“Mark Zuckerberg: Facebook Can Fill the Role Played by Churches,” declared recent headlines.
It should come as no surprise to us that Mark could reach such a conclusion. He sees people’s innate desire for community. He’s a decent guy (by the world’s standards) and wants to give something back. He sees his profession as a way to do that. It makes sense if you look at things from his perspective.
To Mark, church is merely a gathering of people for social interaction and encouragement. Like a coffee klatch. Or a support group. But the thing is, Mark isn’t a believer. His mind hasn’t been transformed by Christ to a biblical way of thinking, so it’s understandable that he doesn’t get it.
What should shock us is that, long before Mark’s thoughts on church popped up in our news feeds, people who identify as Christians were saying the same thing. Or at least acting like it.
I don’t need to join a church. I can just watch sermons online.
I’ve been hurt by a church, so I’m done with it altogether. I’ll just hang out in my Christian Facebook group instead.
I like my online friends way better than the people at the churches around here.
It seems like a lot of Christians -who should be thinking biblically – don’t get it either.
Sure, there are times of illness, tragedy, work, being out of town, and other circumstances that can temporarily prevent us from being with our church family. In those cases, social media and the internet are a godsend that can keep us connected, in a minimal way, to the body of Christ. But, in much the same way that it would be unhealthy to replace every meal with a Snickers bar simply because you don’t want to make the effort to cook, choosing a steady diet of internet “church” when there’s a spiritually healthy meal available is a sure fire way to deteriorate into a diseased, malnourished Christian.
There are lots of reasons why being a faithful, active member of a local church isn’t optional for Christians, but now it seems necessary to also explain that the internet isn’t your local church. It can’t be. There’s just too much missing: church ordinances, practicing the “one anothers”, serving in church ministries, making sacrifices for others, church discipline, ecclesiastical structure and authority, and…you know…actual face to face interaction with other humanoids. There’s far more to church than hearing a good sermon and the occasional carefully-edited chat with other Christians.
And perhaps one of the most important things that’s missing at First Church of the Interwebs is a pastor.
Not a preacher. A pastor. Your pastor.
You need a pastor – a man who labors in prayer over the sheep God has entrusted to him, who nurtures and serves those under his care, whose heart so beats with the Body that he knows whether they need encouragement, rebuke, comfort, training, or guidance, and lovingly provides it.
A blogger isn’t going to come to your house and comfort you at 3:00 a.m. when your spouse has just passed away.
A Facebook group can’t possibly grasp all the nuances of the situation with your prodigal child and provide correct biblical counsel on how to deal with it.
A sermon web site isn’t led by the Holy Spirit to choose the sermon you need to hear. You choose what you want to hear.
Even the most doctrinally sound preacher on the web can’t marry you, bury you, baptize you, or administer the Lord’s Supper to you.
Your Twitter friends won’t visit the hospital and pray with you before surgery.
Your favorite Christian podcaster can’t look you in the eye and know when something’s wrong or that you need help.
And even if they could, it’s not their place.
You see, when you have real, serious spiritual needs, reaching out to a blogger, internet pastor, or other online personality to fill those needs doesn’t work right and could even be harmful to your situation, because you’re asking us to step in where we don’t belong. To usurp the place God has reserved for the man He has called to shepherd you.
God didn’t ordain the office of blogger. He didn’t breathe out Scripture to train and encourage podcasters. And there aren’t any biblical qualifications for social media groups.
God created pastors.
God created pastors because He thought that was the best way for Christians to be cared for until Christ returns to take us home. And if God thought that was the best way, isn’t any other way we come up with going to be less than what’s best for us? Who are we to second guess the God of the universe and try to replace His plan with one of our own making?
Yes, there are wolves out there masquerading as shepherds, and it can be hard to find a doctrinally sound church and pastor. That doesn’t mean you give up and settle for something that’s not biblical. As far as it’s within your ability, you search, you pray, you make sacrifices, maybe you even pack up and move, but you find a reasonably healthy church with a pastor you can submit to, and you plug in. That’s what people did before there was an internet, you know.
Nobody on the internet can take the place of a living, breathing, boots on the ground pastor and church family, so stop trying to replace them with people you’ll likely never meet, who don’t love you as much, can’t care for you, and aren’t as invested in you as those God has ordained to fill that need in your heart and life.
You don’t need the internet. You need a pastor.