On Demand Spirituality

I tried something new the other day, and I loved it. I watched my first movie on TV over the internet via Netflix. All I did was pick the movie out of a lineup, click play, and sit back and watch. It was incredible.

(I know, I’m late to the party. But still, it was neat to watch something via wireless internet on my TV at home. I rented a movie without ever leaving the house. Awesome!)

However, it got me to thinking about how we now live in an on-demand world. More and more, I am coming to expect everything on my terms at a moment’s notice. Like TV. I am terribly impatient with TV programming these days. Why should I watch a TV show when you feel like scheduling it? Why can’t I watch it when I want to watch it?

And it’s more than just recording it with DVR or TiVo. I want it available on the internet immediately whenever I so choose to watch it … if I choose to watch it. And I want to click a button and for it to just load and work. Right then. If it takes longer than 30 seconds to load, I’ve already moved on to something else.

I know that sounds terrible. But, it’s just the way I am these days. And I’ve been programmed by culture to think that way. We live in an on-demand world, and I expect things to be on-demand, instantly.

That even extends to church. I love how I can go on-line these days and listen to any preacher I want from around the world at the click of a button. It used to be that I had to go to a bookstore and buy a book of their sermons. Not so anymore. Now it’s all on-line. On-demand. Instantly available the moment I want to listen to it. Most of the time I can get it automatically loaded to the iPod via iTunes. The best preachers in the world are now available at my fingertips 24 hours a day.

Of course, as with all things, there are downsides to this. For one thing, it means that my church’s morning worship service isn’t being compared to just the 5 best churches within reasonable driving distance. We’re being compared with what they can watch live on the internet anywhere in the world.

That means I’m not being compared as a preacher with a few fellow pastors down the road. I’m being compared with Andy Stanley, Adam Hamilton, Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, and a dozen other big-name, large-church preachers.

Fair or unfair, the average person has far more options for great preaching on Sunday morning than they used to. How do I match up with that? Can I? Should I even try? This is a whole new world.

Likewise, I wonder how this affects our view of spirituality and Christian discipleship in particular. How does living in an on-demand world affect my view of growing in grace and becoming like Jesus? If I get impatient waiting for a webpage to load after 30 seconds, how will I react when I don’t become a saint in 5 minutes or less?

Because I can’t expect to become a saint in 5 minutes or less. It’s not realistic. Real Christian growth as a disciple takes longer than that. As Eugene Peterson reminds us, true Christian discipleship requires a “long obedience in the same direction.” True discipleship is more a marathon than a sprint. Holiness doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and effort, persistence and perseverance.

That’s not a popular message in an on-demand age. But, perhaps that’s part of why the Christian church in America looks so shallow these days. We’re a mile wide and an inch deep … because we don’t have the patience to go any deeper.

What do you think? How do you handle teaching real Christian discipleship in an on-demand world?

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