Dec. 25, 2020

It's a disruption, not an interruption

It's a disruption, not an interruption

This week's interview is with preacher Mark Roberts. He works in Texas and says digital discipleship represents a disruption and not an interruption.

This was a fun conversation and the first time I've talked with Mark. He's very sharp and kind.

If you're interested in subscribing to his digital magazine, it's available at Pressing On Magazine.

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/balancingthechristianlife)

Transcript
Kenny Embry:

In this episode of balancing in the Christian life, we talked to preacher Mark Roberts about how digital tools are influencing Christianity. Welcome to balancing the Christian line. I'm Dr. Kenny Embry. We'll talk about how to be better people and better Christians in the digital age. Let's go. Thanks for joining. This is the last episode I'll be doing in 2020. And I want to sincerely thank all of you for being a part of this journey. I'll have another episode next week, and I'll talk about some of the directions for the podcast then. But last week, I found out my podcast is in the top 5% of all podcasts for listenership. And that isn't possible without you. I've also had some amazingly positive reaction to what I've been doing. In my reviews, RC two prof wrote just what we need right now, the content here is a value for anyone who follows God and or seeks to know more. The podcaster has a voice and speaking style that's very easy on the ears, highly recommended. Thanks. And I have just started trying to get financial supporters and was simply blown away by the response. I'm trying to put together something which is valuable to Christians, and I hope I'm reaching that goal. I also want to thank all of my guests Chris Emerson, Darren Curtis, Russell Clayton, Martin mccrary, Jason Romano, Matt and Jennifer Schmidt, very Britton, l. Wyatt, Taylor, Craig de Haute, Stewart Peck, regard Smith, and my dad, if you've missed any of those conversations, you really need to go back and listen, I have gone through these both as an editor and a listener. I keep getting something new and different from each of them. Today's episode is another one of those discovered gems for me, Nancy Curtis is a lifelong family friend and someone who understands my passion for digital discipleship. So when she saw an article by Mark Roberts, saying digital discipleship was an inherent change in how we worship, I knew I had to talk to him. This is my introduction to mark. And he was both warm and sharp, Mark edits and online magazine pressing on which profiles several guys who I think are doing great work. As you may know, I spent a lot of time editing the interviews, and I'm sure you'll notice this one is longer. Our conversation was about an hour long, and I've left most of it in Mark and I cover a lot of ground. And I struggled to see where I could cut. I decided leave more than usual, partially because I thought the conversation was that good. When I was growing up, we would call someone like mark a character. And I mean that in the best possible way. He definitely has strong opinions, many which I share. But I think he sees both the advantages and disadvantages to online tools. One of the last questions I asked him was what the world looks like after the pandemic. And I think Mark has one of the best answers I've heard in a while. Well, today, it's my very great pleasure to be talking to mark Roberts. Mark is somebody who's been preaching for a long time at the Westside Church of Christ in Irving, Texas. He's also a prolific writer, he is somebody who is an editor for an online publication called pressing on. By the way, it's not a very expensive publication cost $10 for the year. So if you're interested in that, look up pressing on magazine.com you can subscribe to it there. Mark is somebody who understands digital discipleship in a special way. And one of the things that sparked my interest in talking to Mark was, he published an article not too long ago that talked about how digital discipleship might be changing what happens to us in the future. So anyway, Mark, it's a pleasure to have you on man, Kenny, thank

Mark Roberts:

you for thinking that I might know a little bit about some of this. This is a new area for all of us. And I think we're all trying to figure things out. And of course, the pandemic made it that much more urgent that we would figure some things out about digital discipleship.

Kenny Embry:

Let me ask this first. It sounds like you've been preaching What about 20 years or so?

Mark Roberts:

Oh, you're very kind. You and I are going to be friends. If you continue to underestimate my age. I've been here at Westside almost 30 years. Oh, my goodness. I haven't been that many places. So all combined. I've been preaching rule a little bit more than 36 years. I think.

Kenny Embry:

So what's your background?

Mark Roberts:

My parents are wonderful, godly people. My dad served as an elder in the church, really, really good people raised me to know the Lord and appreciate his word in a very deep way. That's always been a huge part of my life, then went to college and met a very special young lady there. We ended up getting married. Other than knowing Jesus Christ, the single greatest blessing in my life, I was pretty determined to be an accountant was going to make my first million before I was 30. Because everyone knows money is the most important thing in life. Fortunately, the Lord helped me come to a better understanding and appreciation of some things primarily through my wife. She was a tremendous help in growing up and maturing and seeing some better things. I'd received a lot of encouragement along the way I did some Phil in preaching would make talks on Wednesday nights. Teach Bible class. And there were a lot of people pushing me and saying you really need to be preaching, you should think about preaching. didn't think I could make my first million before 30 being a preacher. So just wasn't very interested in doing that. And heard a lot of preaching horror stories was very, very reluctant. But as I said, Dana helped me grow up a lot and helped me mature and rethink some things, and finally made the decision that that really was what I needed to be doing.

