When Sofia, my first daughter was born, Baylor hospital showed us the latest technology they had implemented in their new facilities. The room had an HD camera connected to the Internet. With a simple private code we could connect through video with anybody around the world who wanted to see us. A year later, a day after my daughter died, a missionary friend serving in the jungles of Myanmar called us from the middle of nowhere through his satellite cellphone to encourage us and pray with us. Last year, when my baby sister got married in another country, I connected through FaceTime so I could witness the wedding I could not attend in person.
New technologies have revolutionized the way we live, shaping the way we experience the joys and tragedies of life. They have also shaped the way we minister in the church, bringing with it new opportunities, dilemmas and challenges. How should I, as the Lead Pastor of Ethnos Bible Church think about the intersection between technology, theology and ministry?
In the book Good to Great, Jim Collins warns us that even though technology can be a positive factor, great organizations think differently about technology when compared to mediocre organizations. What is the difference? Mediocre organizations have a copycat attitude about technology—they do things because others are doing it. Mediocre organizations are also shallow thinkers—they rush into technological investments without thinking carefully about its implications. In contrast, great organizations only use those technologies that are aligned with their core ideology. Collins points out, “Indeed, thoughtless reliance on technology is a liability, not an asset. Yet, when used right—when linked to a simple, clear, and coherent concept rooted in deep understanding—technology is an essential driver in accelerating forward momentum.” He further asks, “Does the technology fit directly with your Hedgehog Concept? If yes, then you need to become a pioneer in the application of that technology. If no, then ask, do you need this technology at all?”
Collins asks a good question that is not always easy to answer. In the book Networked Theology, authors Heidi Campbell and Stephen Garner present a framework intended to help us discern the theological “hedgehog concept” that should affect our use of technology in ministry. They argue that technology should be approached neither as positive nor negative but as neutral. It should be used in alignment with our call to love our neighbor, as well as our call to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. They advice us to pay close attention to the relationship between technology and our ecclesiastical historical context, the compatibility of our church values and the values intrinsic in the use of the technology, and to accept or reject technology in light of its compatibility with our faith.
I share the view of technology described in Networked Theology. I think of technology as a tool that can be beneficial or harmful depending on its compatibility with our divine identity as well its alignment with our ministry’s mission and vision. As Collin suggests, I believe that wise leaders do not rush into using technology but think carefully about its use. Yet, thinking takes time, dialogue, and must be accompanied with the willingness to take risks.
Currently, there are certain opportunities and challenges we are facing in our ministry that require that balance between thinking and risking. Some of the benefits that have enhanced community and efficiency include using a Facebook closed group for our members in order to share personal updates, prayer requests, or important announcements. We are also using WebEx to have some of our team meetings so people with young kids or those traveling can meet in the evening no matter their location. About 60 percent of the people attending our Spanish Bible study do so through WebEx too, which is making us reconsider how to approach that ministry this year. Also, early on Sunday mornings, one of our members leads a discipleship mentorship session with a new believer in China through Skype. Despite these great uses of technology, we are facing some technological challenges that hinder fellowship. Should we request our youth not to use their cellphones until after church? Should we ask parents to avoid giving their kids mobile devices while at church? If I am in a meeting, should I answer my cellphone or ignore it (unless is my wife calling, of course)?
These are not easy questions to answer. There are benefits and challenges in the use of technology, and reading Collins, Campbell and Garner has given me some helpful insights as I continue to discern how to harness the power of technology for the benefit of the Kingdom.
 Good to Great, 159
 Ibid, 153.