Technology is cool. Really cool. And rightly so. Technology has been here since the beginning. According to Genesis, the only thing older than technology is the Godhead itself.
Think about it. Creation is the single most cataclysmic technological event in the history of the universe. Theologians tell us that God created all that exists ex nihilo — out of nothing. Talk about a technological marvel!
So, how did He do it?
He spoke. And therein lies both a technical and ministerial reality we must not miss.
God’s creative activity, His “technology” if you will, is based on language. God literally spoke the universe into existence using words strung together to form specific thoughts: language!
This is important to consider in the dialogue about technology and youth ministry because contemporary technology has a way of diminishing the enormous importance of language in our lives and the lives of the youth we serve. Technology often bypasses language in order to speak directly to our senses through images, touch, sounds, tastes, and smells. So why is this a problem?
Language is essential to technology. This is true because language assumes and creates definition and distinction, and without distinction there can be no technology.
All digital code, for example, can be reduced to a series of ones and zeros. Each “digit” (zero or one) represents the simplest form of distinction: on or off, A or non-A, yes or no, true or false. Various types of machines (like computers) then read the digital language and perform the distinct functions communicated by the language.
Digital programmers will tell you there are only 10 kinds of people in the world: those who understand digital and those who don’t. (Think about it.) That’s simple distinction.
Christian theology (the basis of your calling and ministry) is equally reliant on distinction. When asked His name by Moses, God replied, “YAHWEH” — I AM. With this simple word (YAHWEH) God uttered the ultimate theological distinction, Himself. He is like no other god, person, or thing.
Somewhere along the way we took a theological (and technological) step backward when we stopped using His name. Most people in church today don’t know His name is Jehovah (the anglicized form of YAHWEH). We refer to Him as God with only an uppercase “G” to separate Jehovah God from any other god.
Theological hair splitting? Not at all. Without the distinction inherent in language (and names like Jehovah), our words become gibberish and our technology comes to a screeching halt. (Remember Babel?)
Without distinction our ministries become irrelevant because love is the same as hate. Without distinction our message becomes empty because there is nothing to say and no way to say it. If we allow our technology (whether it be laser lights or candles) to displace language, then we will eventually displace Jehovah Himself with nothing more than a mystery that impacts our senses but is unable to speak to the mind, lift the spirit, challenge the heart, and redeem the soul.
At the end of the “show” when the power strips are turned off and the incense has burned out, are your young people better able to speak to and hear from Jehovah, the God who uses language and ultimately spoke through the “Word,” Jesus Christ? Has your technology helped them know Him, or have they merely sensed Him? Do they understand He is distinct from all other gods, all other personalities, and all other things? Or have you left them wondering where He is, who He is, and what He is?
Language has taken a “hit” in our day. We seem to prefer mystery over revelation, silence over sermons, and feelings over fact. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with mystery, silence, or feelings. But they are not the end.
Young people especially need clarity, direction, and grounding in reality. It shouldn’t surprise us that as young people become increasingly distanced from language, they are also becoming less thoughtful, less focused, and less grounded.
Creation may be our best model for understanding, using, and shepherding technological advances. By using and affirming the power and place of language, we affirm the distinct person and power of Jehovah. When we consistently speak to the distinct and absolute reality of Jehovah’s personhood, we establish the ideological and emotional foundation for all of life.
“And God said. . .”
Hey, if it’s good enough for Him. . .
RICK EDWARDS is a 30-year ministry veteran with experience as both a youth pastor and senior pastor. He currently serves as associate publisher for Salem Publishing and executive editor of YOUTHWORKER JOURNAL. He’s also interim pastor at a country church north of Nashville.