Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Congregations in Boxes

If you are anything like me, you have probably watched no end of amateur Christian video uploaded to YouTube in the last two months. The medium definitely has its limitations.

Still, there is a certain amount of courage required to record your thoughts to be replayed in a public forum. The whole thing is pretty stark: it’s basically a person in a box. You are seriously exposed.

Sure, you can dress up the background in post-production if you can be bothered. I watched one video where the speaker was holding forth from what looked like the bridge of the Millennium Falcon. That was cute, if a bit distracting. Or you can add the texts you are commenting on in the foreground or background if you can figure out how, or maybe a little introductory music if you are so inclined. But in the end, it’s just you and your ideas about the Bible stuck inside a square. If your ideas are not all that great, no amount of post-production or theatrics are going to save them.

Getting Used to a New Medium

One video-commenter shared his thoughts while walking in the woods. Several shot theirs in workshops, cars or at kitchen tables. Many opted to sit in their libraries in front of a laptop. At least I now know how many of us own the same books.

But regardless of how this new medium is used — whether a video is long or short, awkwardly or smoothly delivered, well-edited or loosy-goosey, plain-jane or beautifully produced, innovative or ordinary — when we are watching Christian videos in hope of being built up in Christ, it is always the spiritual quality of the content that matters most.

When we meet together in church, far fewer of us participate vocally. There are scriptural reasons for some of that, and a few practical reasons, some more valid than others.

Some of us are happy to let the more outgoing believers fill the air with noise, whether that noise is good or bad. We are not interesting in pushing ourselves forward if someone else is already doing the heavy lifting.

Others don’t feel up to the job of leading the people of God verbally. Our subjective impressions of our own abilities and the quality of our thoughts may or may not be accurate.

Some of us are hiding in the crowd because we can.

Some of us have nothing to say. That’s a sad situation.

In the Presence of God

But it is interesting to hear scriptural commentary from men I’ve never heard speak in public before. More than a few had something useful, intelligent and uplifting to share. Even a 2-4 minute video can tell you an awful lot about a person’s inner life, spiritual maturity and biblical interests. When it’s just you and a box, there really is nowhere to hide.

It reminds me of a solemn truth we find in scripture: that each of us will give an account of himself to God. In the presence of God I have no denominational cover, no pastor to explain things for me better than I could, no family history of Christian service to which I can conveniently attach myself, no written creed that I can simply sign off on, no excuse for the truths I didn’t read or pay attention to, no higher priority than the contemplation of Christ to use as an excuse for not knowing him better.

Not even a box. Just me and whatever is in my head and heart.

Men Gone Missing

In Christian gatherings where the New Testament is the rule of faith and practice, women are mostly quiet and service-oriented. Send the ladies home for two months and you may not notice much difference in the way they do things. But men can go missing in a big church gathering, especially those where hired hands do most of the audible ministry. We can be physically present and spiritually absent. As long as we are amiable and visibly parked in our normal pew, we can go years without offering the people of God anything substantial. We can be liked and respected and ... not up to much at all.

That’s not to say every man should teach a congregation verbally — James warns against that error — but every man should know what he believes and be able to explain it in his own words. Every serious Christian should be enjoying the word of God and enjoying Christ, whether or not we are regularly called to stand up and verbalize the truths we have been enjoying. Every man should be able to feed his family and friends with the word of God and able to give answers about what he believes to anyone who asks.

Nobody to Hide Behind

I’m encouraged to be able to go on YouTube these days and see so many men who can. I see sons who seem ready to step out of their fathers’ shadows, blue collar salt-of-the-earth sorts who keep it plain, simply and nourishing, and a surprising level of intellectual and theological depth and spiritual perception from a dozen or more Christian men who I know for a fact have never been anywhere near a seminary. This is all to the good.

A congregation broken into a bunch of little boxes is no way to do church long-term, but when we see individuals stepping onto a screen all alone to speak about the things of Christ, we need to remind ourselves that while we serve in a body, a family and a house where it’s easy to disappear in a crowd, the Father sees each of us as uniquely responsible to him for what we are doing with his word, and how we think about his Son.

Our gifts may be verbal or practical, but they were given to us to allow us to give expression to the reality of Christ in us. As circumstances permit, let’s make sure we let him be seen.

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