Kenny Embry:

You've been preaching for a while now, what kind of things have changed.

Mark Roberts:

I think a lot of things have changed. In the last 30 something years, I think about just how the church conducts outreach about whether or not you had a yellow pages ad, I don't think I have a yellow pages in my house, there's probably one around this church building somewhere. It's just utterly unimportant. Now, everything is out on the web, and we need to be on the web. I think there's been a big change in our emphasis, as the churches has grown, and changed his brother. And I've seen some important areas where maybe we were not as strong and we needed to strengthen I grew up with lots and lots of preaching about the issues, and lots and lots of preaching about Calvinism. Not a lot of that made a lot of sense to an 11 year old boy sitting in the Pew, right, the expression, the issues would just be dropped. And everybody knew what we were talking about. I did not always know what we were talking about. And I knew that Calvinism was terrible. But as we drove around town, I had never ever seen a church building that had a sign out front That said, the first church of Calvinism. And so I just didn't know exactly who we were talking to. And a lot of my friends, when I would say you believe this, and this, there's no What are you talking about? I don't believe that at all. I didn't understand where a lot of that was going. I think there was some shifts made in the late 70s. Going into the 80s. Preaching began to be more practical. And maybe a little less a one sided debate in the pulpit and the preacher is debating a proposition in front of the audience and proving something that's wrong. That doesn't mean that there's not a place for that. And I do some of that kind of preaching. I think that's important to expose error and false doctrine. But and this is the judgment of an 11 year old boy. So that's really worth a lot. But maybe we were a little long on showing how wrong some systems of doctrines were. And maybe we were a little short on how to read your Bible, right? How to be joyful, how to pray, how to talk to your neighbor, about the gospel, how to have a good marriage. If I had to say anything about the change, that preaching is certainly much more welcome. Now. I think I could see a time maybe in the 70s, where if somebody had brought some of those kinds of lessons in a gospel meeting, for example, maybe somebody would have said, That's soft. That's not real preaching. I think instead, Brethren are welcoming that kind of preaching a lot more and seeing its importance in growing disciples in a whole way, in not just being doctrinally sound, but being very deficient in daily discipleship.

Kenny Embry:

Yeah, I agree. You talked a little bit about what's happened with this idea of digital discipleship, but it's basically using online tools to help spread God's word. What do you think is the advantage here? What's good about it?

Mark Roberts:

I think the digital tools that we have before us today have a number of significant advantages, one of which is they're just very inexpensive. And they are accessible to everybody all the time. So yeah, right. Yeah, that's pandemic and even before the pandemic, we were live streaming our worship services, primarily for the benefit of some of our homebound folks, and in doing some outreach with that, but if I had, even maybe 10 years ago, said to the elders, we need to televise our worship services. What are you looking at in terms of manpower, equipment and cost? You're talking about a production truck and cameraman and 1000s and 1000s of dollars worth of equipment? Not to mention, how would we afford the air time, I guess, in every community, on Sunday morning, there's a couple of local churches that have the airtime bought on Sunday morning on the local ABC affiliate. And if we went down to ABC, of course, here in Dallas, it would be really, really expensive, but even in a small community, that still would be be prohibitively expensive, and then again, putting that on. So we've just never been able to do anything like that at all. The first thing that we ever online stream was a race forum that we did, where we had some discussions about the racial issues that are racking this country. And we'd work early stream that with an iPhone, that Was clamped to a tripod, we bought nothing, somebody pulled a phone out of their pocket, I think we maybe bought a black box or two so that we could tie the churches sound system into that online stream. But here we were going online with very, very little equipment expense and it was going around the world. The other great thing about that the gatekeepers are gone. So if we had gone to downtown Dallas to channel a channel 11, and said, We want to telecast Sunday morning service we got the money will buy. And so they would have said no, that airtime has already been bought up. Or if the airtime had come available, they probably still would have said no, because of some of the things that we would say, and so forth causing controversy. And I think about that, especially in the book publishing business, if you write a book, it can be the best book in the whole world. But 15 years ago, if the Big Five publishers didn't read that which even getting your manuscript in the door was a big, big challenge. If they didn't read that and say, yeah, we think we can sell this, your book went nowhere. Now, anybody with digital tools, can publish their book, and get it out there to the world. And people can read that material and profit and benefit from that material. It's not even expensive. You don't need a $500,000 letterpress offset printing press to do that. Amazon has them waiting for you. So there's just a tremendous leveling of the landscape, where anybody and everybody can participate. And get that content out to people that it seems to me is one of the most exciting parts of the digital revolution. And maybe the part that we're missing the most when we don't participate. Everybody else is which means error is out there. Where's the truth? If we don't right, join in and get the truth out there? Who's going to get the truth out there? We need to we need to get it together. And we need to get online in every way possible. Can you even imagine? Can you think about the Apostle Paul, or I'm gonna pop him in a time machine. I'm bringing him from Athens. And I'm sitting him down here in Dallas, Texas. He's looking around what is this? What is that? And I explained to him the World Wide Web, and how we can preach the gospel 24. Seven, around the world, to everybody and anybody at almost zero cost. Can you imagine what the Apostle would have said, Oh, he would have said, Give me two of those Internet's right now. That's why I'll take three, let's get busy. And let's go.

