Are We a Community Worth Binge-watching?
By AC Alivizatos, Ministry Intern
It’s happened to most of us. Despite our best efforts to be responsible with our time and energy, we get sucked into a TV show or documentary series. When one episode ends, we HAVE to watch the next one. And the next one. And the next one. Before we know it, it’s 5am, we’re covered in crumbs, and the light of dawn is beginning to crack through the curtains. Subscription services like Netflix and Hulu have made possible this phenomenon not quite ever seen before: binge-watching.
Honestly, I’m not really much of a TV show guy. I can count on one hand the number of TV shows that ever held my attention long enough to make me want to invest time into watching multiple episodes. Of those, only a couple have gripped in the way I just described. Where I once thought I was a busy person with barely any time for extracurricular activities, I somehow found additional hours in the day to cram episodes of my newly found favorite TV show into binge-watching marathons. I was hooked. I had to see more.
This leads me to the question of this blog post: are we a community worth binge-watching? Do we live life in such a way that the outside world has fixed their gaze upon us? Do people want to know more about what makes us tick as Christians? Are they hooked? Do they have to see more?
Scripture testifies that is this not only a legitimate question, but an imperative one. As God says to the nation of Israel in Ezekiel 5:5 (NIV): “…This is Jerusalem, which I have set in the center of the nations, with countries all around her.” The people of God lived in a fishbowl. The nations were watching. What did they see? They saw Israel following the same idols as everyone else. They weren’t much different from other nations; in fact, they became even worse.
Fast-forward to the New Testament, where we see Jesus fulfill that calling in a way Israel never could. He became the perfect representation of God to the world. Not only that, but he began to form a new community, to whom he said in the beginning of Acts: “You will be my witnesses.” There was no question about their calling and identity as a church: they were witnesses of Jesus, testifying of his good news both in their words and actions. The only question, as Riccardo put it a few weeks ago, is whether they would be good witnesses or bad ones.
In the early church, we saw examples of both. In last week’s sermon (audio not posted yet but will be here), Will talked about the good witness of Barnabas and the bad witness of Ananias and Sapphira. Barnabas sold his land and gave the proceeds to help the poor. But while Ananias and Sapphira sold their land and gave some of the proceeds to the poor, they lied about how much they gave away. Barnabas lived out his faith in such a way that it would have struck the curiosity of the outside world. Ananias and Sapphira acted with a stench of hypocrisy that would have turned people away. They immediately received God’s judgment, and the rest of the community took to heart the seriousness of their calling. The fact that they were a community worth binge-watching is borne out in how many generations have read the pages of their story countless times.
But what about us? What must we do in order to be a community worth binge-watching? For starters, we need to have a missional awareness. People are watching to see the way we live. What they see matters. Are we even aware of the message our lives proclaim, or are we too zeroed in to our individual pursuits of happiness? As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “You are the light of the world…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”Our lives are meant to be lived in front of the world. We have to deliberately live in such a way that others will look at how we live and see the grace of God. This might mean thoughtfully revisiting some areas of our lives that have become thoughtless routines.
Let’s begin with the obvious: how do we “do church” as a community? Do we listen to sermons just “to be fed,” or so we can learn how to live a life on mission? Are we getting full and fat off sermons, or are we eating so that we can go share this good food with others? Is taking communion just a way of privately enjoying our forgiveness in Christ, or is it an act that empowers us to live godly lives for the sake of the world around us? Are we even conscious of others while we’re at church? Or do newcomers, curious about our faith, come and go without any of us saying a word to them? Do we go to the church like we go to the movies, sitting with strangers to watch an entertaining presentation?
What about family and parenting? I’ve probably heard the following refrain a hundred different ways from a hundred different people: “I just want my kids to be happy.” Is that the goal of parenting? Is the reason God gives us children to raise so that we can ensure their individual enjoyment of life? Or is it because one of the greatest threats that would prohibit the people of God from becoming a light to the nations is the failure to pass along our faith to the next generation? Perhaps a missional model of parenting would include radical, costly, and time-consuming efforts committed to shaping the way our children view the world. Are we passing on a legacy of individual consumerism? Or are we making the necessary sacrifices and commitments to teach them how to carry on God’s mission long after we’re gone?
Finally, are we a contrast community? Do our lives present an alternative way of life to the world around us? Barnabas provided a contrast. By selling his land and giving to the poor, he was part of a community that embodied selfless giving to the powerless in a Roman world dominated by greed and power plays. Ananias and Sapphira, on the other hand, looked no different from the Roman world through lying for selfish gain. Even though their actions were disguised in religious behavior, they really were no different from the non-Christian community.
What about us? Is our Christian community really all that different from the non-Christian community? Are we after the same things, but just checking off different boxes when it comes to religion? Or we do exhibit an entirely different way of life that can’t help but attract the attention of others? Are we a community of generosity in a world of consumerism? Are we a community of justice in a world of injustice? Are we a community of hope in a world of disillusionment? Do we possess a vibrant vision of the kingdom that shapes our vocation, or are we limping through the workweek, living for the weekend?
In other words, are we worth the attention of the outside world? Is there something different about us? Are we a distinctive, attractive community? Are we like Barnabas, living out our faith in a way that draws attention to the unique claims of Christ? Or are we like Ananias and Sapphira, living just like everyone else, but with a religious flavor? Are we a community worth binge-watching? Or do our lives make people want to to change the channel?