Jay KimㅣAnalog Church_ Why We Need Real People, Places, and Things in the Digital Age
2:43PM Jan 8, 2021
Jonathan J. Armstrong
Today we're delighted to be speaking with Pastor Jay Kim. Pastor Kim is Pastor of teaching and leadership at Vantage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California, and also author of the text that we'll be speaking about today, "Analog Church, why we need real people, places and things in the digital age". Thank you so much, Pastor Kim, for joining us.
Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me on.
Pastor Kim, you've been working in the San Francisco area, the heart of Silicon Valley for about 16 years now. When and why did you decide to write this book?
It's a great question. Yeah, I've not only been serving in ministry here in the Silicon Valley, I live about 45 minutes south of San Francisco. So right in the hub, you know, the epicenter of digital technology, I have been serving in local churches here for the last 16 years, 17 years or so. But I've also lived here basically, my entire life, this is home. I've been here since before I can remember, I wasn't born here. But I moved here. Before I can remember I was really young. So I've been surrounded by not just digital technology. That's true. Now, wherever you live globally, in most parts of the world, but I've been uniquely surrounded by people who who make the stuff that so many of us just so readily use, you know, the stuff we carry around in our back pockets, and our laptops, and all those. Now, you know, were around our wrists and all those sorts of things. And so that's given me just a curiosity, I think I've had a curiosity about it for a long time of fascination. Because I'm not, you know, a computer engineer, I don't do programming. I'm not a hardware engineer, I don't know, you know, any of that stuff. And yet, I'm fascinated by it. Because I have friends and family, many, many family, and friends who, you know, that's the reality of their waking hours. And so it's something I've been fascinated by for a long time, and especially with the rise of the Internet, and the digital age. And then I'd say probably like, six years ago, five, six, maybe seven years ago, I began really thinking a little more deeply about how our churches, my church in particular, and how churches in general, were seemingly sort of diving headlong into anything and all things digital, for the sake of reach and impact and relevance. And that's not all bad. I think there's a lot of benefit to that. But I was also curious, you know, are there some ways that we might be leveraging and leaning into digital technology, without giving more more thought, you know, to how our leveraging of these technologies might actually have a formational impact on us individually, as we follow Jesus, and maybe, in some ways, more importantly, ecclesialogically, you know, in our understanding of what we think it means to be the church, you know, to be the people of God together. And so, really, it just was born out of that curiosity, you know, the intersection of just my own life and my geography in many ways, and the relationships that I have with people, and just really fascinating conversations I was having with folks who make digital technology created and, and do incredible work there and asking them a lot about, you know, the ethics of digital technology and digital design. And so yeah, that's where it came from. I just found myself at that intersection between, you know, what I was experiencing in terms of my own use of digital tech conversations I was having with people who make this stuff. And then what I was observing both in my own church and in the churches all around me. And so there you go, eventually, those thoughts gave way to a book. And here we are.
Pastor Jay, one of the central arguments of your book is that the church should stop seeking to be relevant. That's not something you hear from people most of the time. What is it that you mean, when you call the church to stop seeking relevance?
