The Church is not a Social Network

The church is not a social network. It might be a place where social networks are found or overlap into, but it isn’t one in itself. Let me explain.

Social networking is a phrase we always hear because everyone is supposedly always doing it. A social network can be built off a club, a product, or social media itself. Social networks can be helpful and good, but we need something more than social networks to thrive in life.

 Social Networks

“Social network” is the phrase we use when we want to get something out of it: customers, ideas, help, notoriety, etc. A social network based on social media (like Facebook, Twitter) is helpful when connecting to friends and family who live far away, or staying in touch with people that you just would have lost touch with otherwise. The rise of Facebook allows us to have more friends than we ever have, but we’re limited as humans to really be connected well to thousands of people. A social network based on a club allows people with shared interests (like a sport, charity) to get together and do the thing they already like. A social network based on a product (like Apple fans, Porsche owners) allows people to gather together who get something out of a product they already bought. If these social networks aren’t working, or the businesses behind them aren’t worth it, we move on. We buy a PC and forget about our Apple era.

A social network creates tribes of individuals. Individual people using whatever service for their individual purposes. It’s a form of consumerism. It’s easy to leave (well, kinda, have you tried to leave Facebook? Still, you get my point.) We can choose what we see and don’t see and often the network itself controls this more than we know. We use the social network for what we want and when we don’t find it we move on. Again, I don’t think this is horribly wrong, social networks are helpful, let’s just not treat the church this way.

The same goes for a club or a product. If the club does something I don’t like, or if I just get bored, I choose a different one. If the product doesn’t come through on its services for me, I find a better one. This is good for clubs and products, but not good when it comes to all of life. We need to be part of something that demands something more from us. We aren’t made to be consumers only.

Family

The Church is not a Social Network

A family is connected to each other through a shared identity. The relationships might require a lot from us, it’s not always easy. Being a member of a family means caring about others more than yourself. Social networks don’t do this, they aren’t equipped to do this. A family is not voluntary like a club, it requires more. A family isn’t a product, it’s not there primarily to provide a service. A church might have people you are connected to socially, but it isn’t a social network.

A family member doesn’t hesitate to call up another member when they get a flat tire. Or when they need some extra money for rent. This isn’t just consumerism of a different kind, it’s called relying on each other (very different, by the way!). A family member is ready to listen, ready to offer care, and they know each other well. A family member in need knows others will be there for them because the family is actively seeking out each others’ good, often at their own expense.

A family is connected to something deeper than what they immediately get out of it. And, ironically, this is actually the best thing for us!

Wouldn’t it be weird for someone to describe their parents and siblings as their social network? It should be just as weird for us to call the church that, even more weird for us to treat the church like that.

The Church

The church is not a social network, though social networks exist within the church. The church is more like a family.

Social media is really good at about exhibiting how amazing we are, showing pictures of ourselves, talking about our lives (don’t you wish it was yours?). It’s easy to develop a guilt or at least FOMO (otherwise why are we tempted to check it ever my 5 secs?). In contrast, the church is a gathering of people who don’t have it together, who recognise that they aren’t enough and never will be by themselves. “Fine,” you say, “but I can talk about all those things on Facebook.” True enough. But social media can’t deliver real presence. Actual people. A group of people who are in each others’ lives constantly not for their own good, but for others. Do we really feel cared for when we’re on social media for long periods of time? Of course not, and that’s not its purpose, so let’s stop looking for something that isn’t there.

A church is more than a club as it’s not just a voluntary organisation for people with similar interests. It’s more than a product as people are called to give, not to receive. Treating the church like a club or a product is being able to worship the idol of consumerism but wanting to feel OK about it. It’s not how Jesus taught us to live together. The church is a group of people with a shared identity living their life together: people saved from their brokenness because God loves them.

The church is a reflection of God’s new kingdom on earth. Called to be an outpost of His character in this world. It’s so important to God that Jesus Himself is its leader. The church isn’t supposed to be mirroring the world around it, it’s called to reflect the new world that an all powerful, all loving God is on the mission of creating. This grand image of what the church is supposed to be comes about by acting like a family that loves each other well.

