A Pastor's Perspective
“Things are changing so rapidly we lose the ability to be oriented,” says Tim Day, a Tyndale alumnus and lead pastor of The Meeting House in Oakville, Ontario. “With technology we can push something good to the extreme so that it actually becomes bad.”
How do we make sure that doesn’t happen? “Wisdom,” says Tim. Just as parents need wisdom to guide their children’s use of technology, the church needs wisdom to determine what the core, timeless, global messages are that we need to get out to the world. “It has more to do with the message than the medium,” says Tim, although he adds “the wine and the wineskin can’t be separated.”
The Oakville Meeting House videotapes their weekend teaching times, electronically distributes the video to the ten other Meeting House sites in Ontario to be used the following Sunday, and uploads the teaching onto their website and iTunes. Teaching pastor Bruxy Cavey uses Twitter and Facebook regularly, different sites have Facebook groups and The Meeting House has a comprehensive website that uses videos to introduce the concept of the home church.
“Some parts of the message can be communicated through a video, but processing an idea doesn’t happen in an online chat-based format,” says Tim. “Emotion can’t be typed. People need people, in groups, in real-time, and the home churches make face-to-face time possible.” At The Meeting House sites, Sunday mornings are for public teaching, but church happens in the “home church” setting where people sit in chairs facing each other instead of facing forward.
The lack of “people facing each other” is part of what concerns Tim about technology. “Personal privatized communication is happening at any time,” says Tim. There are no external witnesses. Through Facebook, for example, people are having emotional affairs. These online relationships are threatening marriages. At present, it may be that the Church lacks the critical awareness necessary to start wrestling with the negative aspects of technology.
“Humans are always looking for an escape,” says Tim, and one of the downsides of technology is the relentless opportunity the Internet provides for those who want to escape. The escape can be as benign as going on Facebook to chat with someone when you should be working, or something as dangerous as child pornography. Tim recalls a disturbing experience of seeing Facebook and pornography collide. He was already aware of how girls are altering their appearances online with Photoshop and other software programs, but was truly shocked when a friend of his daughter uploaded a photo of herself in a pornographic pose. No one was coercing her to pose this way; she was willingly “sexualizing and objectifying” herself – essentially for the whole world to see.
The advantage of technology from a Kingdom perspective is that we have a new Roman road system beyond what we can imagine. Tim believes that the Apostle Paul’s reaction to the Internet would have been “‘What?!’ He would have been so pumped!” He contends that Paul would have seen it as a way to connect people with the truth about who Jesus is. Although it possesses negative aspects, technology also has great potential. People can be more honest and real online. In a coffee, shop people open up a little. On Facebook, they open up a lot. The medium allows safety, but there is also a confessional aspect to it that can be dangerous. Tim was speaking with one woman on Facebook who opened up to him about her illness. She soon realized she had told Tim things that she really needed to tell her husband.
Technology can provide a safe place, a non-threatening way to bring people into community. Tim likens it to the thin rope sent across a river to save someone. Once the thin rope is across, a heavy rope, strong enough to take a person’s weight, can be attached to it and sent to the other side. But technology can also take the darker things underground. We need a “sturdy spirituality,” says Tim. As Christians we can’t be “shocked, gasping and freaking out” about emotional dating and pornography because this will send it further underground. Technology provides the creative power to create a false world and there are already so many hidden things happening in our world. Christians need the wisdom to react without judgment to the obvious darker side of technology, but we also need the wisdom to know how to use technology well.
When it comes to using technology in the church, the temptation can be to try to keep up with the world. “It’s a losing game,” says Tim. “Just because you can, should you?” We need to pay attention to what flows naturally when we make Jesus’ message central, while remembering that Jesus is the Lord of creativity. The Meeting House has experimented with different branding techniques but “trying to present everything in a branded way is too much,” says Tim. “Seekers never talk about technology or branding – they just want to be able to talk and think about the message.”
Tim apologizes for beating the home church drum, but for him that is where the “green-house incubation for the spiritual life” takes place. It’s where new Christians can discern the best practices for the use of technology, where people can be challenged to a simple life, where they can realize they need to create margins and where praying for wisdom happens. The process of discussion is as important as the outcome and it might also be what helps create a safe place for healthy confession. “Real community is the best answer,” says Tim, and it’s what the church has to offer. “The deepest work can only happen face-to-face – we need to see and feel grace,” says Tim. “Technology helps keep real-time connectedness between face-to-face meetings.”
We need wisdom, especially in our interaction with a younger generation that can’t remember a world before Facebook. This generation connects to people very differently than previous ones. “They don’t have a loyalty based on being part of a group but only go where there is relevance and meaning.” They can’t engage in an old way of thinking, and Tim posits that the whole premise of church is irrelevant to them. “Church can’t be a controlled idea dispenser anymore – it has to focus less on keeping programs going and focus more on helping people live in their communities,” adds Tim.
Tim’s own personal relationship with technology as a pastor at The Meeting House includes the duality of it having the greatest potential and posing the greatest threat. It will only be in our own personal face-to-face communions with God that we gain the wisdom needed to manage this duality.