By Dr. Andrew Hébert
Someone asked me the other day what my greatest spiritual concern is for the church in these days. As we enter month two of social distancing, here is some of what has been swirling in my mind.
I’m incredibly thankful for the gift of technology that enables us to have some measure of connection and worship. But I fear two possible effects of prolonged online worship services, both for the church I pastor as well as the church in general:
1. Spiritual complacency.
I’m concerned that over time the church would get used to worshipping from the comfort of home, accessing worship services when and how they want without the needed discipline of physically gathering and engaging with other people. Online worship, from the recipient viewpoint is “easier.” We need to carefully guard from the temptation to think this is normal. Under ordinary circumstances, we are not to “forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as is the habit of some’’ (Hebrews 10:25).
I’m also concerned about spiritual complacency in regard to ministry and mission both locally and around the world. I wonder how many folks are redeeming the time by reaching out to share the hope of Christ and serve their neighbors, or are wasting the time by binge-watching their favorite shows on Netflix. So much of Jesus’ ministry took place in the middle of interruptions. COVID-19 is a massive interruption to our lives. I fear the church may miss the ministry opportunity in this moment. May it not be so.
2. Spiritual consumerism.
With so many options in this digital age, it’s easy to compare and contrast preachers, music, attractiveness of the stage set-up, the quality of the videography, etc. and choose to embrace a consumer mindset that chooses to listen to a favorite preacher here and a favorite musician here, mixing and matching to meet our preferences to a “tee.” I’ve received a surprising number of requests that we do our online services this way or that like that person’s favorite preacher or musician across the country, or even across town is doing it. ‘Why can’t we be like them?’ ‘Why don’t we step up our production?’ ‘Why don’t you have a cool background with your sermon?’ ‘Why can’t our choir do a full on performance via Zoom?’ Etc etc etc. In fact, I hear these things almost every day.
Our spiritual life is to be lived within a local congregation of believers, warts and all. That means that we should engage and celebrate with our team, wear the team jersey, cheer for teammates, celebrate team wins, and work collectively to shore up team weaknesses. The church is not a business or an industry that is designed to meet our preferences. We exist for prayer, worship, Word, fellowship, and mission. It’s not about who has the most bells and whistles or who meets our preferences best. Spiritual consumerism is not biblical. Full stop.
3. Spiritual complaining.
God judged the people of Israel for grumbling in the wilderness. In this season of great change there is also the prospect of great complaints. Change is always hard and we don’t like change. A common response is to criticize and complain.
In church life and pastoral ministry, criticism goes with the territory. But I think I’ve heard more complaining during this season than any other in my ministry. Regardless of the actions taken or untaken, someone is upset. We aren’t cautious enough (I’ve been told when we were going to have micro services or other in person ministry that I was putting others in harm’s way) or we are being too cautious (got an anonymous note last week calling me a ‘lackey of Satan’ for closing the church, others think I lack faith). And it’s not just me. Many other pastors I know (as well as government officials) are experiencing the same.
Spiritual complaining ignores the goodness, grace, and gifts of God. It is harmful in every way and helpful in no way. My concern is that our mentality in the churches will be critique rather than contribution, tearing down rather than building up. It’s easier to throw a rock than to lay a foundation.
My prayer is that God will protect our church and others from these grave spiritual dangers during these times, and that our churches will focus on the basics. It’s not about what we receive during this time but what we can give, not about how we can be served but how we can serve, not about relaxing with ‘off days’ but how to constantly advance and take ground for the Lord.
Dr. Andrew Hébert has served as the lead pastor at Paramount Baptist Church since 2016. He is passionate about investing his life in others and developing disciples who love Jesus Christ. He is committed to Christ-centered biblical preaching, evangelism, discipleship, prayer, missions, and consistent leadership.
Andrew and his wife Amy met while they were students at Criswell College in Dallas. They married in 2007 and they have four children: Jenna, Austin, Mackenzie, and Brooklyn.
Andrew completed a bachelor’s and master’s degree at Criswell College and a doctorate in leadership and discipleship at Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, writing his doctoral thesis in the field of organizational health and culture. He has served as a pastor, an educator, and a denominational leader in various capacities within the Southern Baptist Convention