Several weeks ago a dear friend sent a lecture to me, titled, "Theology of Presence in Missions." While I do not recall all of the details of the lecture, I was especially struck by the way in which the lecturer is going about planting a church. He is using all of the standard tactics (e.g., prayer, evangelism, Bible studies, advertising, etc.). Along with these things he enlists what he calls a theology of presence. He said that one thing that has helped him in his church planting endeavors is being there for those in his community.
In an age of Facebook, Twitter, and text messages, we may define differently what being there actually means. For some it is sending a text message amid tragedy. For others, it is liking a post on Facebook. These things are not bad in and of themselves, but these versions of being there should never replace a flesh and blood presence. Soft words spoken, gentle hugs provided, tears shed together, laughter, and meals eaten with families will never be as valuable as emoticons and personal emails.
In my short time in church planting, I have realized more and more that, as a pastor, being there (what Scott Moore calls, "a theology of presence") is of great consequence, but it is equally significant when the saints involved in the church plant are there for each other. In other words, there is a need among church plants (and churches in general) to truly embrace the magnitude of community life. Meeting on Sundays alone, as well as sending the occasional text message and post on Facebook, will restrict the community life of the local body. Unfortunately, it is easy to get to this place. It is necessary, therefore, that we strive, in the midst of our busyness and technological advances, to meet with others and spend time with them face-to-face.
I do not want to spend too much time boasting on those from our church plant, but those committed to Crown and Joy Presbyterian Church (that is our name) are clearly demonstrating that spending time together truly matters. They have embraced a theology of presence, and while they still send text messages and correspond via Facebook, they admit that those modes of communication cannot replace a warm embrace and face-to-face interaction. They are embodying the exhortation provided in Hebrews.
"...let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near" (Heb. 10:24-25).
This makes church planting so much easier. When the people love each other and are further embracing the promises of Christ in the gospel, my work, as a pastor, is less difficult. Perhaps this is why my first Bible study series in our church plant was on community. Community life in the church is invaluable.
How are you doing in this area? Are you physically there for those in your congregation? Are you embracing a theology of presence? If not, and I am sure there are multiple reasons for your absence, consider, as soon as you are able, reaching out to those in your congregation. Spending time with the saints is precious!