I'm glad you asked that I am, I guess I would, I would correct that just a little bit. I I do make a very strong sort of dichotomy between relevance and then really the crux of the book, which is about transcendence. You know, I don't think I would say that churches should stop trying to be relevant. And some of this has to do with just language, you know, when we hear the word relevant, like most words that has sort of an elasticity of meaning. So if by relevant, what we mean is, we need to speak in a way that makes sense to people's lives. We need to present an offer and invite people into the story of the gospel in ways that are relatable to their everyday lives, then absolutely, we need to be relevant to people's lives. But in the book, I, you know, I get into it quite a bit more by relevance, what I mean is, in the book, at least the dichotomy I'm trying to make, I do think that churches lose something significant if we make stylistic and cultural relevance, something that needs to be like our highest pursuit. And there was a time in season for that, you know, when we think about sort of the loose term for would be like the seeker sensitive model, that's not a bad thing. I don't, you know, I don't cast that out and say, be gone, you know, I actually think it's, it's benefited the Evangelical Church in so many ways. But like most things, like most movements, you know, when things get to their furthest extremes, what was once helpful can really become harmful. And in some ways, particularly in the digital age, one of the most alarming things I'm seeing is that we are pursuing digital relevance and relevance to a digital culture, in particular, that I think is robbing us as churches of the gift of the timeless gift that we have always had to offer the world, which isn't cultural relevance, but rather transcendence and invitation, not into something that looks sounds and feels like everything else people can experience in culture at large, but rather an invitation into a reality that is, again, transcendent, others set apart something that's totally different than what the rest of the world offers. You know, I think if the church wants to try to compete on the battlefield of pop culture, and try to have better music and sharper lights, and be on the further cutting edge of digital technology, we're going to lose every time and even if we win some, the reality is what we've won people with, actually determines what we're winning people to so if we've won people, because they decide our church looks and sounds and feels like, you know, a cooler version of whatever that they experience in their sort of everyday realities, then once we get into the stuff of substance when it comes to the gospel, the life of discipleship, you know, sacrificing, laying down your life, carrying your cross, those things are, you know, we'll lose people if we've won people, if we think we've won them by by means of relevance, you know, popular pop culture relevance. And so really, what I'm trying to do is, is point the church back in some ways to the gift that we have always had to offer the world, which is this sort of upside down invitation into an upside down kingdom, something totally other and transcendent.
You're bringing to my, to my mind, ways that Jesus would purposefully lose the crowds when he discovered that they were just following for the bread. For example, in John chapter 6. Pastor Jay, if I can read just a brief excerpt from page 11 of your text, you write this. "In our increasingly digital world, the church has done what she's done countless times before adapted and acquiesce to contemporary culture. walk into any church in America today, big or small, and you'll likely be surrounded by digital and technological excellence, or at least the pursuit of it all for the sake of relevance. This desire to create a church experience that's familiar, and appealing to the digitized masses has led to a dangerous miscalculation, that for a church to grow, thrive, serve and reach its community, it must be on the front edge of the digital and technological age." So pastor help us out, does that mean that we ought outright to reject technology? What's your view?
No, the short answer is no, I, what I am not arguing for is for us to become Luddites or live as the Amish and get rid of our laptops and phones and churn our own butter, you know, although if that's what you want to do. That's fantastic. That's not what I'm arguing for what what I am suggesting is digital technologies, like all technologies can be helpful when they are leveraged and positioned appropriately in our lives. And at the same time when we put them and place them in positions of influence and power over our lives and over our churches in ways that they would never intended that which was helpful becomes incredibly harmful. And so for me, you know, the argument is not Hey, technology is bad. Let's get rid of technology. I actually, you know, it's a misunderstanding A lot of people have about the book based on the title and sometimes the description. But if you read the book, you know what, what you will very quickly realize is that I have a deep appreciation for technology. And it has added tremendous convenience, and comfort in some ways to my life. And especially now as we're recording this while we're still in the midst of this unique season of, you know, COVID-19 and everything being online. On the one hand, there's a lot more to say about this. But on the one hand, I am quite grateful that we have these technologies at our disposal to be able to stay at least somewhat pseudo connected, you know, while we are physically apart. So no, I am not arguing let's get rid of technology. What I am suggesting is that we consider thoughtfully and critically, if there are ways in which we've maybe misplaced technology, and allowed it to have influence and power over our lives and over our churches, and informational impact on our ecclesiology in ways that can be harmful. And if we have I think many of us have. And if we have to do the hard work of recalibrating and recalculating essentially, how we move forward.
Pastor Jay, that's it, there's a really cool phrase, "pseudo connected". And that really aptly gathers up with a lot of us feel from our social media interactions with our friend networks, etc. How do you describe what's unique about in-person experience?
