“Online Community” Is a Poor Substitute

My pastoral residency came to an end recently.  During the few years of my work there, my pastoral license found its validity in the denomination of that church.  But upon leaving, my license expired.  Certainly there are worst things in life, but my issue was that I had already committed to perform two weddings!  I began to panic when the legal dots connected.

But then the rescue I needed came forth: the Internet.  The World Wide Web fixes all fixable situations when a problem presents. All one has to do is simply “Google it” and everything typically works out fine.  What’s the name of that actor from “One Tree Hill?”  How do you clean a pan when boiled grease is stuck to its surface?”  Who sang that song from the late nineties that won’t pop out of my head?  You know… that one tune: “I’m a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world.” For all these answers and more: Google.

So I Googled to my hearts content.  Get ordained for free!  Ordinations for all 50 states.  Perform weddings. These headlines kept me disappointed until I found what might be the only legit looking evangelical organization that ordains.  I refused to get certified by either: a) an organization that had “American” in the title, b) an organization that conflicted with core Christian values.

When my online transaction finished processing, I began to wait eagerly for my ordination pack to show up in my P.O. Box.  And let me tell you, what a glorious pack it was!  Not only did I get a full-size certificate of ordination and a pocket version, but the organization also sent a “letter of good standing!” I’m officially in good standing with a group of people whom I never met.  I’m the real deal. For the first time in my life, I can say that I’m an ordained minister of the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ — to Him be the glory!  And, for the low, low, cost of $47, you can be too.

But this begs a question.  Why is it that an Internet organization can ordain me for ministry?  Do they know me? No.  Did they lay hands on me to commission and inaugurate my commitment to life-long ministry? No.  Are they a community of faith that I can look to for deep support? No.  They are an extension of the World Wide Web.  They are not my community.

Many characteristics of Christian community can indeed be aided online. We certainly can get to know people through the Web.  Many readers and fellow bloggers are indeed part of my formation and community experience in a deep way. My friend Dan Martin wrote about this in a piece called “The Church Virtual,” which demonstrates this reality.  However, I fear with the emergence of Internet church campuses, blogging, podcasts, and the vast resources for Christian experiences accessible from any desk in the world; that if we are not careful, Christian community will fade like a fad.

A primary metaphor for Christian community in the New Testament is “the body of Christ.”  Related to this stands the reality of Christ’s incarnation.  As John says: “…the Word took on flesh.”  Whether we want to admit it or not, it’s impossible to be “incarnational” through a disembodied communication medium.  This is not to say that what happens online can’t make a positive impact in people’s enfleshed situations (if so, I blog in vain!), but that nothing replaces a flesh and blood experience.

Someday I hope to have a community that will “ordain” me as their pastor (and hopefully it won’t cost $47!).  I want to experience that flesh and blood community, right now!  The Web serves as a wonderful supplement for community, but if it replaces enfleshed relationships, we may need to reevaluate our priorities.


Photo by (Flickr CC): bealluc