Back at the YouTube Church of Christ

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

This may be the official first post of my old age.

It’s Sunday morning and I’m in a quiet hotel lobby in Louisville, Kentucky. My son and wife are still asleep upstairs. In a couple of hours, we’ll get back on the road to finish the last leg of our trip to visit family in Tennessee.

When I was a kid, we didn’t travel on Sunday mornings. Or, if we did, Dad and Mom looked up the Church of Christ closest to our route and we stopped to worship there.

This morning, we will listen to our congregation’s livestream on the speakers in our car as we cruise down I-65.

This will not be much different from what we did last week or the week before. Since the COVID pandemic started, we “watched church” from home at least five times as often as we “went to church” in person. When the Omicron variant started to burn in our region, we went back to “YouTube Church of Christ” again.

On one hand, it’s nice to have a way to keep up with our congregation even when we are not there in person.

On the other hand, does anyone at the congregation know that we are (kind of) there with them?

I know that anyone else who watches the livestream or recording on YouTube can see how many people are viewing. What they can’t see is that it is the Irwin family “communing” and “worshipping” with them.

When I was a kid (see how old I sound?), people from church would call you if you didn’t show up at worship some Sunday morning.

I remember sitting at the Sunday dinner table and listening to my parents ask questions like: “Did you notice the Smiths weren’t there today? Do you know where the Joneses were today?”

People noticed when certain people were not in the pews on Sunday.

In this age and culture where we seem to live in the illusion of community and togetherness–but not the reality of those things–I wonder how many people notice when people just disappear from our congregations?

This may sound like I’m criticizing the folks who will show up at church this morning while I livestream it in my car. I’m not. If anything, I’m calling into question the choices I make to make social media my main point of contact with the church of Christ.

It’s just so easy to not show up, but still make myself belief that I’m there.

Now, don’t get me wrong. To date, COVID killed 933,000 Americans in less than two years. That does not include people who died of other causes because of the COVID pandemic (e.g. drug overdoses and suicides from mental health issues that rapidly got worse, not being able to get medical care because hospitals were tending to so many COVID patients, etc.).

The COVID pandemic the deadliest event in American history. Deadlier than the Civil War. Deadlier than the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 - 1921. Deadlier than World War II.

Many of the Americans who died and are dying are the most vulnerable among us. Those who Jesus calls “the least of these.” Those about whom Jesus said: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Gospel of Matthew 25:40).

Congregations have a Christian responsibility to do whatever we can to care for “the least of these” both inside and outside our congregations.

This is the Way.

If I had been an elder in a local congregation back in 2020, I would have been the first to say: “Let’s use internet technology to keep our people healthy and safe until we figure this thing out.”

I wouldn’t need a government mandate to do what I should already know is the best thing for the lives of the flock the Good Shepherd entrusted to me.

So it is a blessing and wonder of this age that, even as we closed the doors of our church buildings for a time, we still had some form of access. As bad as the isolation felt at times, I cannot imagine how much worse it felt in other ages when people didn’t have the technology we do now.

I hope the point that you’re getting here is not that it is bad to livestream church on YouTube. The point that I’m making is that the local church exists to be the place where people meet each other’s needs and take care of each other in the way that Jesus meets needs and takes care. That requires people to know each other and notice each other through all the events and stages of real life.

To be the church of Christ, we have to be around each other. We have to be with each other–whether it is by technology or in person.

If, in our way of “doing church,” we never have regular encounters with people who share their circumstances, their needs, their selves with us–and in doing so, give us a chance to share what we have with them, too–we are not in church.

My parents taught me that “church is family.”

While Marco Polo and text messages and Zoom are technology tools that my extended family enjoys using to communicate every day, nothing takes the place of being together. Especially in hard times. Especially when we need each other.

That is why I am in a hotel lobby this Sunday morning. I’m halfway through a ten-hour trip to be with my family.

The church of Christ is family, too, and that is why just “watching church” can’t be good enough for us. We need to be there for each other. We need to “do church” in a way that we notice when people are missing. We need to “do church” in a way that we go looking for those missing people when we don’t see them.

We need to remember that church, in all its forms, serves the function of caring for “the least of these” in a community of faith, hope, and love.

This is the Way.

Grace and peace.


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