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The Benefits of Technology in the Church

The Benefits of Technology in the Church

by Derek Sanford on September 20, 2021

Thanks for stopping by for our third installment in our technology-based series called “Analog Life in a Digital World”. If you haven’t already, consider checking out our first post in the series.

Throughout this series, there may have been a nagging question for some of you… We’ve been encouraging you to be diligent about monitoring screen time and even reducing the number of hours per week that you personally are tied to technology. But if you look around our church and are even slightly observant, you might ask, “well doesn’t the church seem to be using a lot of technology?” Many of you are watching this worship service on a screen, we have screens all through our buildings, our reading plans are on apps, we make extensive use of video to share our stories and messages. You may be thinking, hey pastor, you can you be telling US to curb our technology usage when the church itself seems to be using so much technology? Good question. Thanks for asking! In this post, we’ll talk about the benefits of technology in the modern church. 

A Quick History Lesson: Technological Innovation in the Church

Think about this... In the 13th century pews were added to the church experience for the first time. For the first 1200 years of church history people stood up for the services. Nobody seems to be complaining about that one anymore! In the 14th C, the first organ was introduced. Again highly controversial! This caused havoc in the church. That instrument played the devil’s music. It was the ancient version of what electric guitars and drums were back in the worship wars of the 80’s. And similarly, many of the old hymns were highly controversial as well. You see, in the Medieval world, most worship music was what you’d call “high church” – think opera. The average person couldn’t sing it. Hymn writers were trying to create songs that ordinary people could sing – so they began to borrow the music of the secular culture around them.

Pastor Stephen mentioned in the first in this series that In the 16th Century the invention of the printing press was the latest and greatest technology. It changed the church forever. One concern of many Christians was the kind of smut that could be produced and widely circulated on paper. So, the church resisted. But it was the printing press allowed the bible to get into the hands of the people. It also allowed Martin Luther’s 95 Thesis which called out the church’s corruption, to be widely distributed.

There are many more examples of the church initially resisting technology, but fast forward to the 19th and 20th C. The radio was invented, some worried that the devil’s music was now on the airwaves. TV came along and there was an outcry. Think of all the smut that is going right into people’s living rooms! The most common bible verse taken out of context was Ephesians 2 that called Satan the “prince of the power of the air” and so that must mean that Satan owns the airwaves.

Starting to see the point? Most technology by itself is morally neutral. It’s not good or evil, but it can be used for both. It is another tool that can be redeemed for great good. More recently, in 1990 we had the launch of the world wide web. Just a few decades ago. Think about the implications it has made. I preach a message like this, it is being shown in different cities, and on Facebook, YouTube, our online platform, on iTunes in the form of a podcast. Think about the multiplication of just one message. 

The Church Must Learn from History

So why am I telling you all of this? Because yes, the church has always had a dubious relationship with technology. And we probably should be slow to weigh God’s discernment in all things. But we also mustn’t fall into the traps of our history where change was rejected just because it was change. We have to accept the good, reject the bad and learn to follow Jesus well through it all. So, all series we’ve said that as individuals we need to be very mindful of establishing clear boundaries with our screen time and media intake. We need to be very aware of the addictive nature of technology, but we also know that technology can be used for the sake of the gospel. Just like the printing press, and the radio, and amplification, and TV and motion pictures. Our church doesn’t use the internet and social media and podcasts for the sake of being cool, but because the most common communication pipeline of our time between people and the church goes through technology. It's simply a delivery system that we’re leveraging to tell the best news in the history of the world. If Coca Cola can use it to sell sugar water, how much more important that we use it to tell people about Jesus. And just like William Booth and those bar tunes and just like Martin Luther and that printing press and just like Billy Graham reclaiming the devil’s TV airwaves, let’s take the technology now available to us and use it to expand the kingdom of God

We can leverage technology for God’s glory 

Let's dive into into 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. Remember, Paul is the greatest missionary of all time. He left his home on three extended missionary journeys around the known world at that time. He started new churches in the cities he visited, he broke down cultural and racial and ethnic and gender barriers wherever he went. One of the things you need to understand in order to get the urgency of all of this is the core belief that every Christian is a witness for Christ. You may not travel the world to start new churches, but you have a calling to share Christ with your neighbor, to share the love of Christ with your co-workers and family members. 

One of the core callings of every church like ours is to reach more people with the good news that Jesus died for them. We talked last month about our Core Value called Outward Focus. That the people outside our walls are just as important as people inside. In Paul’s day, the religious leaders were very tied to tradition and rules and laws. They wanted to be faithful to truth. Paul wanted to be faithful too, but he also wanted the message to be flexible so that more people could be reached. Look at how he describes is in 1 Corinthians 9 starting in verse 19.

