Virtual Church and Your Family

Virtual church is becoming more and more popular. There are a fair number of people who no longer are members of a physical church family, but “attend” virtual church services on Sunday. I even saw an article recently that a church was allowing people to design their avatar and have it virtually baptized.

Virtual church gives you options you may not have in a “regular” church – including the ability to “attend” service at any time and in any place that provides live streaming and play back of services.

I am not sure how many families use virtual church to augment their attendance at a brick and mortar church or watch church virtually as their only family worship experience each week. As with any trend though, virtual church is becoming more popular and we need to think about how it impacts kids, teens and families before it becomes trendy.

I had never attended a virtual service before, so I felt like I needed to do so in a realistic fashion in order to write this post. My husband and I had a Sunday where we had an opportunity to do something that would have made us very late for the church we normally attend. We decided this would be the perfect opportunity to test a virtual worship service.

We chose to “attend” a church that was not our normal church home, but one in a church that we have visited many times in the past. The singing is always wonderful and their minister is one of our favorites. We chose this as I am not one who just sits and watches a screen for long periods of time, so I chose one I knew would be most likely to keep me from getting distracted.

It was an interesting experience. We noticed some things that impacted us both and others that impacted us differently because of our personalities. Below are our observations – some good, some bad. At the end I will share our conclusion about virtual church for families.

  • Singing worship songs is different. Our fellowship practices a cappella singing. The way this church was set up for sound, you could hear the song leaders well, but not the congregation. I missed experiencing hundreds of people singing their hearts out to God together. It did give me an appreciation for just how amazing the talent of the song leaders really is. I love to sing, so I still sang. My husband sings in church normally, but didn’t feel comfortable singing at home. I would image his reaction is more typical than mine.
  • There is no communion for you to take at home. The New Testament says the Christians had communion every first day of the week. We were able to pray and think about communion things, but didn’t have the bread and grape juice. This could be taken care of had we thought about it ahead of time.
  • It’s easier to do other things while worshipping. This is more of a personality thing I think. Because no one else is watching you though, it’s easier to pause and put clothes in the dryer or multi-task while watching. It probably interrupts the flow as much as day dreaming during the sermon in a physical church. On the plus side, if someone had to get up for some reason, you can pause it or rewind and not miss anything.
  • There’s no fellowship. One of the main reasons I believe God has placed us in community is because of the spiritual benefits being in the room with your brothers and sisters can provide. At home, there were no hugs, no one happy to see you, no one to give you emotional support or encouragement, no one to offer you help if you needed it.
  • There is no feeling of family for your kids or mentors. At home, your kids don’t get to interact with peers and adults like they do at church. There aren’t those relationships that become like extended family and give your kids emotional ties to the church. There are no relationships that develop into mentorships, giving your kids other adults who are encouraging them to grow spiritually. They also don’t have the opportunity to find peers who are trying to obey God – which is counter cultural – like they are. No way to feel a little less alone in that counter cultural journey which can be so tough when you are young.
  • There are no Bible classes. Done well, Bible classes give your kids chances to explore God’s word in ways that are most appropriate for them. It’s a place where they can ask questions and participate in activities that help them better understand what they are learning from the Bible. I’m not aware of any church that offers virtual Sunday School after their virtual worship service.
  • The opportunities to get involved in ministry with the church may be extremely limited. This particular congregation did a great job at keeping viewers informed of how they could participate in real activities with that church family. Others may not give that information on their live stream, or you may live so far away you couldn’t participate if you wanted to do so.
  • There is no way to be baptized to become a Christian or confess public sin to your brothers and sisters. Those things can happen, but you would have to be a lot more intentional about it.

Our conclusion? Virtual church works well if you are too ill to attend worship or are in a work situation that has caused you to miss service. It is not and probably should not replace attending a “regular” church and being an active part of that church family.

Yes, church families are filled with people who sin. It’s easy to want to avoid those “annoying” people, by attending church virtually. While we might miss being aggravated by someone, we are also missing the opportunity to grow spiritually by learning how to truly love that person. Virtual church as it is now, loses the accountability, encouragement and spiritual growth potential of a brick and mortar church family. For that reason alone, your family probably needs to spend almost all of your time worshipping in a “real” church.

