We were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our very selves, because you had become so dear to us. Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.
1 Thessalonians 2.8-9
There is so much great encouragement for Christians online. Superb websites with helpful Christian teaching include TheGospelCoalition.org, phillipjensen.com, st-helens.org.uk, christian.org.uk as well as many, many podcasts of sermons, interviews, testimonies and discussions. True, there is an awful lot of stuff on the internet to be studiously avoided but a discerning Christian can find solid, biblical answers to just about any question on any issue online.
I was attending a clergy conference this time last year at which one of the speakers suggested that there was so much good Christian content online that at his (Vineyard) church they did not always feel the need to have a sermon. This really struck me. In his opinion, local preachers could never be as good as what you can find online. It was an interesting point: after all few contemporary preachers could compete with say, old recorded sermons of John Stott which you could find on the All Souls website.
Nevertheless, no matter how many good resources there are for Christians online they could never replace what you get at Knockbreda. Nothing on your phone or on your laptop can replace your local church. Why not? For one thing, as Paul argues above to the Thessalonians, his preaching and lifestyle were accountable to the church in Thessalonica because he lived among them in person. It was important that they knew him as their apostle and pastor, not just as an unaccountable voice on a podcast.
For another thing, Bible-believing, church-going Christians are more than just spiritual consumers. We are far more than religious sponges soaking up spiritual information. We don’t go to church simply to get something out of it for ourselves – the way we can when visiting a website. We go to contribute, participate and get involved in what has been wisely called ‘the ministry of the pew.’ At church we join together in singing God’s praises; we encourage one another through conversation at Coffee Dock; we smile at each other and offer to pray for each other; we develop healthy relationships.
In a society where many suffer from loneliness the coming together of people as church is ever more important – even just in a social sense. And spiritually church is essential. Yes, we listen to God’s Word as our starting point, but then we also need to put it into practice by living out genuine Christian relationships and speaking to each other face to face about the gospel. We can’t do that online.