Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Facebook, recently claimed that as church attendance declines, Facebook will become the new church for people, offering a sense of community and meaning.[i] But Facebook can’t be the church, and not just because it isn’t built on a true foundation of hope in the good news of Jesus Christ. But it also can’t be the church because it can’t effectively form a community of a people on mission, serving God and one another together for God’s transformative purpose. In other words, Facebook neither has the content nor the form that can replace the church.
My hunch is that most Christians get the content part of what makes Zuckerberg’s claim faulty. We get that we need the gospel for the church. But I think that fewer might understand the gap on the form front. In other words, what am I really missing out on if I listen to worship music throughout the week, watch clips of my favorite preachers on YouTube and then share about my faith on social media?
One thing you’re missing out on is God’s purpose for you in serving a gathered community, the church.
One of my favorite passages in the Bible is the unlikely encounter between Moses and his father-in-law, Jethro, in Exodus 18. It’s the only conversation we find between Moses and Jethro in the Bible and there is so much that is intriguing about it. At the heart of the conversation is God’s revelation of his purpose for the gifting and service of his people.
A month or so after the rescue of the Israelites from the hand of Pharaoh through the Red Sea and just after God’s rescue of them from the Amalekites, Jethro’s father arrives at the Israelite’s camp. That must have been a fascinating moment for Moses in his relationship with his father-in-law. Moses was raised in the Pharaoh’s court, but when he met his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, he was a fugitive, on the run from the Egyptians after murdering a slave master.
He marries Zipporah, one of Jethro’s daughters, and is renamed Gershom—Hebrew for sojourner. Forty years of shepherding pass and the eighty year old Moses is called back to Egypt. One can only imagine the conversations that Moses must have had with his father-in-law and mother-in-law when he told them of his intentions to take their daughter and grandchildren into the jaws of the most powerful and evil empire on the face of the earth. And oh yeah, the very empire Moses had fled as a fugitive! Picture that scene in your mind’s eye.
By God’s grace and power, Moses and the Israelites are rescued and emerge back on the Sinai Peninsula. So, when Jethro emerged on the horizon those many months after Moses departed from him, one can only imagine the thoughts and feelings that must have surged through Moses. If it was me, I’m sure I would have been tempted to nudge my father-in-law with an “I told you so,” and then, gesturing to the hundreds of thousands of Israelites who followed me, a puff of the chest that said, “look at me now.”
Instead, we see Moses bow down to Jethro and warmly kiss him in greeting, and Jethro’s heart sings the praise of the God of his family’s salvation.[ii] The night passes and in the morning, Moses has Jethro join him with in his daily routine.[iii] It’s here where one would have imagined that Jethro would have been truly impressed. Lines of people form, waiting to inquire of God to Moses and request his judgments in disputes.
But Jethro is nonplussed. “What is this that you are doing for the people?” he asks, “Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning till evening?”[iv] Moses responds that he is there because that is what the people are asking him to do. Jethro is unmoved, “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you.”[v]
And so Jethro offers Moses advice: “look for able men… who fear God, who are trustworthy… and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.”[vi] He assures him that “If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace.”[vii] Moses was to offload his responsibilities. He was to engage the people in service.
We don’t know where Jethro derived this advice. Was it from observation of military principles? Or of principles he used in his own leadership?[viii] Or maybe it was a direct revelation from God. Either way, it was not just a good idea, it was an idea that honored God and blessed the people.
We are designed for work. We are designed for service. Not just some of us, all of us. When God created man and woman in Genesis 1, he did so with these words, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over… all the earth.”[ix] Moses wasn’t being godly by overworking himself. He was being selfish. Where he saw problems to fix, God saw stewards purposed to serve.
God created us to work. The great preacher Charles Spurgeon once asked, “Do you know, dear friends, the deliciousness of work?” Do you? God created us to serve. God has designed us for dominion. That dominion had been twisted over the Israelites. They were slaves, pawns in the hands of the pharaohs who manipulated their power over them. But God’s intention is that all are given dominion, stewardship, care, governance to exercise. We all have a responsibility.
Church isn’t a spectator sport.
We went to the movies as a family this week. We paid the admission at the entry, headed into the theater and sat in rows and watched a show and hoped we were entertained. And we left. I didn’t feel any responsibility for the quality of the movie, for how those in front of me and behind me were doing, for the stains on the carpet in the lobby. I felt zero ownership, because I was a spectator, not a steward. But church is not a theater. It is not a show. It is not a social media feed. It is not something you can grab on iTunes on Monday or YouTube on Wednesday.
We are the church and we are called and purposed to serve one another.
And Facebook will never replace that.
Photo credit: Fortune
[ii] There is a fair bit of discussion regarding Jethro’s faith. What does it mean he was “the priest of Midian”? Was he a believer in Yahweh? Was he beforehand? Was this a conversion experience for him? The answer to this question is unclear, although I would lean toward siding with those who believe that he was a believer in the God of Israel and is affirming his faith and praising his God here. This is due to a few facts including his own lineage which went back to Abraham, his daughter’s expression of faith in the narrative, and the fact that Moses was with Jethro and his family for 40 years. His statement expresses true honor to God and reads the situation correctly, that it diminishes the gods of Egypt. The fact that he was “the priest of Midian” in some ways reflects Mechizedek, the king of Salem and “priest of God Most High” (Walter Kaiser, Expositor’s, 412). John Calvin, among others, would disagree and sees this as a conversion experience (John Calvin, Commentaries, 300).
[iii] Some, such as Ellison, argue on the basis of Dt 19, that this incident ought to be placed after Sinai. I would disagree and see it as fitting here in the narrative (HL Ellison The Daily Study Bible Series, 96).
[iv] Exodus 18:14
[v] Exodus 18:17
[vi] Exodus 18:21
[vii] Exodus 18:23
[viii] God has also designed economic and organizational systems that the world uses and he delights when we use them for his good.
[ix] Genesis 1:26
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