A few months ago I heard a young woman share her testimony of discovering Christ. In a predominantly Muslim nation, torn by war and violence and with no viable Christian witness, her heart was crying, “What is love?” So she did what so many in the world do today - she turned to Google for her answer… and she discovered Jesus.
Many of us have heard of organisations like FEBC (Far East Broadcasting Company) using radio to share the gospel in many nations which are hard to access. And we’ve heard testimony from someone who heard about Jesus via the radio or encountered Jesus when they watched the Jesus film. That’s still happening, and let’s be praying for more to hear that way. But increasingly we are hearing of people encountering Jesus through Google or YouTube or elsewhere on the internet, most often accessed through their mobile device. Many of them, like that young woman, had never met a Christian.
Technology is all around us; it’s a part of our life. Since the release of the iPhone in 2007 there have been almost a billion people born. Born into a world where the internet in their pocket is second nature; a world of instant communication and touch devices.
Technology, as it always has done, has changed our world in so many incredible ways; and it continues to do so. It changes how we communicate, how we access information and learn, how we shop and bank, how we get from A to B and engage with the world. It’s even changed how we wait in a queue* (see below) and how companies advertise to us.
How many million posts hit Facebook or Twitter, how many photos on Insta or clips on snapchat, from God’s people each day? How many of us stream or lurk on Twitch or Mixer, spend our downtime plugged into discord or playing Fortnite, League or COD? Or maybe just crushing candy on that daily commute or filming boomerangs for fun, or binging Netflix.
Media and technology go hand in hand. Media provides a medium for the message and technology the vehicle, for companies and organisations to get the message out to their audience in the most effective way possible. Many companies have the technology. But do they have a worthy message?
We have this same technology at our fingertips – literally - and it’s not going away. It can get our message to places our bodies can’t go, delivering in a medium that we wouldn’t otherwise have access to. Technology simply increases our opportunities to spread the gospel. The question is, what are we doing with it? How are we using technology to bring life? How has technology changed how we do mission?
When we talk change in mission, we must remember that the message of the gospel hasn’t changed; it doesn’t need to. The gospel is the same across all time, all generations and every culture and language. However, the way we frame it, the vehicle for the gospel, can impact how effectively we introduce this message to the nations.
The truth is that the gospel message isn’t affected if the medium, or delivery is bad. The gospel loses none of its lustre without the polished delivery, because the fruit of the gospel is still, and always will be, dependant ultimately on the Holy Spirit’s conviction. But technology and the media come into play in getting that message out there, into the hands and eyes and ears of the people Jesus has sent us to. For the many who have come to Christ through radio or YouTube, that message has always been coupled with a movement of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. He is already there; we are just getting the message out to where God is already working. It is part of God wanting us involved in what he is already doing.
When it comes to missions, we know we have The Message (and I am not talking Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible here): the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. A message that needs communicating in the most effective way possible. The greatest news that, sadly, a third of the world’s population - 3.14 billion - has never heard! 70,000 people a day die amongst unreached people groups, having never heard about Jesus. That’s one billion people so far in my lifetime! If there is ever a message that needs communicating the most effective way possible, it is our message. The gospel of Jesus Christ.
Whether it is WEC, another mission, or any of the many thousands of local churches around the world, we have the message. But what medium are we using? How are we getting this message to the lost? Are we being effective in leveraging technology for Christ?
Christians in the West are saturated with media content. So many of our churches have their sermons on the net; podcasts on how to be a better Christian abound; worship music is being consumed by the terabyte every day; Christian e-books and blogs are everywhere.
Yet how much media is being created for those who have little opportunity to hear? What percentage of Christian media resources goes into either awareness about or direct evangelism amongst unreached people groups? The answer is very little, both in terms of time, money and people.
The good news is that the missions world is constantly adapting to new technologies, to new mediums of communication, resulting in more unreached people being exposed to the gospel. Many mission organisations are crying out for skilled workers, not just in church planting, but in media, IT and other technologies. Just like those big corporations, missions in the modern arena needs people with digital skills.
How often when you look on mission opportunities webpages do you see positions vacant for videographers, photographers, website developers, writers, designers, marketers and IT workers? There is a dearth of technological skills going into missions. There is a need for these skills on the mission field today. God is continuing to call people with skills in media and IT into missions. Could you be one of them?
* Statistically, the chewing gum industry took a large hit with the invention of the smartphone, as people waiting in supermarket queues were focused on their devices rather than on chewing gum (and other impulse buys) in the approach to the check-out. (Business Insider, 2017)
Ben’s passion is seeing people connecting with and walking with Jesus. Whilst he dabbles in different forms of media, he still reckons the best media we have is each other.