Creating Space for Your Kids to Grow

Maria Montessori was an Italian educator who believed giving children the freedom to explore their environment was the best way for them to learn. She developed classrooms full of interesting things that would engage children, encourage them to explore, experiment and ultimately learn.

While I don’t necessarily agree with everything in her theories, she did have some important points. And though as far as we know, she didn’t apply them to a child’s spiritual growth and development, they do.

The ministry of Jesus and how he discipled the apostles is very interesting. We know now what their futures held, but they didn’t. Jesus did, however, and he spent a lot of time teaching and mentoring them. But look a little more closely.

There were times where he went off to pray and left them to themselves. At other times, he sent one or more of them on what could basically be described as an errand. Once he sent them off for a period of time to try teaching and healing on their own.

These opportunities gave the apostles time and room to process, think, pray, day dream, experiment and practice. The Bible doesn’t give us many details about what they did during these times. We know a few of their activities like fishing, sleeping, discussing, arguing and talking to those around them, but we can only imagine the other things they did during those times.

The apostles spent about three years with Jesus. Yet the teaching, mentoring and free space and time to grow helped them do just that. As far as we know, with the exception of Judas, they all became courageous ministers.

Who knows the plans God has for your kids? What Maria Montessori and Jesus knew though is that your kids need some free time. They need time to pray, read scripture and process everything they are learning about God. They need time to reflect on scripture and think about who God has created them to be. They need time to experiment with the gifts God may have given them and think about how they can be more like Jesus. They need to experiment in the ways they can best serve others and share their faith.

They won’t have the time to do these things if every moment is not just scheduled, but over scheduled. Or if their free time is spent interacting with screens. Fill your home with things they can explore, experiment with and ultimately learn. Give them enough free time without devices so they can work on becoming who God wants them to be.

This will probably mean making some tough decisions. Activities will have to be cut. Ignore societal pressure that demands every child be engaged in programmed activities every minute of every day. Yes, idle hands can be the devil’s workshop, but only if there is no godly adult presence and guidance. Give your kids the space and time to grow to be the person God created them to be. You may just be pleasantly surprised how they grow when they have the space and time to do it.

Preparing Your Kids for Vocational Ministry

Vocational ministry is based on the idea that Christians should be ministering to those around them and sharing their faith in everything they do – including their occupation. Whether your children grow up to be stay at home parents, neurosurgeons, plumbers or anything in between, they can participate in vocational ministry.

Vocational ministry isn’t new. The Apostle Paul and his companions (Aquila and Priscilla among them) were tent makers. The Bible tells us they worked hard to earn the money for their expenses so they wouldn’t burden anyone. (See 2 Thessalonians 3:8, Acts 18:1-3, Acts 20:33-35 and Philippians 4:14-16)

It’s easy to imagine Paul working Jesus into conversations with his clients or asking them to hear him teach somewhere when he wasn’t working. Likewise, we can imagine Priscilla and Aquila answering their clients questions about Jesus or listening to them talk about their problems and finding ways to serve and teach them.

Your kids can do the same things, no matter which occupation they ultimately choose…if you prepare them. Some Christians have been unknowingly practicing vocational ministry for decades. Like Paul and his friends, they find ways to minister to others and share their faith while on the job. In some cases, it required creativity as they dealt with company restrictions, but somehow they managed.

Others have left Jesus in the church building, perhaps picking him up for an occasional conversation on their days off with someone, or participating on a short term mission trip or service activity with their church.

God means for us to be more like Paul, Priscilla, Aquila and ultimately Jesus himself. He wants you and your kids to minister to others and share your faith at every possible opportunity at school, work or during your free time.

Your kids will be more likely to have a personal vocational ministry if you have lots of discussions about it now. What careers interest them? How could they serve others and share their faith on the job? What restrictions does that career track place on talking about God at work? How can they still serve others and share their faith in spite of restrictions? (Note: Most companies just don’t want anyone spending work time teaching people about God or bothering people who aren’t interested. They have no restrictions on break times like lunch, after work, for voluntary participation or for conversations that don’t take place in company facilities. Others have no limitations at all.)

