Some of the pastor's most precious moments are the ones when you are there. There at the front of the church standing beside the young groom as his bride walks through those doors and down the aisle. There at the hospital to hold the newborn and to pray with and for the new father and mother. There at the courthouse when the judge proclaims those children fully and finally adopted into their new family. There in the river to plunge that new Christian beneath the water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There at the bedside when that faithful, older church member takes his final breath and is ushered into eternity. There in the pulpit week after week, opening God's Word and proclaiming eternal truths.
The pastor has many callings and many responsibilities, and so many of the best of them involve being there.
We live at the cusp of a new era in history—the digital era. And we are forced to reconsider what it means to be there and what it means to be here. We are grappling with new challenges to the realities of time and space. We are learning what it means to be present in and through new technologies, and these changes have important implications for pastors and their ministries.
Let me be clear: I am no Luddite. Quite the opposite, in fact. I believe technology is a good gift from God and one of the ways through which he calls us to carry out our Creation Mandate and our Great Commission. It is technology that allows us to have dominion over the earth, technology that enhances our ability to be fruitful and multiply, and technology that allows us to go to all the earth and take the gospel with us so we can make disciples of all nations.
We have been given specific instructions from God, and technology is an indispensible means through which we carry these out.
A fine line
Though technology is a good gift of God, it exists in a sinful world. The use of technology did not escape the Fall and all its consequences. The very thing that offers us such good with one hand is prone to take it away with the other. All technologies have benefits and drawbacks; with every great new breakthrough there's a cost or an unintended consequence. What else would we expect in a world marked by sin?
Not only that, but our technologies offer us such good things it's easy to elevate them until they become our hope and confidence. There's a fine line between technology and idolatry.
I see at least two challenges to presence, to being there, in a digital world.
First, our new technologies try to convince me that I can be there even while I remain here, that my presence can be transported through bits, bytes, and pixels, that the essence of who I am can exist on a screen.
Second, the digital world, with all its attractions and distractions, hinders me from being fully here, fully present in life's best times and places.
The first is the challenge of mediation, and the second is the challenge of distraction.
The mediated life
No young man looks deep into the eyes of the lady he loves and says, "I cannot wait to be apart and write you a letter." No, he writes her a letter and says, "I cannot wait to be there with you." It would be ridiculous to wish for anything less.
The apostles knew the value of there. As Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, he said right from the beginning, "I long to see you" (Rom. 1:11). It is as if Paul was saying, "I wish I was there, but I must be here, so a letter will have to do." It was only because of this forced separation, this geographic distance between them, that he was writing this letter at all.