Kenny Embry:

Yeah, I completely agree with you. I think there's some amazing advantages here. But we also lose something. Well, what's the downside to these tools?

Mark Roberts:

There is some downsides. I think churches have been a little reluctant because of the amount of evil on the internet. It's a little bit of that we don't want to play in that sandbox. Because there's some bad things in the sandbox. I think there are some bad things in the sandbox. I don't think there's any doubt about that. But as I said, somebody needs to climb in there and do something constructive and do something right and do something truthful. I think especially that that just goes times eleventy bazillion, for young people because there's so much involved in the internet. And if we're not on YouTube, and social media and those kinds of things, we're just missing that entire generation. So we've got to be there. The downside to this is that you need to do it well. Or it doesn't count. I'm afraid. Some congregations have decided as long as we have a website, it doesn't matter. If it looks like it was done with cranes on a napkin, hey, we have a website, and are not meeting the standards of quality. We're putting video up, hey, we're where they are. We're part of the digital revolution. Yes, you are. But you are doing it so poorly that no one wants to look at what you have done. The other downside, maybe even more important is we come out of a pandemic and and I hope and pray that we are coming out of the pandemic, the internet caters to you. The internet is all about you and what is convenient to you. Oh, you weren't able to watch your show on network television on Wednesday nights at 7pm. That's okay. We'll stream it to you whenever you want to watch it. Right? You decide and control the internet. All of our content as we're pushing that out, meets a group of people who are thinking, hey, that's really cool. I'll look at that later. I'll look at that on my time. That's what makes Netflix so pervasive. And that's why blockbuster disappeared. Because blockbuster said in order to look at this movie, you need to come down here and browse 68 gazillion times. And then you finally find one and then you wait in line. And then a high school aged employee making minimum wage, who does not care finally checks you out. And you go home and you put this in your video player and you can watch this movie Netflix said, you have to do any of that. You can watch it when you want how you want where you want, on your phone, on your tablet, on your laptop, throw it on your big screen TV, your kids can be watching it in the other room. It's all about you, you you you what is convenient for you. blockbuster wasn't convenient on a cold, rainy night, who wanted to do that I don't want to drive down there. And the movie that I want probably has been checked out already. Anyway. So now it's all about you. And my concern is that we may have some folks who are going to say I'll do church when I want to do church. Yeah. And while online streaming is a much better alternative than nothing at all during a Coronavirus pandemic. There are some things that happen when we're together that don't happen when you're sitting on your couch in your pajamas. And I am concerned as we come out of this, that there are going to be some people who are going to say, I'm not ever going back to church, at least not on a regular basis. I really like this online streaming thing. I like church on my pajamas. I like church when I want to do church. And when it's convenient for me churches blockbuster, I'm not doing that anymore. I'm signing up for Netflix. In fact, a Barna survey said that only about 42% of millennials say they prefer primarily in person worship. So now you're looking at about 68% of millennials who are saying, I like it in my home. That's a huge issue. Because while there's some great things about digital discipleship and pushing content out, and it's great to have more stuff and digital magazines like pressing on and, and blogs and all of that. The question about Sunday assembly is not a question of what's convenient for you. Sunday assembly is not optional, I'll do that when I want to do that how I want to do that. That's when we have to come together to do I'm afraid coming out of the pandemic, there may have to be a lot of teaching about that with some people who are pretty reluctant to come to the building, not because they're afraid they're going to get sick, but because they just don't like having to make the drive get dressed and show up.

Kenny Embry:

I understand. And I agree, I think one of the things that's happened to us is, we've gotten used to basically learning the tools and the tools are great, I'm not criticizing the tools at all. But Christianity becomes real when somebody else is sitting in your pew. And you have to learn to live with that the rubber hits the road when you are forced to be in a room with other people that think differently than you do. Look, if you're at your house, like you're talking about watching a sermon, when it gets boring, you turn it off, or you fast forward or whatever, that's when Christianity starts catering to you. And God's God's mandate all throughout his look, you don't know what you need I do, you really do need to be with other people that aren't like you and figure out how to get along with them. online tools don't do that very well. I think you're right. online tools do a great job of individualizing an experience. But they don't do a very good job of making an experience that is really a community that we didn't control.