There's a lot to be said there. I have two whole chapters trying to you know, unpack some of that. And even that fell short. I wish I had more more pages, you know, and word-- word count was higher or something. But I guess the best way to say it would be to say that, you know, there's a difference between communicating and communing. And I said this earlier about a different word. But it applies here as well, there is certainly an elasticity of meaning with both of those words, communicate and commune. But what I mean by those words, is just I what I think is their most baseline definition by communicate, I'm talking about the exchange of information. And by commune, I am talking primarily about the exchange of our presence, which includes information exchange, but includes so much more. And in that way, I think that's what I mean, when I say that digital technology offers us the ability to have pseudo connection. And that pseudo connection is getting better and better all the time. You know, the fact that you and I are having this conversation hundreds of miles apart. And yet at least, we're not just hearing each other's voices, we can see one another, you know, I can, we can see each other's facial expressions and mannerisms and sort of physical leaning in and leaning out. And yet even this is it falls short of embodied presence, you know, our conversation would still be even deeper, if we were having this conversation, sitting, sharing a cup of coffee together in the same space. And I think without even explaining all of that, you know, most of us hearing this, understand it viscerally. And even more. So right now and this season, where we're, you know, physically separated and disconnected. And so I think that's what that's what I'm trying to get at, you know, I think physical embodied presence with one another matters because the exchange of presence is is what truly, truly matters beyond simply exchanging information. And digital technology is fantastic for the exchange of information, but we can only exchange presence when we're in body with one another.
Pastor Jay, that's a great insight. Pastor Jay, your proposal in this text analog church is to go analog. So would you help us understand what is it that this looks like in for example, the context of congregational preaching.
I get into it a little bit in the book, but one of the examples I use is about, you know, the multi site, church model, which has been sort of all the rage in the last decade or so. And again, I have nothing against it. I'm actually a supporter of it. I think there are big benefits to it. But you know, the sort of go to model for preaching when it comes to the multi site model, not all churches, but many churches, if not, most churches who go to that model, employ a video preaching sort of model, meaning there's one communicator, typically preaching from the main location, which is always the biggest location, and then all the other sites quote unquote, sites, they watch a video of the preacher and this again gets back to the point of embodied presence and the exchange of presence with one another You know, preaching is a passion of mine. It's something that I hold near and dear to my heart and something that I hold very humbly and consider an incredible gift in my life for as long as God allows me to, to participate in that beautiful act. And I can tell you this, for sure, I have preached both to video, you know, to a video camera. I've preached obviously, in rooms to real people, and I've preached in rooms to real people, while there's a video camera so that other people in other rooms can see me preaching, I've experienced all of that. And I can tell you this without hesitation, you know, there is a significant difference in the connection and the rapport in, you know, and I don't want to take this too far. But just from my own experience, what seems to me like the way I can move with the way the Spirit of God might be moving in the midst of people in the room, it's just significantly different when I'm preaching in a room with people, rather than to a camera, which again, all preachers right now in the midst of COVID-19 are experiencing this strange disconnect, where if not all most, right, and so, you know, I think, Thomas Long in his book, "The witness of preaching", it's a classic preaching book, he says it best and I'm paraphrasing him here, but he basically says, Listen, the sermon is not something that is owned centrally by the preacher. The sermon is something that comes to life in a particular space in a particular context. And it is essentially an exchange between the preacher and the people. The sermon encompasses the entirety of the experience, as people lend their listening ears and their attentive presence. And the preacher takes all that he has prepared, or she has prepared and invites the Spirit of God in a moving, living, dynamic way to breathe life. And then the preacher and the people, you know, the the pastor and the congregation, essentially experience that that beautiful work of art, gospel truth, story of God come to life in their midst, together. And it's hard to do that via video. You know, I can say that having just preached on video a week ago, it's difficult. It's not impossible. That's not what I'm saying. I think that God is still on the move, still doing amazing things, changing lives through video preaching, but it certainly falls short in my experience, and in my estimation, and so there you go. That's one example of the sort of difference when it comes to preaching in particular.
Pastor Jay, what does your proposal to go analog mean for the prayer ministries of the church?
