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5 Lessons from Paul for a Phygital World

Bryan Barrineau
February 18th, 2021

Have you ever played a VR game? I can tell you I love swinging lightsabers around, even if it is just in VR, to the music’s beat. VR games combine the physical world and the digital world. You are immersed in a digital game world, but this world is one in which you have to physically interact with your body to play effectively. VR games can be said to be phygital, which is a combination of physical and digital environments. Phygital is a term coined by Stadia Church Planting to describe the world that many of us now live in. A world where physically embodied ministry can be multiplied in digital environments. 

How do you lead a ministry when you have to combine physical and digitally distanced environments? The apostle Paul actually has a lot to say about church done at a distance, like digital or phygital ministry. Yes, the Paul that lived 2000 years ago and never sent a DM, never played Among Us (Judas is Sus), never sold a tent on Etsy, and never had DoorDash delivered to his house. You see, Paul didn’t just plant churches all over the ancient world, he also interacted with those churches from a distance after he planted them. From a distance, Paul continued the discipleship process that he had started when he was with these churches in person.

So what does this have to do with digital and phygital ministry? Check out Colossians 2:5 and 1 Corinthians 5:3. In both of these verses, Paul tells the people that he is ministering to that he is present in spirit though he is absent in body. Paul continues this idea in 1 Thessalonians 2:17, where he talks about leaving them, being absent in person, but not in heart. Paul has interacted with these people in a physical environment but still cares for their souls at a distance. Paul still desired to see his people face-to-face, but he would have to lead and disciple them from a distance by writing letters. Paul engaged in what could be called phygital ministry, in that he ministered both physically and at a distance to his people depending on the circumstances.

What can Paul teach us about phygital ministry? Here are 5 lessons from Paul’s letter to the Roman church that highlight things that we can do whether we are physically present with our people or digitally distanced from them. 

1. Have a Discussion

Paul liked to ask questions in his letters. Paul also enjoyed answering his own questions. 10 times in Romans, Paul asks a question and immediately responds with, “By no means!” Paul had to talk to himself (admit it, you talk to yourself too) because he was engaged in ministry at a distance and limited to letter writing. However, we have the opportunity to speak with our people, whether it be face to face or through email/text/social/DMs/etc. Start a conversation with your leaders and students today. You never know what could happen.

2. Pray

Prayer is one action that can be done whether we are physically present or digitally distanced (Romans 1:9-10). Ask your students and leaders what you can pray for them about. Put a prayer request question in your social media story. Send and text letting someone know that you have prayed for them. Send your leaders prayer requests that you have received from students. There are many ways to engage in prayer, whether we are face to face or distant from one another.

3. Encourage

We all can encourage others, no matter our location. Paul tells the Roman church that he is thankful for them because of their faith (Romans 1:8-11). Who do you need to say thank you to today? Send a text, a DM, a Starbucks gift card, or (my personal favorite) use some your over 20k CFA points to gift someone a milkshake with a thank you note attached. Thankfulness for our students, leaders, and parents doesn’t require physical proximity.

4. Foster Community

Community is something that is the basis of discipleship in the local church, especially for students. Paul helps us understand that part of doing life together.  Christians bear burdens for one another and serve their neighbor (Romans 15:1-2). Digital or phygital environments may not seem like a place to foster community, but today’s culture finds community through social media/Twitch/online gaming/etc. Encourage students and leaders to find ways to be neighbors to those inside and outside the church through digital means.

5. Hold and Be Held Accountable

Our digital lives are on display for all to see. Our lives offline are not. Paul gives us a template in Romans 12-13 for what spiritual maturity in Christ looks like. Let’s be leaders who encourage those we lead to live up to this template and be leaders who allow others to hold us accountable. Connect with your leaders and students, either face to face or digitally, and check-in with them to see how their personal walk with Christ is going. Encourage them to ask you the same questions. Here is an example of soul care questions to ask.

Phygital ministry can be daunting, but with Paul as our example and Christ as our savior, we can do anything. For a deeper dive into digital and phygital ministry check out the stuff from my friends Jeff Reed and Jay Kranda.

Bryan Barrineau

Bryan Barrineau is the Student Pastor at FBC Enterprise, AL. He has served in Enterprise, AL (the only town in the world who has a statue to an invasive species of bug) since 2013. He has been in student ministry for almost 20 years. He is married to Jennifer and they have two little boys, Henry and Caleb.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.