Observations on Asbury from a Church Production Geek
We've all watched what's been happening at Asbury University with a variety of emotions: joy, excitement, relief... Maybe you're even waiting for the other shoe to drop in what seems like a situation almost too good to be true with what's happening in the world around us. What is absolutely true is that God is at work in the hearts of so many, and I am grateful.
As I've watched this outpouring unfold, I've taken note of a few things I believe are vital
lessons for the church in the digital age, or any age, really. The saying, "There's nothing new under the sun", is a painful truth, but it is nonetheless true, even in the church. God's people have struggled for as long as we've been God's people to make it about what we can rather than what he can. It's such an easy trap to fall into because it looks so good. It looks like caring and excellence and passion, when underneath it all, it's simply a desire to be in control and to make God's glory somehow become our own.
God can pour his spirit out wherever he chooses. If he wanted to, he could have at the church in Uganda that meets under a tree. He could have in a Catholic mass. He could have in a mega church of 15,000. But he showed up at Asbury University, in their small, aged chapel with no fancy lights, no perfectly timed out music cues, no evocative motion graphics, just a simple sanctuary. Does that mean God WON'T show up in a mega church with fancy lights and a 20 person band? No. In fact, I believe he does show up, but are we distracted by the lights and noise so much that we don't see or hear him when he does?
As much as I believe the simplicity of what's happening at Asbury is a challenge to rethink what's really needed in church for God to move, there's an equally compelling challenge to embrace the digital age. Several people have been quoted crediting the impact of social media on what's happening. In fact, university President Kevin Brown said, "It has absolutely been social media that is the mechanism that people found out about this."* What an intriguing and powerful statement to make.
COVID thrust many churches in the digital age kicking and screaming. While there is absolutely a dark side to social media, there is also potential to reach people right where they're at with the message of the Gospel. People living in closed countries where no missionary can go freely are able to engage with Christians around the world via social media. Someone drowning in depression that hasn't left their home for days can live stream a Sunday morning service and message the media team to ask for prayer. As individuals, we can share videos of a revival to TikTok that lead to people from across the globe coming and experiencing the transformative power of God.
So, how do we learn from what's happening at Asbury? I believe it's a call to humility, to refocusing on God and less on ourselves. I believe it's a call to leverage the digital age to see the Gospel reach further than it ever has been able to before. What it isn't is an exact formula to copy. I don't think churches who have fancy stage set ups or large scale production need to throw all of their equipment away and repent. I don't want to judge their ministry, lest I become like the disciples who rebuked the "frivolous" breaking of the alabaster box.
I think we can keep showing up with our best, whatever that looks like, but have peace knowing that God is still going to meet us, whether we have it all together or not. I never thought I'd be grateful for TikTok, but here we are. God can truly use anyone and anything to get to those he loves. I pray this would spark an even greater outpouring to continue around the world. We sure need it right now.