Chinese Church Voices

In-Person vs Online Church Gatherings (2)

Chinese Church Voices is a weekly column of the ChinaSource Blog providing translations of original writing by Christians in China. The views represented are entirely those of the original author; inclusion in Chinese Church Voices does not imply or equal an endorsement by ChinaSource.

In this article from OC Behold, Pastor Zhong Rongkai talks about the importance of online church gatherings during quarantine. Pastor Zhong says Christians should take advantage of this time to “practice readiness” for future outreach and ministry. Zhong gives practical advice on how churches can prepare for such future opportunities.

Because of the length, this article is divided into two parts. Part one can be found here; this is part two.

How to Think About Traditional Church and Online Gatherings
An Interview with Zhong Rongkai (continued)

Preparation during quarantine

This time of quarantine is actually God’s blessing to us, so that we can prepare ourselves to take on gospel work after the pandemic. We should use this time well to do some cleaning in our own “home,” and put our lives in order. It is more important to use each day to prepare well, than to look forward to the end of the quarantine. We will discuss this preparation during quarantine in the five following points.

1. Humbly learn about the internet.

We should be able to see that the internet can reach regions that the traditional church is unable to reach. A sermon on livestream reaches the entire world, and the number of people clicking in and watching it can be in the millions. The internet is a powerful gospel tool, and we should take it up.

Furthermore, the threshold of the internet has been greatly lowered, and it has become a tool that anybody can pick up readily. We do not need to enter a broadcasting company to make recordings, and we do not need to major in media to make videos. The church should embrace the use of the internet, and humbly learn to use it well in step with the times. A lot internet software and many internet platforms are easy to learn, and can help us engage in care ministry through the internet.

2. Breaking through the rigid model.

In many people’s impressions, church is rigid. When they think of church, the image that comes to mind is this: the pastor is dressed presentably, preaching with a Bible in his hands, and everyone is listening respectfully with attentive ears sitting under the pulpit.

But during quarantine, when the computer is turned on, students need to sit up for video lectures, as do employees attending video meetings. When it comes to listening to online sermons, it would be hard not to feel bored at all. In fact, the church will do well to try breaking through the rigidity of how things are done in keeping up with this cyber age, and creating a more relaxed atmosphere that brings everyone closer.

In addition to Sunday gatherings online, my church is also attempting to use the internet for different live streamed videos. One evening program is called Changing Dreams, which is streamed every night at 10 o’clock through the Nuoyun (“诺云”) platform. In this program, I dress casually, and discuss recent news and lifestyle topics with the audience. In a recent episode, I talked about “whether or not pastors can wear jeans with holes,” and showed my own holey jeans to everyone. From there, I went on to discuss faith. This type of online gathering can help people break through their stereotypes of church, and therefore feel closer.

Some people worry that relaxed gatherings will damage the sense of sacredness church holds in people’s hearts. In reality, this is not something we need to worry about. Take a wedding for example. When attending a traditional wedding, you will definitely wear dress clothes and leather shoes. But if someone held their wedding at the beach, then it would not be appropriate for you to attend with leather shoes. Even though the model changed with a beach wedding, but its sacredness and ceremony do not decrease one bit.

In the same way, church gatherings online need not be restricted by too rigid a model, rather with a more relaxed atmosphere, the sense of formality may decrease. If used wisely, the internet can prove an aid rather than a hinderance to the church that seeks to apply faith to life.

3. Maintain real life relationships

During quarantine, it is of utmost importance that brothers and sisters use the internet to maintain their relationships.

Our church is attempting streamed videos of daily life. For example, we would invite one member to teach everyone how to make turnip patties over live stream, while another member explains how she grows orchids. With this opportunity, we have actually come to know new things about our church members. Although we know one another formally in church, we know little about each other in real life, say, about a sister’s orchid plants, or about another’s turnip patties, or even about the pastor’s torn jeans.

4. Establish devotional habits

I am sure that every church emphasizes the importance of personal devotionals, and encourages everyone to do daily devotions. But it is a pity that few churches ever go beyond mere “encouraging” and follow through until “stepping into practice.”  As we are faced with this challenge, the internet can become our great help.

Since 2016, our church has used WeChat groups to promote personal devotions. Following a schedule of daily Scripture readings, I post each day’s passage in the WeChat group, encouraging everyone to first meditate on it themselves. Later, I share my own thoughts on the devotional, through an audio recording, as I see fit for the theme by the segment and then focus on its application to real life. I do my devotional sharing according to the model of theme, segments, and what we learned, and then focus on how to integrate what we learn in devotionals into our lives.

Initially, this devotional WeChat group was prepared for members of the worship team of our church, and later opened up to the entire church, to help each person develop a daily devotional habit. After that, friends shared it with friends, and people from all over the world started joining in. Now we have expanded to five groups, with over 2,500 participants.

To encourage members to establish a devotional habit, we ourselves must first set an example, and the WeChat devotional group offers accountability. Since I started leading devotionals on the WeChat group in September 2016, I have not ceased my daily devotions.

In this WeChat group, members of our church connect with Christians from all over the world. Seeing the eagerness of brothers and sisters across the world is a good encouragement for ourselves to establish devotional habits.

5. Pay attention to the church’s Sunday message

When faced with the pandemic quarantine, I am sure that many pastors experienced inner conflicts and confusion like myself. We cannot invite church members to dinner to talk and care for them. We cannot do visitation. We cannot administer the sacraments—it seems like there is nothing we can do.

In reality, God does not call us to do what we cannot do. He calls us to prepare ourselves well for faithfully preaching his message online, for pastoring well those who will enter church seeking truth after the pandemic with a message of judgement and gospel truth.

The Bible says the church is Jesus’ bride. When Jesus comes again to wed his bride, the church should be ready, with her head veiled, her lamp burning.

Quarantine is a good opportunity to practice “readiness.” For ourselves, we can adjust our daily lives and spiritual lives, adjust our relationships with God and man, and establish steady devotional habits. For the church, we can explore the functions and use of online gatherings, so that we can better use the internet to assist the physical church in the future.

Author biography:

Pastor Zhong Rongkai: Host of “It Is Good to Know You” of Far East Broadcasting Company and “Nine O’clock Hotline” of South California AM1300, began serving in full-time ministry in 2007, and is now the lead pastor of Forward Church.

Original Article: 如何看传统教会与网络聚会by OC Behold (WeChat ID: FollowChrist)

Image Credit: Samantha Borges on Unsplash.
ChinaSource Team

ChinaSource Team

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