Tech And The Kingdom - What Is Useful?
A friend recently asked me if I’d heard of an organisation that gets christian programmers involved in using their gifts to further the Kingdom - I’m ambivalent to the idea but I only gave their website a quick browse so I might be being unfair. Anyway, it got me thinking about how us tech people often love to use tech for its own sake, under the guise of advancing the Gospel. Who hasn’t seen the church with the 40 channel sound board or random flat screens that no-one really knows what they do or how to make use of them. So I thought it would be a good idea to have a stab at some guidelines for how tech can advance the Kingdom and when it’s best to leave it alone. As I start writing this I know that (a) I’m going to get some of this wrong and (b) what I do get right is likely not to be fully formed, so please chime in in the comments below, I’d like to continue thinking and writing about this past whenever I manage to finish writing this post!
The first question to ask is is this a good thing to do? It may seem an obvious question but it is really easy to jump straight into something without really thinking it through. Some things are good things to do, some things also further the Kingdom and some things are bad things to do – I won’t differentiate between the first two today but you’ve got to make sure you’re not in the third option. We don’t want to be pouring our precious time, our abilities and our resources into projects that don’t have a worthwhile purpose. It’s worth stopping to think about what the purpose of your project is and whether it’s worth it because there's no middle ground, either it's an Ephesians 2:10 'good work' or you shouldn't be doing it.
Related to that question, is there a pre-existing tool that does the job well enough? I’m not talking about settling for a bad job, but if you can only improve the situation by degrees then it’s likely not worth your time or money. For example, a friend and I once started trying to make a prayer app - we didn’t find PrayerMate’s interface to be quite what we wanted, but making a new app really wasn’t worth our time. The reason we weren’t praying was because we were lazy, not the lack of a good tool. Another example, my church currently meets in a fairly small old church building that is designed with pretty good acoustics - we probably actually don’t even need a sound desk much of the time. Sometimes this question turns into, can a pre-existing tool do it better. Some things just don’t work via a technological medium. About 10 years ago I ran a Christian men’s website, which while it was a good thing to do it couldn’t achieve its aims by nature of it being a website - a local small group would have been far more successful.
More important than the previous two questions, are you trying to further the Kingdom via technology in a way that means you miss out on opportunities right in front of you? The communication quality equation usually goes something like this
Written < Audio < Video < Physically Present
Ministry is always going to be more effective when those you are ministering to are physically present. Of course, given the fact that I’m writing a blog on this means I think it’s still worthwhile, but we’ve got to be careful - like with the website I ran - that it’s not getting in the way of doing better quality ministry in our church and to our neighbours.
Finally, and most important, will it glorify you or will it glorify Christ? Any technology from the printing press to the 3D printer can be used in way that glorifies ourselves. Do I want to use the latest and greatest sound equipment to show off how great a sound engineer I am, or because I want the word of God to be heard clearly? Is this website feature pointing to Christ or to my awesome coding skills? Yes, we glorify God by doing the best job we can in service of his Kingdom, directly and indirectly - Colossians 3 states, "whatever you do, do it as for the Lord." But the moment it becomes more about the tech or ourselves it’s no longer pointing to Christ.
It’s difficult to come up with hard and fast guidelines for this sort of thing, and I probably shouldn’t try. Every situation is different and something that works in my context might not in yours and vice versa, but I hope my questions above are something that helps us filter the ideas and giving us a framework for how technology can support the furtherance of the kingdom.