Technology is a reality that will have to be embraced by the church. This was the general consensus at a forum on technology and ministry that was held July 2 during the annual gathering of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) in Santiago, Chile.
Panelists, including Robert Parham, left, with the Baptist Center for Ethics and EthicsDaily.com, discuss technology and ministry during a BWA forum. (Photo: BWA)
Maribel Salamanca, communications director for the Union of Evangelical Baptist Churches of Chile, said that the church made use of technology from the time it was founded.
While Salamanca spoke of many of the benefits of modern technology, she also highlighted a number of risks.
Benefits of modern technology include enabling congregations to reach out to those who are unable to attend worship, such as the sick and homebound, as well as those "who would not think to attend church."
Technology, Salamanca said, is useful in enabling a church to form online prayer chains and other similar initiatives, and the best part of it, much of technology, such as social media, is free to the user.
Salamanca, however, said that some churches risk having a stronger online rather than a real-life presence, lacking a connection in real community, such as with the elderly, who may not have access to or be acquainted with technology. "What do we do with them?" she asked.
She also related the disquiet experienced by some leaders of a congregation in Chile when the church chose to conduct the search for a new pastor entirely via the use of technology, including the interviewing process.
The lack of a face-to-face encounter with the prospective candidates proved problematic and difficult, she said.
Robert Parham, executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics, said that "technology has long shaped how we read the Bible ... [and] how we connect to community."
Such influence is evidenced through a movement from the use of the scroll to that of text and now to the screen, as seen from biblical times to the present.
Parham claimed that "Jesus spoke in tweets long before tweets became cool, if by tweets one means short messages."
Parham made references to some of Jesus' sayings such as "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," "No one can serve two masters" and "When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases."
All these are in 140 characters or less, Parham asserted.
It is how technology is utilized that will determine its impact, according to Rand Jenkins, communications director for the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
Jenkins said that technology is neutral. "How we choose to use it or not use it determines its beneficial or negative aspects."
Rand said that if one is to communicate with a younger demographic, then modern technology has to be embraced by all, including the church.
Tony Cartledge, professor at Campbell University Divinity School, blogger at Baptists Today and chair of the BWA Communications Advisory Committee, said that technology can be used to build community despite the concern that technology, such as widespread Internet use, creates isolation.
Cartledge believes that the Internet in particular can be used to build community, and he gave the example of a congregation in which he holds membership in Washington, D.C., even though he lives and works in the state of North Carolina, more than 300 miles away.
He is able to share in the life of the church because it "uses technology in a positive fashion" through regular updates, podcasts through which he can watch or listen to sermons, and read and share online sermons and Bible studies and so on.
The forum, moderated by Bob Terry, editor of the Alabama Baptist, is one of several activities taking place during the BWA annual gathering, which runs until July 7.
For continuing updates on the BWA's annual gathering, go to its website at BWAnet.org.