“Can I just listen to podcasts rather than go to church?”
No. No. No.
Did I say “no” enough?
The very question is symptomatic of the technology-driven, community-light, self-obsessed culture in which we live, where Church just becomes another product on the shelf, catering to consumers, best product wins.
I’m not anti-technology. I’m just pro-community; something that runs much deeper than simply imbibing information over the airwaves. Our church has recently experienced a tragic bereavement; sudden, unexpected, unspeakably sad. No podcast on earth can be a substitute for the arm round the shoulder or the weeping-with-those-who-weep. This, of course, is the way it’s meant to be.
There’s nothing wrong with podcasts. Some have genuinely changed my life. But I’m more than a head on a stick, and without others around me I tend to become preoccupied with myself. When authentic community is substituted for technology the fruits are shallow lives, under-nourished souls and selfish obsession. We were made for more than that.
Around 56AD, a man called Paul described one of the hardest, most gut-wrenching seasons of his life: “Harassed at every turn, conflicts on the outside, fears within.” He writes: “God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming, but also by the comfort you had given him.” 2 Corinthians 7:6-7
In Paul’s moment of desperation, rather than zap him with warm, fuzzy feelings, God decided to bring a person into his life. It’s His preferred way of working.
We’re all ‘Paul’ at times: afraid, insecure, lonely, searching. Podcasts aren’t enough to get us through. That’s why the Church is so essential, and why I’d never be without it.
But in a curious twist, I’m not always ‘Paul.’ Sometimes I’m ‘Titus’ too. It’s not simply that I need the Church to thrive. The Church needs me – and therefore needs you, too. In all honesty, sometimes Sunday comes round, and I’m not really feeling it. The journey seems far, I could much more easily listen to music at home, and the talk looks boring – and often I’m the one talking! But to opt out for those reasons belies the power of the Christian faith, which orients me towards others above self. One of the reasons I haul myself to church – not just on Sundays, but across the week – is because there are others who need encouragement, friendship, welcome, hospitality, care, generosity, kindness, support, wisdom and love.
Truth is, sometimes church is hard work.
Sometimes I don’t get much out of it. Sometimes it IS dull. But those can be the ‘Titus’ days, where I can make a difference simply by turning up.
If I stay at home, nose buried in a phone or laptop, I not only miss out on soul-nourishing community, but I miss out on serving others – that’s part of what life is all about.
Guess I’ll see you on Sunday.