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

ALL things to ALL people by ALL means I might save some. We see here the driving force of Paul’s passion in verse 23, he says it’s for the sake of the gospel. I always want to remind you that this word ‘gospel’ just means good news. He’s simply referring to the good news that Jesus came and died for our sins and rose again so that we might be adopted as children of God. Paul says because THAT message is so important, I’ll go to great lengths to spread the word.

There are two words that summarize Paul’s approach in this regard and they offer some guidance to us as well. He wants to be Faithful and Flexible. He still wants to be faithful in the process of sharing the gospel. There are limiting factors – he wouldn’t cross over into sin. So, notice he didn’t say to the drunk I became a drunk. To the child-molester I became a child-molester. To reach more adulterers I started cheating on my wife. To reach porn stars I became a porn star. No, he wants to be faithful to the gospel in the process of spreading the gospel. But he also wants to be flexible.

At the same time, he’s saying, listen the gospel is not rigid. It needs to be translated into a variety of cultures, a variety of backgrounds and generations, and religious persuasions. We need to be flexible with the gospel in order to reach people. I’ve heard it stated before, we’ll do anything short of sin to reach people with the gospel. So, when Paul starts evangelizing in Jewish circles, he starts acting more like a Jew.” So he goes up to Jerusalem, and some of the authorities say, “You know, it’d be a really good thing if you took on a vow connected with the temple.” And so, Paul did. He was prepared to flex. That’s also what he did with Timothy. Paul says, “I want Timothy to come with me on these missionary trips. But we’re going into the heart of the Jewish world, and everybody knows he was never circumcised, and it will hurt his credibility. So, Timothy gets circumcised as a grown adult so that he and Paul can share the gospel among the people they’re trying to reach. That’s commitment right there. He didn’t take his stand on a secondary issue and say no Chiristian should be circumcised, that’s the old law we don’t follow that anymore. No, he said you don’t have to – you’re free from that – and on the other hand it’s certainly not a sin to do it, so for the sake of the gospel, I’ll become like a Jew. One of the charges against Paul in Galatia was that he went too far, he was a man-pleaser, changed his message to fit the audience. Jesus was accused of this all the time – eating with sinners – he’s a compromiser. He’s not being faithful. But Paul saw this as a function of his flexibility. That we can be faithful to the gospel, but we should also be flexible in different cultural contexts. “To the Jew, I became like a Jew. To the Muslim, I became like a Muslim. To the postmodern I became like a postmodern.” We must be equally committed to both faithfulness and flexibility.

This is why I’ve become so wary of Christians tying their identities to secondary issues. We are so quick to slap these banners on ourselves, I’m an anti-vaxxer, back the blue, I’m a black lives matter, I’m a build the wall, double masker, whatever the cause is – so many people tend to wear that cause upfront – taking on the identity. And even though it’s your right to do so – you’re free to do so – Paul is saying here in :19 I lay down my rights, I lay down my freedoms, I lay down my banners, and I make myself a servant to all people so that I might win some of them. The only identity that matters is your identity as ambassador of the most-high God and the only scandal that should stand in someone’s way of meeting him is the scandal of the cross. You don’t need to put up any more barriers than that. 

Now I want you to see one more phrase in our text before we talk about the implications. In verse 22 Paul’s famous line, he says I have become all things to all people now notice this next phrase, “that by all means,” I might win some. He says whatever means I have at my disposal; I’m going to use them to win people. I said that the gospel is good news. It’s news –which means it’s something that needs to be communicated. So one of the things we always need to look at is what means are available to communicate this news? What are the means available to us to speak the language of our culture? Where are people gathering, and talking, and debating and considering the issues of our time? That’s where the church needs to be. This has looked different in different eras.

The Age of the Internet

We find ourselves in the heart of another revolution. It’s the age of the internet – our version of Roman Roads. The greatest communication tool of all time. Can the internet be used for harm? Yes obviously. But it can be leveraged for the gospel too. As our big idea states – we can leverage technology for God’s glory. As Paul said, so that by all available means, I might win some.

The internet is a neutral tool. A neutral tool can be used for great good or great harm. Just like a hammer could be used to build a house for a needy family OR that same hammer could be used to break into a house and steal all of that family’s belongings – the hammer itself is neutral. As a church and as individuals we must decide how we’re going to use these tools, screens, the internet, social media. How to leverage them for God’s glory. So let me share with you 3 Ways the Church Can Leverage Technology for God’s Glory.

