Christian Life 

Technology in the church

The last three decades has seen a rush of technology into the church. From a basic sound system and hard-of-hearing loop amplification, many churches now resemble recording studios previously the reserve of the professional music and video industry.

A recent post asked a question about the addiction to modern technology. This is the copy of an article which circulated earlier this year.

recording-studioWHEN I first became a full-time preacher, I had the privilege of getting to know an older preacher who was coming our way to hold a gospel meeting. I called him to talk over his plans, settle on accommodations and find out if there was anything specific that he would need.

“Will you be using the overhead projector,” I innocently asked?"
“No,” he retorted. "I won’t be putting on any picture show to entertain the brethren!"

He pontificated for another twenty minutes about the dubious benefits of putting anything in front of the audience that couldn’t be erased in a cloud of chalk. The overhead projector – a dying technology twenty years later – was just too similar to a movie projector and everybody knows they have no place in the worship of the saints.

This older preacher has gone on to his reward now, but I sometimes wonder what he would think of our modern digital projectors and fancy websites. What would he think about churches sending out podcasts and uploading videos to YouTube?

The twentieth century saw preachers migrate from charts printed on white bedsheets to overhead projectors to digital projectors. Churches lived in the Yellow Pages, but then discovered a wider audience on the Internet. Sermons leapt from reel-to-reel recorders to cassettes to compact discs to MP3s. Even hymnals are falling prey to paperless versions that are projected upon the silver screen.
If time permits, one wonders where the technology will take us next.

Those advances are not confined to sermon presentation and sharing, either. Every saint now has easy access to volumes which once dwelt only in the libraries of preachers who had the hunger and the budget to collect them. Commentaries, encyclopedias, dictionaries, lexicons – all are just a click away. A generation ago, the Franklin handheld Bible invaded the pews, permitting worshipers to search for passages and terms on a little screen, but with impressive celerity. When cell phones got smart, Bibles popped up on them as well, and now netbooks and iPads offer more screen real estate for reading verses in multiple versions and doing quick searches and studies, as well as note taking.

Can you imagine a time in the future when the church has nothing paper in the rack of the pew in front of you? The Bibles may all be digital and the hymns will be projected on the screen.
There are dangers, of course. Some folks might assume that you’re playing games or checking football scores on your smart phone, rather than reading the preacher’s references. Actually, some might even be doing those very things, the way schoolchildren used to hide comics in their textbooks and chuckle through boring lectures. The potential for noisy interruptions and entertaining distractions is great, but in pious hands, these technological marvels can surely make worship a more intellectually rewarding experience. We just have to resist the urge to tune out a boring sermon in favor of playing a quick game of Pac-Man on mute.

It was not so long ago that if an emergency occurred while one was in church, he learned of it when he got home and found a message waiting. When doctors began sharing their pager technology with the rest of us, that changed a bit. Suddenly, you were alerted to call home and some would walk out of the worship to find a phone. It wasn’t very long before cell phones became affordable and small enough to carry, and then the sound of ringing phones became common during worship. The recipient would sheepishly silence the phone and try to act like nothing happened.

Now, there are probably countless text messages flowing in silently to the cell phones in most every purse or belt holster in the building. Some are ignored until after worship, but others are just so urgent! When that certain someone is willing to confirm that he not only likes you, but likes likes you, well, that just can’t wait!

Technological advancements are wonderful. Never before have we been so capable of taking the gospel into the whole world at such little expense (Matthew 28:18-20). A single congregation can do today what seemingly required church-splitting unscriptural arrangements a short time ago. Yet, the potential for abuse is also so apparent.

Gossip and false doctrine can now spread faster than a regional wildfire – at the speed of light all the way around the globe (James 3:1-12). There is something clean and sweet about the simplicity of the gospel that is disturbed by the presence of so much pulsating technology (2 Corinthians 11:3). So much noise and imagery can detract from the message and the spiritual task (see Luke 10:40).

So, we’re seeking to balance the availability of new technologies with the solemnity and dignity of worship and evangelism (1 Corinthians 14:40). We are tasked with presenting the gospel to a generation raised with game consoles and flashy television programs. Without sacrificing the essential gravity of the gospel, we face the challenge of being heard over the din of the Wii and the iPod.