You know, to be very frank, actually, there is a big benefit to digital technology when it comes to prayer. You know, the church where I serve on staff. After the Coronavirus, we started scrambling and figuring out how can we go more online because we had basically zero not zero but very minimal online presence before the coronavirus pandemic. So one of the things that's happened, and it's been actually really beautiful is this ongoing, weekly prayer meeting on Zoom. And that's been really awesome. And it's, it's convenient, people are obviously logging on from home or wherever they happen to be. And so you don't need to, you know, drive into a place and, and all of that. And so it's been really wonderful. It's a it's been a wonderful connection point. But and I mentioned this a little bit in the book, this metaphor, but essentially, I think at its finest what it's doing is it is amplifying our need for prayer for both on the church staff side as well as amongst the the congregation or like, man, I just I haven't thought about how helpful it is to have regular connection points of prayer with other people in my church community until it was made so accessible to me. And so the Zoom prayer meetings might be something that we just continue on even long after the Coronavirus has been this incredible, you know benefit to us. And at the same time, what it is doing beautifully I might add is it is deepening the connection between one another. As we connect on Zoom, we hear one another stories, one another's struggles, we begin to pray for each other, those prayers then begin to trickle out into our everyday lives when we're not on Zoom. Now I'm still thinking about that person I just prayed for on Wednesday, and I'm praying for them on Thursday and Friday and Saturday. And then I think the beauty of it is when it is safe and responsible and wise to be able to physically gather again. And I don't know when that will be at least in our part of the world here in California. But when it is here's what I know for a fact when I get into a room with that person that I've been praying for every week, over Zoom I've been praying for throughout the week when I see them it physically in person, again, our bond, our connection is going to be that much stronger, that much deeper. And there's a beauty and that sort of synergistic relationship between digital and analog. So when it comes to prayer, in particular, I actually think there's tremendous benefit to the digital technologies at our disposal. And I'm hopeful that what they will do is amplify our connection when things are analog again, you know.
Pastor Jay, what other ministries of the church would you identify as having unique value when they're conducted by analog forms of communication?
We mentioned community, I mean, I think that's one of the crucial ones. You know, it's certainly when I travel for ministry things and I'm out of town, I'm so grateful for the digital technologies that allow me to connect again pseudo connect with my family, you know, I'm so happy to be able to FaceTime with them and hear their voices and see their faces and for them to be able to hear, see and hear me as well. But really what that connection does is more than anything, it just makes me long to get back home and give them real hugs with my real arms, you know, and real kisses, right. And I think that's true of community. I think digital, again, is a helpful sort of initiating space. But what it does at its best is drives deeper within us a longing for the real thing to be truly with one another. You know, it's got other implications as well. I get into in the book, how the digital age is, is having tremendous impact and influence on the way that not just Christians, but all people think about reading and information intake, that our minds are neuro a lot in the digital age, because of the way we engage social media in particular, our minds are on a neurological level being rewired. And our appetites. And our aptitude for taking in long format information in particular, is being stripped away, you know, we are becoming an increasingly impatient people who like to take in information in, you know, 280 character tweets rather than 280 page books. And that's tremendously problematic when it comes to the life of following Jesus because as the late great theologian and historian Larry Hurtado calls it Christianity has always been a bookish faith, meaning, we have always been a faith that has found our grounding and our pillars on the scriptures, the 66, magnificent ancient books that make up the library of God's word, you know, the Bible. And so, listen, it's hard to read the Bible and read it deeply and thoughtfully, in 280 character bite sized nuggets that's difficult to do. And certainly having a life verse or reading a couple verses for inspiration and encouragement every now and then that's helpful. But that's only helpful as a supplemental exercise. The Scriptures are primarily intended for us to dive deep and to be read in long format the way they were written. And we're losing that. And that's, that's tragic. It's tragic, and is going to have just incredibly negative ramifications when it comes to discipleship, Jesus. And so that's another way the digital age is impacting and influencing the way we follow Jesus and something we have to pay attention to, and something that in my opinion, we have to remedy.
Pastor Jay, when you write about technology, and the way it's affecting our world, there's a lot of people who are basically in pain over these transitions. These are real deep visceral transitions. So as we try to navigate technology, how do we know that when we return to traditional church practices, we're not just pining for a former way of life? How do we know the difference between on the one hand courageous spiritual leadership that's willing to go against the flow of our culture? And on the other hand tradition simply for traditions sake?
