Confessions of a reformed (and reforming) technophobe

Posted Nov 18, 2011 | New Media Project

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By Eric Elnes, guest blogger


At the conclusion of worship, I've given the same blessing for the last 15 years:

May the Spirit of the Living God made known to us most fully in Jesus Christ our Lord:
Go before you to show you the way;
Go above you to watch over you;
Go behind you to push you into places you wouldn't necessarily go yourself;
Go beneath you to uphold and uplift you;
Go beside you to be your companion;
And dwell inside you to remind you that you are surely not alone, and that you are loved—loved beyond your wildest imagination.
And may the fire of God's blessing burn brightly upon you, and within you, now and always. Amen.

After all these years, there is still one line that challenges me. The Spirit keeps taking that "push you into places you wouldn't necessarily go yourself" more seriously than I want it to.

Often technology has been the Spirit's catalyst for pushing me into those places.

It started 15 years ago when my father suggested I experiment with integrating slides and film clips into sermons, launching a two evening debate. I finally ended all discussion by proclaiming, "Hell will freeze over before I ever use multimedia in worship." Now that I’ve delivered approximately a hundred presentations, workshops, and keynotes on the effective use of multimedia in worship, my father does his best not to gloat.

I've made similar pontifications over owning a cell phone, joining Facebook, Tweeting, Skyping, and watching more than an hour of television each week. To this day, I don't watch much TV, but I now host an interactive online television show each Sunday called Darkwood Brew which employs all these Hell-will-freeze-over technologies as a way of connecting people to each other and the Holy Spirit.

Darkwood Brew viewer-participants ("Brewers" as some call themselves) tell us they are regularly experiencing moments of clarity, transcendence, and hope. Many who had either left organized religion long ago, or currently feel theologically trapped in the church they currently attend, find themselves participating enthusiastically with Darkwood Brew.

Happily, their online experience does not seem to be replacing offline community. After awhile, Brewers go out searching for an offline church that looks more like their online experience, writing us to ask if we know a church in their area. Or they invite friends home to participate in the live webcast or explore a subject using one of the small group DVD resources we're producing. One group has grown so large that they are considering moving into a coffeehouse.

In hindsight, I shouldn't be so surprised. Each time I have rejected a new technology, I have assumed that its application was limited to whatever strange and seemingly ill-considered uses people were adopting at first. I have assumed, for instance, that when screens first started going up in sanctuaries they would permanently reduce worship to being little more than boring PowerPoint presentations with cheesy graphics.

Each time I have embraced a new(er) technology it has been the result of discovering that, as with new wine, technology and its uses tend to develop and mature with age, if treated with respect and care.

The fact of the matter is that as technology matures, it tends to look more and more like our everyday lives. It becomes more organic, less flashy, and less one-way. When it does, then technology tends to disappear into the background leaving only its function behind.

Recently, I delivered a keynote address at Union Presbyterian Seminary's "Byte of the Future" conference in Richmond, VA. There, a beleaguered pastor asked why busy ministers should be taking the time to learn new media technologies when they already have "more important" things on their plate. Union Presbyterian's president, Dr. Brian Blount, responded by comparing our apprenticeship to new media to our study of Greek and Hebrew in seminary. Plenty of budding ministers complain about "wasting" so much time on biblical languages. Yet rich blessings await those who take their study seriously and integrate their learning organically into ministry.

If new media may be employed in a sophisticated way to change a parishioner's experience from being that of an observer of the Fourth Great Awakening to being a participant in it, how much time or effort is that worth? And what if it has the same effect on us?

Eric Elnes
Eric Elnes is the Senior Minister of Countryside Community Church in Omaha, Nebraska, one of the case studies of the New Media Project. He also serves as Executive Director of OnFaithOnline.tv and host of Darkwood Brew. He holds a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Princeton Theological Seminary ('97) and is the author of The Phoenix Affirmations: A New Vision for the Future of Christian Faith, and Asphalt Jesus.

The New Media Project is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact newmediaproject@cts.edu.

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