My friend, Carl Trueman, is not one for beating about the bush. And in a recent blogpost, he is critical of those of us who blog a bit and spend too much time in front of computer screens. His main point is one which I have been reflecting a bit on recently: however imperfect our present situation, God desires that we bloom where we’re planted. That applies particularly to our local church situation. As Carl puts it, “welcome to wherever you are”.
This realization that the Lord has called me – and I am guessing, most of us – to serve first and foremost wherever we actually are – our families, our congregations, our denominations, and our workplaces — is surely a sobering one. It lacks so much ambition, and shows such a limited vision, after all. Yet in this regard, I think the church is best served by those with such limited ambitions and myopia. I am not much of a web-wanderer but on the odd occasion I do a bit of websurfing, I am struck by how many Christians, pastors, professors, and laity, have blogs, Facebook pages, and Twitters going. How many millions of Christian hours are wasted writing this stuff, engaging in mindless blogthreads, and telling the world about personal trivia? And what does it tell us about the expansive visions and ambitions out there? Apparently the world is now everyone’s birthright.
Now, I find myself very uncomfortable with this. I do believe that some professors, pastors, and laypeople are called to have regular ministries outside their immediate geographical locations; but I also believe that there are precious few thus called. Certainly, mere possession of hi-speed internet is not a divinely given sign of such a worldwide calling. When I see Christians blogging so much, I wonder how many sermons are being prepared on the fly because of lack of time, how many parishioners go unvisited, how many prayers remain unprayed, how many words of love and affection to spouses and children are never said, how many books – let alone the Bible – are left unread, and how many fellowships atrophy through lack of any real, meaningful social and spiritual intercourse. Indeed, to summarize: how many online `communities’ (sic) prosper to the detriment of the real, physical communities into which the Lord has placed each and every one of us? How many complain of insufficient time to do the boring routines of the Christian life – worship services, Sunday School, visiting the sick and the aged, fellowship, Bible reading, prayer – and yet always somehow manage to fit in a quick twitter or blog or podcast or change to their Facebook status?
I am increasingly convicted of my own failures in this regard. The internet has never been my particular temptation; to me the web has been – and, indeed, remains – basically a quick means to shop. Beyond that, it is simply an ironic-to-absurd medium in the way in which it allows everybody, regardless of sanity, IQ, or qualifications, to have their fifteen seconds of fame. Frankly, 95% of it is utterly ridiculous as far as I can judge, the denizens of webworld being akin to the institution described in Edgar Allan Poe’s tale, The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether. Yet, if the web has not consumed my time, then travelling has perhaps been my particular weakness, combined with a general inability to say `no’ to any request to help with preaching or lecturing. The net result is that I have probably ministered all over the place, but not so much in the church congregation where the Lord has actually placed me, that part of the Body of Christ which I am particularly obliged to love and encourage and to which I am accountable. Of course, being there of all places will never make me a superstar or a guru or earn me a fortune or get me a cool conference gig or land me on the cover of Christianity Today; but it is nonetheless the place where I am meant to be.
The command to love the Body of Christ is indeed a command, not a sentiment. It comes with specific demands on time and on place. I pray that I will learn more and more about what these demands truly mean. And I pray too that more and more Christians will come to realize that real life is lived in the real world in the real church where they really attend on a Sunday. Time to get out of the system of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether and join the real world. Welcome to wherever you are.