This family is created by a good Father who is always looking to adopt more. The pictures we hold up and look to aren’t of ourselves, or even our church family, but of one Image. The Image of Jesus, set above all. It’s His Image that frees us from our consumerism and self-obsession. The more we follow His Image, the more we are freed to love one another without expecting anything in return. It’s His Image that He is forming us into, and one day we will get to see His face. Until then, we live here on earth in imperfect-but-growing lives.

Good News

But you know what? We will all be tempted to use the church for our own individualistic and selfish means. We all want to relegate the church to social network status. It allows us to stay the same. But God isn’t scolding us, He has forgiven us. So when we realise we’re acting like this, we can tell Him we’re sorry (and maybe our brothers and sisters as well) and He forgives us. More than that, He’s given His Spirit to us that enables us to live in this radical more-than-social-network kinda way.

We aren’t perfect and aren’t expected to be. We are a church.

An overview of the Sabbath

The concept of the sabbath is an important one, and not one we probably typically think of very often. I’m not talking about what you can or cannot do on the sabbath, or what exactly are your weekly practices. I’m talking about the big picture of the sabbath, from the beginning of time. Why is the important? The sabbath is where creation is going, it is our trajectory. The world isn’t an endless cycle, it’s a story. And the sabbath is one way to tell this story. The sabbath is the end goal of creation.

Here is a (very) brief overview of the sabbath story, from Genesis to Revelation.

Sabbath Overview

Continue reading

The Glory of Inadequacy

I Am Inadequate blog series

This is the seventh and last post in a series on our inadequacy. Read the others here.

I’ve written for six weeks about how we are inadequate in a bit of detail. Back in the first post I said this reality is gloriously freeing. How can something like this be glorious, be freeing, why do I believe that?

I don’t know about you, but I often feel like I’m under the burden of needing to have everything all together. A productive work life, changing lives in radical ways, an amazing social life where I look good all the time (at least on Instagram), the most caring and yet care free parent in the world where my kid looks and acts cooler than any other kid on the block. This is just the scraping off the top of the world’s expectations on us. Do you feel any of that? I know I do. And it’s crushing. Continue reading

Inadequate in Power

I Am Inadequate blog series

This is the sixth post in a series on our inadequacy. Read the others here.

Growing up, my father used to call the television remote, the “power”. “Can you give me the power?” “Where is the power?” “I need the power.” He liked having the power. Of course he did, we all do. But real power, deeper than a mere remote control, is often not handled rightly. As Lord Acton famously said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

We have a problem with power. We can be corrupted in our use of it (having too much and not able to handle it) or we just don’t have the power we think we need.

Both of these are true: the power we do have is ruined, not because power itself is bad, but because we are corrupt. And, we really don’t have the power we need. The proof of this is the fact that we still have problems. We aren’t powerful enough to fix the big things in life that need fixing (especially starting with us). Continue reading

Inadequate to Provide

I Am Inadequate blog series

This is the fifth post in a series on our inadequacy. Read the others here.

How long can a human survive without water? Without food? Without air? I don’t know exactly (I’m sure Google does) but the exact time doesn’t matter as much as the big truth: not long. We are not exactly autonomous creatures, we depend on so much in our lives. Even for the most basic needs like food or drink, we are dependant.

But for most of us in the West, our “needs” are much more than mere survival. We need all sorts of things that we don’t really need. The size of our houses, the cars we pick, the compressed and inhospitable calendars we keep attest to this. And with these needs come the mortgages, loans, working hours, and anxiety that inevitably come along. But we want to present ourselves as self-sufficient, able to conquer all. Problem is we know we aren’t. And the more we prop up this shallow façade, the more we feel its weight. Continue reading

Inadequate to Protect Ourselves

I Am Inadequate blog series

This is the fourth post in a series on our inadequacy. Read the others here.