Where Paul was concerned with sympathy for the Jew, the lawful, the lawless and the weak, we must apply ourselves to reaching Generation Y and Generation Next by presenting the gospel as relevant, urgent and useful, “as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8). Paul wrote, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings (1 Corinthians 9:21-23).

While we cannot afford to be left behind technologically, neither can we afford to go beyond the will of Christ or cheapen the Bible’s truths. This is one technological challenge the scientists won’t be able to solve for us.

Footnote: There are pros and cons in all of this. Feel free to list them.

Unknown/Christians Together, 17/12/2010

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Phil Maclean (Guest) 19/12/2010 09:59
Paul, you have mentioned one of the serious problems of our age - dependence on technology. Perhaps a power failure or two on a few Sunday mornings would help us to cope without it. Or would we just lock up our buildings and go home.

A major problem is the extend to which Christians no longer carry their Bibles to church and merely read verses off a screen. (I wonder what the Bereans would htink of that?)
Penny Lee 19/12/2010 10:44
I think we need to stop feeling guilty about using modern technology. We have to keep up with advancements and use them to our advantage as regards spreading the gospel. There will always be negative ways to use such technology but that's not the fault of the technology itself and we shouldn't use that as an excuse for our own failings.

I recently bought my husband an eReader and have installed on it a Bible and daily readings. It's great to only have to take the one device rather than separate ones. God's Word is the same whether it's in an ancient Bible or a modern eReader.

And I just love my musical keyboard and play hymns almost exclusively on it!
Pawlo 19/12/2010 13:37
For me its not so much a guilt about the use of the technology but a concern about the impact of taking valuable resources from poorer countries, at the expense of those countries, whilst we ignorantly enjoy life with a limited cost to ourselves. (I know its not that clear cut though)

We (Britan) import almost everything, having propped ouselves up with the greedy prospects of north sea oil and gas and cheap money. All british agriculture and industry is traded off for the benifits of global empire that no one votes for. This is a direct product of the imbalance that comes with technology, and as for global governance, we know where that is going!
Martin Lisemore 19/12/2010 15:39
We are at the sharpest end of the advance of technology. But let's look at techno in a different light. Try seeing it as a gift of a loving Creator to His highest creation.

It's the uses we find for techno which are questionable. I see no problems with churches and fellowships using techno to further their work. It's the way techno is received which is dangerous. We must continue in the Bible, and I don't see if it matters whether a person reads it on screen or from a paper version.

For myself I have a 26 year old NIV which has travelled around Europe, and most of the UK, with me. It's worn, tatty, a little stained and heavily colour marked. I also, from time to time, use 13 other translations, besides Strong's and Vines etc. If I go to a church that has a projector, I'm happy to use that. If they have a power failure, We'll read from my battered NIV. I also have a programme called e-Sword on a Windows computer, and use that extensively for referencing, and sometimes reading.

When we have power cuts here, about a dozen times a year for days on end, we light oil lamps and read our paper Bibles.

Paul, I deeply receive your point about techno. It's not for everyone to dive in the deep end and survive since we're not all built the same. Although I work with computers in my one man business, I struggle with a toaster, and a steam iron foozles me utterly. I usually burn my self. Show me HTML or some Objective-C coding and I can read it like a book.

The mistake of the West, is to assume those that can, will, and the rest are left behind. That's not my stand. The mistake of the computer industry is not making software for those who's skills lie in other, more vital, areas. It's no slur if you don't get on with techno. I don't like it, don't approve of our dependency on it, but it's all I could do 10 years ago when no one would employ me.

I guess this reads like a blog. It's not at all. I've written some opinions from inside the computer business, because we usually hear from those outside it.

For what it's worth, I find the rapid march of technology frightening, and struggle now, like Paul did, to keep up with it. At my age, within a couple of years I will plateau out, and hopefully, all but leave it alone.
Penny Lee 19/12/2010 17:39
As a child, I can occasionally remember my Gran giving me a sixpence and sending me up to her neighbour above to phone my father. It wasn't that she couldn't necessarily have afforded a phone of her own but she was frightened of it as she didn't understand it. Today, I have a husband who is a complete technophobe but is having to try to get to grips with some of it as it has even invaded tractor cabs which are operated by computerised panels.

