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Confessions of a Digital Church Pastor

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digital pastor confessions

I have now funded, planted, and pastored a fully digital church for the past two years. I started structuring Lux Digital Church on paper privately three years ago. I was dreaming about it and praying about it three and a half years ago. I am far from the most experienced person when it comes to Digital Ministry. Innovative churches across the country have been doing digital ministry in one form or another since... well... the internet. However, Lux is unique in the fact that it's not a funded digital campus of a physical church. It's not a digital ministry of a physical church either. Lux is its own entity, and some aspects of it are unique to the world of digital ministry and digital church expression. I am not starting this blog that way to claim bragging rights or to take pride in my accomplishments. If anything, my time in digital ministry has shown me that what has happened at Lux has happened more despite me than it has because of me.

At first, what I saw happening through Lux seemed natural because God had revealed the vision for it before it happened. My expectations were God-sized expectations. However, after a few years in the space, I have realized how truly unique Lux is and what an honor it has been to be part of the church's origin story. I start this way because I want to make a few confessions for those that God sends next. There are a few things that were hard for me to understand and swallow when we got started, and over time, I have realized they are mostly occupational hazards.

To help the next generation of nerd culture pastors, digital missionaries, and digital church planters count the cost, I want you to be aware of some of the things I have faced in our planting journey. This most likely won't be the last Confessions-style blog I write either. I want to get what I learned out of my head and onto the digital paper, so it's not wasted. With all that borderline pointless preamble, here are three confessions of a digital church pastor.

People won't be able to hide their disappointment.

There will be some people who applaud you and speak highly of your innovation and courage to do something new. But many will see what you are doing as a threat to them, their skillset, their ego, or their worldview. They may not directly tell you that what you are doing seems stupid, but they will communicate that in their own way. They will ask why you are not sending people to a physical church. Why you didn't start a mission's agency. They will tell you how much they miss you or how much they wish you were still around. They will ask if you think that much technology really is good for people. It's typically well-meaning, but it will all communicate to you that you did not meet their hopes and expectations for your life.

The harder part is that some people will want to come with you, and they will be disappointed that they can't. Family members who would have come to your church plant won't understand your digital world. They won't tell you that they dislike what you are doing, but you will notice it through their lack of interest or disengagement. Former colleagues won't understand the weight you carry, and you will quickly find yourself tiptoeing around failures and victories because those stories won't feel as safe in some relationships as they used to. You will feel very isolated.

However, some precious older voices will remember when they planted a church, started a new ministry, or launched their new business and will understand what you are going through. They won't feel the need to compete, and they will have had some very similar low points where they second-guessed themselves, were fiercely angry, and wanted to give up. They will have felt alone too. They won't understand what you are practically doing. But they won't need to. They will understand what is going on inside of you. They understand that planting and innovating is a spiritual and mental game first. They will understand not being understood and second-guessed. They will know the cost of following Jesus is often that many people you love won't get it and won't be able to mask their disappointment. They will be able to make time for you and take your call because they understand the need for that lifeline. Don't dismiss or take those relationships for granted. You will need them.

Enjoying something doesn't disqualify it.

This one has more to do with the fact that Lux is planted in the world of gaming, and I am a gamer. It took me a long time to decide if God was asking us to start a digital church or if I just wanted to play video games and livestream. As it turns out, I have less time to play games now than I did before. You will talk to friends, family members, and coworkers who will dismiss what you are doing because it seems too enjoyable.

There will be some deep-held belief that to follow Jesus, you have to do things you don't enjoy. They will see you mentoring someone while playing a game with them or doing life with them, and they will dismiss the work because of the medium. They will hear about you connecting deeply with someone over a game of Dungeons and Dragons and scoff at you and say that "all you do is play games" (literally heard that one at a friend's Memorial Day picnic). But just because you enjoy something does not mean that God is not leading you to it. People who are unfulfilled with their job or did not have the courage to step out in faith like you have will act like you don't have a real job.

There is an overwhelming belief in our culture that a job is only "real" when you can complain about it. God called Abraham to great wealth, a great family, and a great nation. All the things Abraham desired. Will God call us to do things that we won't want to do? Absolutely. God doesn't leave us in our comfort zone. However, just because you are passionate about it doesn't mean that God isn't calling you to it.

It will utterly consume your life, and people won't understand why.

I have heard a lot of church planters say that their church is like an additional child. If they have two kids and a church plant, it's more like having three kids. So, to be fair, I am not sure this is totally unique to digital church planting. I think it's the burden that every church planter carries to a certain extent. However, I think the always-on nature of the digital space means that you never stop thinking about it. I am virtually never off. Even when I am off.

Last year, we went on a short beach vacation with my family. On day three, I ran my car into a wall inside a parking garage. To be fair, it wasn't my car. I borrowed it, and that made it so much worse. The point is I drove straight into the wall. I was looking at the wall. I knew it was there. It took me three days on the beach, fully unplugged, to finally decompress and relax. When I did, I drove directly into a wall. At least in the early stages of Lux, I seem to only have two gears: fully consumed and always on, or driving into walls while I am looking right at them. People won't understand that. They won't understand why you keep telling your spouse that you are "working" at 10:00 PM or why you can't just relax and put it away for the weekend. They won't understand why you are always on your phone. They will hear you talking about church and ministry all the time and dismiss it as an unhealthy obsession. To a certain extent, they will be right. It is unhealthy, and I am always on.  They will look at your job and not understand the weight you are carrying, the fatigue it causes or the spiritual and relational exhaustion that comes with it.  They have never carried it and they simply can’t understand it until they have.

However, when you are building something new, especially in digital space, you won't be able to turn it off. I'm still looking for the off button. Let me know if you find it. This is one of the things that physical church planters will get. Find some people that are planting churches at the same time.  They will understand the weight of what you are carrying.  You won’t be able to talk to your friends that are still youth pastors or family pastors or those that inherited an established church.  The weight is different.

Conclusion

Perhaps you won’t have any of these experiences in your own journey.  Most of my pain in planting has come from existing relationships.  I don’t blame them.  It’s no one’s fault.  No one could have done anything better.  I have a great and amazingly supportive family, church, friends, and community.  Even with all of that it hasn’t been easy.  Too often in the world of church planting we hear all the stories of victory and not the inner voices that people are battling with.  I know that people look at Lux from the outside and see a “success” in some ways.  But success and easy are far from synonyms.  I hope this gives you a peak behind the curtain of my brain.  I don’t want to just show the spit polished side of my life.  What all of that said, this has been the confessions of a digital church pastor.

What do you think?  Share your ideas below or on social media.

Through the Digital Church Network we are helping physical and digital churches better understand the discipleship process, and helping churches and church planters understand this and other decentralized mindset shifts. Joining the DCN is free and be encouraged! 

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About Author

Mark Lutz
Mark Lutz

Mark Lutz is the lead and founding pastor of Lux Digital Church. Lux is a fully digital church expression that exists on Twitch and Discord with the purpose of reaching people in the online gaming community. Mark and his wife Jenn served a local physical church outside of Pittsburgh for 11 years before stepping out to start Lux in early 2021. For more information on how Mark can help your church, check out http://thechurch.digital/mark

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