In the darkness of my bedroom a small rectangle of light emerges, and along with it a series of chimes. From the moment we transition between sleep and waking, the world is constantly vying for our attention. Even after I’ve silenced the chimes from my phone’s alarm, I’m greeted with a litany of notifications – news events, weather, missed messages, calendar reminders, task reminders … the list goes on and on. From the time we wake up until our head hits the pillow, tiny screens dictate the content and direction of our lives – telling us where we should be, what’s going on in the world, and whose birthdays we need to remember.
Technology has the potential to expand our capabilities and enhance our activities. However, as a famous superhero’s uncle once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” As believers, we are called to make sure that our lives are ordered properly – that what is most essential has the most priority in our lives and that all other things come second or third or later. The influence of technology upon our every waking moment can result in our unconscious deification of an item that is only ever meant to be a tool. Technology becomes, quickly, the source of all our information and understanding, the thing we are most passionate about, and the thing we spend most of our time focused toward.
The influence of technology upon our every waking moment can result in our unconscious deification of an item that is only ever meant to be a tool.
While this may sound a bit “doom and gloom” toward technology, that’s not the end goal of our conversation here. Rather, as Christians, we need to enter into a conversation about how technology is shaping our lives, and in what ways we may need to be more reflective regarding its influence on us – as individuals and as the church. Technology is a tool – it’s been a tool since the beginning of civilization, and while it has morphed quite a bit in its capabilities, it is still something we use to (hopefully) make our lives better and more simple. Technology as it stands today has the ability to help us achieve great things and to connect with others in ways that previous generations could only imagine. Technology frees us to spend more time on the things we are passionate about and gives opportunities to share the hope of the Gospel with previously unreachable groups. The question we must ask ourselves in reflecting theologically upon technology is this: Is it shaping us into the people of God, or is it distracting us from our ontological and eschatological purposes?
As we approach the third decade of the 21st century, we have seen many leaps and bounds in technological innovation and implementation. As the church, we have (as my grandmother might say) run willy-nilly into that innovation and implementation without taking the proper time to reflect and discuss how technology shapes us as communities of faith. The younger generation ignores the older generation as they wax nostalgically about worship services that did not involve smoke and lights, and the older generation ignores the younger generation as they search for ways to engage those outside the church within the mediums of their generation. With all its promise of greater connectivity and networking, we find that in fact, technology is isolating us more than it has before. Instead of turning to those within our communities to engage in dialogue about the ways technology is shaping us, or even reflecting on it individually, we have a tendency to allow our devices to steal away those moments of self-reflection and conversation.
With all its promise of greater connectivity and networking, we find that in fact, technology is isolating us more than it has before.
By beginning intentional conversations regarding the ways in which technology affects our lives, we can also begin to discuss the ways in which we can effectively engage technology within our circles of influence. Within our faith communities, I believe there are three main areas where we can address the beneficial use of technology:
Our identities are shaped through time – through the long process of becoming who we are called to be, and through the daily practices that shape our understanding of the world and what our place in it is. Technology frees our time and commands it simultaneously. As believers, we should be aware of the ways in which technology is commanding our time and set boundaries in place to prevent its hold on our lives as much as possible.
I believe that many of us think we have boundaries in place regarding technology, but when push comes to shove, we are guilty of pushing through our own boundaries and neglecting to deal with the cognitive dissonance of our own realities. We say that there are certain spaces where technology shouldn’t intrude (a family dinner, for instance), yet when it beckons us, we are quick to answer its siren call.
Technology provides us with opportunities to free our time – we can automate processes that used to take up our time, giving us the opportunity to pursue other things. Too frequently, we allow that extra time to be taken up by inconsequential matters – or we fill it with “time-suckers” – items that don’t really engage us or that distract us from more worthwhile pursuits.
We become the body of Christ as the Spirit works within our communities to turn individual hearts and attitudes toward unification and restoration. One practice familiar to Pentecostal traditions is that of testimony.
We understand that a person’s identity is intrinsically bound up within their “story” – and that story is an elemental part of testimony. Testimony is not just limited to individuals’ stories, however, as it can also be the story of a community of faith. Using testimony to shape the identities of individuals and communities is vital to identity formation and the biblical text gives ample examples of how that should be done. The loss of testimony within our communities of faith has resulted in a gap within the identity formation process that is necessary for thriving communities. We can utilize technology to help recapture that element of our practices. However, as we utilize various forms of technology to share testimony (of individuals and communities), we must be careful to practice testimony according to the biblical witness by engaging our communities in exploration of the Bible as we navigate life together.
In Pentecostal circles, we sometimes shy away from tradition, and among the younger generations it can sometimes be seen as a hindrance, so it’s not a word we hear used often. However, traditions provide identity through shared experiences, and those experiences become important to the life of the community of faith and to our identity as a part of those communities. There are both secular and sacred traditions that can be embraced within the Church. We must decide how much we want technology to “invade” these spaces and when we want to intentionally include or exclude it. We can utilize technology as a tool when we celebrate our traditions, but we must be aware of how it affects “performance” and engagement levels. In a world that is full of increasing pressure to always be “on” we must make sure we are providing sacred spaces and times for individuals to just “be” – to be in the presence of each other and in the presence of the Almighty.
Understanding and acknowledging the ways in which technology affects and pulls on our identities as believers will help us navigate the ever-changing waters of the technological age. By making intentional time to engage with our leaders and communities about technology and the ways in which it helps and hinders us, we are able to more fully grasp our identity (both individual and communal) in Christ and to grow faithfully into what God has called us to become.