God’s message to humanity has taken on constantly morphing forms over time, from stone tablets to papyrus scrolls to gilt-edged books. For the Christian community, the story of the “Day of Pentecost” in the Book of Acts makes the case that there is no single sacred language or medium for communicating God’s presence. Rather, the means by which one can experience God is expansive and inclusive of many forms. For me, one of the most promising forms today is the digital tablet.
As I begin my service as the pastor at St. Mark Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, I want to embrace digital tablets and other such devices as means of experiencing God’s presence. With two touches and a swipe, we can read about the travails of the world’s newest nation called South Sudan, and suddenly our prayer lives take on new tears. With the pound sign, followed by five digits, we can make an instant contribution to disaster relief in a tsunami-struck land. With a scroll or two, we can read a blog that challenges our fixed ideas and invites us to consider grace in a new way. It is not that digital engagement replaces the face-to-face moments of worship, service and community. Rather, it is a medium that enables us to engage the world, one another and God’s grace anew.
In addition to being a medium, a digital tablet is a powerful metaphor for ministry. It is portable. It accepts new apps easily because of its sophisticated underpinnings. And it offers platforms for innovation and communities for open-source sharing. More than anything, digital technologies invite us to experience life in ways that were unimaginable just a few decades ago.
Those are the very attributes that enable churches to be constantly reformed as God does a new thing among us. Of course, there are pitfalls and risks. Of course, there are times to put the devices away. Of course, there is a steep learning curve for learning to use such devices well. Unfortunately, those challenges also tend to be metaphors for ministry in the 21st century. Too many churches hamper ministry by fear of risk taking, lack of Sabbath rest and wariness to learn something new.
The Christian Scriptures say that Jesus Christ is the same today, yesterday and forever. A lot of folks take that to mean that the church is most faithful if it hangs onto what it has always believed and practices what it has always done. I see it differently. What doesn’t change about Christ is that he is always constantly bursting out of the confining boxes that we try to build around him. Just like in the first century, the living Christ among us is constantly re-inscribing for us who our neighbor is, what justice calls us to do and how God is present among us. The difference is that now Jesus invites us to include social media in experiencing, celebrating and proclaiming his presence among us. And with digital tablets, we don’t have to lug stone tablets around in our book bags any more!
MARK DAVIS is the pastor of St. Mark Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach.