There was a relentless tug, an idea that would not leave my head. The idea of beginning an online ministry to encourage fellow Christians began to float around in my heart. Occasionally I would play with names of what this venture might be called. Eventually I settled on the name “Chasing Abundant Life” a few months before I found the courage to actually begin. Jesus’ words – “I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10) – helped push me in the right direction. I love the bold proclamation that we are not intended to suffer or stumble through life. Christ came so that we might know abundance, thrive, and know joy, peace and freedom. I dreamed of connecting with people I had not yet met, creating an online community which encouraged us all to be our best in life and faith. I am so glad I dared to try.
In May of 2019, a sermon I preached entitled “Success after Failure” had an unexpected impact. While we preachers write a lot of sermons, it’s rare that one of our own sermons tangles up our heart so much that we cannot escape it. After 17 years of ministry, this was the sermon that would not let me go. It was based on that good fishing story in John 21. The disciples have been fishing all night long yet have not caught one fish. Jesus instructs, “‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish” (Jn 21:6). When they listen to their Lord, they find abundant success.
I told my husband, Erik, that Sunday night, “I know this is crazy but I cannot shake the feeling that tomorrow is when this is supposed to start.” I remember saying this, almost hoping he would bring me to my senses. “I’ll never know enough, or be ready enough to do this. I think I just need to try and see what God does with it.” My sweet husband did not try to convince me otherwise. Instead he asked for my plan and helped me flesh out the details.
Near midnight, I messaged 10 friends to tell them I was going live the next morning at 7:00 in a Facebook group called, Chasing Abundant Life (affectionately abbreviated as CAL). They were thrilled and supportive, and so I took the leap. Bright and early the next morning, holding my phone while sitting cross-legged on my bed, I took a deep breath and hit the “Live” button. I shared a piece of my story about searching for love. I shared a little of my trying and failing at love, the hopeless times, and all the preparations God was doing before I met my husband. It was a connection point for listeners to consider the trials and errors in their lives. It had echoes of struggling disciples trying to fish and failing all night before the success and bountiful catch finally came with Jesus. It prompted the questions, “Where have I failed? How has God equipped me for success?” We finished with prayer. And now, every morning, Monday through Friday for the past nine months since that first live chat, I’ve served this growing community of Christians.
A New Frontier
That initial audience of 10 has grown to 500 regularly devoted Christians. New people join us every week, as members invite others. I’ve had more than 20,000 views of Chasing Abundant Life’s daily devotions. Just like those first disciples inviting brothers and friends to “come and see” Jesus, the CAL community shares what they have discovered. According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, one in five relationships now begin online. If this is indeed the case, maybe more relationships with Jesus can begin and be strengthened online, too. Studies done by the Global Web Index show that the average adult spends two hours and 22 minutes every day on social media. It seems clear that the Church needs to go where the people are. They may not be coming out on Sunday morning, but if there is still a spiritual hunger, we need to find a way to connect. We cannot ignore how social media might be used for Christian education, connection, communication, mission and worship. I fully believe that social media is the new frontier for developing discipleship.
Chasing Abundant Life was not my first foyer into exploring technology in ministry. In 2007, I introduced an email Bible study to my congregations in Port Perry and Prince Albert, Ont. I had never seen or heard of this being done but thought it might meet a need. Maybe the traditional 10 a.m. or even 7 p.m. seven-week-long study didn’t work for everyone. So I offered both an in-person weekday group and an online group. I was stunned by the amount of personal disclosure and faith-filled honesty shared in the email Bible study. Each person had time to think and “reply all,” when they were ready. One member was a snowbird, who spent a few weeks in Port Perry with us and the following weeks of our study in sunny Florida. He was a retired pastor and joked that he felt our little group was getting to know him better in our seven weeks together than maybe even his wife of 35 years. Another member was going through cancer treatment. She said that knowing there would be an email waiting for her each week and a group of people waiting to hear her response gave her a reason to get up some mornings. We journeyed together, supported each other and grew in faith. It was then that I really began to believe in the power of technology as a tool in developing disciples.
The Other Six Days
Chasing Abundant Life is different every day, though the format remains consistent: real-life story, daily question, scripture and prayer in a 15-minute live devotion on Facebook. The Monday after the Super Bowl our daily live devotion discussed the controversy around the halftime show featuring Shakira and Jennifer Lopez. We talked about the reputation of these skilled and provocative entertainers. Then we contemplated which word we would like to be used to describe us. The group shared beautiful words: faithful, loyal, strong, determined, honest, positive, compassionate and real. I read Jesus’ question in Matthew 16:13, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” We discussed Jesus’ reputation. Intersecting real life with our faith is what we aim to do daily. CAL member Bethany Mack explains it this way: “Faith is something I need in my life, and once-a-week [worship] is definitely not enough. CAL is quite honestly an answer to my prayers. It allows me to join amongst others and expand my faith from wherever I am or however my day unfolds.”
Men and women listen as they commute, as they have breakfast with their kids, and while folding laundry. Many watch CAL on replay while cooking supper, exercising or at bedtime. We have farmers who tune in on their tractors, teachers who listen as they commute and medical professionals who watch during shift breaks. We have members in Canada, the U.S., the UK, and the Cayman Islands. Another member, John Brooks, equates this new ministry to a small group experience. “I find CAL is real life today. Many share their life experiences and, like the early church, we are enabled to encourage each other. I think it’s a great use of technology.”
It has been so worth the risk and effort to explore this new avenue for sharing the gospel. Pastors and church members cannot sit idly in near-empty church buildings, fretting over finances. People still hunger for the holy; they are just not running to church to get it. They are, however, on their phones, laptops and ipads. And so we ought to go to them.
The Great Commission declares the “sent” character of the church. As Randolph Ferebee says in Cultivating the Missional Church, mission is not just one function or program among many; it is God’s prime purpose for the church. Ministry in 2020 requires pioneers willing to harness technology in new ways for worship, study, prayer and service. We do not have to be perfect or have it all figured out. We just need to begin! There are countless uncharted paths for ministry. I pray that Chasing Abundant Life might be one good seed sown by our Saviour.