Is the Church too High-tech?

Hanging out with a lot of pastors for the ten days of Family Camp is good for me. It’s good because of those who encourage me, those whose perspectives stretch me, and even those who get under my skin.

This year, I observed something I hadn’t before: A stagnancy of those who refuse to embrace new technologies compared with the vibrancy of those who do. I know — vibrancy should not come from technology; it should come from the Holy Spirit. But let me tell you what I saw.

On one hand you have the pastor who resists technological change. He hates facebook, although he’s never been on it. He mocks tweets and twitters. His church doesn’t even have a web site. He’s almost a Luddite in his perspective on such things. If people want to hear from him, “…they can read the bulletin and listen to the sermon.” I can type whatever negative thing I want about the pastors in this camp because they won’t even read this blog. The problem is that he is only speaking the language of part of our society. He’s refusing to adjust the medium of his message. Believe it or not, I actually heard, some 20 years ago, an older pastor making the same case concerning technology — namely the technology of a sound system. I remember one gentleman saying to me, “We don’t need these loud speakers here at camp. People have forgotten how to listen. We need to teach their ears to hear!” What!? The mission of the church is to teach people to hear without technology!? We would all say that’s absurd. But frankly, a churches reluctance to embrace today’s mobile technology is not dissimilar.

On the other hand you have the pastor who has embraced technological change. I like to think I am this guy, but I am not. I am trying. This pastor has his hand on the pulse of technology. He emails. He has a church web site. He blogs. He uses facebook. You can text him on his phone. He might even tweet every now and again. You can listen to his sermons on your smartphone. You can find current information about the church on the web site. To a wireless generation, this pastor seems relevant. They feel they can connect with him as they could a friend. His ministry seems vibrant.

OK — now hear this: The technology does not make his ministry vibrant. The Spirit does. But the work the Spirit is doing in him is as important as the work the Spirit is doing through him. Part of that inner work is helping him adjust to changes necessary in ministry. May I suggest that, in a way, the Spirit of God is teaching him to blog. And by the way, you can tell a Spirit-filled blogger from one who is not, right? So technology does not guarantee vibrancy any more than a lack of technology guarantees stagnancy. But resistance to technology does suggest something about the pastor. Permit me to illustrate this:

When she was in her seventies, my mother got a computer. She wanted to get on that “email web thing.” And she did. She learned to email, to surf, to look at blogs, to go to family picture sites, to listen to sermons from my church web site. Why? Why did she do that? The answer is that she saw her children and grandchildren doing it and she wanted to connect with them because…. SHE LOVED THEM.

Hmm… How does the Luddite pastor compare with Mom? From my perspective, and from the perspective of many of the tech-savvy, he simply doesn’t care enough to climb the learning curve and get into the digital stream. Sadly, he is like the guy in the 1950’s who refused to get a telephone — disconnected, disenfranchised, and soon to be disaffected.

Perhaps the greatest technological advance in history was the invention of the printing press. Think about it — before the printing press, there were no Bibles in homes. Readers were rare. No one was doing family devotions. How did Christians respond to this new technology? Thank God they embraced it. Accounts vary, but many historians agree that the first book published on Gutenberg’s machine was the Gutenberg Bible, in 1454.

So, is the church too high-tech? Well, it seems to me that, if we, as Christians believe it is our job to influence people for Jesus, leading them to turn from their sin and trust in his sacrificial death on their behalf, then we will embrace every tool we possibly can.

Oh — and by the way, if you have Luddite tendencies, this post probably got under your skin. Welcome to Family Camp!