Recently I’ve had several conversations with folks who told me that they stream my teaching in lieu of being a member of a church.
They meant to encourage me, but I was discouraged instead.
Benefits of Technology
To be clear, technology can be a great ministry tool (says the pastor on his blog). Streaming video is a big reason why we can have The Porch Fort Worth on Tuesdays and Watermark Fort Worth on Sundays. We have The Porch App, which helps people connect at The Porch and also allows for live streaming. Podcasting allows me to listen to great teachers during the week who may live a thousand miles away. We use emails to communicate prayer requests, and hashtags to help spread the gospel. A lot of good can be done online.
However, if all you do is podcast sermons or watch streaming video at home alone, you’re missing out on almost everything God intends for you when it comes to church.
A Bad Habit
When the Bible talks about a church, it’s not talking about a building. That’s true. But it’s not talking about a podcast or a sermon message, either.
A church is a gathering of people. It’s a group of believers who meet regularly to love each other (John 13:34-35), encourage each other (Hebrews 3:13), bear each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), confess sins to each other and pray for each other (James 5:16).
There are many such “one anothers” in Scripture, and you can’t do a single one of them by yourself. They all require that you be in some form of biblical community.
Then there’s Hebrews 10:25, which tells us to “not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” It straight up says that 1) believers should not give up meeting together, and 2) some are in the habit of doing exactly that. As for “the Day,” that likely refers to Jesus’ second coming (1 Thessalonians 5:1-4), and we’re certainly much closer to that Day now than when it was written.
If you just listen to podcasts and aren’t a member of a local church body, you also miss out on:
Corporate worship through song. Although you can still sing by yourself, most people don’t, and it’s just not the same. (Ephesians 5:18-19; Colossians 3:16)
Elder shepherding. The Bible talks about having church leaders who watch over and care for the members of each church (Hebrews 13:17, 1 Peter 5:1-5). Here’s the thing: in a few cases, this is exactly the reason why some people avoid being part of a church. But shepherding is for your benefit. Shepherds care for sheep; it’s their job description. Sheep who don’t have a shepherd and aren’t part of a flock have less food, poorer health, and are much easier prey for wolves.
Multi-generational involvement. You may have friends your age, but do you have people who know you and care about you who are older and wiser? If you’re single, are there married people showing and telling you how to marry well? Maybe you want kids someday, but don’t have any experience being around them? A church family gives you those interactions.
Synergy in ministry. Here’s what I mean by that: if you want to do good, you can do a lot more good together with a group of like-minded people, who can pool resources and use their different talents to make a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts. You can also care for each other, when needed. For example, at Watermark, no one who is a member and is consistently living in community with us will ever go hungry or homeless. (Acts 2:42-47)
There are different forms a church can take. Again, it’s not about a building; the churches mentioned in the New Testament seem to have mostly met in people’s houses (1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:2). Just make sure that it’s fulfilling the biblical roles of a church, including the “one anothers” above and the functions listed here.
None of this means you can’t also podcast sermons (I do), or stream the service occasionally when you are sick or out of town. Like I said, technology can be a great tool, as long as it’s not replacing community. Most importantly, don’t read this as saying that you must go to church to go to heaven, or that being a church member will get you there. You don’t earn your way into heaven; that’s why Jesus came. But if you are a follower of Jesus, the Bible says you should benefit by being a part of a committed body of believers.
If you think that doesn’t apply to you, feel free to leave a comment below.
(With help from Kevin McConaghy)