Mark Roberts:

I agree with you completely. I've talked for example, when I've done some preaching about our singing together, that one of the great things about our singing together is that you don't get to choose the songs we're singing today. Which means sometimes we sing my favorite song. And sometimes that means we sing that song that I can't stand. Yeah. But in that I learned to submit one to another right? I learned it's not about me. I learned to deny myself and saying no any way. But what I'm hearing, what I'm seeing is people who say, Hey, I started this guy's Bible class on Wednesday night, and that really wasn't going anywhere. That was interesting to me. So I jumped over and watch this other guy, or I was watching the sermon on Sunday, but that didn't really work. So now I'm watching this other guy. See how that's not that's not a submitting. That's not this isn't great for me. I'll just sit through it anyway and try to profit from it. It's no it's about me. So kind of like when I'm watching the NFL on Sunday afternoon. If the game gets out of hand, then I go looking for a better game and I'm hearing lots of people who are looking for a better game, but there is a great power when the It's not just in the singing either is it when the preacher gets up and says, today, I'm talking about this particular passage, and I looked down at my Bible, I think, yeah, I don't see a lot there in that passage for me. But But I'm physically in the auditorium, I can't get up and say, I'm gonna go find somebody who's talking about marriage today. I really wanted to hear a sermon today. But no, I'm stuck. But guess what happens in that, as the preacher is working through that passage. And we're thinking about that passage, always. Because the Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two edged sword, guess what, there was something there for me, maybe not on marriage, maybe even on my spirit, and on my attitude, and my selfishness and my pride. And I'm brought under the Word of God. And as I'm coming out, I'm saying, I am glad I was here today. And my presence encouraged all those other people who looked over at me. And instead of seeing an empty Pew, there I was in my Bible, and I was worshiping and they were worshiping, and we were together, completely cannot have that. When we're streaming online. I don't know, Kenny, if you're watching, sitting on your couch, or if you're gonna watch later, or if you watched at all, one of the huge questions right now about online streaming, and everybody's working with this is how do you count views? How many people were watching, right? We don't know. The Facebook metrics are just abysmal. They give you a view, for anybody who looks at a video for longer than three seconds, I would like to think that I'm an effective preacher, but I probably need more than three seconds of your attention to get the word of God across. So you count it as a view on three sides. And the other thing, of course, is lots of people are sitting in a room with their family. So that's one view. But there are five people watching. So yeah, there's discussion of multipliers and how to drill down deeper and get better engagement statistics. But in the end, we simply don't know how many people are watching and engaging. Whereas on a Sunday morning, we can count heads, I don't know for sure that all of those people in a Pew that Sunday morning were engaged, some of those people may have been sleeping, or may have been texting or so forth. But at least you were physically in the room, we can get a hard count on that. Which online streaming can't give us anything even beginning to approximate that.

Kenny Embry:

Yeah, you're talking about the analytics problem there. I think just going back a little bit, not too far. I think one of the things you kind of bring up is this, so much of Christianity is learning how to disagree with people. And one of the things that I talked about in my classes is disagreement is the beginning of knowledge. If we all agree about exactly everything, nobody's learning anything. The thing about disagreement, learning how to civilly disagree with people that are around you, it's an art, every group of people that wants to do anything worthwhile, has to figure out how to negotiate to people have different ideas on how to do something. And I think really, when you put them all in a building at a time, I mean, let's face it, we have had debates for a long time, when are we going to meet? How long should we meet? I think one of the things that we have sometimes done well, and oftentimes not done well, is give feedback to people that are trying to feed us. And again, that's a place where we may disagree. And that disagreement, learning how to do it well, learning how to do it respectfully, is something we don't do when it's voluntary,

Mark Roberts:

I think I would agree with with much of that I think the art of disagreeing agreeably has largely been lost in our society, we're polarizing our culture. And so if you don't vote the way I vote, it's not just that you have a different approach or a different background or different priorities. You are an evil and awful person, and maybe not even an American. I think about for example, Ellen DeGeneres, with whom I would have significant and serious differences about lifestyle choices and morality. She was seen at a Dallas Cowboy game in one of the luxury suites with George Bush. And since her base is certainly a lot more left and liberal than George Bush, people just lost their minds. And she tried to explain that we can be kind to people who we disagree with. And that went nowhere. She really had a hard time with that. I don't find myself being sympathetic to Ellen DeGeneres very often, but I felt some sympathy for her. Because she was trying to say we can agree to disagree agreeably and in a local church arrangement, in a marriage in any relationship. We'll have to learn to do that because this is hard to hear. We are sinful and prideful people. And the only reason there would never be any disagreement, at least for me, is if everybody did everything 105% of the time exactly the way I wanted it to If everybody did to suit me, then I just be happy all the time. But guess what? Some people here at Westside don't realize that I'm right all the time, and that I should be in charge of everything. I've said this often about Bible classes, if we ask questions in Bible class, and everybody immediately sticks their hand in the air, we're not asking very good questions, right? The best questions are the questions were when the teacher asked, there is a long pause, because now we're being made to think and we haven't thought about the passage in that way, or the challenge of the passage in that way. And we're not sure what we think about that. Then the other hand comes up. And someone challenges that and says, Why I'm not sure about that. What about this, instead of serving the Passover, to the real questions, as we rehearse the company line,

