Erasing or Embracing Technology For Ministry

beyond the screenBy Nathan Taylor, a student at Union Presbyterian Seminary.

When I learned elementary school arithmetic I didn’t understand why calculators weren’t allowed.  A teacher told me I wouldn’t always have a calculator with me.  At the time I was wearing a Casio calculator watch, which I thought was definitive proof she was wrong.  And while I don’t wear a watch anymore I always have a calculator with me.

I heard a quote once about a teacher complaining that her students were too reliant on paper, that her students didn’t know how to use a slate without getting messy and they couldn’t clean it properly.  What would they do when they ran out of paper?

Or artists that can’t create their own paint, what will they do when they run out of a color and have no clue where the pigments come from?

There seems to an anti-technology trend in society that is based on scarcity—an assumption that ‘you won’t always have what you currently have so you better learn how to do things the way I want you to.’

The scarcity excuse in my mind is simply a design to bemoan the changes taking place that things aren’t what they used to be and we must find a reason to keep things the same.

In youth ministry technology is a topic of hot debate.

Beyond the Screen: Youth Ministry for the Connected but Alone Generation by Andrew Zirschky adds some incredible insights to the discussion.

Technology in churches usually runs in one of two paths.  We either embrace it whole heartedly and try to use the biggest brightest screens to capture our youth’s attention, or we ban some form of technology like forcing youth to surrender their cell phones as they enter into a basket.

Andrew points out that these two practices are based on myths.  First the moth myth assumes that youth are drawn to screens like moths to a flame.  If this were true the biggest brightest screen would hold the attention of youth when the reality the one in their hands is far more powerful.  Andrew shows that this is because of the networking capabilities of the screen in their hands.  Cell phones offer a way of being present to people you care about without being physically with them.  It offers a way to connect to others that is never off.  In a world where so many fear being alone, cell phones offer a reality where you never are.

I know when I get scared alone in a building the first thing I do is call someone I care about and suddenly I’m not alone in the building anymore.

The second myth he points out is the basket myth that youth just need the distractions taken away and then they will be attentive.  But we know this is not true, do we really think inattention didn’t exist before cell phones?

I think most youth ministers go back and forth without developing a theology around technology and its use.

I insist on the use of screens as part of youth ministry but I have also used to the ‘no cell phones policy.  I just did it a little differently.

The UNICEF Tap Project is a project where for every 5 minuets you don’t touch your smart phone backers provide one day of clean drinking water for someone else.  So at the beginning of youth group all youth and leaders would set their phones on the Lord’s Table.  It was fun to track and see how much funding was being released through our sacrifice.  The problem is I was perpetuating a system of banning technology.

Andrew points out that we are going about things backwards we need to start with a theology of what it means to be a youth group and then figure out where technology does or does not fit in.

His theology is one of an indwelling of the trinity and an understanding of the trinity as 3 persons constantly self-emptying into the others.  And this is what our ministry should look like a community self-emptying into each other and the stranger.

Basically we should actually care about the people we are in community with.

From this starting point we realize the importance of being present to the people in the room and to those outside the room that we are thinking of.

This leads to his brilliant rule “Be here or be someplace else.”

Sometimes being present to the group can use technology, sometimes it shouldn’t.  But what we need to focus on is being ever present to our community of faith.

If our goal is a community constantly communicating and caring for each other then technology is the only way to do it when our communities are so geographically separated during the week.

You should definitely read the book.

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