Facebook, pastoral care, and intimacy...

For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me.

For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church. Now some have become arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I shall find out, not the words of those who are arrogant but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power. What do you desire? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love and a spirit of gentleness? (1Corinthians 4:15-21)

(Tim) In our semon this past Lord's Day, I was showing how utterly intimate the New Testament is, with names attached to commendations and failures, with I'm-your-father, you're-my-son declarations. The letters of the Apostle Paul inspired by the Holy Spirit are built around his knowledge of the particular sins of particular people. When he writes, he's not collecting royalties off his latest book or speakers fees for his participation in the latest intellectual debate among big Reformed brains disagreeing with one another over how many covenants can fit on the head of a pin. Rather, he writes his letters for the purpose of caring for souls, and thus the letters are fatherly, pastoral exhortations and admonitions and rebukes and threats--as well as ad hominem attacks on his own personal, pastoral opponents in Corinth and Galatia (for instance).

Doctrine has a point. God's prophets have always been accused of being impertinent because they're painfully pertinent in every last sentence and word. So the Apostle Paul might say:

"You're my beloved children. I'm not just a brain or a pedagogue; I'm not just a teacher, but I'm you're Daddy. You're not my sycophants or pupils; you're my beloved children. Now, dear sons, I command that you honor me as every son honors the father he loves: imitate me! I'm sending you Timothy. Like you guys, he's also my dear son. He'll help you imitate me."

But today, whether we have two or three hours a week in a megachurch or a small, tight Reformed congregation, it's unlikely we have anything close to early church intimacy. Tragically, though, with us it's a principle...

Megachurch bylaws declare that intimacy is to be avoided at all costs. We took a survey and found out people don't want it. We won't grow if we push them in a direction they don't want to go. Like they say, what's the point of going to a megachurch if you know the sins of the man or woman or child in the row next to you; or worse, of the pastor feeding you the Word of God? He's high and lifted up and his train fills the temple, don't you know? We don't want to know him--and we certainly don't want him to know us.

How about the Apostle Paul and his children, you ask?

Well really, let's admit it: the Apostle Paul is embarrassing. Small and squirrelly, he's a busy-body. He always has a point. Why can't he be like the rest of our eminent preening theologs giving themselves to radio shows and blog discussions of this or that arcane detail of clerical-renewal collars? Can't he give us at least one brilliant insight into Romish intinction and its discontinuity with the ancient hierarchical symbols evident in high Masonic liturgy?

And you know, the Apostle Paul names names! Disgusting, isn't it? Euodia and Syntyche called out in front of everyone all through history. Oh my. Alexander the metalworker. Squinting all the time--he's got bad eyes. I've followed him for years, now, and did you know? Everywhere he goes a stink or riot or book-burning follows. Read his letters. They're full of sex and family and authority--always and evermore authority! "Wives submit, slaves obey, husbands love, women be domestic--give yourselves to childbearing and children; everyone don't fornicate, don't adulterate, don't homocopulate; men love your wife, men love your wife, men love your wife..."

Can you imagine Zondervan's aquisitions editor being interested? In Paul? Can you picture famous Reformed conference personalities in the green rooom behind the stage giving him the time of day?

There's almost nothing like the intimacy of the Apostle Paul's pastoral doctrine and rebuke in our conferences and blogs and books and sermons. Instead, we disseminate sterile truth from God's Word; truth equally applicable to anyone, and therefore no one.

We write and speak, we don't preach. What we say is almost never personal, intimate, by name. Going house to house, warning day and night with tears (Acts 20)? Such descriptions of pastoral care and congregational submission are laughable in the Reformed church today. We're superior to all that. Intimacy between shepherd and sheep isn't our thing.

So, is intimacy dead?

Well actually, no. As it turns out, intimacy has amazing staying power. Like authority, intimacy refuses to die. It's an absolute mass that neither grows nor diminishes. When banned where God designed it to be, intimacy moves to where it shouldn't exist. Which is to say that, just as they did in the days of the Apostle Paul, Christians have intimacy today, but it's indecent, deceptive, and adulterous. When we refuse to be intimate with our pastors and elders and deacons and Titus 2 women and our brothers and sisters with whom we worship on Lord's Day mornings, we turn to texting, movies, Tweets, and Facebook.

Which brings us back to where we started. Facebook is a conduit to many sins, and one of the main ones is false intimacy. Facebook seduces us to evil intimacy, to peeping tomism or voyeurism with the bodies of other men's wives and daughters, other women's husbands and sons. It encourages us to take part in the disgusting intimacy of a group session of peeling dead skin off the bottoms of our feet which, if we were wise, we'd do privately so our dear wives didn't have to see it.

A former elder of our congregation who's now an elder at a Reformed megachurch whose pastor travels the royalty/lecture circuit told me he and the other elders of his church concluded this about their flock two years ago: "We have no pastoral care."

But do they have Facebook?

You bet. With the rest of us, that church is drowning in updates, texts, and intimate tweets.

How twisted is that?

 

Comments

Sadly, my first thoughts were that I liked this post so much that I would share it to my facebook page. Guess that proves your point, right?

Amen--one of the big reasons I shy away from big churches.

Not that small churches are necessarily any better. Sigh.

I like FB for networking - but then, you know me, Tim - I don't leave it at that if a real connection seems to be developing. I buy myself a plane ticket and, well . . . but then I'm single and for most of my adult life have earned a good salary so I have the income which provides that blessing.

However, I have been disappointed to see the exhibitionism exhibited, even by my Christian friends on FB - one woman whose husband gave her the gift of a "pregnancy photo shoot" posted a profile picture of herself with belly bared and only a sports bra for a top. Then there are all the silly ways women highlight cancer awareness . . . I unfriended someone before I realized *that's* what it referred to!

As to mega-churches? You can't even get to know people you sing in choir with!

Kamilla

Five stars, Tim. Thank you.

Going Facebookless is like losing one or more of your senses...and then watching the others become more acute to the real people around you in the real world.

I had the "joy" of intimacy in an authoritarian [Church] environment once, though not really any pastoral care (those men, good as they outwardly appear, were imposters, word wresters...). Hurt a lot getting out. Neverthelss, even with reservations against becoming too easily close to people, I agree with your assessment and concur in observation: the same problem exists among some of the "Reformed", as well as Reforming, Baptists and their Churches where, having discovered sound doctrine and abandoned wider, loosey-goosey "Christianity", the people in seats do not much seem interested in getting to know the person sitting next to them in the pew, and most certainly not discussing the messy details of church and personal life by which we're tried, disciplined, and tested, which is to say they're all interested, it seems, like the speakers and theologians, to speak abundantly when all remains comfortable and positive, but have any cry out, whether personally or against the grave let downs going on, and the cold and distance turn on.

It seems like the better the doctrine, the less there is of intimacy, present company excepted of course!

I think a lot of the problem can often be attributed to churches that are too large. It seems to me to be unrealistic to think a man can properly shepherd a church of more than roughly 150. If you have more than one pastor you begin to have splintered community. If you're a church of 300 with two pastors why not have two more organic and community based churches of 150? Economies of scale work in reverse when truly measured.

Denver Todd, actually the best doctrine I've had is in the most intimate churches--you'd let the congregants know that someone had a need, and you couldn't see the door for all the people reaching out to help.

And the worst doctrine....was of course in a church where it was (per John's note) an "old school" pastor with negligible theological training--and less incentive to try to learn, it seemed. Sigh.

And should it not be, that the doctrines of grace and love are accompanied by...well, grace and love, no?

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