As I pored through the webpresence of LifeChurch.tv
, a ministry that has positioned itself as a cutting edge new media church, I found myself first impressed by how effective they've been in fusing small groups and web-based ministry. I really do see that as a future way of "being church," in which membership and growth are far more organic and decentralized.
To be honest, though, a variety of things left me feeling that even this intriguing experiment isn't really tapping the potentially revolutionary character of this new medium. I'll ignore the fact that they're literalist Baptists...I mean, shoot, they can't help it if they weren't lucky enough to be a providentially predestined progressive Presbyterian like my bad self.
First, it's all too...prescriptive. Every single group is encouraged to follow one model of study. Further, the 'messages' are all beamed down from the motherchurch, rather than organically welling up from within their leadership. It doesn't have to be that way. Let's say there are hundreds of these gatherings. In those hundreds of gatherings, there are likely at least a dozen deeply Spirit-filled folks whose insights could benefit those even outside of their group. Here's a crazy idea...instead of having the home church issue tightly crafted missives from on high, how might it be if the home church helped create collaborative blogs, vlogs and podcast archives of it's most inspired and articulate members? It means less power for those who organize the movement, sure. But since when has following Jesus been about amassing prestige?
Second, it's all a wee bit too slickity for me. Yeah, flash is fine, and I appreciate a well-turned website as much as the next red-blooded Christian. But I also like simplicity, honesty, and earnest amateurishness. Show me a bit o' that. Show me something real, something I can do.
Third, and here I'm treading on dangerous ground, I don't see why in the name of the Sweet Lord Jesus the sacraments in such a church would need to be administered by an elite class of Christian. LifeChurch.tv encourages folks to come and be baptized at one of their "campuses." But...and here I sound again like an endlessly probing two year old...why? If the heart and soul of your church is in small and intimate gatherings of believers, why can't those gatherings be trusted to initiate folks into the church? As there's not even a whiff of scriptural warrant for preventing average Christians from administering the sacraments, most churches fall back on some variant of the decency-and-order argument. But having done it myself, I can share...it isn't complex. You take water, and baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Why can't those gatherings share the Lord's Supper together? Again, it ain't that complex. Gracious goodness, if we trust people enough to bear the Holy Spirit of the Living God, surely they can manage that.
As an old-school seminary trained Minister of Word and Sacrament (tm), that's not where I am. I'm happy to labor within the bounds of my denomination and it's Constitution. But that doesn't mean I can't envision and appreciate what might be, and enjoy the possibility of a church that would be the living, breathing antithesis of the suburban megachurch. Or, occasionally, to pore furtively through our rules and regulations and try to come up with a loophole that would let me weasel my way into creating a church like this.