Technology: A Blessing or a Curse for the Church?

Live vs. Hologram

Maybe both.  When I was a young pastor, it was a big deal when I had a microphone attached to the pulpit.  Technological progress was made, when I could clip a small microphone on my tie or lapel.  We even began recording sermons on cassette tapes.  I know I’m showing my age.  At least I do not recall anybody having sermons on 8 track tapes.  My how times have changed.

Fast forward to today.  Everybody, it seems, has what once was called a “boy-band” head microphone.  You know, the kind that allowed guys entertain teenage girls more by their dance moves than the quality of their voices.  Cassettes are long gone.  CD’s and DVD’s exist, but even those are passe when it comes to iTunes, mp3’s, and livestreaming options on-line.

As churches became larger, video screens were installed to facilitate a good view of the preacher.  As multi-site churches have taken off, video presentations in satellite locations are becoming more frequent.  Now, as this CNN article reports, some preachers now appear as holograms on the platform.  If a 2 dimensional image on a screen is good, then a 3D image hovering over the platform is better.

What should we make of this?  My friend, Todd Littleton, has what he admits is a “snarky” piece on this phenomenon.  Todd raises some interesting concerns about this.  His article is well worth the read.  I am not sure I have a definitive answer on this issue, but I do have some observations.  These observations come from somebody who has a regular diet of on-line preaching.  I have also attended one multi-site church in which I watched and listened to the sermon on a big screen.  I have also attended a multi-site church in which each service had a “live” preacher.

1.  Technological glitches may occur.

I am not familiar with any live events that have the beamed in preacher appear contorted, distorted or invisible, but it certainly may happen at some point.  I was watching the SBC live from Orlando this year.  At precisely 5pm (less than 10 minutes before the main vote of the convention), the internet feed went dead.  Those of us who were watching live and interacting via Twitter, were left to reading tweets from those actually in attendance.  It was not so traumatic for us, but would surely be a distraction with this happening to the preacher in a worship service.

2.  How much do I miss if I stay home and watch the preacher on my computer screen rather than attend and watch him on a big screen?

I know the arguments.  I will miss the fellowship with the people.  But how much real fellowship occurs in a large group setting?  What I will miss is the standing, sitting, standing routine.  Don’t get me wrong.  I would rather be there, but I couldn’t really be convincing if somebody raised this question.

3.  Will I think differently of the preacher if he is not even in church at the time?

I know of one pastor who pre-recorded sermons while in another country and played them months later.  I am even familiar with one preacher who was at the baseball field watching his son play ball while his pre-recorded sermon was played to the congregation.  I’m all for family time, but I could stay home with my family and watch a service in less time than it takes to get dressed, drive and do all of the other stuff involved with going to church.

4.  Relationship is a part of preaching.

I’m not saying that the preacher has to personally be acquainted with everybody who hears him preach, but there is something about having a physical connection.  When I preached, I loved “connecting” with my hearers.  I knew people were praying for me while I preached.  You might be wasting that prayer if the sermon is already in the can.

5.  Are we not to be an incarnational people?

The incarnation is a big part of our theology.  God could have used any manner of medium to communicate to his created people.  Yet, the Son of God took upon flesh to walk among the people.  People could see him, hear him and touch him.  When Jesus ascended, the church became that “in flesh” element.  They scattered taking the message to the nations.

6.  What is the logical extension of this philosophy of ministry?

Do we really need seminaries to prepare pastors?  Let’s just select 1 super-duper lead pastor for the worldwide evangelical movement and let him preach one sermon a week that is satellite fed to church facilities and homes around the globe.  I know this is ridiculous, but is it not the same idea carried to the nth degree?

7.  In the CNN article, Thomas Long of Emory University, asked whether preachers would like it if the congregation appeared via hi-def technology. Good question.

8.  Long also asked if church people would accept the same technology for funeral services or hospital visits.

Think of the time saved if the pastor had one generic funeral sermon that was played for all funerals.

***Warning – The next comment will be “snarky.”***

7.  If the comment attributed to Ed Young in the CNN article is true, then it is an absurd defense.

Young, the Texas pastor, also invoked the New Testament to support his method of preaching.

Young said Biblical church leaders like the Apostle Paul wrote letters that were then distributed to churches across the Roman Empire. The church leaders weren’t physically present when those letters — some of which were later included in the New Testament — were read aloud, but that didn’t make the message any less profound, he said.

“All we’re doing is putting high definition, cool technology behind something that’s as old as the New Testament,” said Young.

First, Paul was an apostle.  That is a big difference.

Second, Paul’s letters were God-breathed and actual Scripture.

Third, Paul appointed elders (pastors) in every city in which he planted churches.  They were the regular preachers.

So, Young’s New Testament justification is actually a case for incarnational (in the flesh) preachers and pastors.

What do you think?  I am not saying that this is necessarily wrong, but we need better defenses than the ones I have heard so far.  Perhaps you have a better defense or another question about this.  Leave your thoughts in the comments section.