Whether we like it or not technology is a significant part of all of our lives including children and young people. So the question is – does our faith speak to this and how can the church engage with technology in a healthy way?
Often I hear in Church circles strong and fast criticism of technology. I know myself at times getting frustrated in meetings when a young person is on the phone when we are trying to talk things through. I am not a digital native, I am a digital immigrant. I have not grown up with technology as my first go to. I still like paper and pen to reflect sometimes. Saying that I spend a significant amount of time on technology. My friendships and community are maintained through technology, these days most of my reading happens online (although I like others, still like a good paper book!), all my work is done through technology.
Whether we like it or not technology is now a significant part of the world most of us live in and if we are honest it actually serves us very well.
What we need to realise as a church, to merely criticize young people for their use of technology only works to put a large gap between the church and young people, particularly as it just seems to add to the long list of hypocrisies that young people see in the Church. (My daughter is very quick to remind me of my own social media habits when I criticize hers!)
The reality is you can now access nearly every translation of the Bible on your phone, young people take notes on their phone, they communicate with their friends in the same room, on their phone.
I recently read a book – Beyond the Screen – Youth Ministry for the Connected but not Alone Generation by Andrew Zirschky. I loved the stance that he takes on technology as a starting point, he suggested ideas about using technology to encourage his small group to pastorally care for each other, including sending them imogi’s when they walked out of the room. He uses the bible online in his study groups and they access some of the broad and wide resources to explore faith.
It is not often that you come across a book that articulates much of what you have been thinking about a topic, this one is an exception. Zirschky unpacks many of the myths and assumptions about young people and their technology and explores how some of these are helpful and how some are harmful, but he also goes on to talk about how Christian concepts can speak into their lives and situations in meaningful and RELLEVANT ways.
At the end of the day our faith is about relationship. Relationship with God, relationship with each other, relationship with our neighbours and with the other. Technology can actually facilitate and help this. As a Church are we using it in this way or is it becoming a judgmental blockage?
It is frustrating when young people don’t behave or react in a way that we are used to or expect, how do we then engage young people in a loving way to see what their world is like on the other side of the screen? Have we allowed it to become a barrier to relationships rather than a conduit?
I began this article sharing my frustration at being in meetings with young people on the phone, what you need to know is that when we talked about it, they were actually taking notes from the meeting on their phone and it is what helps them to concentrate. We have negotiated a happy medium.
Jesus was a person who was continually crossing boundaries, he went into the households where others would not tread, he met people in places of shame. Jesus models for us how to engage in relationship. It is not about sitting in our temple and expecting people to come into our world but to get out and meet people in their world. Lets use technology to learn together and build relationships rather than sitting separated with assumptions.
Karen Mitchell-Lambert is ordained in the ministry of Deacon and is the team leader of PULSE.