Kenny Embry:

I completely agree. I think one of the things that the promise of the internet was, we would be able to share our disagreements, we would also be able to get so many different points of view. But the reality of the Internet has turned into, we find these echo chambers, where we find everybody who agrees with us substantially. And now, we don't really have any substantive dialogue. What we have is a bunch of other people that look pretty much like us. And we don't seek out anybody. I mean, one of the things that I talked about a little bit earlier, I appreciate being able to see somebody else's faith and how they would characterize it, not how I would second hand guess what their faith is like?

Mark Roberts:

Yes, I do think in most of the religious discussions that I have been in, either very quickly, people learn that the silver bullet passage that we thought completely destroys this entire way of thinking, they've actually thought about that passage, and they have an answer, and it may not be a very good answer. But right, they're not completely stupid. And all of a sudden here is someone who is advocating faith, only salvation, and I read Acts 238. And their face falls and their mouth drops open. And they say, well, I've never seen that verse before. Would you baptize me right now? If that's not how that works, that even if people are mistaken in their beliefs, they have something they're telling themselves about those beliefs, right? And we have to interact with that. And we need to interact with that in a respectful kind of fashion. Yes, I'm glad that we're talking about this as we come to the holiday season, because this is going to be a time when a lot of people are thinking about Jesus. And they are thinking about the birth of Jesus. And a lot of what people are thinking about the birth of Jesus just isn't right. But I'm afraid we've engaged with that in her rhythmically awkward and abrasive kinds of ways that have just been really off putting to people, rather than as Paul did in Acts 17, building on some common ground, and trying to reach people where they are, and then help them take another step or two in their thinking. We just put people down and we slam people and say mean things about their very dearly held beliefs. And then we sit together on Sunday, and the preacher preaches on evangelism. And we just say, Well, you know, nobody's interested anyway. And I tried a little bit of that this week. And it didn't go very far. Because people don't love the truth. We've got to do better than that. We've got to do better than that. And we're coming to a season where a lot of people are going to be talking about Jesus, even if they're mistaken in many of their concepts. Shouldn't we be happy about that? Would we rather people be talking and celebrating the devil? Let's try to reach out to where people are. This is a great season of opportunity for us, if we'll look at it in the right kind of way.

Kenny Embry:

Yeah, I completely agree. I think one of the things that strikes me is Jesus was harsh to the people who should have done better. But he was always most generous to people who shouldn't. We can talk about how many Pharisees he actually praises versus how many Roman Centurions he praises. God gives grace to people who are looking for answers and are willing to apply the answers to their lives.

Mark Roberts:

God's job is to get people around the gospel. And God is very, very good at that. It can mean parking a preacher in the middle of the desert as an Ethiopian man goes rolling by but God can do that. The Breakdown, I'm afraid, is not on God's in the problem comes when the Ethiopian man is rolling by and I'm berating him, because he called me Reverend, and I'm spending 10 minutes of the conversation, straightening him out on religious titles. And by the time I'm done, he's so beat down and afraid and intimidated. He doesn't go ahead and ask me. Could you help me understand what Isaiah 53 is all about? Yeah, I'm afraid we've been very quick on the draw, and sometimes very, very militant. And that is not as successful a tactic I'm convinced today, as it might have been in times past. If it ever was a successful tactic in times fast.

