It’s no secret that technology and social media are making significant impact around the world. Nearly everywhere you turn, you read or see stories, ways, and instances of how technology and new and social media are changing the very way we see, engage, and interact with the world.
Words like ‘YouTube’, ‘Google’, and ‘Facebook’ have become part of our culture and vernacular. They remind us how fast and how much the world has changed and continues to change.
For example, my wife and I have been married for 15 years. When we began dating, something called “electronic mail” had just started to get some attention. Both my wife and I—then in a long distance relationship—chose not to use email but instead wrote daily letters to each other. Yes, this was the era before Skype.
Our three children—currently aged 13, 11, and 8—marvel at our stories. And in fact, I, too, marvel at how the world around us is changing and changing so fast.
But what does that mean for pastors, leaders, and church communities? How do we become both technologically and theologically savvy?
Not “if” but “why”…
The question faith leaders should ponder is not “if we should engage in technology” because the answer is simple: Yes.
Yes, we should engage in technology and new media because it reflects our cultural context, and we are called to engage our context and culture.
Yes, we should engage technology and new media because it enables leaders to communicate the message of the Gospel in various ways: print, blogs, video, Twitter, Facebook, etc. While we continue to remain committed to the proclamation of the gospel through the “traditional” venues of the Sunday pulpit and weekly Bible studies, we must take advantage of these other opportunities to speak to the great narrative of the scriptures.
Yes, we should engage technology and new media because it enables us to build relationships. We as pastors and leaders no longer have to allow our “pulpit” or sermons to be the only means by which we engage with our congregations or allow others to engage us. We can seek to commit more deeply to making that relationship a two-way street by utilizing various forms of technology and new media to also hear the stories of others.
Yes, we should engage because it helps us to build relationships with our neighbors. In a world today where “walls” are constantly being built, technology and social media helps us to create “windows” by which neighbors, the city, and the larger world can look into our lives and the life of the faith community.
Yes, we should engage technology and new media because it is able to assist in mobilizing the faith community for awareness and action. It has the capacity to help promote causes and convictions and further the mission and ministry of the church community.
Not “if” but “how”…
Clearly, as I shared above, there are numerous reasons why pastors, leaders and faith communities ought to be engaging technology and new media. So the question is not a matter of “if” but rather “why” and “how”—the latter question becoming an increasingly important issue in light of the fact that in essence, people are learning how best to engage the fast changing world of technology and social media.
Leaders ought to be mindful of the increasing “noise” of the world, mindful of how addiction to technology is becoming a growing concern to both children and adults, mindful that we, as leaders, aren’t hiding behind technology but understanding technology and social media as a supplement to the ongoing commitment to personal pastoral care.
Leaders ought to be mindful of personal boundaries. With published reports about the dangers of ministry, technology and social media have further increased expectations of pastors. Boundaries have become more nebulous. Some pastors, themselves, are struggling with technology dependence or addiction.
In short, leaders ought to be committed to wrestling and learning together how we theologically engage technology and various forms of new and social media so that these tools don’t become sources of idolatry but rather effective tools to be used to further the work of God.
Technology is not a savior
While we can all agree on the growing impact of technology and social media in our world, we as pastors, leaders, and faith communities must all remind ourselves that these tools—technology and social media—are not the saviors and “cure-alls” for our personal leadership or our ministries.
We ought to remind ourselves that much of what we depend on and utilize was not even in existence five to ten years ago. Our parents, mentors, and spiritual predecessors made incredible impact without social media. My leadership mentors weren’t on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and the last time I checked, they weren’t using MySpace. They didn’t own a smartphone, an iPhone, 3D phone, iPad, or Blackberry, but a “dumbphone” that just had the capacity to make a phone call. They didn’t Instragram, Foursquare, check-in, Gowherehuh, etc.
My point is simple:
We acknowledge all the various tools that are at our disposal, including technology and social media. They are important in the sense that they enable us to connect to our context, culture, and community, but they are NOT the most important aspects of our leadership or our church ministry. Ultimately, as pastors and leaders of our churches, we are mindful of our personal discipleship, our dependence on the Holy Spirit, our love for the Scriptures, our need for deep community and fellowship, our call as ministers of the Word and Sacrament—and our larger commitment to the Missio Dei.
Eugene Cho is also the founding & lead pastor of Quest Church in Seattle, WA, one of the case studies of the New Media Project, and the founder & executive director of Q Cafe—a non-profit community cafe and music venue in Seattle. He is also the co-founder (with his wife, Minbee) and executive director of One Day’s Wages—“a movement of People, Stories, and Actions to alleviate extreme global poverty.”
The New Media Project at Union Theological Seminary is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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