Sunday Services at 10:00am
1155 Silas Deane Highway, Wethersfield
“And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” (Acts 8:1)
Before the resurrected Jesus ascended to heaven, he told his disciples that they were to be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). But by Acts 7, we find a rapidly growing church that has yet to leave Jerusalem to fulfill Jesus’ mandate. One of the early church leaders, Stephen, is martyred in chapter 7, and following that, a great persecution breaks out against the church, scattering much of the church throughout Judea and Samaria. While the text does not explicitly say this, it seems as if God uses this persecution in order to push His people out of their comfort zone and out into the world to fulfill the Great Commission.
I have thought of this passage often over the past year and a half. With every new generation, community moves more and more online. Those of us who prefer face-to-face interaction may not like it, but now more than ever, people connect to one another through screens. Many churches, however, have been slow to adapt to this changing world. Enter the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly, people were being quarantined to their home, and gathering as the church was not allowed. On the fly, churches such as ours had to figure out how to live stream church services out over the internet. It was as if, once again, God had taken something that the enemy meant for evil and used it to further Jesus’ Great Commission, to reach the ends of the earth with the gospel.
It has been about 18 months since we began our online journey. Looking back, clearly every new mode of technology has had a profound effect upon our faith. The advent of the printing press was a big factor in the Protestant Reformation and the rise of various denominations, as common people eventually got the Bible in their own language. The advent of radio and television allowed for 20th century preachers such as Billy Graham to reach larger audiences than ever before. And the rise of the Internet has allowed for the gospel to have a more global reach than ever before.
But every adaptation of technology has a downside as well. At NewLife, since we have adopted livestreaming, it feels like our church has simultaneously gotten bigger and smaller. Many people who have never set foot in our church are now hearing the Bible preached and being led into worship through our church, and for this I praise God. But there are also fewer people worshiping together on Sundays than we have had in a while. Some of this is due to people who are still hesitant to gather together because of COVID or mask-wearing. But some of it is undoubtedly due to the convenience of worshiping from home, or even “tuning in to the service” at a time other than Sunday at 10 AM. If we’re not careful, a tool that can be used to reach more people than ever can also become a tool that increases our self-centeredness, our consumer mindset, and our social isolation. Instead of being shaped into a family of worshipers, we become shaped into individual consumers staring at a screen. And instead of the Sabbath being shaped into a day to prioritize God and worship Him with our church family, it can be just another day that we bend to our own self-centered desires.
In the same way, the pandemic forced us to learn how to become comfortable conducting meetings and holding groups over Zoom instead of in person. On the one hand, this has been great for our church. We have always struggled to build community, given how many of our members live a distance from each other, particularly those with young children. Using Zoom has allowed us to meet virtually on a regular basis without having to drive a distance to get there. However, Zoom still prevents us from the benefits of being in person with a group of people, truly rejoicing WITH those who rejoice and weeping WITH those who weep. Meeting online can also foster our inattentiveness, as our meetings are disrupted by other people, animals coming in and out of our room, and the ringing of phones and doorbells.
Every advance in technology can be a tool used by God to further His kingdom and fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission. But every piece of technology can also be a tool used by the enemy to warp God’s church and our hearts into something that resembles the culture instead of the counter-cultural kingdom of Jesus Christ. We would be wise to evaluate our own use of technology, both individually and as a church, and make sure that they are serving the right kingdom.
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