The Best and Worst New Tech
Which new technologies hold the most promise—and the most peril—for use in church ministries? Brad Abare, founder of the Center for Church Communication, Mark Keller, author of God on the Internet, and John Dyer, web development director at Dallas Theological Seminary, suggest the best and worst new tech.
Mobile Smart Phones
Phones are on track to becoming the most promising—and paralyzing—technology.
Brad Abare, founder of the Center for Church Communication
By far the most pervasive and powerful technology of the last quarter century is the cell phone. Gone are the days when owning one meant you had to buy a larger car to accommodate your Motorola or schedule a weekly chiropractor appointment because of the backpack-like carrier.
Cell phones have become a necessity for those on the move. More text messages are sent each day than there are people in the world. Observe most anyone under age 25, and you will see they spend much time text messaging, typing, and toying with a gadget that contains more information and connectivity than the Apollo 13 spacecraft.
According to the International Telecommunication Union, over 4 billion people were using a mobile phone in 2008. With the global population at 6.7 billion, that means three of every five people worldwide use a mobile phone. In the world. Last year when I was in Haiti—one of the poorest, least developed countries—I learned one benefit of going to church: You could charge your phone battery under the window ledges lining the sanctuary. Come to church late, and you might not get a power outlet.
Mobile smart phones are on track to becoming the most promising—and paralyzing—technology for use within churches. Promising because of their ability to supplement and serve our journey. Paralyzing because of their ability to supplant and starve our journey.
Could the mobile phone be a culprit in the erosion of our souls? Does an always-on connectivity distract people from staying connected to who and what really matters? The irony of French philosopher Bernard Stiegler's definition of technology—"the pursuit of life by means other than life"—is that instead of explaining technology's ability, it captures humanity's quandary.
Eugene Peterson, in his book Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, observes that "soul has given way to self as the term of choice to designate who and what we are." In the Hebrew language, soul (nephesh) is a metaphor for the neck. Like the neck, our soul keeps us together. "Without soul," writes Peterson, "we would be a jumble of disconnected parts."
I love that my iPhone can reference multiple Bible translations, connect with others at the tap of a finger, and access everything that's within Google's reach. Mobile devices will continue to be a democratizing force in the global community. From real-time interaction during weekend activities to congregational votes to text-to-give plans, churches will find more ways to leverage the mobile phone's possibilities. I am all for it.
But we must not get our defense of soul confused with our pretense of self. A life-giving, biblical church community must understand the difference between using technology to communicate the transforming power of the gospel, and letting the gospel be transformed by technology. We need more thoughtful Christians who are determined to heed Henry David Thoreau's warning against becoming "the tool of our tools."
The gospel was delivered in a way that people could visualize it.