Let us face it: online worship is here to stay – for the next two years, at least. Unlike on-site worship, that has established norms that developed over many generations of church culture, online worship has none.
NORMS IN ON-SITE AND ONLINE WORSHIP
On-site worship service norms are clear and established. Not so with online worship service. A norm is a guideline or expectation of proper behaviour that each society and culture decides as acceptable, and what violates that acceptability, and what to do with that violation. We all know what behaviours are expected in on-site worship services: punctuality, dressing, how to enter the sanctuary, how to sing during worship, or attend to the preaching and what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, before, during and after the worship service. It is taught. It is mostly caught. But everything is new in online worship. It seems many of the guidelines and norms have been held in abeyance or thrown out.
MULTI-TASKING DURING ONLINE WORSHIP SERVICE
Multi-tasking seems to be the order of the day. While the online worship service is being streamed, or viewed later, viewers could be doing various other things while watching. Since there are no norms for online worship, anything goes! Here are some of the imagined possibilities.
- Nail clipping or polishing,
- Having your meal
- Surfing other channels, websites
- Answering emails, WhatsApp messages and social media
- Doing your housework: folding and ironing clothes, vacuuming and mopping the floor, etc
- Doing your hair or facial routines
- Preparing meals
- Chatting on phone or zoom or someone with you
- Reading or writing something unrelated.
INVASION OF GLOBAL ONLINE CULTURE
Multitasking during the online worship service is not something taught by the church. It’s the force of sheer habit and the invasion of a global online culture into the new territory of online worship culture. Since there are no established norms other forces hold sway. We are a people conditioned to require endless stimulation and engagement to stave away boredom and to feel productive and connected and excited. Multitasking gives us these. Since the church gives no guidelines, each person does what is right in his or her eyes, or gropes sincerely in this gap of ambiguity.
NAVIGATING THE NEW TERRITORY
A mature Christian would ponder about how to navigate this new territory. If the believer would ponder over the purpose of worship, he should be able to draw some principles upon which to form new norms of online worship for himself or for his or her family.
We know the purpose of worship is for us to glorify God and enjoy Him. We remember the Lord and all he has done for us through his finished work, and respond by giving him thanks and praise, and also to attend faithfully to what he wants to say to us through his Word, his Spirit and his Body. This requires the positioning of our whole body and soul to be actively and wholly involved. This cancels out most multitasking during online worship.
Its hard to imagine Moses multitasking while God spoke to him during his burning bush experience. He was on holy ground – to multitask would akin to tearing out the heart of that encounter, that worship experience. Jesus reproved the Pharisees and scribes, “These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”(Matt 15:8). We cannot afford to let our hearts drift away from God during online worship. St Paul said to the Corinthian church. “I have the right to do anything,” you say – but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything” – but not everything is constructive. (1 Cor 10:23 NIV).
The main idea is to participate, to be attentive to, and respond to how the online service is moving your heart, and not merely to watch the whole program like a task to dutifully complete to soothe your conscience, and to have some comment to make in case some leader asks you about it.
DIFFICULT WORD TO ACCEPT
This is a difficult word for people to hear. Everyone wants to be in control and do whatever is right in their eyes. This is precisely where coming under Jesus’ rule and kingship cuts the Adamic tentacles of rebellion that still desperately cling to our hearts after our conversion to Christ. Discipleship is not theory. It is very practical. It boils down to how you posture your heart and how you behave in all spheres of thought, speech and conduct. In this instance, we are talking about online worship conduct.
You may disagree with me and I am certainly aware that worshipping online at home becomes a challenge, even a meaningless routine, or worse – a drag – after the initial novelty has worn out.
I fully encourage support of return to on-site worship services. If you cannot do it every Sunday because of safety and other constraints, then less frequently, but seek to resume attendance with your whole body and soul. You can read more about my thoughts regard this HERE.