Are the exploding possibilities of communication technology a blessing for ministry or a curse?

With some evidence surfacing that our use of smart phones is re-wiring our brains, the question begs to be asked. What does this mean for ministry, and especially youth ministry, since we are now serving young people who have grown up with this technology at their fingertips.

Here’s what I’ve gathered from my own personal observations.

  • My two three-year-old granddaughters are drawn to screens like moths to the light fixture. They know how to swipe and beg for screen time. The immediacy of feedback on the i-pad and smart phone already has them entranced. Fortunately, their parents put limits on their exposure.
  • My attention span is shortening to the extent that if there is a moment of down-time, like a commercial break on TV, I find myself pulling out the phone to check email and Facebook. This behavior is becoming habitual.
  • I’ve noticed as I look around during church that many adults are checking their phones. I wonder how this affects their perception of worship and their own levels of participation. Then, there’s a buzz in my pocket and I find myself checking my phone during the offering.
  • Like my granddaughters, I enjoy the immediate feedback and the aura of universal knowledge at my fingertips. There’s a burst of positive endorphins in my brain, too!

The ability to access information while communicate from continent to continent instantly is nothing short of miraculous to my generation. As a child I remember having a large wooden phone on the wall on a party line…the kind you now see in museums. (A party line had two are three customers sharing the same line, if you can imagine that!) Most of you who are volunteers, being a generation younger than me, are more comfortable with technology today than I am. Even so, the internet is still something to which you are adapting; unless you left college or high school within the last decade.

How well are we adapting? Can we use the technology to our advantage in sharing the good news of Jesus Christ without letting the technology become our master? How can we relate to youth who are in our ministries now for whom the smart phone is just a part of the wall-paper of their lives? — and who may be wired differently than we are?

I certainly wish I had answers to those questions. What I need to keep in mind is that there are other, more important questions. Will sin continue to manifest itself in the lives of children and adults? Will forgiveness of sins still need to be proclaimed and absolution given? Is it possible, as the line between public life and private life continues to erode, that people of all ages will need awareness of God’s love through Jesus Christ even more?

If I may make a prediction, the answer to those questions is YES.

Which means the need for careful attention to young people by our congregations through you will not decrease any time soon.

Dr. John Oberdeck was a parish pastor in Southern Illinois for ten years, and served on the faculty of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis in the Practical Department for thirteen years before coming to Concordia University Wisconsin in 2002, most recently serving as the Director of Lay Ministry. He retired in June 2017. He and his wife, Ginny, live in Brown Deer, Wisconsin, and have three grown children and seven growing grandchildren. pulvinar dapibus leo.

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