I’ve reached the point in vocational life where the people who have been a big part of my development are either retiring or contemplating retirement. It’s a strange feeling, witnessing all the “grown ups” begin to step back and ask those they’ve mentored, “So what are you all going to do now?” 1
The truth is, I have no idea 2.
I have no idea because the reality in which we live is in a state of wildly unstable flux. And no one is prepared for it.
For the bulk of my lifetime, humanity has been living in what people have called “the information revolution.” We’ve seen the rise of personal computing, the internet, mobile computing, and now have even begun to explore wearable computers. Each of these shifts has changed the way we human beings connect with one another in ways so deep some neurologists have said our brains are literally mapped different than pre-information age people 3.
Yet, despite our use of revolutionary terminology to describe a decades-long struggle decades, our institutions have not changed. We’ve added some new tools, and even applied band-aid measures which allow old paradigms to eke out a continued existence in this changing world, but we’ve neglected a core truth about revolutions. They transform everything they touch.
For years we have largely ignored this core truth of revolutionary language. We ignored it as denominations became meaningless. We ignored it as the neighborhood church was choked to death by the mega-fellowship. We’re ignoring it now as a new generation comes along, looks at our crumbling institutional structures, and says, “Why on Earth would I want to bother with that?” 4
There are a good number of Christians who are celebrating this shift by taking everything “online.” Worship can be viewed at home, without the need to travel to be physically present 5. Bible studies can be handled through apps, and prayers can be shared instantly with the wonder of push-notifications. Through the use of technology, the projection of a cultural brand can be extended far beyond physical proximity. “This the future,” I’ve been told. Again and again.
My question back is always the same, “How can you demonstrate the incarnational reality of Communion 6 virtually?” I’ve yet to receive a response which demonstrates significant theological reflection on this central Christian action 7. Often, it is dismissed as “tradition” – the “final blow” to end all arguments. People are frequently confused when they discover I’m perfectly fine being painted with that brush.
So what am I going to do now?
I am not comfortable with the push for a “community of convenience.” I need community to be inconvenient, it reminds me there is more to life than my personal comfort. I’m naturally a homebody, if my community didn’t inconvenience me with certain aspects of its being I’d never leave my house! The body of Jesus Christ has got to be more than an app.
I am equally uncomfortable with the reactionary alarm of “technology is ruining everything.” Too often the reasons churches are being eroded by the communications revolution have nothing to do with the actual technology. The process of digital erosion is simply the latest presentation of a generations-long malady. That is, the community was already sick – all technology did was free people to seek healthier expressions of it elsewhere. I find nothing nobel in pastors who declare “I’m not a techie” or who try to couch their fear of the communications revelation in pseudo-theological language 8. I’ve embraced the communications revolution for my inter-personal communications because it’s how I am wired.”
What will I do? As those in the previous generation retire, and I find myself in a position where I’ll need to shoulder more burden for our fellowship, I find myself standing on the terminator between two vastly different worlds. It’s not a comfortable place to be, but it is where we can see the most definition 9 To that end, I’ll continue to reflect on the theological shift necessitated by the emergence of these technologies. Given how I am wired, however, I will also endeavor to use convenient communication in order to shape an inconvenient community. It seems like the best path forward.
- For the record. While I am an “adult,” I don’t think anyone in their right mind would ever refer to me as a “grown up.” ↩
- Maybe this is because I’m not a “grown up.” ↩
- And not all the changes are beneficial. ↩
- By no means is this revolutionary shift limited to religious institutions. Everything from the way schools are structured to the archaic blackout rules for local sports are feeling this pressure. There are a great many dinosaurs roaming the earth at present. ↩
- Either live, or at a remote location. ↩
- I actually prefer “Eucharist,” but in low-church settings people will tend to have a hard time swallowing such a liturgical word. Most prefer “The Lord’s Supper,” so I meet them in the middle. ↩
- I don’t have to agree with it, I’m just looking for deep thought. ↩
- A phone call is so much more personal than a text message. ↩
- It’s a moon shot thing, you always see the most definition of it’s surface features along the line separating the light from the dark. ↩