Kenny Embry:

Yeah. And I would agree with that. And I don't think it's ever been that successful. One of the advantages of these online tools is the abundance of material that's out there. The challenge is not all of its good. I think that cafeteria style of worship is different. But when you're looking to grow your own spirituality, I think it makes a lot of sense to look at, and see what's available to you to grow in the direction that you think you need some help

Mark Roberts:

in your personal devotion. Absolutely. There is every opportunity to grow and to grow dramatically, by drinking from lots of different wells, you certainly want to be careful and exercise discretion and wisdom with that, of course, but there is so much good material on the internet. And you can take advantage of that, and be a better disciple, but in my local arrangement, when I'm sitting in a Bible class, even if that's not the best Bible class that I've ever been a part of, my obligation is not to pull up my phone, and start surfing and find me something better to occupy my time. But to be here and to help the situation and to help the circumstance. You said earlier about getting good feedback. I'm afraid some of the preaching that is being done today. That's not very good. Is the brethren just getting what they deserve? Because they're going out the back door pumping the preachers hand and saying fine, listen, brother Smith, fine lesson brother Smith, brother Jones shirt, appreciate you thank you for preaching first today, and brother Smith's going home, but Jones going home. And his head's getting bigger by the week, even though he's not really engaging with the word he's not seriously studying. He's not preparing. So Saturday night during a football game. He's pulling up some tired outline off of the internet. And he's retreading that a little bit warming it up a little bit for Sunday morning. And it's terrible. I'm sorry. No, I'm not sorry. It is terrible. And somebody needs to say to him that wasn't very effective, that has to be done kindly. And that has to be done in the right spirit. And I as somebody who does that preaching thing, the place to do that is not in the foyer on Sunday morning, five minutes after I've got out of a pulpit, I'm hot, right? I'm, I'm lathered. There's a lot going on. I'm trying to greet visitors and so forth. And this isn't a great time for a critique. But if a man is missing the mark on a regular basis, and I, I'd be the first to say, this means me, I'm pointing at me, for someone to say let's get coffee this week. And let's talk a little bit. And they sit down. And they say, hey, this and this, and this happened on Sunday. But I didn't really understand what that was about, or where was your application Sunday? That was some really good information about that passage. I could tell you really studied the passage. But then when I got ready for you to tell me what to do with this, where was the So what, what was I supposed to take with me out of the church building? Where were we just becoming better at Bible trivia? Or are we supposed to go live this message, that kind of feedback, stings and hurts, because every time as preachers preach, we want to think that it's the best thing that's happened since Paul climbed up the hill and Athens. But that kind of feedback can be really, really helpful, so that the preaching does get better, and it needs to get better. I'm concerned about that. In a time when people are able to just so to speak, change channels and go find a preacher. Not necessarily that just tickles their fancy, but a preacher who is doing good work. And who is bringing the Word of God with force and power and with application into people's lives, there's going to be a lot of people when they have to go back to in person services. And brother lazy, who is not doing that, there's going to be some friction, there's going to be some problems. And there's going to be some people who say, I'm not getting anything out of this, I'm going to stay home and watch this other guy who really can preach the word, because I'm trying to be a serious disciple. We're gonna see some of that you just wait.

Kenny Embry:

I think you're exactly right. I think we've been exposed to a lot of people that, quite frankly, are very, very talented. You talk about laziness. And I do think that there's a big problem that some people have basically been in the game for so long, and they just don't have the passion for it anymore. I think there's a large group of people that have gotten the generic comment that is uplifting, but not very critical. Quite frankly, that's the group I worry about the most. I think it's the guy who's up in the pulpit. He's doing his dead level best. And his dead level best still isn't very good. And there are things that he could do better, but he's not getting that feedback.

Mark Roberts:

What was It's hard for me to speak to every place in every circumstance and situation. You're right. But I think you're correct that that is part of, for example, a good eldership. I don't expect the average person in the Pew to understand principles of communication at such a level, that they would be able to give really quality feedback. Most people, first of all, are reluctant to say anything negative at all. But even if they were having coffee with a preacher, they wouldn't be exactly sure what to say, even if they don't like the preaching. It's kind of like, when you watch a television show, somebody will say, I don't like that show. And you say, why don't you like that shows? I don't know, I just don't like that. There's something not right there. But most people don't have the understanding of the communication process or the formal training, like you have Kenny to work through. Here's where it's being missed. Here's where things are jumping the track, but a local church eldership needs to be thinking through those kinds of things. So that they can say, Hey, this is what's missing, the kind of thing that the preacher can then say, Oh, I can now do more of this. And maybe what I should say, to myself and into my my comrades in preaching is, we just need to start that process ourselves, we know that we're not going to get tangible feedback most of the time. So what I need to do is I need to immerse myself in learning, good preaching, what is good preaching, I need to be reading about that I need to be reading and preaching books, I need to take charge of that myself in in anything else that comes my way there will be a bonus on top of that. But I don't want to just be content to download an outline Saturday afternoon, because I know the brethren will go out and put my hand and say nice things because they just they're nice. The the brethren here Westside are just as nice as they could possibly be. And they don't just say nice things. And I'll just pat myself on the back and believe my press clippings, that's foolishness. preaching is far too important to let that kind of thing go on. It needs to be in each preachers, mind and heart, the most important thing that they're going to be doing this week, and we want to do it at the highest possible level. Every single time we get in the pulpit, we want to change men and women's eternal destiny by the power of God's Word. And that has to be done right?