It’s also important you model vocational ministry to your children. Talk about the ways God gave you to serve people at work and/or share your faith when you get home each day. If you haven’t been doing those things, you can start now.

Finally, encourage your kids to start practicing vocational ministry now – at school and extra curricular activities. Talk about some things they can do or say. Make part of your end of day reflection talking about the ways each of you served others and shared your faith, as well as the opportunities you didn’t take advantage of. Why did you pass on the opportunity? What could you do differently next time?

It’s fine if you all learn about and begin practicing vocational ministry together. As you learn and grow, you will be reflecting God’s love, meeting the needs of those around you and sharing the Gospel message with others. And those are always great things for families to do together!

Finding God Moments for Frazzled Parents

I absolutely love those perfect family Christmas photos. You know, the ones where the children are clean, smiling and rather angelic looking. Reality is different – even in those families. Parenting can be exhausting and leave you feeling constantly frazzled. Depending upon your circumstances, you may find yourself falling asleep any time you sit down or have moved on to the more subtle emotional and mental exhaustion that often comes with older children.

It seems like your energy is spent trying to make sure you are keeping all of those parenting balls you are juggling up in the air. If you had to be totally honest, you can’t really remember the last time you prayed or read the Bible. Forget reflecting on God’s word or taking a Sabbath type rest. That’s for when your kids are grown and gone. You may even be missing worship services for aany number of reasons.

Part of that exhaustion you are feeling is because you are spiritually exhausted, too. Pouring love into your precious little ones, serving them in hundreds of unnoticed ways, teaching them about who God wants them to be are all wonderful, lovely and godly things you are doing in your ministry to your children and at times their friends.

When we constantly feed others out of our spiritual cup without refilling it though, we are left feeling empty in the deepest parts of our soul. Even Jesus had to take time to separate from everyone and reconnect with God.

I know. You eat on the run and shower with little ones knocking on the door. When are you supposed to find some time to spend with God? You tried getting up before the kids for quiet time and that didn’t work well. So now what?

Instead of looking for large blocks of time, seek moments with God. Pray while you are rocking or feeding the baby. Read your kids a Bible story or a Bible verse as part of your day – often during a meal together works best. Reflect on that verse whenever you can during the day. Sing worship songs to your kids as lullabies or in the car as you go from place to place.

If you give God your moments each day, you will be amazed what He can do with them. There will be seasons where you can have those long extended times with God, but for now make sure to give Him those moments. You may find some of that rest and calm you so badly need in the process.

Your Child Has a Ministry

What? Your child isn’t old enough to work at McDonald’s. In fact he or she is convinced a career as super hero or astronaut is in their future. Yet, God has a ministry plan for your child…if he or she is ready for the challenge.

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10 NIV) God loves your kids. He wants them to choose to be His child and become a Christian when they are old enough to make that choice. He even has a ministry…good works…specially prepared for them to do.

Those good works are your child’s ministry. They may be big or small. In fact, some of those good deeds might be presented to them while they are still young and living at home.

Our world has us so focused on helping our kids find occupations and jobs, that we forget it is more important for them to find their ministry. Yes, they need to have food on the table and hopefully a roof over their head, but where they will truly grow and become fully who God created them to be is in their personal ministry.

Start now by helping them build strong faith foundations and develop and use their gifts from God. Talk about ways to find those good works God wants them to do. Encourage them to be as content in taking soup to a lonely neighbor as they are in going on a mission trip to Africa. Teach them how to find ways to share their faith and encourage other Christians as they do those good works.

God doesn’t give any of us a list of the good works He has prepared for us so we can check them off as we go. If I had to guess, it’s because that list is possibly based on our reaction to each opportunity as it is presented to us…or in this case your kids. What God has done is told us to be on the look out for those opportunities He gives us to do those good works.

Your child may never be a “professional” minister. His or her good works will most likely take place more in the world than in the church building. Some of them will be based on the gifts God has given your child. This isn’t a competition. It’s about being fully the person God has created your child to be – His child, doing those good works He has prepared for him or her. It’s worth the time and effort to help your child learn how to live that Christian life.