Technological advancements will bring the most monumental shift to missions since Jesus sent out the twelve disciples. The question is, “Is the church and the mission community ready for the change?”
Douglas Adams, technologist and writer, came up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that was invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new, exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you’re 35 is against the natural order of things (and should not exist).
Let’s take Douglas Adams’s principles and apply them historically when many of the great advances of the gospel were due to technical advances in communications.
For example, the first-century church benefited greatly from the Roman Empire’s common trade language (Greek) and transportation infrastructure (Roman roads and seaways). These two new technologies enabled God’s word to spread quickly and broadly. For Christians at that time, Adams’ rule #1 applied.
In the 15th century, the church was the early adapter of the cutting-edge technology called the Gutenberg printing press which fueled the Reformation and put translated Biblesinto the hands of millions to expand the gospel’s reach. This reflects rule #2.
What about rule #3? Will the church and the mission community view the ever-changing wave of technology as new, exciting and revolutionary, or will it deem that it is against the natural order of things and retreat into moral panic?
The impact of technological advancements has the potential to dwarf even first-century missions and the Reformation. Over the next several years the growth curve of technology will not just be vertical, it will be near logarithmic.
By 2020 there will be more than 7.7 billion smartphones in the hands of the projected 7.8 billion people in the world. These 7.7 billion people will have access to the gospel in the palm of their hands—or to an entire Christian library. Many developing countries are skipping the “copper infrastructure” stage and moving directly to wireless or cell data coverage for the entire country. Remote villages may have smartphones before running water.
As missional Christians, we need to stop thinking of technology merely as a tool, like a shovel, and start thinking of technology as both a tool to reach people and the mission fielditself!
There are good signs that the Church and the mission community are starting to see a vision of what technology can do for the gospel. We as technologists and digital missionaries have the onus to continue to set that vision for reaching people in digital spaces and building the platforms that will be needed to advance the gospel.
This shift in thinking is starting to show in the mission community. As little as three years ago mission organizations, as a whole, were not recruiting for tech jobs, but today there has been a marked change in the job postings for tech workers, and the trend will continue.
Even if you are not a technologist, you can encourage others to use their gifts and talents by getting involved with missional projects. Spread the word that tech skills are highly valued in ministry with opportunities to engage in a variety of capacities, such as full-time, part-time or by limited projects.
Expanding on Urbana’s Hack4Missions, InterVarsity is partnering in a global hackathon November 4-6, 2016. Spread the word in your chapter about Indigitous #Hack for students who want to link missions, technology, and faith. Find a city near you or participate online.
Mark serves InterVarsity as a generalist technologist. He has worked with teams to build more than 500 websites and has experience in managing web servers, project management, consulting, and negotiating projects. At age 36, Mark answered God’s call to become a digital missionary and combine his passion for technology with his love for Jesus and people. Mark enjoys spending time with his wife and two children and learning new tech stuff.
The blog is an avenue for staff and student leaders to hear from the visionary leaders of Collegiate Ministries about theological formation, discipleship, chapter planting, chapter growth, and other key ministry themes for campus work.