Will tech proficiency become mandatory for people who work in ministry? Let me give away the answer up front. Probably not. The bigger question is “Will lifelong learning become mandatory for people who work in ministry?” Probably.
I have been working on this blog post for far too long. I keep writing and deleting. No matter what I wrote it sounded like I was saying that everyone needed to become technologically proficient. While that would make my life easier, it isn’t really the point.
Computers have been a part of my job since I was in college. One of the radio stations I worked for ran their automation on Commodore 64s. (For those who know what I am talking about, I swear, I am not making that up.) For a while, that station was the exception. But then, computers appeared everywhere in radio stations. The song playlists and commercial logs were generated by computers. Soon, commercials were playing through a PC, then (much to my dismay) the computers played the music. In my radio career, I went from editing audio using an actual razor blade and tape to completely digital multi-track production.
It was interesting to watch the reaction of radio veterans to computers. Many of them weren’t happy about the changes but very few of them failed to adjust. Very few had any previous training or experience with computers. Most didn’t own a computer of their own, but they made the transition. I guess radio people, in general, have a certain level of technical competence and desire to learn new things. Before computers came on the scene, we needed to learn how to operate mixing boards, deal with transmitter remotes, and operate often finicky cart machines with their primary tones and tertiary tones. Computers became just another tool to figure out.
The transition to technology in the church has been a very different experience. When I went to work in my first church job, it was like stepping back in time. The church was just beginning the journey of transition that the radio business had already gone through. However, the reaction to the change was much different, and it still is. In many churches there was, and still is, a negative reaction to the introduction of technology. More than that, it is a general resistance to learning new things. This is certainly not just a church issue. Many business and organizations are struggling with a paradigm shift in the pace of the introduction of new technology, systems, and processes. In the past, it was possible to do your work the same way for your entire career. Now the speed of innovation means that your job might look different from year to year or even month to month.
One of the reasons this post has been so difficult is that there a lot of blurriness between technological innovation and just plain innovation. It is not just because of computers that organizations are getting leaner and more streamlined. In the radio business, computers weren’t added because they were cool. They weren’t added because they made for a better listener experience. They weren’t added to make the job easier. They were added to increase profits through reducing the amount of staff. Technology isn’t the only means organizations use to streamline. Organizations look to management systems, motivation principals, and systems thinking to improve performance.
To oversimplify the issue to the point of cliche, there are two kinds of people in the world, those who are lifelong learners and there those who aren’t lifelong learners. I come face to face with this every day. The reality of dealing with people is another reason this post was so hard to write. I gained some clarity this morning in a video conference. I was advising some ministry leaders about using social media to help people connect to the mission they are so passionate about. We were talking about Facebook, Twitter, content aggregation, RSS Feeds, Buffer, etc. Someone on the call jumped in at some point and started saying something that made my heart sink. (I am paraphrasing because, honestly, I can’t remember the exact wording)
“This is all great stuff and I know it is important, BUT…”
The “but” is where my heart sank. I know the “but.” But, we don’t know about all this modern stuff, it is too complicated. But I kept listening.
“BUT, we don’t really understand all this stuff…”
You see. Here we go. But I kept listening.
“BUT, we don’t really understand all this stuff… so would you be willing to help us learn?”
I am so glad I kept listening.
If we are actually serious about spreading the Gospel and helping people grow as disciples of Jesus Christ, we really needed that attitude of willingness to learn. We need to allow ourselves to be lifelong learners. None of us necessarily need to be proficient in any particular area but we need to be willing to learn what is necessary to complete the mission God is calling us to. Technology is just one possible aspect.
Many have been called to preach and said, “I don’t know how to preach.” What did they do? They went to local pastor licensing school or course of study or seminary. They sought out other preachers for guidance. They read sermons from John Wesley, Fred Craddock and others. They learned.
Others have felt called to go on medical missions and said, “I don’t know anything about health care.” What did they do? They talked to people who had been on missions before and found out what they needed to know. They signed up for a first aid course through the Red Cross. They learned.
Still others have been called to teach children’s Sunday School and said, “I don’t know anything about children or how to teach them.” What they do? They found another teacher and sat in their class and watched. They asked other teachers for advice. They learned.
Some people have felt called to use all available tools to reach the mission field including websites, video conferencing, and social media and said, “I can barely use a computer.” What did they do? They took an introductory computer class at the local community college. Then they went online and started reading about using social media. Then they tried it out and asked for help. They learned.
So, will tech proficiency become mandatory for people who work in ministry? Probably not. But will more people become tech proficient if it is necessary to do the work God calls them to? I hope so. And that goes for any type of proficiency necessary to serve our mission. Lifetime learners will lead the way in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.