off my brain in thinking of the Church, I couldn’t help but note that as society agrees with God that it’s “not good for man to be alone,” there are components of social connection that we don’t talk about much in the Church.
I notice lots of debate about the structure of Church as an expression of social connection: big, small, digital, physical, gathered, scattered, mega, multi, micro, meta, with lots of talk around proximity; while little discussion around the function and quality of Church.
Think about that.
It seems that so much effort is focused around ensuring real proximity and letting community just happen, what if we did it the other way. What if we followed page 51 of the the U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory’s call on the 4th of 6 Pillars to advance Social Connection being to ‘Reform Digital Environments’ by supporting the development of pro-connection technologies (hear digital church)? In other words, what if we put our focus and energy around ensuring real community and letting proximity just happen?
What if we ensured community by taking a hard look at the function of our communities to expand Jesus Kingdom not by simply gathering, but by offering emotional support, mentorship (discipleship in the way of Jesus) and support in a crisis?
What if we reminded ourselves to think twice about the quality of our interactions since: every idle word will be accounted for on the day of judgement, including tweets and comments; and also has the power to build others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen regardless of how we communicate it?
Maybe we should focus on what our society needs and start working toward what really matters. Maybe community isn’t the best environment for discipleship, friendship and family is. Then maybe we will not worry about where we worship, but how we worship the Father — in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.
What do you think? Share your ideas below or on social media.
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