My late brother's wife was Filipino and the local Baptist church was a Bamboo shelter, without walls, on the open ground. All they possessed were a few plastic chairs. However, they had an old projector they must have been given but no supplies to use it so Fraser bought them a screen, and acetate pens. The minister was delighted and used it well. What matters most is what information is being displayed on the screen. The same screen can display invaluable advice or rubbish - it is the ones using it who determine that!
Martin Lisemore 19/12/2010 18:17

In 1990 we were fostering a horribly disturbed 12 year old boy. Illiterate, innumerate, dyslexic (so they said), and very strong. Time out of number I replaced windows, door panels, and bought replacement crockery from charity shops.

I bought an Amstrad computer. We learned this machine together. With prayer, dedication, and that Amstrad, the boy eventually got a degree and is now an automotive design engineer for BMW in Bavaria.

While others were playing games on their Amstrads ...
Rosemary Cameron 19/12/2010 22:55
Paul makes a very valid and topical point given today's news that, even with an increase in our exports, we still import far more than we export. Part of the reason we are running a deficit.....the trouble is, it's very hard to live a simple life in modern Britain. I guess a start would be to ask ourselves whether we really need the latest gadget. The same applies to churches.
Martin Lisemore 19/12/2010 23:11
Rosemary, I believe it's near impossible to live a simple life here in Britain. I go as far as I can ... in many ways like Paul, but I need to earn a living to pay for among other things, grand children and the ever increasing demands of government.

Gadgets and the buying of them usually depends on their marketing. As a professional in computing, I weigh each new gadget with some scepticism, and would counsel anyone to do the same. I only buy on the basis of proven need.

With the corporate funds available to churches it's very easy to aspire, reason a need for, and buy, only to find the latest gadget doesn't fulfil expectation.

But isn't that just the world we live in. I think Paul would concur.

Avoiding technology ... a studied answer would be, no you can't. but that doesn't say we must make technology a god to be worshipped. Rather, as in my post above, something to be thankful for to a great and loving God, our Heavenly Father.

It's worth noting here, if, as I contend, technology is a provision of our Father from His riches in Glory, given now to further His purposes, then, melding together a couple of scriptures, Jesus is the steward of those gifts. We must also thank our Lord and Saviour for what He has given this generation, and be sure we use those gifts to His honour and glory.

Pawlo 20/12/2010 12:30
Martin, I would say that it is possible to live a simple life in britain, but by doing so you cut yourself off from everyone else. A bit like the Amish in the US.

I do agree that we buy things because of very clever marketing which convinces us that life will not function so well without it. The darker side of advertising is possibly verging on witchcraft now!

As for the last paragraph, I'll have to give that some thought. It requires a massive change in attitude for me and one that would have to be most prayerfully considered.
Martin Lisemore 20/12/2010 22:21
I would not wish to be like the Amish, disconnected and out of step with everything. (I dislike horsey things intensely) My desire is to remain in contact with the Holy Spirit, to hear and know what He is doing at any time in my sphere. To be incarcerated in an historic setting doesn't in my opinion glorify Jesus. It's quite like the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus time, stuck in a time warp. Stuck in a law instead of living in Life. Rabbinical Judaism is that way now.

Paul, you said the darker side of advertising is possibly verging on witchcraft now! Allow me to say, and I open up myself here to be shot down in flames, advertising is witchcraft.

1 Sam 15:23 says, For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and what is witchcraft, but the taking of control of lives, separating them from our God. Interpret it how you will, it boils down to that.

I can feel the flames in being shot down! But I'll go on.

Advertising, a part of marketing, takes people's judgement away; it provides witty, or catchy reasons why we should buy a product. It sells us when we want to buy. We succumb to the salesman, or sales pitch on TV or the press, when we should be saying, no, I don't want that! I want some that does this ...

Anything, or anyone who seeks dominion over us, in whatever means is not of God. Advertising, marketing, whatever, seeks dominion over us. It takes us away from God, further and further. We get drawn into consumerism, which is another god. It's an endless tunnel leading down to the depths of personal depravity, and most certainly away from the Lord.

As for the last paragraph, think, pray, please. Contact me if you need to. It's an opinion long held. If you have another view, please air it with me; I'm here to learn from you all - and I do!
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