We spend so much time with protecting ourselves, though don’t we? Comfort, or the logical end of protection, is what we chase after. It’s why we sign up for 55 hour work weeks, why we spend so much of that money we earn on recreation, alcohol, big homes and new cars. Comfort is one of the chief gods of the Western world. But this god never tells the truth. No matter how much you sacrifice in the name of comfort, we are never completely protected. Tragedy is no respecter of persons. And when it comes, and it will, we learn this:

We are inadequate to protect ourselves.

When it really comes down to it, we do not have the power in ourselves to protect ourselves. And if anything, that reality presses on the nerve of our sense of self-preservation. And when that reality does come to bear down in our lives, how do we react? Do we embrace it or attempt to ignore it? Continue reading

Inadequate By Ourselves

I Am Inadequate blog series

This is the third post in a series on our inadequacy. Read the others here.

Whenever I come out of a superhero movie, I feel a bit of a superhero myself. I’ve watched Batman be awesome and cool and save the day long enough to think of myself as Batman. When I leave the theatre, I’m not in my Golf, I’m in the Batmobile. I think of getting the bad guys, seeing justice reign, and I feel my muscles getting bigger and my stomach getting flatter. I like Batman as the hero, but really, I want to be the hero. And who doesn’t? Being the hero looks pretty cool.

But reality is obviously different than a two hour Hollywood version of a comic book. We can’t be the hero, we just don’t have what it takes. We can’t do it alone, we need others. Continue reading

Inadequate in the Mission

I Am Inadequate blog series

This is the second post in a series on our inadequacy. Read the others here.

We all want to be a part of something that will change the world. Or at least we really like that idea. At some level we realise that living for ourselves isn’t enough, or it ought not be enough. At the same time, we are also easily satisfied. We know we shouldn’t live for ourselves, but we really like to.

We want to end world hunger, but we also want to buy a boat.

And we vacillate between these two poles: our altruistic selves and our consumerist selves, never staying at either long enough to feel at home. We end up a little guilty, a little anxious, wondering if we’re living for the right thing or if we’re missing out. Maybe there’s a better way. That better way would start with us realising that we are inadequate in what we choose to do. We don’t have what it takes when choosing the mission for our lives. Continue reading

I Am Inadequate

I Am Inadequate blog series

This is the first post in a series on our inadequacy. Read the others here.

“Hi, I’m Greg, and I am inadequate.”

We all want to be seen as people who have it together. We set goals and meet them, surpass them even. We use every spare scrap of time to be incredibly productive and we enjoy every second of it. That’s the kind of people we want to be and, because of that, often how we present ourselves to the world.

Working hard is good. Being productive is good. Surpassing goals is good. But why do we care so much to be seen this way? Maybe you don’t care that much about it, but I bet at least part of you does. I know I do. I want to be seen as knowledgeable, helpful, someone who works hard and does amazing things. Why do I care about this so much? Continue reading

Between Home and Somewhere Else

Have you ever felt like “home” was a concept and not a reality?

Sunny RoadWe haven’t lived in Manchester long enough yet for it to feel like home and sometimes it feels like we are living “somewhere else”. We are in between home and somewhere else. Some days are hard, some more than others. For us, this is just a reality that we live in at the moment. It can be hard to live in a place full of reminders that this isn’t your home, a place that feels like somewhere else. Hopefully as time goes on and we grow in our connections to people here it will feel more like a home.

This is not a feeling reserved for people who move to different places, for refugees, or wanderers. A full length album of mine came out of this search for home, and I was living in the culture where I was born and grew up. We all ache for home.

It is in this ache that we find this truth: we will always be living in this world, between home and somewhere else. Like Abraham, we are searching after a city whose architect and builder is God. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, we are caught between where we came from and where we want to be.

What a wonderful hope we have as part of the Father’s family. Our hope is that all aspects of our homesickness, and there are many aspects, will all find their home in the gift of God Himself when we are finally with Him. Finally at Home.