3 Ways the Church Can Leverage Technology

1. As a tool to connect people with God every day

Many of you know that we’ve been doing a lot of work in this area over the past few years. There’s a phrase that we’ve adopted that says we want to help you to move your faith from weekly to daily. From a weekly church service to a daily walk with God. You have 168 hours each week to live your life. 168 hours to work with purpose, and love your friends, and honor your spouse, and be a great influence on your kids or grandkids, and serve the community. 168 hours to work, sleep, eat, relate, and recuperate. Now if I were to ask you how many of those hours were God’s; the ideal answer would be all 168! That we live every day, every hour as unto the Lord. But many of us struggle to do that. Part of the problem is that many of you are relying on one hour with God on Sunday to carry you through the other 167. And for most– you’re not even here every Sunday because of other stuff – so now it’s 1 hour to try to sustain 336 hours of life (2 weeks) or 504 if you let it go for 3 weeks. Your faith can’t be sustained by one hour per week. It needs to be walked out every day.

We’re committed to continuing to provide daily resources like the Weekly to Daily journal that we’re distributing with this series and our website at whoisgrace.com/READ which is just loaded with resources, and our whoisgrace app to give you a daily roadmap for your faith. As you have surely heard, we are really excited to partner with the YouVersion bible app to provide resources there as well that can potentially reach millions of people. I also think of the worship playlists that we provide on Spotify. And our podcasts that are meant to encourage your walk throughout the week at different times of the year. We just know that technology can be leveraged as a tool to connect people with God every day. The second way we leverage technology is,

2. As a tool to network people with one another

Many of you have heard the phrase 6 Degrees of separation. It is based on real scientific study in 1967 by Harvard Professor Stanley Milgram. Who asked his students to help him find out how many acquaintances it takes to connect two randomly selected people in different parts of the world. I won’t take the time to explain the whole experiment - if you’re interested – that’s why God made google. But the conclusion was that the most common number of intermediate people between 2 random people anywhere in the world was 5.5. Less than 6 degrees of separation. In other words, despite the complexity of our world, we are all just a few handshakes away from everyone else. It’s a small world. If that was true in 1967 how much more true is it right now with the internet and social media? The world has never been more connected.

3. As a tool to reach more people with the gospel

From the beginning, Jesus’ vision was that the church would be global movement. He said, go into all the world and make disciples. It’s never been more possible to reach the world than it is right now. I said earlier that one of our values is being outward-focused. And this is hard because the gravitational pull of every single church is inward. It’s tempting for us to get a great facility, sit around and pay it off, get fat and happy, and ride off into the sweet by and by. But the church is a hospital for sinners and not a country club for the saints. So, our church must constantly operate with a missionary mindset and make missionary decisions. If you were going to a village in another country as a missionary to start a new church – you’d look at the tools at your disposal –here’s my bible. Now, what is the music of this culture, how do people communicate in this culture, what is the language they speak, now how do I take the gospel and put it through the filters of this culture so that it makes sense to them so that I can reach this group of people? How can I be both faithful and flexible, as Paul taught us? It’s why, at Grace, we try to stay current with music, with technology, with social media– these are missionary decisions intended to reach a culture.

I remember standing before a group in this church a couple of decades ago as we were going through a version of church worship wars – deciding what style of music can we play in church? I asked the group who were mostly over 65 y/o how many would give up their lives for their grandchildren if it came to reaching them with the love of Christ– how many would give up your life? Every hand was raised high and proud. And then I asked, now how many would give up your music preference for 20 minutes on a Sunday morning if that would help to reach them? Everyone got the point. These are missionary decisions. Laying aside my rights and freedoms and preferences, and willing to become all things to all people so that I might win some. Do you know the main place conversations are happening these days? The main place people are networking? The main place people are buying and selling, where they’re dating, where they’re having life and death conversations? Online. That’s where the church needs to be too. It’s a missionary decision to go where the people are.

Technology Isn’t Evil

All this to say, we don’t believe technology is evil. It has amazing potential to be used and leveraged to connect people with God every day, network people with one another, and reach more people with the gospel. As we leverage it – we want to follow Paul’s guard rails and be both faithful and flexible. I remind you today, that the mission of the church is not to make sure that things are going OK inside our building while the rest of the world goes to Hell.

The mission of Christ’s church is to locate as many people who haven’t yet tasted the love and grace and relationship that flows from the living God and provide them with a compelling opportunity to respond to His love.  Especially in this season of COVID still plaguing our world, there are people who never knew that they needed Jesus, never knew that they needed a church until right this moment. We want to take the church to them by any means available to us. May God be with us as we leverage technology for his glory.

Next Steps

As a personal next step, I would encourage you to continue to practice the mealtime challenge but also consider one way that you can leverage technology for good. Ask God to help you pick one to work on, could you leverage technology to

  1. connect with God everyday
  2. network with others
  3. reach someone with the gospel

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