Kenny Embry:

This is a completely unfair question. I need you to pull out your crystal ball. And I need you to tell me what worship looks like after COVID

Mark Roberts:

Well, the crystal ball is a little foggy today. And I'm thinking about what it says in the Old Testament about divination. And I'm wondering if the brethren here Westside, if they listen to this podcast are going to stone me with songbooks? There's, I think, a couple of things are going to happen here, based on where people are in their thinking about the pandemic, some people will see the pandemic as an interruption. And as soon as we either get a widely used vaccine, or the virus mutates itself off the planet, at some point, things are going to go back to quote unquote, normal and the masking mandates and the social distancing all when all that's gone, some people are gonna breathe a deep sigh of relief and say, I'm so glad that's over. And then they're just going to do what they've always done. And so the answer to your question is, it will look at whatever point that is, let's say that's, let's, let's just be optimistic. Let's say that's January 1 of 2021. And everything is going great. And they've distributed the vaccines and they all work and everybody took two and everything just great January 1 2021. It's over. Don't worry about it anymore. Those churches are going to look exactly like they looked on January 1 2020. Because the pandemic didn't really get here going till about March. I think that's the easiest answer, those churches are going to go back and do what they've always done. I think that's also a tremendous mistake. And I think churches that do that, they will pay for it. There has been not an interruption, but a disruption. And I would illustrate that difference by maybe talking about how Apple disrupted the music industry. I can remember when you went down to the record store and you bought a flat piece of black vinyl, and it only had two songs that you really wanted, but you had to buy the whole album to get those two songs. That's how that worked. And then Apple came along and said for 99 cents you can have the song you want and then Pandora and Spotify have built even on top of that, and I don't know if you've noticed but the flat black pieces of vinyl or even the flat small pieces of Silver called a compact disc. All of that went away. That wasn't an interruption in the music industry thought it was. And they wanted to say, when this fad goes away, we'll go back to press and records and press and compact disc. It didn't go away, it was a complete change in the business. And that goes exactly the same way for the books, people were buying books at bookstores and Barnes and Noble was building on bigger and faster. And then along came Jeff Bezos and Amazon and said, we'll drop a book onto your electronic device in the next 60 seconds. And it's never been the same. And if you don't like reading on a Kindle, we'll drop the book on your doorstep by the morning, and it's never been the same, and it's never going to be the same. And Barnes and Noble is having all kinds of financial problems because they keep waiting for people to get tired of this fad called Amazon. Well, guess what? That's never going to happen. And if churches think that after a year or longer of digital online church, we can just pick up and go back to the way it was. We're just kidding ourselves and churches that do that will they're going to suffer like Barnes and Noble is suffering, because things have changed. It's not an interruption, Kenny. It's a disruption. And we'll have to do some things differently.

Kenny Embry:

I completely agree. I think one of the things, I think you would probably agree with this, but I don't think it's they might want to go back to business as usual. I don't think that's going to be their choice. People have seen extreme value in some of the abundance that's here. And I think anybody that decides, you know, we just don't want to participate in that. I think they're going to miss out on a lot of people that they could absolutely reach.

Mark Roberts:

There's been too much complete agreement in this podcast, maybe I would disagree by saying Never underestimate the stubbornness of brethren. And all this digital stuff. I know churches that are still struggling to get anything online at all. I think as soon as they can stop having to fool with all of that some church are going to stop or at least regulate that to the very second level. I know here at Westside, I think we're pretty innovative. And I think we're pretty in tune with trying to use new tools and so forth. online streaming was not a very big blip on our radar. We were doing that. But as I said, primarily for people who are sick and shut in. Yeah, we were we were offering that. But that was not we're not doing that at a high level. If it didn't operate this week. Well, you know, you probably should have come to church anyway. So not very significant. Not very important. Coming on the other side of this, we now have learned a lot of things about online streaming, and about how to do it better. But more than anything about how important it is and not just for somebody who's sick or shut in. Yeah, we're not going back. Now, that doesn't mean that we're just going to continue to do online streaming. We've been in person since August, and will hopefully our in person continues to grow as as the restrictions are dropped. But even when it's all gone, we still want to do online streaming at the highest possible level. Because we have learned there is tremendous good in this. So it's a huge blip on our radar now and it's going to stay that way because of where people are. In fact, I would be willing to argue where people were even before the pandemic crisis is just an accelerator. There. There were people who were struggling with going to church three times a week before the Coronavirus showed up. And we need to think more about what to do about that besides just yell at them and how to meet them. We're a Metroplex church, we have people who are driving a long ways to get to church on a Wednesday night, is that working during a school year, for example, somebody's driving 3045 minutes in traffic, straight after work. They haven't even eaten dinner, they come come to Bible class, a lot of good things about that. But what about that person if they can't get the Bible class? What about that person? If they're concerned about their kids being up late in the next day's a school day? That's a huge concern among young parents today. What are we doing about that? I think we're thinking a lot more about digital content, because I'm not as concerned at all about whether somebody watches my Wednesday night Bible class at seven o'clock Wednesday night, or if they don't watch it till Thursday morning at 10. That's not a concern to me. My concern is they watch the class and got the goods. Now, that's not an option on Sunday. I got to say that again. That's not an option on Monday. We've got a Greg together. But Wednesday night, the key there is to get the content out if you need to stream that content to get that content to more people than we need to stream that content in a church that says no, you'd better be there Wednesday night or you don't get the goodies is a church that's failing its members and is going To fail,

