Passive and Active Disciples

It has been said before that we are a generation living in a culture of commercials and consumption. According to some social scientists, we see an unbelievable 4,000 to 10,000 adverts every day. And if my own experience is a trustworthy barometer then that number has skyrocketed even higher during lockdown, but that’s mainly because my own screen time has ballooned beyond any normal or recommended amount. (No Screentime, I don’t want to know my daily or weekly screen time averages. I don’t need that kind of judgment in my life right now!)

And advertisers know it. Everyone now has an online gimmick. Most are ignored or are dismissed by the click of a button. But some grab our extended attention. And some have even proved useful. One of my sons is learning guitar thanks to a very smart and interactive app, and the small monthly fee is worth every penny.

Everyone has needed to adapt to an online world. And that includes churches as well. The church has always had an online presence ever since dial-up and websites were a thing. At the beginning it was mainly for those who just wanted to know the location, hours, or doctrine of a particular church. Over time it progressed as a useful tool for those who missed church and wanted to hear the recorded sermon. But now it is much more than a useful tool; it has become an essential piece. As by definition, the church exists as a gathered community of Christ followers, and so when the government restricted social gatherings we had to turn online or cease to be the “gathered” church altogether. And it has been incredible. It is so encouraging to watch churches, like ours, move online. There is so much creativity. There is online worship, preaching, prayer meetings, house groups, devotionals (like this), and still more. And people are being blessed and people are being saved. I still remember talking to the lady at Tesco on Easter morning. I said “Happy Easter” to her and she replied mournfully, “this is the first time ever in my history that the church hasn’t opened on Easter.” “True” I replied, “but you can always watch online!”… “Wow! They do that?!” She honestly had no idea that was an option. And I have no idea whether she watched or not, but I do know that there are an incredible number of people who are now watching online who have never listened to a sermon before.

All of this is incredible! And I praise God for this type of adaptation. Jesus said “I will build my church”, and I don’t think He is dissuaded by the coronavirus or a government lockdown.

But there is a part of me that is also filled with caution. While I believe with my whole heart that the Church is not (intentionally) motivated by marketing, I do know that we by nature behave like consumers. We have been conditioned to do so by everything in our world. And more than that, our very sin nature wants it. It is convenient to passively receive. It feels good to click and buy and receive, rather than to work and to discover on our own. And I am just as guilty.

So this message is not a condemnation of online church. Far from it. Online church is helpful and useful. But it is an encouragement to resist passive consumption and to learn to hear and understand for ourselves.

One of my favorite stories has always been the prophet Samuel as a child. Samuel was the last of the Judges and would be the one to anoint King Saul as the first king of Israel. But when he was young he lived in the house of Eli the Priest. And like every kid Samuel looked up to his mentor. Eli was a religious and respected man, and surely Eli heard from God. So when God finally spoke to Samuel, he did not perceive it.

1 Samuel 3 tells the story how Samuel heard the voice of the Lord in the middle of the night. But believing it to be Eli who was calling, the little boy went into his masters room and asked what it was he needed. Eli said it wasn’t him and to go back to bed. This happened a second time, and this time after Eli said it wasn’t him, he realized it must be the Lord. And so Eli said to Samuel to wait for a third time and then to respond directly to God.

And the LORD came and called as before, “Samuel. Samuel.” And Samuel replied “Speak Lord for your servant is listening.” (1 Sam 3:10)

I have always loved this story. Over the years It has encouraged me to pursue the Lord and to strive to hear His voice. Now I have never heard the audible voice of the Lord, but I have learned to discern God’s voice and His will in my own life. I also love this verse as my own kids get older. I love to sit with them and teach them that they too must learn to listen for the voice of God. That even though I would impart to them everything I know, what they really need is to dig deep into God’s Word for themselves. To pray. To listen. To live out their lives as active disciples who are engaged with God and the world around them.

My encouragement and desire for them is the same that it is for my friends in church. Let’s stay active and engaged! Let’s listen for the voice of God and say, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening!”

Reflections for the Week 

  • What things have blessed you with Online Church? Take time to Praise God for them right now! Be thankful for the gift of online encouragement. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights.” (James 1:17)
  • Ask God if there might be any patterns of a consumer mindset in your life. Be honest and be open to the answer. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” (Psalm 139:24)
  • Wage war against passive consumption. Look for ways to grow in your personal engagement of faith. Make time to sit alone with God. Read, Study and Meditate on God’s Word. Pursue Active Discipleship
  • Seek out ways to put faith into practice, even in times of lockdown. There are many online articles and conversations of Followers of Jesus seeking ways to stay active in their love to others.  Here is a good one to start:

35 ways to love your neighbors right now