Article Jul 17, 2017

Facebook is not my church

Facebook recently announced they’ve hit the milestone of two billion users. There are more Facebook members than members of any religion except Christianity. (Just barely. There are 2.4 billion proclaimed Christians globally). That means that worldwide, one in four people now use Facebook every month. I should probably fess up that I am among the few billion people not on Facebook. I’ve written about why here if you’re curious. But I’ll be the first to admit, that Facebook itself isn’t “bad” or “evil.” I’ve seen it used for a lot of good. Whether or not you should have Facebook is not a hill I’m willing to die on. Whether or not you look to Facebook as your church is.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is upfront about the company’s plans to do more than simply connect people online. He wants to:

  • Stop our growing sense of disconnectedness.
  • Weave strength into the social fabric.
  • Bring the world closer together.

It’s hard to argue with that. Those are good goals. But he lost me when he suggested that Facebook could plug the holes in our lives left by declining church attendance. “A lot of people now need to find a sense of purpose and support somewhere else,” Zuckerberg said.

The First Church of Facebook can only temporarily spackle the holes in our hearts and lives, never fix or heal them. We need Jesus for that, and Christ’s Plan A for our sanctification and the world’s redemption is the local church. Not the cyber church. Not the podcast church. Not the blogosphere church. Not even the Facebook church. Here are three reasons why.

The First Church of Facebook can only temporarily spackle the holes in our hearts and lives, never fix or heal them.

1. The Church is physical

Acts 2:42 describes the early New Testament church. This is the model instituted by the disciples under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit after Christ’s death and resurrection. “And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” This is a simple and effective mission statement for the local church.

  • We learn God’s Word together.
  • We connect with other Christians.
  • We share communion together.
  • We pray for each other.

Some of these goals can be accomplished online, but usually only as a cheap substitute. How does an online devotional written by someone you’ve never met compare to a Bible study in your living room hosted by an older woman who loves you and knows about your life? How does connecting online compare with connecting over coffee? How can we bear each others’ burdens (Gal. 6:2) when our profiles are all polished up to a high shine and no one knows we’re struggling? How can you take communion across a computer screen? How can you kneel side by side and hand in hand via Facebook?

So much of the nitty gritty of what happens in the church happens in a physical building, physically standing side by side with other believers.

2. The Church has shepherds

Facebook’s founder called for “great leaders” to shepherd the growing Facebook flock. He even compared these leaders to pastors. Great idea! In fact, it’s God’s idea.

As Paul planted churches across Europe and Asia, he directed church leaders to appoint elders for each church (Titus 1:5). Paul made it clear that elder selection shouldn’t be random, nor should it be a popularity contest based on votes like an episode of American Idol. Elders are to be chosen based on evidence of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Specifically an elder should be:

  • Above reproach
  • Faithful to his wife
  • Discipling his own children
  • A man of self-control
  • Obedient to God and respectful of others
  • Not arrogant, quick-tempered, drunk, or violent
  • Hospitable
  • A lover of good
  • Upright
  • Holy
  • Disciplined
  • A hearer and doer of God’s Word
  • A teacher of wisdom
  • An enforcer of Godly discipline (vs. 5-9).

Are these the qualities we see online? Or do the loud and obnoxious prevail more often? Can godly men and women supervise the Internet? If so, who would appoint them?

Matthew 18 outlines a plan to bring believers back to godly living when they are in sin. James 5:16 encourages us to confess our sins to each other. Spiritual authority is a tremendous gift given to us by a loving God who knows our sinful hearts. The church is a safety net woven by God because of our tendency to choose sin and then find ourselves in a freefall. It cannot be replicated online. We need our pastors. We need our elders. We need the men and women sitting beside us who are brave enough to ask us if we’re struggling and hold us accountable.

3. The Church needs you

God has designed it so that you and the church need one another. Let me show you what I mean.

In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus gave believers through the ages the Great Commission. We are on a co-mission with Christ to make disciples and teach the Word. This calling is unique to the Church. It cannot be replicated, duplicated, or delegated. As a Christian, you are expected to join this mission.  

Ephesians 4:10-12 tells us that Christ gave us the church  “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” It’s the Church’s job to equip you so that you can get to work for the Kingdom. Christ has personally called you (and me) to do everything we can to build up the Church. We’ve got work to do!

Our gifts belong to each other. “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace” (1 Pet. 4:10). You have irreplaceable gifts God wants you to use to serve other Christians. I have irreplaceable but different gifts God wants me to use to serve you. Part of the reason we were created was to serve the local church body. Maybe your needs are being met online, but what about ours? We cannot do this without you.

The Christian life is a life of service. We bring our “firstfruits,” the best of our time, talents, and resources and lay them on the altar in front of God’s people, asking him to use them to build his Kingdom. You can’t serve in the Facebook nursery. You can’t sing in the Facebook praise team. You can’t teach a Facebook Sunday school, take a Facebook mission trip, or visit the sick, discouraged, or grieving on Facebook. You can’t grow as deep in Christ without close proximity to others.

Social media platforms will likely continue to grow. The web will remain a worldwide hub for connection, but it can only enhance, never replace the gift God gave us when he created the Church. Facebook will pass away, but the Church will endure forever (Dan. 2:44).