It's a great question. And I think it's a crucially important question for church leaders to consider. But I would say this, I think that that has been a question that church leaders have had to ask for 2000 years. It's not unique to the digital age, there have been other dramatic shifts, and cultural moments were not just new technologies, but new ways of thinking, new philosophies, you know, shifts in sort of social consciousness. All those sorts of things throughout history, have forced the church and the men and women who have committed their lives to helping serve and lead the local church to ask those sorts of questions. And so I think on one hand, it's important that we look historically, particularly in the digital age, you know, we are growing increasingly guilty of what CS Lewis called chronological snobbery, where we're just constantly looking ahead, trying to figure out how do we find ourselves on the cutting edge of what's next. That's not necessarily all bad. But it can be really, really harmful and detrimental. If that's all we're doing. If we lose our sense of history, if we lose our sense of what God has been doing for the last 2000 years of the Christian church, not just here, you know, in the Western world, but globally, you know, What has God been doing, if we don't think broadly, and learn humbly and open ourselves up prayerfully, you know, to, to what God has been doing, and what that teaches us about what God might be doing now. And then, collectively events seeking God for what he might be up to next, then we're going to lose, you know, we're going to lose that battle, every time we're just going to find ourselves, either forgetting history and just running the rat race of trying to catch up to what's next. Or we're just gonna get lazy and tired and do what we've always done, because that's what we know. And neither one of those options is acceptable, you know, we have to begin to ask that difficult question that you are asking. And to ask that all the time, you know, are we doing this simply because we long for the days of old? Or are we doing this because this is a timeless, rich, not just tradition, but a part of the family ethos of God, what it means to be followers of Jesus, you know, and I think we have to make those differentiations and distinctions and lean into them appropriately. And then ask the question, okay, what what are some of those things that we've done simply because of tradition? Particularly, this happens in sort of micro ways when it comes to our unique local churches, like what are the golden calves at your particular church? And now it's like, well, this isn't necessarily biblical. It's just something our church has always done. Well, then with those sorts of things, it's important for us to ask like, well, why, you know, is it important that we continue doing it that way? Or is there more dynamic, effective, missionally effective way to do that moving forward? But I think that's, that's difficult work. It's unique work that's unique to each local community. And I think you know, you're asking the right question. I'm not necessarily giving you a great answer here. But other than to say and to affirm, you're asking the right question, and it's a question that I think every church leader needs to be asking, not just now but always.
Pastor Jay, you published analog church, just it came out just weeks before the onset of the Coronavirus crisis if my timeline is correct. Pastor Jay, how is your own thinking progressed in these last several weeks?
Yeah, the book came out at the very end of March. So we were at least here where I live in California. We were two weeks into sheltering in place. And so in the lead up to launching the book, The coronavirus pandemic, we were sheltering in place and our church, like all churches at that time had gone totally digital. So, you know, the irony was not lost on me. I had several conversations with my publisher, like, Okay, what do we do is this, okay? But ultimately, where we landed was what I said, you know, earlier, before we started recording, I was grateful to be able to release this book, as strange as it is, I was grateful to be able to release this book in this time, because if there's anything that I would want to say, and in a unique cultural moment like this, it's probably this book, you know, and obviously, I did not write the book, knowing that there was going to be a global pandemic that would force us to go on digital. Had I known obviously, I would have, you know, written the book, addressing that. But, you know, in in many ways, this season has simply affirmed my thoughts in the book for me. It's affirmed that deep down inside our deepest longing, our deepest hunger as embodied human beings, is to live life in embodied ways. And there are certainly exceptions to that I'm you know, I'm not blind to that reality. I'm extremely grateful for, you know, digital technologies, long before COVID-19 long after I'm extremely grateful for digital technologies, which allow, you know, those who are homebound you know, those who can't get out of the house, those who are ill, or those who are elderly, and it's difficult, to I'm grateful that we have technologies which allow folks in those circumstances to at least, you know, connect digitally. I'm really grateful for that. But for the majority of people, I think especially now in the midst of COVID-19, you know, I've read several pieces recently about the onset of digital fatigue and Zoom fatigue, how folks are really viscerally beginning to feel the exhaustion of just connecting with people over a screen all day, you know, particularly those whose jobs, you know, put them into meetings all the time, it's just there's just a totally different thing that happens to us, even physiologically, when all of our meetings are conducted over screens. And that's very real. And there's there are several reasons for that. But from my best reading on the literature, it's undeniable that one of the reasons one of the key reasons for the exhaustion is because embodied human beings are not designed to solely connect in disembodied way, you know, so if nothing else, you know, this season has just affirmed the reason I wrote the book, and it's affirmed, I think, this sort of deep, innate longing that all of us have, for again, embodied presence with one another.
