Evangelical leaders of previous generations are in the process of passing the torch to younger leaders, for whom there are at least 10 fresh challenges. We’ve considered the challenges of Navigating Newfound Authority, Waging a New Bloodless Revolution, Overcoming Spiritual Superficiality; Creating Culture, Returning to Virtue, Bridging to Everyday Relevance, and Resisting the Seduction of the New Social Gospel. Now this challenge:
Learning to Communicate Again
John Maxwell tells the story, presumably true, about a denominational meeting on June 19, 1908, at which the following minutes were recorded:
Mr. Grueber introduced the following to be discussed: Nine reasons not to introduce the typewriter into our church.
1. The paper must be put into the machine and aligned properly, tabs must be set. This is not easy. When writing by hand, one simply begins, exactly where you want with no restrictions.
2. With a typewriter, you have to constantly remember to capitalize and put in punctuation. It is easy to forget, and to go back and change things is hard. When writing by hand, such things are automatic.
3. With the typewriter, you have to have been trained to find the proper keys. This takes time. We already know how to write.
4. With the typewriter, you are limited to the size and spacing of the type. When writing by hand, you can use any size letters or style you want.
5. With the typewriter, centering and setting margins is [sic] not easy; when writing, it is no problem.
6. A typewriter breaks down and costs to be fixed. Writing does not.
7. Correcting a mistake after something has been typed is a problem; when writing by hand, it is not.
8. The church has gotten along for over 1900 years without a typewriter; why do we need this now?
9. Instead of learning a machine with all the above drawbacks, time should be spent on penmanship (Maxwell, J. in Galloway, D. ed., 2001, p. 23-24)
As one writer mused: “Debating the use of typewriters in 1908 proved just about as fruitful as the research devoted to perfecting the manufacture and sale of the buggy whip when the automobile was accelerating into the lifestyles of an increasingly mobile population in First World Countries. And no doubt future generations will derive a certain humorous pleasure in reviewing the record of our debates over technologies that will one day be deemed completely obsolete.”
The urgency of God’s message for our world has throughout history been a prime mover of communication and communications technologies. At times, people of faith have led the drive for new communications methods, and occasionally they have struggled to stay current with the available means of communications.
We take for granted the technologies and methods that have, one by one, been enormous contributors to the work of the church:
Printing: The printing press revolutionized the Church, serving as a major catalyst for the Reformation. It was in 1450 that Johann Gutenberg developed a technique for commercial printing using movable type. The process became known as letterpress, and enabled Gutenberg to produce printed books of high quality. Most notable of these was the Gutenberg Bible of 1455. In a breathtakingly short period of time, roughly 50 years, more than eight million volumes had been printed, estimated to be more books than all the combined scribes of prior human history had produced. Throughout the years, Christian activists have tried to master the art of getting positive mention in newspapers and magazines, two media products that are heading (I fear) toward extinction.
Telephone: It was the manipulation of electrical current that created the first telegraph, opening the era of immediate long-distance communication. In 1837 British scientists Charles Wheatsone and William Cooke were inventing an electric telegraph system right at the same time as Samuel Morse, working with Alfred Vail, was also inventing a workable system. Just 39 years later Alexander Graham Bell invented the first practical telephone.
Until the invention of the telegraph, long-distance communication required people to move messages physically from place to place, a time-consuming activity involving travel by horse, boat, stagecoach, or other vehicle. Because of the difficulty of this type of one-way communication, messages were simple and utilitarian. The telegraph, and later the telephone, helped decrease the dependence of communication on transportation, making the space between people less important and their messages longer but often less consequential. Today the cell phone has made instantaneous long-distance communication portable.
Radio: In 1915 a former telegraph operator by the name of David Sarnoff suggested to a Vice-President of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America that he had an idea to produce a “Radio Music Box” that would be capable of receiving radio signals on several different wave lengths. In a memo he wrote: “If only one million families thought well of the idea, it would…yield considerable revenue.” That idea was rejected and about a decade later Sarnoff’s company, RCA, was selling enough radio sets to establish it as a world leader among industrial firms.
In the early days of radio, some church leaders were wary of radio waves because they feared that it was a medium controlled by Satan, the “prince of the air.” An early radio preacher marveled when people came to Christ listening to a broadcast. “Unction can be transmitted,” he exclaimed.
Radio has been used mightily by the church for evangelism, preaching to the faithful, discussing Christian engagement, and broadcasting the music of the faith. This is true in this country, and it continues to be used for multiple purposes, especially in areas more difficult to reach with the Gospel through traditional means.
Television: The television has had powerful influence on the church. Indeed, millions of viewers each week find their spiritual education, conviction, and nurture on the television. For huge numbers of people, both the infirmed and the healthy, their preacher is the television preacher. However, the use of television by evangelicals is mixed. The evangelistic message of Billy Graham’s televised crusades is unmistakable, including the offer of counselors that can be reached by toll-free numbers on the telephone. But many of the “televangelists” have misused the medium. “Television evangelism,” Christian fundraising guru Russ Reid said, “is bad television and bad evangelism.”
The Internet: Thomas Jefferson advanced the concept of the free library system in which information in printed form could be transferred and made accessible to large numbers of people. What would Mr. Jefferson think of the information superhighway available today on computers via the Internet? He’d probably love it and its power to equalize. The church is learning how to use the new media along with everyone else. With smart phones that access the Web, dynamic websites with flash graphics and webcam, churches have global access and reach, and the power to create a kind of digitally-based holiness for members and non-members alike.
Last week, a friend who pastors a Christian church in India, extended his visit to our area, which made it necessary for him to preach Sunday morning services in India from here in Atlanta. He stood on the kitchen counter, preached vigorously into a Webcam on a laptop in the middle of the night (12 hour time difference), a broadcast to the church via Skype. Except for the relatively low cost of the laptop and a Skype fee, it was virtually free. That’s just amazing!
Christian churches, organizations, writers, and just about everyone else are learning along with the rest of the world how to establish and embellish an Internet presence. Church web sites and Internet blogs are increasingly being seen as opportunities to engage the culture with the message of Jesus Christ.
Today’s communication is a blur. How do you communicate spiritual depth in digital bytes or in 140 characters? We are moving from the immediacy of television and radio to the blinding speed of 4G and an almost completely mobile world. Just how do you communicate the deep truths of faith and purpose in the constantly attention-compromised, distracted time bits afforded to you by a generation on the run?
That brings us to the challenges that will be faced by the Christian leaders of the rising generation. There seems to be a new device or communications system every day, and many of the next-generation technological developments are not yet on the horizon.
Here’s Forbes’ guess at the coolest communications devices of the future. They include:
- Empathetic Communication
- The Phone Glove
- Micromedia Paper: a book on one sheet
- $100 laptop
- Ubik Concept Mobile Phone
- Haptics: touchy-feely
- VOWI-FI: hot spots become home phone lines
- 802.16 Phones: huge band width for phones
- VVT Finish Walking Bio Identification Phone
- Qualcomm IMOD Phone: revolution in screen lighting
Throughout the decades we have certainly learned that modernizations and technologies are spiritually inert and must be evaluated not simply by their modernity but by the impact they will have on individual character, communion with God, meaningful community, authentic communication of the Gospel, depth of knowledge, the quality of family and community life, and service to those in need.