Internet provides useful tools, ‘guardrails’ needed to connect conscientiously

Technology and its benefits and dangers have become a major topic of discussion among Christians as many are finally returning to in-person worship services and recognizing the effects of Zoom meetings, online education and the proliferation of dangerous places on the web.

Two pastors at Vaughn Forest Church in Montgomery recently discussed the topic of technology and how it relates to children and families during an episode of their podcast, The Other Six.

Adam Bishop, lead pastor at Vaughn Forest, and Matt Collins, worship pastor, covered a variety of topics revolving around technology, especially how children and teenagers can navigate it well and how churches can use it to reach the world.

Technology has become a “digital mess” for some, Collins suggested, wondering aloud whether people can find a positive way forward.

“Technology has been awesome in a lot of ways,” Bishop acknowledged, noting how far the internet has come since the 1990s when many still didn’t even know what it was. 

“I’ve lived through all of those shifts and changes over the last 10–15 years, and the biggest difference [is] you used to have to seek out technology, and obviously now it finds us,” Bishop said. “All of these different things are allowing us to continue to do some things conveniently. They’re allowing us to connect.”

Convenience factor

Bishop added that as convenient as technological advances can be, there have to be some limits.

“It’s like anything else,” he said. “If you don’t put boundaries in place — and I’m not talking about censorship — I’m talking about your own personal lives … eventually a good thing becomes a ‘god’ thing, and that’s a bad thing.”

Anything that takes over our lives becomes bad, Bishop asserted. The dangers are especially significant for children and teenagers, he said.

“The dangers are when you expect a child or a teenager to know how to manage this like an adult,” Bishop said. “Teenagers and kids don’t have the emotional maturity to manage the technology that we’re giving them, but they think they do …. Kids don’t understand the ramifications of where this technology can take them and it will ultimately end up pretty destructive to their lives.”

The church

When the pandemic hit, many churches were forced quickly into the same situation as families — they had to figure out what technology was appropriate for ministry when people were stuck at home and how to use the digital tools that made the most sense.

“If COVID had happened in any other time, we wouldn’t have had the technology to do what we did, so what a blessing that was,” Bishop said. “We did Facebook devotions and we did all of our services online, and I’m grateful we were able to do that.”

He noted that though most churches are meeting in person now and that season has passed, forcing them to go online has made the church’s uses of technology better.

But doing church online was not Jesus’ plan, Bishop clarified. Jesus’ instructions as He ascended to heaven became what the Church calls the Great Commission, and “this is what we’ve been called to do as a church,” Bishop said. “For the life of me, I can’t think that what He had in mind is us doing that digitally and not with one another.

“Technology is a tool to get the gospel message out. It’s a tool to help us connect with people, but it will never replace being with people. The idea that it’s the same is just not true.”

“So how do we ‘de-normalize’ it?” Collins asked.

Bishop said people need to start making the distinctions between online life and real life, encouraging them to take a break from technology. 

“It probably won’t go over well, like a detox,” Bishop joked, adding on a more serious note that people often decompress from the stresses of life with technology, so taking a break from their phones isn’t as easy as it may seem.

Creating distinctions

“It’s difficult if you’ve already got kids or teenagers that are already in that pattern … that you don’t try to make them think the technology is bad or wrong,” he said. “You’re trying to create some distinctions.”

Bishop noted three options for responding to the contemporary technological world: isolation, saturation or interpretation. 

Since isolating from the benefits of technology is not helpful, and saturating life with nonstop technology is also unhealthy, interpreting what’s happening is the most beneficial option, especially when it comes to having open conversations with kids, he said.

“We’re going to talk about these things out in the open,” Bishop said. “There’s not going to be shame associated with these conversations because they didn’t do anything wrong. Get what’s going on in your kids’ lives on your agenda. That’s what parenting looks like today.”

Bishop suggested there are spiritual benefits of using technology, noting the prevalence of online resources that point to the Bible and Jesus.

“What you want to do is point [others] in the direction of really positive things from technology,” Bishop said. “You can’t just be on the defensive side. You have to be on the offensive side as well.”

The most important thing to remember is that adults and children can use technological advances that have been given by God to reach the world for Christ, Collins and Bishop agreed.

“The technology we have today makes it easier for that to happen,” Bishop said. “We want to make sure our kids understand that technology can actually be the way we finally fulfill the Great Commission. Most Christians don’t know there are places on earth that the gospel message has not reached. We have been given a great task that has not been completed yet.

“Technology and the internet and being online can be leveraged to complete that task, and our kids’ generation can be the ones to do it.” 

To listen to The Other Six podcast or visit vaughnforest.com.

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