By Kent Annan and Jamie Aten
Are you experiencing holy FOMO?
Since COVID-19 we’ve started noticing that pastors and church leaders aren’t immune to the phenomenon commonly referred to as FOMO, which stands for “fear of missing out.”
But unlike traditional FOMO, holy FOMO occurs within the unique context of ministry among church leaders who fall into the trap of comparing everything their ministry does with what other ministries are doing.
As people dedicated to serving others, church leaders naturally want to identify and use the most effective streaming technology, employ the most innovative strategies for offering pastoral care, and find new ways to continue serving those in need.
But when their Facebook feed shows a neighboring church leading worship from the roof of their building, transmitting the gospel drive-in movie style to the FM dials of cars lined up in the parking lot, it can be hard to celebrate the fresh, creative solution.
More often, it simply feels like someone has raised the bar we all now have to struggle to clear. And then someone in your church, when you’ve already done your best, may send a not-so-subtle email that says something like, “Look at what so-and-so church just did!”
We already know this is how we’re wired. Study after study has proven that the more individuals use social media, even for the best of reasons, the less happy we tend to be.
The research of Holly B. Shakya (UC San Diego) and Nicholas A. Christakis (Yale University) demonstrates this phenomena we’ve all experienced: “We found consistently that both liking others’ content and clicking links significantly predicted a subsequent reduction in self-reported physical health, mental health, and life satisfaction.”
In a nutshell, being exposed to the apparent happiness and success of others chips away at our perception of our own.
In a conversation during a recent Humanitarian Disaster Institute event with Walter Kim, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, we discussed an unlikely, and yet keenly apt, biblical model for this moment.
2 Chronicles 30 describes how the Passover ritual was being reinstated by King Hezekiah after years of not being observed.
Sending a royal proclamation throughout Israel, people were called to come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover to the Lord. That’s when, despite the best laid plans, things went south.
For starters, the community was unable to celebrate the feast at the appointed time because “not enough priests had consecrated themselves and the people had not assembled in Jerusalem” (2 Chronicles 30:3).
Leaders weren’t ready. So they chose a rain date and invited everyone to come out again.
This time, many of the worshipers who showed up had themselves not prepared properly, and so were unable to eat the Passover meal. To be clear: The entire community worshiped at the wrong time and in the wrong way.
Sound familiar? As church leaders today are wrestling theologically with what it means to not gather physically together as a body we’re also dealing with FOMO, worried that what we are providing isn’t enough.
The constant scroll of fresh creative ideas others are implementing isn’t bringing life; it’s only reminding us of the ways we’re falling short.
This is different from conversations with colleagues and deliberately following trusted sources that can help you find support and innovative solutions to problems none of us have ever faced before.
And that’s why Hezekiah’s prayer to God, that their not-quite-right-worship would be pleasing to Him, is the prayer for this very moment:
“May the LORD, who is good, pardon everyone who sets their heart on seeking God—the LORD, the God of their ancestors—even if they are not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary” (2 Chronicles 30:19-10).
Had his prayer been broadcast as a catchy five-second TikTok video, it might sound something like, “God forgive us; we’re really doing our best.”
And God’s response to Hezekiah’s prayer is one whose echoes inform our life today: “GOD responded to Hezekiah’s prayer and healed the people” (2 Chronicles 30:20).
God received Israel’s worship, and God receives the worship of our hearts today.
Walter Kim emphasizes, “If the Lord was so gracious back then, how much more will He be gracious to the church now as we are groping and muddling our way through trying to figure out what does it mean to honor God in this moment.”
Though most folks aren’t bragging about the groping and muddling on social media, it’s where most of us are living today. We’re all trying to figure out what it means to honor God in this moment.
And when we turn our eyes away from “likes” and “shares,” and to the One we’re hustling to know and serve in the first place, we receive the healing and abundant grace God offers.
Now there’s something to share.
KENT ANNAN, M.Div. (@kentannan), is director of Humanitarian & Disaster Leadership at Wheaton College. He is author of Slow Kingdom Coming and After Shock: Searching for Honest Faith When Your World Is Shaken. Follow him online at kentannan.com.
JAMIE ATEN, Ph.D. (@drjamieaten) is founder and executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute and Blanchard Chair of Humanitarian & Disaster Leadership at Wheaton College. Follow him online at jamieaten.com.