Church, mission and the 4 challenges of technology

Every new technology offers an opportunity for the advancement of the gospel. With the Gutenberg press, Scripture became more accessible. With the advent of the microphone and public address system, regular preachers without the resounding voices of George Whitefield were able to bring the good news of Jesus to more people. Through radio, Christians like CS Lewis were able to place important messages about Christ into the culture of the time. With social media, messages can be quickly shared and disseminated. But with these changes come the challenges of technology.

Sean Parker, who served as president of Facebook for a season, admitted that Facebook (and assuming other social media): “Literally changes your relationship with society, with each other. It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it does to our children’s brains. It’s a social validation feedback loop, exactly the kind of thing a hacker like me would find, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.

It is clear that those who have introduced new technologies into our world know that there are truly damaging and destructive results in the technology they have introduced. People learn, without realizing it, to live for tastes and hearts. And phrases like FOMO (fear of missing out) were coined because teenagers see a continuous reel of places they weren’t invited to.

So, is technology good or bad? It depends on who uses it and for what motivation. In Titus 1:15, the apostle Paul writes, “To the clean all things are clean, but to the filthy and unbelieving nothing is clean…” Yes, I want to use technology in ministry but I also want to acknowledge the technology challenges that wise men and women have articulated. Here are four thoughts that sum up where I am today on the matter:

4 technology challenges

1. We must use the tools of the day and the language of the day.

Technology can and should be used for noble purposes, to spread the good news of Jesus and to encourage believers. We are grateful that God had the New Testament written in Koine Greek (everyday language) instead of Classical Greek because God wants his message to be heard by the people he has created and loves.

2. We need to put the message where the people are.

Be careful the next time you are in a line or at a red light. People are on their phones. Believers and non-believers are permanently connected. Should we warn about technology changing us? We should. But we also need to put the message where the people are.

3. We must do not equate consumption and development.

People who are part of a group where there is discussion, study and interaction have a very different experience than those who just press play and consume. Someone who looks passively is much less likely to be developed. Ministry leaders should not stop at consumption and we should not equate it with development.

4. We must do not confuse mission and church.

Do I want people to be able to hear the gospel online? Absolutely! Do I like that people in our church can stay connected to a series of teachings when they are traveling or sick? It’s certain! But do I want them to equate watching service on their couch with being in the community? No. Sean Parker has admitted Facebook is changing children’s brains. Although we must use tools to reach people, we must resist changing the biblical image of the church. To put it in theological terms: My missiology leads me to use technology to spread the message, but my ecclesiology forces me to constantly remind people that they need to be in community. The Church is plural and worship gatherings are communal.

For some, this reads contradictory. Eric is advocating for “new school” in terms of technology and mission and “old school” in terms of technology and church gathering? I don’t see it as a conflict, but as a paradox. We must place the message in the context of the culture and we must invite God’s people to come together. Both are true. And in fact, both are old school.

This article on technology challenges originally appeared hereand is used with permission.

Charles K. Eckert