Can cast your mind back to the evening of 18th November 2011? Do you know what you were doing? Who you were with? Where you were?
Just in case you can’t remember, Friday 18th 2011 was Children in Need night. I was at home watching the show with my family as I do every year. But this year was different.
In 2011, Gareth Malone (a creative choir master) choreographed an event that even the most experienced producers at the time would have balked at. Children’s choirs scattered across the country simultaneously sang a song that was synched collectively and broadcast live. The song was Keep Holding On by Avril Lavigne.
In our ‘locked down’ world where we are increasingly engaging with rapidly advancing social media and technology, it’s easy to forget the scale of that achievement. To put it in context, this was the year the iPhone 4 was released (we’re now on iPhone 11), nobody had heard of Zoom, and it would be another 4 years before Facebook offered the facility to live stream.
Until that evening, I’d never heard of Avril Lavigne or that song. But something spoke powerfully to me that evening. It wasn’t so much the words of the song (I don’t remember them), instead it was the meeting of the most basic of human needs (connectedness) through the use of advanced technology that had a profound impact on me. Nine years later I still remember that evening vividly
I wasn’t a Christian at the time but 3 months later I came to faith in a remarkable way (that’s another story). I quickly felt drawn to media ministry. I had no skills or experience in this area and no previous interest. However, I was captivated by the use of images and media in ministry. So, I learnt about photography and how to edit short films, and I developed a media ministry at the church I attended.
The memory of the Children in Need choir in 2011 came back to me over and over again during this time. I became convinced that the church (my local church and the wider church) would be involved in local and national collective acts of online worship. These acts of worship would show the wider public a different side to the church; they would be positive; life giving; an unprecedented opportunity to spread the gospel message in a way never seen before.
Trusting in God
I felt God’s hand in all of that but I didn’t share those thoughts with anybody. At the time (and until very recently) they seemed bizarre and even fanciful. Few churches actively engaged with social media or had an online presence. Many feared the negative potential of social media. The technology seemed out of reach and complicated. Furthermore, if we believed the reports, the public had no appetite for the gospel message and the church was in a rapid and unstoppable state of decline.
Of course, God has bigger ideas and look where we are now! In the midst of a terrible global pandemic the church has adapted and responded in a way that was unimaginable only 3 months ago. As church buildings closed for the first time in history the church hasn’t just shifted on line, it’s exploded online. And last week we saw churches across the country and the world take part in synchronised online acts of worship such as this:
and then the children joined in!
Keep holding on
As I wrote this blog, I looked back on that song from Children in Need 2011. I had never really listened to the words until now, they weren’t that important at the time. But, as I listen to them now, I’m taken aback by the lyrics. Here’s the first verse:
You’re not alone
Together we stand
I’ll be by your side
You know I’ll take your hand
You can access the whole lyrics here:
And watch the full Children in Need Children’s Choir here:
God speaks to us in many ways and all prophecy should be tested. An important test is that prophecy should always edify, exhort and console, and build up the church (1 Cor.14:3-5). Having watched God’s wonderful prophecy being realised within such terrible circumstances I’m sharing this with you now for encouragement and to glorify God.
So, when you’re having a bad day, when the technology doesn’t work, when you are wondering if anyone is watching your podcast, or when you asking yourself “what’s the point?” please take these words of encouragement:
God is in this and all this is in God’s timing. He goes before us, beside us, and He is behind us (Is.45:2; Psalm 139).
God equips us individually and collectively for everything He calls us to. (2 Tim.3:16-17)
God did not want this but He will use it to grow His church in wonderful and creative ways beyond anything we could ever imagine (Rm 8:28; Eph. 3:20)
We are not just ‘making do’ here. We are actively part of God moving and working amongst us and in this situation. We all have a role to play in this (2 Peter 1:20-21)
And lastly, when things get tough, please “Keep holding on, you’re not alone”.