As stay-at-home orders went into effect throughout our nation in March, I was encouraged to see many pastors take to social media. They sent video updates to their people about the shift to online services and digital discipleship. They were using the tools they had at their disposal in order to bring calming and encouraging words to many who were scared and confused.
Soon, many of us would find ourselves glued to these same devices, seeking answers to the unknowns and hoping to grasp some semblance of control. In the last few years, we have all heard about the dangerous effects of technology in our lives and how we need to balance our use of these tools, but all of that advice and discipline simply went out the door as the virus cut us off from the normal rhythms of our daily lives.
Throughout March and April, most of the headlines about technology were about how we can utilize it to continue working, socializing, and staying connected. Much of the conversation originally shifted away from the negative and polarizing effects of these technologies to how they became a life raft in the midst of this storm. But the public mood is shifting once again, and we are starting to see many of the corrosive effects of technology on our lives.
In the midst of these tensions and tough times, I think that many of us (including me) miss how God is still orchestrating all of these things to bolster our faith and our churches. He is strengthening us to be able to weather the storms of this life and emerge more devoted to his Word and to spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth. A few weeks ago, I was reminded of this fact listening to a leader in a global missions agency recount how God is continuing to use missionaries to shine the light of the gospel in dark places, even as many of them have been quarantined and locked in their homes.
Embracing technology for mission
With debates over how social media companies should deal with misinformation, the rise of trolls and discernment bloggers sewing dissension in our churches, and the inherent dangers of too much screen time in children, you can’t really get away from the pitfalls of technology as well as the numerous calls to simply reject these tools. But often these dangers overshadow much of the amazing potential that technology brings to our life.
My local church located south of Nashville very quickly shifted to online services and encouraged our members to embrace these tools in this season. While it was difficult and time consuming, our leadership chose to lean into the advantages of technology during this pandemic and find ways to embrace it for the mission of God. Outside of our Sunday gatherings being streamed online, our church digitized much of our discipleship content for children, teens, and even membership materials. They sought to equip our people to engage the mission field just a few steps from our front porches, and they equipped us to shine the love of God in our neighborhoods and meet the tangible needs of our communities using various forms of technology.
While nothing about these new plans were ideal, our pastors and leaders decided to believe that God was bigger than our spring plans and gatherings. Now nearly every Sunday, we hear of the ways that God is using our online services to reach people across the world and throughout our local community for Jesus. I have recently heard of many churches being able to worship with their own missionaries across the world using various forms of technology. This reality would likely send chills down the spines of past generations of missionaries who longed to see home.
God’s mission won’t be stopped
One of the great joys of being a Southern Baptist is our incredible work through the International Mission Board. The IMB is celebrating 175 years of being on mission to reach the nations with the gospel this year, and what an interesting year it has been for this milestone. But as IMB president Paul Chitwood has said about our global missionary force, “Amid a global pandemic, their work looks different, but it hasn’t stopped. It must not stop.” It can not and will not stop, because our calling as Christians is to preach the gospel regardless of the circumstances in order that the nations might hear and be saved.
This pandemic has brought immense challenges to missionaries across the world but also opportunities to be creative, innovative, and even more flexible than before. From using video conferencing technologies for digital discipleship to the rise of algorithmic evangelism tools, God’s mission to the nations will not be slowed down or stopped. Story after story from the field reminds us that as God’s unique image-bearers, we have been created to go on mission for God. And he blesses us with tools and technologies in order to fulfill this calling to the nations.
This pandemic has brought immense challenges to missionaries across the world but also opportunities to be creative, innovative, and even more flexible than before.
The leaders of Zoom, Facebook, YouTube, and Amazon probably never thought these tools would become the modern Roman roads through which the nations could hear of the good news of Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection, even in the midst of a pandemic. But God did. These technologies have quickly become some of the largest gospel megaphones in the history of the world as God continues to use his people to call his children back to him. One example of this is seen in the Bible app.
When I teach or write about technology and artificial intelligence, one of the biggest criticisms I receive is that I am too much of an optimist when it comes to these tools. Maybe I am. But I fully believe that God will use technology to further his Kingdom, because I already know the end of the story. John tells us in the book of Revelation that it has already been written. It involves a resurrected King sitting on a throne with throngs of image-bearers from every tribe, tongue, and nation praising the King of kings and the Lord of lords.
In the interim, God calls us to use any means necessary to spread this good news to the ends of the earth and to embrace these technologies with wisdom and guidance. We all need to be reminded that the gates of hell will try to slow the spread of the gospel, but nothing will ultimately prevail against the church of our Lord Jesus Christ—not even a virus outbreak or global economic collapse. So let’s be found faithful and pray for much fruit in this season of disruption.