Social media. Podcasts. Live Stream Video. Blogs. In the online connectedness of 2016, digital means like these are well-trodden roads of sharing, exchanging, and gathering information—even eternal information. Many Christians (like me) have hopped aboard the technological train to carry the divine truths of the gospel into this densely populated space we call the Internet.
However, some believers aren’t so keen on all this “media ministry” stuff. They are quick to criticize it because it lacks the personal interaction that real-time ministry provides. I understand and partially agree with this criticism, but I think it is both inaccurate and unfair to label media ministry an ineffective waste of time. Real-time preaching, teaching, and evangelism are irreplaceable vehicles of gospel delivery, but God is not so restricted that he can only minister within a few traditional modes of communication. He knew the digital age was coming before the ages even began, and there’s no doubt in my mind that he predetermined to utilize the far-reaching capabilities of technology for his redemptive purposes. I don’t believe God frowns upon new and innovative techniques of sharing his timeless truth but rather smiles on them and uses them in tremendous ways.
Some may rightly assume I have a high regard for media ministry because I spend 40-50 hours a week constructing gospel-related content to push out through my own online blog. But before I ever even put my redeemed fingers to a keyboard, God was using media ministry mightily in my life. I received Christ not at an altar in a church after hearing a sermon but at the foot of my bed after watching a YouTube video. I had friends who were witnessing to me in real time, and they played a massive role in my conversion process. Yet it was through a YouTube video that God effectively called me to faith and repentance. And since that day, the sea of gospel resources available on the Internet has been a sanctifying treasure in my life. Sermons, podcasts, articles, and even many online Christian friends have served my soul in a thousand different ways. Much of my enthusiasm in participating in media ministry is undergirded by my gratitude for how massively it has benefited me, personally.
But as I said, I understand the critical shots fired its way. Media ministry should supplement real-time ministry, not replace it—yet many are inclined to do the latter. The biggest downfall of the digital age is that it has enabled people to live (if you want to call it “living”) their lives behind a computer screen. Many Christians have fallen into this trap. Nearly the whole sum of their spiritual life is practiced in physical solitude. They don’t fellowship in a physical space with other believers because they can fellowship with their Facebook friends. They don’t share the gospel in real time because they can be Twitter evangelists. They don’t go to church on Sunday because they can catch a sermon online. This virtual breed of Christianity deceives its participants into believing they are practicing the spirituality that God desires when, in reality, they are practicing a cheap imitation of it.
1. God commands us to physically gather together.
“Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” – Hebrews 10:24-25. Though we can stir one another up to love and good works via the internet, it is not the primary way we are instructed to do so. Online interaction is good and helpful when it is treated as a supplementary blessing. But when it becomes our main source of spiritual-social activity, we have stepped beyond God’s good design for our lives and are robbing ourselves of the encouragement and strength that only fellowship in real time can provide.
There are innumerable benefits of face-to-face fellowship that cannot be experienced in an online context. One of which is being deeply loved despite your flaws and quirks and character weaknesses. Online, you ultimately control how you are perceived and how much of you is perceived. You almost always portray a version of yourself that is a whole lot prettier (in personality) than the real you, and your internet comrades do the same. It’s easy to love a person who lives a thousand miles away and only portrays their lovable qualities! But when you regularly engage with people face-to-face, it’s just a matter of time before people see the whole you and you see the whole them—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Sins are exposed. Flaws are seen. Personality quirks annoy. And this is a good thing! Because it is in being fully known yet loved anyway in a physical, covenantal context that we experience the soul-nourishing fellowship God wills for us. It’s in this unconditional, constantly-forgiving, sin-overlooking kind of love that we learn more fully of the love that God has for us.
2. God desires that we share the gospel in real time.
Though online evangelism can be effective to a degree, there is no space more fertile for the birth of faith than real-time, interpersonal relationships. There is always going to be an element of impersonality when you communicate the gospel through the internet or radio or articles or video—no matter how heavily your personality saturates your content. The lost recipients of your message will never be able to know you like the lost people in your immediate life can know you. You will never be able to show them the love of Christ in the same way you can show it to those in your immediate life. Only in real-time relationships can you manifest the gospel in word and deed.
3. God wills for us to hear his word taught in real time.
Some Christians have lost sight of the fact that the proclamation of the Word over the physical gathering of believers is one of the primary means by which Christ nourishes his body. We’ve grown to merely endure the pastor’s sermon or the Sunday school teacher’s lesson rather than spiritually feeding on these nutritious means of grace. Many believers opt to listen to a sermon online in place of attending a real-time worship service. But when Paul says, “faith comes through hearing” (Romans 10:17), and that we are to grow in Christ through continually “hearing with faith” (Galatians 3: 2-3), he is envisioning people listening to the word of God proclaimed in real-time. I certainly believe that “hearing” encapsulates, at a secondary level, tuning into a sermon podcast or even soaking up the gospel saturated contents of an article or book. But God’s primary avenue of delivering faith—and fanning existing faith into flame—is through a physical messenger. Real-time, in the flesh preaching and teaching. There is something special and profoundly beneficial in listening to your own pastor, Sunday school teacher, or community group leader proclaim the Word of God.
I am so grateful to be a Christian at this moment in history. I feel tremendously blessed to be able to enjoy and be edified by the abundance of gospel resources available through media ministry. But sermon podcasts, blogs, and online fellowship can never replace the rich ministry of real-time fellowship, real-time evangelism, and real-time preaching and teaching. God’s good will for our lives is that we would follow him primarily in the context of a physical, local church. All solid media ministry should spur us on toward a pursuit of Jesus that extends well beyond the computer screen.