I tried an experiment last Sunday. Rather than print out my sermon manuscript to use in worship, I uploaded it to my iPad so I could preach from that. Huzzah for Mr. Green Preacher, one less tree has to die for me! What’s next, a robe made of recycled plastic? So I took the iPad into the pulpit to practice…and completely chickened out. I ran back to my office so I could print out my familiar paper copy before the service started. There was something that just felt – strange? sacrilegious? – about preaching God’s word from a piece of technology. For me, there’s a palpable irony in reading Paul’s message about not being conformed to this world from the same electronic device with which I play Words with Friends. Should there be? That’s the kind of question the church wrestling with in today’s rapidly advancing world.
This skittishness is the same feeling I get when I see someone supposedly reading their Bible on their iPhone during church. How do I know they’re not really getting a new score on Flappy Bird? As tech savvy as I try to be, I still tend to look askance at technology when it is used in sacred settings. Am I sympathizing with some (but by no means all) of my older congregation members, who prefer their Bibles made of paper and their newsletters snail-mailed to them? Am I still clinging to the familiar ways of doing things at the expense of helping the church move forward? But I’ve always done it this way!
I read a fascinating book called “Flickering Pixels” (which, by the way, is much more appealing than “Flixering Pickles”). The author, Shane Hipps, is a Mennonite pastor in Arizona who has previous experience in the advertising field. It gives him a unique perspective on the book’s subtitle, “How Technology Shapes Your Faith.” Hipps expands upon Marshall McLuhen’s famous phrase “the medium is the message” to show how the rapidly changing communication mediums in today’s world (email, blogs, text messaging, etc.) tell us something about the value of the message and the relationship being nurtured. And as our world continually moves from the print age to the digital age, the ways those messages are communicated will continue to transform faster than we can download apps to keep up with it.
This has major implications for Christianity, a religion that has been heavily reliant on the print form of communication (we have this bestselling book called the Bible; it’s kind of a big deal). Gutenberg’s printing press is the single most important tool ever used for spreading Christianity. But now, we have this thing called the Internet. So much information is at our fingertips – and so is much mis-information. Anyone with a blog can spout an opinion, and most likely will, regardless of how theological sound or biblically grounded it is. How do we make sure the gospel being communicated is still the gospel, not someone’s whacked-out version of what Jesus did or didn’t say? In other words, when the medium is changing so rapidly, how do we maintain the integrity of the message?
Hipps says we need to rethink how we define the medium for communicating the gospel. He says that the methods and means for communication will change – how long until we access the worship bulletin and hymn lyrics on our iPhones during worship? – and the church should strive to keep pace. But in his last chapter (curiously titled “Y’all”), Hipps says one thing will never change: the church will always be the medium and the message for God’s word in this world. We are God’s most effective method of communication for telling this world about the Good News and showing what God’s love is all about. Other mediums will come and go (anyone still own a Betamax copy of “The Ten Commandments”?) but the church is enduring. It is up to us to be the bearers of God’s good news.
The message doesn’t change. Sure, it needs to be adapted to fit the culture of the day, but the essence of the Good News will always be good news. Doesn’t matter whether we read the King James or the Message or the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. Doesn’t matter whether we read from Grandma’s bible, the one with all the highlights and the dog-eared pages, or we finger-swipe our way through Romans on our electronic device. Doesn’t matter whether we invite a friend to church through a conversation or an email or a tweet. The message is still the same because WE are the message. We are God’s greatest public relations agent, and the message won’t change, regardless of the medium. That message? God loves you. That’s all you have to say. It’s even under 140 characters! So go and BE the message. And all God’s people said, “Like!”