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Missional Technology

The world we live in is not the one our parents grew up in.

Maybe this is a truth relevant in every generation, but in recent years, technology has advanced so fast there’s no way we could deny this now.

More than in any other time or place in history, we are a people with knowledge at our fingertips, entertainment in our pockets, the globe at our disposal. You wouldn’t be reading this otherwise.

But what do we do with that?

How do we approach technology wisely—missionally, even—using it as the powerful tool it is without allowing it to have power over us?

This is what I’ve been contemplating these days as I spend time with European young people immersed in this plugged-in society of ours. As I’ve thought about these things, here are some of the lessons that have emerged.

Technology is a curse/Technology is a gift. The paradox is important.

While serving overseas with Josiah Venture, I am both grateful for the social media that keeps me connected to all that is going on in ministry across Central and Eastern Europe and supporter’s lives back in North America, and discouraged by the distraction it can be from what God is doing right where I am. Happy for the help my smartphone offers when needing to look up a Bible verse or foreign word, and frustrated with the temptations that easily come through that same screen. Excited about the possibilities to be an honest, uplifting voice in teenagers’ everyday lives, and saddened by the excess of dishonest, unhealthy noise they constantly need to sift through in order to even hear me.

I was recently at a JV camp in Latvia talking with a teenager about her summer. She said on normal days it’s easy for her to just waste most of her time online, but that it felt empty. After our week was over she wanted to ditch her phone for less virtual realities. On the flip side, most of my job with JV’s communications team is to create content that inspires you; sharing stories, videos, and photos of who God is and what he is doing through blog and social media posts. Our technology can be used for both bad and good. This paradox makes it difficult to navigate our plugged-in world —I often find myself fluctuating between the extremes of becoming a wired zombie and being an off-grid weirdo. Yet, holding onto both sides seems like the best way to foster a healthy perspective.  

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Virtual reality is not reality.

In the classic movie You’ve Got Mail, Meg Ryan’s character offers a wise insight in one of her emails, when she asks, “So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn’t it be the other way around?” Today, we could say a lot of what we experience in the world reminds us of things online. It’s tempting to live our whole lives that way, counting on computers to offer us real things we’re looking for (like beauty, purpose, truth, and love) when most of that realness we crave is right in front of us if we’re just willing to put down the virtual versions and pay attention.

I went to an outside dance performance one time where these incredibly talented athletes were using their movement to create a moving piece of art. I couldn’t keep my eyes off them. However, when I left a little early, I realized there was a huge screen by the stage projecting a video of the dancers on it. Sure, I understand that some of the crowd farthest back may have legitimately needed that in order to enjoy the performance. What boggled me was why some people close up had their eyes glued to that screen when they could have turned their heads and been watching the stage. I admit that I’m sometimes like those people, fooled into thinking that virtual reality is reality, or even worse, better than reality. While real life can be less shiny and more scary, often causing messes, it is also the genuine masterpiece. Just like sunsets are always more spectacular in person than in pictures, what we experience offline always holds more potential for authenticity than what we see online.

Connections online are best when viewed as catalysts for connections offline.

While we need to be careful with the pressures and pitfalls of technology, one of the ways our screens can be a huge blessing is by helping us cultivate genuine relationships. For youth groups across Central and Eastern Europe, Facebook makes inviting teens to events simpler. For JV camps, being able to advertise and send sign-up links on Instagram allows teenagers we may not know in person yet the opportunity to come, form friendships, and hear the gospel. For summer teams, FaceTime and texting can be used for following up with young people across the ocean after camp is over. And for our missionaries, MailChimp is a lifesaver for sending email updates to ministry partners.

These online interactions are not the end though. Instead, technology offers us platforms to start, maintain, and deepen relationships online in order to fuel these same connections, loving people well, offline. Do we have this kind of mindset to purposefully move from online to face-to-face? When we do, evangelism and discipleship opportunities open up all over the place. Quick notes on JV’s online Prayer Room to say I’m praying for you turn into hour-long prayer sessions together in person. Questions about life posted with images on Instagram become philosophical and theological conversations at coffee shops. Content becomes more honest and intentional. We as creators, more imaginative about how God might use us and our wifi in the lives of others.

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Technology opens up new opportunities to bring love to the ends of the earth.

Jesus told the disciples that they would receive power from the Holy Spirit so they could be his “witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). I wonder what they thought of that back then, as they caravanned through desert to make long journeys to places we’d now consider right next door. Dirty feet, weathered skin—small prices to pay to spread hope to those in need of a savior. The world must have felt so huge, but their belief was bigger.

Today, the massive undertaking the disciples began when they set out to share the story of Jesus with the world has been passed on to us as Christians. It is still massive and sometimes I feel just as small and insignificant as the disciples must have on their bad days. Yet we have tools that have made the globe so much more accessible than ever before. Technology, when used to its fullest potential, allows us to be witnesses in ways the disciples could never have predicted. Going into all areas of the world to fulfill the great commission is faster, simpler, and much more feasible for us than for past generations. And when we can’t physically go, we can still bring light, love, and life to people other places through our wires and signals.

What we choose to do with this unique power is up to us.



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