Technology is risky but helpful, pastors say

One of the challenges facing the church today is the culture of technology, said Baptist World Alliance (BWA) General Secretary Neville Callam.

Baptist World Alliance

Callam was speaking May 22 at a reception he hosted for pastors in the Washington Metropolitan Area at the international offices of the BWA in Falls Church, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, DC.

Callam, drawing on studies conducted by Albert Borgmann, a professor of philosophy at the University of Montana in the United States, said technology is not a neutral tool nor an unambiguous gift, but that, according to Borgmann, "technology is inhospitable to Christianity." Technology "competes with grace as the dominant background of life," Borgmann claims, because "cyberspace ... has swamped [us] and softened [us] ... and has left us with a world that raises in a radically new way the question of how God is present to us today."

Callam supported Borgmann's description of cyberspace as "the glamorous fog that settles on all that is. It muffles when it does not deaden the sweet sound of amazing grace." Christians, he said, need "to dispel the seductive mist of cyberspace and to see it as a challenging backdrop" so that "grace can emerge with new vigor."

The church may need to make use of available technology, even while being aware of the risks and dangers Borgmann and others have identified, Callam asserted. Callam went on to introduce some of the initiatives the BWA is pursuing in the area of technology.

Pastors at the reception, many of whom are technologically savvy, echoed some of the concerns expressed by the BWA leader. Technology, if not applied properly, can be a distraction, it was observed. Churches should not view technology as a means to solve all their problems and it should not be seen or used as a means to "better market the church."

One struggle that congregations have is to find persons to run a church's media and technology program who are both technologically competent and theologically sensitive.

The value of technology was acknowledged by the group of pastors, who were from Northern Virginia, Southern Maryland and Washington, DC.  Technology can help to enhance worship services, such as broadcasting reports, live or delayed, from fellow congregants and other Christians who are on the mission field. Technology is also useful in helping to tell personal and inspirational stories and testimonies, and in establishing connectivity among Christians and the wider community.

Social media can help to bring people together, even in times of disaster. One story was of a Washington, DC, area congregation that, a few years ago, held a worship service – via social media – after a heavy blizzard that made travel to church dangerous and difficult.  In another instance, another congregation, this time in Mexico, held a worship service over the Internet after the government placed a moratorium on public gatherings due to the swine flu outbreak.

Despite concerns on what constitutes sacred space and about the theology of worship, the role and place of technology in the life of teens and young adults, and even among older persons, cannot be denied.

Several churches represented at the reception reported having "technology labs" to assist persons in their congregations to get acquainted with technology. Useful information can be had by pastors being part of social media, as that is how a pastor may discover, sometimes to his or her surprise, "what is happening in the life of church members."

BWA General Secretary Callam hosts two "coffee receptions" each year for Baptist pastors in the Washington Metropolitan area, usually in the spring and in the fall.