How will technology change ministry?

Sue Edwards's picture

The digital age is here to stay, regardless of how much whining goes on about the loss of face-to-face relationships or meaningful dinner conversations.  We are moving from a print era to a digital era, with accompanying losses and gains. We stand, like the last of the Mohicans, overlooking a time that soon will be no more, as we move into the unknown. Exciting and terrifying!
     If time capsules really worked, we could commiserate with people who lived through the transition from the oral era to the print era, around the time of Martin Luther and the printing press in the fifteenth century. They feared that people would no longer rely on their memories but instead on the printed page. They were right. Their minds were changed by the media and ours will be too. They lost the ability to memorize and remember, because they no longer had to.
     But the gains were phenomenal. Common people learned to read and had access to the great literature of the world, especially the Bible. Now they could put their hands on their own Bible and read it for themselves! The "quiet time" evolved. Common folk could communicate in letters with loved ones over long distances. They, and we, have learned to thrive without the ability to memorize or remember the way people did before the print age. Multiple adjustments were required, both losses and gains.
     What will be the losses and gains of a digital age? How do we teach the Bible, disciple people, and do church in a digital age? We are in the process of learning. These questions are particularly important to me as a seminary professor. I teach future ministers, both men and women, to teach the Bible and to create transformational ministries. I must consider these tsunami-like changes as I create courses and guide my students who will soon be on the front lines. But this is not just an issue for the classroom. This is an issue for every Christian, and particularly leaders and lay leaders in the church and parachurch. That includes most of you. We must all ask God how to move forward.
     Do these changes take God by surprise? No. He led His church through the transition to a print era and He will lead us through this transition to a digital age. We must stop whining and learn all we can about the gains and losses, to prepare ourselves and others for new days ahead. I recommend The Shallows by Nicolas Carr and From the Garden to the City by John Dyer.  Both are new books that wrestle with these issues, hoping to educate us about the pitfalls, consider how to overcome them, and inspire us to move forward with wisdom and courage.
      Technology is already in the DNA of my grandchildren, ages two to ten. My granddaughter just interrupted me with a quick online chat, a welcome interaction since she lives thousands of miles away. But it was a break in concentration. The digital age is the age of interruptions, and too many change the way our brains work. What should we do?
     When computers can speak, will people lose the ability to write? Will most students interact in front of a computer instead of in a campus classroom? Will most people work from home? Will hungry learners across the globe have access to knowledge impossible a decade earlier?  How will discipleship and ministry adjust? These are big questions but we serve a big God. Join the think tank to make God's work on the earth strong and effective. People still need Jesus and always will. Should He tarry, how will we help them find Him in a digital age?

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