Kenny Embry:

I completely agree I, you open a lot of issues that mark, I'm afraid we're probably going to have to talk about another time, I think one of the things that, that you're kind of bringing up there is is the equation of you haven't been to every service, therefore, you must not be a very good Christian.

Mark Roberts:

I'm preaching this year through the Beatitudes. And so the plan for next year is to preach the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, and the emphasis there is going to be on what discipleship does, because a lot of our definition of discipleship is very, very building centric, come in this building and do stuff. And that's what makes you a disciple. And if you're not coming to the building and doing stuff, you're not a very good disciple. Well, my mom is going through chemotherapy, for cancer, and she hasn't been in this building since March. But I think she's still a pretty good disciple. We need a better definition of discipleship, we need a better understanding of what that is, yes, it does include some things that a church building, if you can get there, I understand about that. And we'll talk about some of those things. Jesus talks about some of those things. When somebody says, Kenny, he's a faithful Christian, you know what that means. And I know what that means. That means he goes to the building three times a week, that definition got completely destroyed this year. And maybe that's a good thing. Maybe God finally got tired of churchianity and said, let's try something to get people you know, in Acts, chapter eight, that persecution, move the disciples out of Jerusalem, into that go into all the world thing that Jesus wanted, maybe one of the it's hard to say good things about a pandemic. But if any good thing could come out of this, maybe if we could get out of building entity and into church entity, out of church entity and into Christianity, that will have been a very, very good thing.

Kenny Embry:

I completely agree. I am my podcast by saying be good and do good. What is good?

Mark Roberts:

Well, there are probably lots of good answers to that Kenny, Conan the Barbarian said good is to crush your enemies, see them driven before you and to hear the lamentation of their women. And when Ohio State Buckeyes take the field tomorrow, I hope that they are good. Coffee is good. I have a new grandbaby, grandchildren are good. But if you want to know what is good, God is good. My favorite passage in all of the Scriptures is Psalm 30 480. Taste and see that the Lord is good.

Kenny Embry:

Mark, if somebody wanted to get ahold of you, how could they do that?

Mark Roberts:

Well, I'm on Facebook. You can find me on Facebook, do some Bible reading stuff. They're on Facebook, and Westside Church has a Facebook page and we stream our stuff through our Facebook page on Sundays and Wednesdays, contact me through just christians.com the Westside Church of Christ website. There's email links, there would be I'm on Twitter, Mark 44. Roberts, you can contact me through there. So all those usual avenues, there's opportunity to contact him to talk further with me.

Kenny Embry:

And pressing on

Mark Roberts:

and press. Yes, pressing on magazine.com is an opportunity, really a great, you talk about the good things that have come with the internet. The biggest difficulty with with mailing a magazine is is the piece printing, postage and paper, they all cost a lot of money. But digital pixels aren't very expensive. And email stamps are really cheap. And we can send you a digital journal once a month with just great writing from Warren Berkeley and Roy Moore and Rusty Miller, and Danny Ward, and Wilson Adams and just all kinds of great stuff. And we can send that you for $10 a year right onto your digital device. Well, Mark, I

Kenny Embry:

sure appreciate you doing this for me, man. Well, Kenny, I

Mark Roberts:

appreciate the opportunity very, very much and always good to think about some things that are challenging us and what we're doing about those challenges. I appreciate your work and appreciate this podcast. Thanks for the chance to be on.

Kenny Embry:

I hope you enjoyed this conversation with Mark. I agree the shift to digital tools does represent a disruption. And I also agree we need to take advantage of the crash course we've all gone through to make these things work. Also, this was just a fun conversation for me. I hope that comes through. Mark, thanks for your insights. Next week, I have a conversation with Edwin Crozier. If Mark was an introduction, Edwin was a revelation. I've lived within 20 miles of Edwin for about a dozen years now. But this is the first time I think I've ever had a real conversation with him. And I'm kicking myself that we hadn't talked sooner. So until next week, let's be good and do good.