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Virtual Worship Can Lead to Real-life Discipleship

Once-skeptical pastor's experience proves online worship can truly reach people

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Like most churches and pastors, I and my congregation were blindsided by the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost overnight the things we considered to be “the norm” in life morphed into a nightmare. For everyone's safety the great majority of churches closed their doors, and ministry and missions outreach came to a screeching halt. Overnight we were forced to make major adjustments in every area of church life--particularly in the realm of worship.

At First Baptist in Nickelsville, we too adjusted quickly and began streaming our services live on Facebook. But like everyone else, we found ourselves second guessing how meaningful and effective such a ministry could be. That said, I offer this story:

In August 2021 I got a late Saturday evening call from a young lady whose mother Mary, who lived in Poquoson, VA, had recently been diagnosed with terminal liver cancer. She asked if I would give her mom a call, because she knew her mom joined us in online worship weekly and commented daily on my posts as pastor. Due to the hour of the call, I waited until the following day to make the connection. To my surprise, Mary had died only minutes before I called.

Mary and John Blake

Shortly thereafter, the family asked if we could host a celebration of life service for Mary. Poquoson is a six-and-a-half-hour drive from Nickelsville. While I was willing to make the drive, they asked if we could record the service and upload it to YouTube for their use. We assured them we could, but our people chose to go beyond what they asked: they stepped up, made DVDs of the service, and mailed those to the family immediately. The recording was used two months later in a time of worship celebrating Mary’s life.

In the days that followed, I received a call from Mary's widower, John, who said that he and one of his children were planning to fly down and join us in Sunday morning worship service. They arrived one Sunday morning, and at the close of our worship experience, John, who is 92 years young, came forward to publicly profess his faith in Jesus Christ. After we prayed together, he shared that this was something he felt very much led to do. We were thrilled to be a part of his decision.

In a telephone conversation several weeks later I discovered that John had been baptized much earlier in life, but he went on to explain, “I join you weekly in online worship, and I believe in everything you’re doing to advance the kingdom. I want to partner with you in these efforts. I want to join the church if that’s possible.” I was of course surprised, and I responded, “I love it, and while this will be a first for us, I think we can make it happen. I’ll mention it to the church Sunday and see what their pleasure is.”

When I shared his thoughts with our church, their response was sheer delight. We openly welcomed John into our fellowship. But then I asked a question: “What are we going to do when someone makes an online profession of faith and wants to be baptized?” Our people responded by saying,“Well, we’ll just go wherever they are and take care of those baptisms ourselves.”

As a pastor, all I can say is, "Praise God! He is good, and I’m thankful to serve a group of people that’s ready and willing to join God wherever they see him working."

John is so excited and continues to join us online in worship. Now he’s also engaged in mid-week Bible study via Zoom and is thoroughly enjoying the experience.

If you’re one of the skeptics--like I used to be--who doubts the authenticity of online worship or God moving in ways that are beyond our imagination, my prayer is that God will do something amazing like this in your church and your life. But remember, God has been doing things like this since the first century. If you’re still doubtful, take a moment and look at the story of Phillip and the Ethiopian Treasurer in Acts 8:26-40.

Written by Steve Collins, pastor of First Baptist Church, Nickelsville, VA.