Pastor Jay, thank you so much for your response. Pastor Jay, if I can ask this question that we've been asking all the interviewees on this program, and that is this, what would it mean for the church to be united today? How would we recognize this unity? And what is it that we can do as Christians to pursue the Unity for which Jesus prayed in John 17?
Yeah, Jesus' prayer, and John 17 is fascinating to me for a number of reasons. You know, it's, it's the writer of the gospel of John records that prayer, and they are essentially Jesus's sort of final remarks before he embarks on the thing that will change the world. It's like, literally, those are the last sort of few things that he says, at least in that telling of the story before he's arrested and tried and tortured and executed on the cross and then eventually, resurrection, that that's significant, right, that the final sort of thing Jesus prays is that we would be one is He and the Father are one and, man, what a call to be one, the way Jesus and God the Father are one. And I think the bar is set that high intentionally. Because what we understand is, as fallen human beings living on this side of new heaven and new earth, we will never be one in that way. You know, until Christ returns and all is made, right. And we are we are made whole. We that will just be a lifelong pursuit. And I think that's the point. Right, that, that we we have that calling to be one, as He and the Father are one. But I also think it's really important to note that Christ's prayer is not that we would do that work by our own effort, right? He prays to God, you know, may they be one, as you and I are one right that God and Jesus himself in the Spirit of God dwelling within us, as His people, you know, do that work of binding us and bounding us up together as a family. And I think that's the crucial sort of, you know, again, to get back to sort of the high bar, that that's what we're called to, you know, to family and, and so the unity of the church. Again, I it will be a lifelong pursuit, because the calling is for us to be one as God, the Father in Jesus, the son, a father and son are one family. You know, Joseph Holloman has this fantastic book called "When church was a family" that I cite in my book, and he just has incredible insight into what family meant, particularly in the first century, ancient Near Eastern world. And there's, there's, you know, without getting into all the details, there's real significance to this idea that Christians are called to be brothers and sisters. In you know, we think of that word those words brothers and sisters, very loosely today, you know, but in the first century, world, brothers and sisters had a particular bond, you know, perhaps siblings who shared the same father held a very particular bond. And if you if you sort of really do a little deep dive into Paul's writings when he talks about what it means to be the church, to be the family of God to be brothers and sisters, and you just study the way he talks about what that looks like, you very quickly realize the unity of the church is actually it's not a concept or an idea. It's intended to disrupt our everyday lives, that we are called to live every single day in ways that are very different than the rest of the world. Because we consider one another family. It's an area in which I fail miserably, often, to be very honest, I, you know, I'm very Western, I'm very American, which means I'm very individualistic, and I'm very sort of nine to five, and then I come home and close my front door, and live in my little Kingdom called my house, you know, with my actual nuclear family. That is not the calling of the Christian lives, Christian life expands those boundaries. And so it's an area of conviction for me. And when we when it comes to the unity of the church, it's an area of conviction for all of us as church leaders, how are we leading and guiding our communities to consider one another truly, brothers and sisters, you know, laying down all that we have sacrificially to care for each other, to live with deep empathy and all times for one another. And again, it's going to be a lifelong pursuit is something that's incredibly difficult to do, and something that we're probably going to spend our entire lives, trying to work toward and achieve. But I think that's what it means to follow Jesus, particularly here and now in the 21st century Western individualistic world in which we find ourselves.
Pastor Jay, this has been a really amazing conversation. Thanks so much for writing this piece, "Analog church, why we need real people, places and things in the digital age". It's been our delight today to be speaking with Pastor Jay Kim, Pastor of teaching and leadership advantage, Faith Church in Santa Cruz. Thanks so much for joining us today.
Absolutely. Thanks so much for having me. It's been a real pleasure.