6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Genesis 3:6
So when did the lowly apple come to represent the fall of mankind?
The bible is not specific about the variety of fruit that leads Adam and Eve astray. A fascinating article on NPR traces the history of how this innocuous fruit became the predominant symbol of original sin.
That being said, perhaps the actual date an Apple truly triggered the fall of mankind was on January 9, 2007. You know what happened then, right? A small device was introduced by a visionary with a seductive promise.
It was a delight to the eyes, elegant and streamlined, that relied on the tactile expression of your fingers – not keyboards or styluses – to operate. Deceptively simple, it opened a heretofore unknown world of possibilities – both good and evil.
The device was the Apple iPhone, and we’ve been wearing our fig leaves ever since.
Ok. So maybe I’m prone to exaggeration. But a quick story:
I recently made a day trip to New York City. While my daughter was in Brooklyn, a friend and I went to dinner in Manhattan. When the bill came, my debit card was declined. My bank had frozen my account, concerned that the charges I’d made in NYC signaled fraudulent activity. I could call them during business hours the next day to have the card unfrozen.
I couldn’t pay for dinner. I couldn’t pay for an Uber to get to my daughter. My iPhone battery was on 5% and about to die. Despite having another credit card I was engulfed in panic and anxiety. What if my phone died? How could I contact my daughter (her number was stored in my dying phone)? What if I had no other form of payment and couldn’t access my banking app? How could I summon a car to get across town? How could I access Google Maps to negotiate the subway? How did I ever visit NYC before I had an iPhone? How did I coordinate with people? How did I function?
It made me take an honest look at the question:
Are we addicted to our devices?
Answering for myself, I think the answer is a big resounding YES. I’m not alone in my additcion or in my opinion that this is a worrisome trend. The Guardian recently featured this perspective and it isn’t pretty.
What do we do as church leaders?
The rise of technology – from the printing press to the iPhone – has always been polarizing for people in ministry. One binary perspective is to see our new technologies as the BEST THING EVER with unlimited potential for evangelistic reach. The opposite perspective is to view technology as a threat to our traditions, and as a destroyer of real interpersonal relationships, and therefore refuse to use it.
But it isn’t that simple.
In addition to being addicted to my iPhone, I am the Director of Digital Ministry and a contemplative Christian. This admittedly odd combination means I often take a non-dualistic approach to how churches should utilize technology.
First and foremost, I believe in a Digital Golden Rule for churches, and all of my other thoughts derive from it.
Digital Golden Rule: digital technology is never a stand-alone ministry. Digital technology extends, enhances, and enriches existing ministries.
And to clarify, authentic ministry is never informational. It’s always relational. If it isn’t about relationships, it isn’t ministry.
So with that in mind, how do churches use technology in a way that is life-giving, relational, and healthy? How do church communicators and educators and ministers not contribute to an unhealthy obsession with technology? How do we ensure that our informational communications – which are logistically necessary – are always defined in terms of relational ministry?
First, let’s acknowledge that technology isn’t going away. It’s here to stay. It’s where people gather in ways that are both healthy and unhealthy. And let’s also remember that Jesus didn’t hang out in the temple to do his work; he hung out with prostitutes and lepers and tax collectors. Today he might hang out at the Apple Store Genius Bar.
Second, let’s remember that where two are three are gathered in His name, Jesus is present. That includes the virtual space. We cannot neglect this space in the ways that we gather.
So with that in mind, some concrete suggestions:
Model healthy behavior and etiquette in our own usage. For any of us who are millennials or older, our communication norms, practices, and expectations were set in an era that pre-dated smart phones. This is a double-whammy for the younger people in our lives. As they learn to navigate interpersonal relationships that are intrinsically interwoven with digital communications, they are not only trying to figure it out themselves but they are doing so without role models. As adults, the responsibility is on us to catch up! Rather than posting on Facebook criticizing young people’s lack of interpersonal skills, we need to pursue a crash course in how to be in relationship with others in a way that includes healthy technology use. Our young people need us. To work on our own addictive practices, a quick search on “apps to help limit phone use” offers a variety to choose from. This article outlines a few.
Two other sites with great resources for families with young children or any adult who wants to be intentional about their digital practices are:
- The Resources section of the Screenagers website – and I recommend subscribing to the Tech Talk Tuesday blog.
- Common Sense Media website. There is a wealth of useful information here. Check out Family Guides and Parent Concerns; and for Educators, the Digital Citizenship section.
Support those in our congregations regardless of how digitally savvy or engaged they are. This might take the form of:
- Making sure important news is shared across both digital and non-digital platforms. Some people read the service bulletin for announcements; some read the weekly email newsletter. As challenging as it is to promote events and share information across multiple platforms, we need to do it. Furthermore, social media is wonderful for building community, but it isn’t always a good way to reach everyone. Algorithms over which we have no control dictate that only a fraction of the people who Like or Follow our accounts will actually see what we post.
- Making sure to carve out both digital and non-digital gathering spaces. Just as a Facebook group targeting parents might appeal to a subset of the congregation who can’t gather in person, a regular gathering at a coffee shop might appeal to those who are on their computer all day and crave face-to-face interaction. We need to know our target audiences. We need to identify where they prefer to gather and meet them there.
- Making sure to facilitate logistical details (registrations, payments, newsletters) in both digital and non-digital ways. Online signups are great. They alleviate participants having to show up and drop off a form in the church office. They take away the burden of trying to decipher illegible handwriting. But they may not be an option for parishioners who don’t have access to a computer or other device. By all means we should offer online registrations; but we also might have a station at coffee hour with a few folks on laptops to help register those who can’t do so on their own. Likewise with payment processing – while online payments are preferred by many people, there will be those who don’t wish to or can’t pay online. We need to allow the option of paying at the door or by dropping off a check. As for newsletters, a weekly email is inexpensive, easy, and probably the best way to share logistical details; however a few people will still require a hard copy. We need to chose platforms that allow for both.
Overall, with each post, article, banner, blog, and announcement, we need to consider whether it supports a relational approach to our church’s digital and non-digital engagement strategies. We need to always consider how each communications piece, digital or non-digital, will enhance existing relationships or how it might help extend our ministry into relationship with new people. Digital technology, like all of our other communications platforms, is neither a panacea or a curse, but an opportunity to build the kingdom of God. And if a snake says that we need the new iPhone 8 right now, maybe we should hold out a little longer.
- Lisa Brown
Our goal at Membership Vision is to help churches and other faith communities to tell their stories in the digital space. Each church, irrespective of size, has a living and active story to tell, and technology provides an opportunity to share that story in a way that is welcoming and engaging. We ease the burden of keeping communications current, by leveraging content, and harnessing the many ways that members of our communities connect with each other, both inside and outside of the church walls. We aim to remove technological hurdles and allow churches to communicate online in an effective and sustainable way. Contact us email@example.com or call (805) 626-0143 to talk about the ways we can help your church build a digital presence.
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New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.