As much as I hear that question, I would suggest it affirms that technology is now central as well as essential in our culture. If the shockwave from the sun hits as some scientists suggest, we are in for a whirlwind of discomfort because of how much we rely on digital technology today.
I really, really enjoy technology. From computers to smartphones to tablets to smart-TVs to the web to social media to automation to AI robotics to advancements in forecast systems to car sensors to the many apps we all use and more, technology is useful and fun and informative and helpful. But is it hurtful, too?
Let’s not ignore the potential ways technology has hurt our function as the church. I would suggest four specific ways that it has hurt our functioning as the church as Jesus intended:
Just the fact that “i” is the first letter in a lot of our favorite technology is telling, isn’t it? Social media itself carries with it many temptations to promote self. This blog, even, could be criticized as nothing more than self-glorification, although my prayer is that Jesus makes much more of it than that (since I sincerely felt a leading to do it). But I confess that it is a constant temptation to want more people to read it or tweet about it or at least be provoked to think about their function as the church because of it. Technology can be used to encourage and equip and challenge people toward growth in Christ, bringing glory to Him and making Him known. But it can also be used to highlight self and bring glory to self and make self known. Of that we must be prayerful and cautious.
Technology can be selflessly purposeful, but it can also be very self-indulgent. We can get sucked into using technology to gratify our own desires and wishes. We want a flashier Sunday morning gathering, but are we forking over big bucks for better tech that may have a wiser kingdom investment? We want to be the cool church in town with the app, but is it a tool for equipping, or does it take more attention to create and maintain than actually equipping people? We feel justified to read articles for personal growth or look at images that temporarily satisfy an indulgent craving, but are those things connecting me closer with Jesus and my neighbor or hindering my connection? Regarding these we must beg for wisdom.
(3) False sense of Community.
Friends and followers in the virtual world do not always translate into disciple-making friendships and Christ-followers in the actual world. We can even become more attentive to how many followers and friends we have technologically speaking and ignore taking initiative to befriend and walk along with the lost and lonely. It gives us a sense of community to interact using social media and texting and web meetings, but is it resulting in authentic community and closeness and unity around Jesus? We need to be aware of these snares and allow tech to enhance relationships, not replace them.
Eugene Peterson has written and taught about the fact that the printing press and now the internet have been both helpful and hurtful tools for the church. While the printing press and the internet made the Bible and Biblical teaching and Biblical resources more available and accessible, have they also made us as people less available and less accessible? For example, as Peterson has pointed out, the printing press moved people from reading the Bible as an “us” to an “I,” because people were required to gather in close-knit community to even be able to study the Scriptures before individual Bibles were available. The same could be said for the internet. LiveStreaming and Podcasts have certainly been tools God has used to propagate the Gospel by means impossible prior to their invention. However, now that they are so common, people are less likely to see their need for a local body of believers with whom they can actually learn and experience the Gospel of Jesus. May we use these tools well, but may we remember the necessity of relationship.
Tech is helpful and tech is hurtful. The same can be said of most anything, I guess. The point is that we need not use technology without prayer and thought and intentionality and boundaries, or else it may well disfunction us from the function Jesus intended for His church.