In this article:
- Finding the presence of Jesus in surprising places
- Noting where Jesus has been active in digital culture
- The value of mission in digital ministry
“Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me." [Excerpt from The Prayer of Saint Patrick]
As a Church Planter immersed in digital ministry with a particular focus on nerd ministries, I more often than not find myself amidst gifted leaders who identify as missionaries in the mission field of the World Wide Web. These leaders feel a sense of call to bring the Gospel and a representation of Jesus to the populations and communities that exist online.
I do much the same work but see it more as scouring the media of nerd culture itself for evidence of Jesus’ ministry in the images, words, and ideas already present within it. I stay up to date with trending anime, video games, movies, and more to explore the Christ that is already within the culture. Sometimes this takes hard work and research - but now and again, it smacks me in the figurative face.
Finding Jesus Online
I recently worked through my exegetical process for a popular indie video game called Tchia. The game itself is relatively rote and unsurprising. It’s an open-world game, which typically has the player journey without many boundaries around a digital world, completing random quests and finding collectibles to improve their skill set.
But Tchia was notably unique in the setting - it was very closely related to the real-world nation of New Caledonia, a small series of islands between Australia and Fiji.
One of the developers of the game considers this to be their homeland. This project then became a six-year process of writing a video game love letter to this childhood hallmark.
And this really comes across through gameplay. While there are changes made to landmarks and specific areas to respect the privacy of the land, the inspiration oozes out of the bits and bytes of this experience. One can imagine a childhood of running amok in the grasslands and swimming in crystal clear waters.
Their well-researched game inspired me to do some research of my own. I turned to my trusted search engine and began perusing some 3D maps.
And then I found Jesus.
Surrounded By Culture
On one of the smaller southern islands of New Caledonia, the Isle of Pines, one can find a small but beautiful chapel dedicated to St. Maurice (Moritz). Just outside that chapel is a small circle of totem heads carved out of wood. In the center of that circle, inexplicably, is Jesus.
Well, okay, a statue of Jesus.
The circle and the statue within are fairly mysterious. The most information I’ve been able to find at this point is a series of images and the occasional unaccredited note that it is a monument dedicated to both soldiers who lost their lives there and also to the first spot where Christian worship took place when French colonialists landed in the area hundreds of years ago.
In my sermon reflection on this monument, I wax more on the concept that Jesus is in the middle of this circle of cultural artifacts of the people that were likely colonized against their will. I consider both ends of this nuanced debacle, but ultimately land on the fact that I am glad that Jesus is there amid the totem heads.
But for this short article, I want to reflect further on the fact that Jesus was ever there.
Christ With Me
I thought my innovative form of ministry was the first of its kind. I was confident that I had cornered the market on nerd ministry.
Fortunately for my ego, I was wrong.
I wasn’t even the first United Methodist nerd ministry, let alone the first one to do it in Christendom.
I’ve been fed this humble pie repeatedly as I dive into the work this ministry requires. Anytime I might give myself more credit than is due, I am reminded of facts like this Jesus statue waiting for me on the shores of the Isle of Pines.
The ministry that I do is a gift. I cherish the opportunity to dive into anime and video games and tear them to pieces to find the kernel of Good News buried within the pile. But I know that the only reason I can do this at all is because of a simple truth:
Jesus was there first.
I know this because I keep finding Jesus everywhere I look in media. I believe this is due to the Creator God, who made humanity in the image of a Creator God. We created because we were created first. And the Artisan that inspires our very image is a Creator.
But perhaps it’s simpler than that.
Maybe Jesus just is Immanuel - God with us. Maybe that’s enough.
Christ Before Me
One of the most common assaults by detractors of online ministries is that we aren’t creating real communities. It’s all virtual. Fake. Contrived. They believe the work being done distracts from the fundamental ministry of flesh and blood, as we’ve always done.
However, these naysayers are missing the trees for the forest.
The truth of digital ministry isn’t that missionaries are going into the cultures of nerds or some other people-group to save souls or bring Jesus to them.
The goal is to point out that Jesus is already there. The invitation has already been made. It has nothing to do with the missionary or the parishioner. The question is not if digital ministry is needed. The question is, when will we go out there and serve the people waiting to be let into the fold of the Body of Christ? Once we get out of our own way and do the ministry we’re called to do, we’ll discover the truth that was there all along:
Jesus was there first.