Talking Technology and Theology
Business people, techies, pastors need to discuss digital addiction and new ideas, panel says
By Mike Strathdee
As printed in The Marketplace – July/August 2018
WATERLOO, ON — Pastors and people working in the technology sector need to learn how to talk to each other so they can collaborate to strengthen the church, James Kelly says.
Kelly made the comment at The Fusing of Minds: How Tech, Church and Business Can Create Together seminar. It was sponsored by Faith Tech, a Waterloo-based organization.
Faith Tech, founded by Kelly in 2016, provides a place for Christians working in the technology sector to share their stories and think about ways to apply their talents to pressing social challenges.
Faith Tech’s Waterloo chapter has a network of over 550 people involved. Chapters in Toronto and Vancouver have also connected with hundreds of people.
In the US, a Chicago chapter was launched this spring. There has been a Faith Tech event in San Francisco as well.
The Waterloo event was held at Shopify, a rapidly growing, publicly traded company whose software allows other firms to set up online stores to sell their goods. Panelists included: Michael Hanna, Shopify’s revenue operations lead manager; John Stix, co-founder of Fibernetics, Canada’s fifth-largest telecom company, and Elle Pyke, a lay minister with the Free Methodist Church and co-founder of the New Leaf Network, which works with church planters.
Friends who work in the tech sector have often told Kelly: “I don’t know my place in the church.”
When they speak to their pastors, they are asked to fix a PowerPoint presentation or the church’s website, not what they are struggling with personally.
At the same time, ministry leaders tell Kelly conversations about digital addiction are becoming increasingly frequent, and they don’t know how to think about it. Digital addiction will be the biggest mental health crisis of the next decade, according to a US author. The church is “15-20 years behind in thinking about any of this stuff,” Kelly said.
For a younger generation, technology isn’t seen as a tool, but rather “part of who they are,” and pastors often don’t know how to deal with that.
For Kelly, digital addiction is analogous to eating disorders. “For a lot of people in your occupation, you can’t go without technology, much like you can’t survive without eating.”
Digital addiction is a complex issue, “because it’s so tied to our survival now in this world,” he says.
Church leaders have “a bit of a lack of imagination… around what it really looks like to use technology,” Pyke said.
Fear and a lack of “sanctified imagination” is a big issue preventing leaders from using technology for mission.
Hanna sees five categories when it comes to church and technology. One is those who believe that technology is evil. “Thou shalt stay away.”
A second view sees technology as being necessary, “so I’ll use it cuz I have to, and I won’t be able to reach the youth if I don’t.”
A third layer is the group of people who see technology as being helpful and will use it to engage the broader church community as much as possible, he said.
A fourth layer is people who recognize that use of tech gives them an advantage in engaging both church and community.
The fifth layer is people who recognize the use of technology as a tool for fulfilling the five-fold roles of ministry laid out in the New Testament book of Ephesians, chapter four: “to equip the church to do the work of the ministry.”
The church “ought to be the leaders of technology,” he said. “We ought to be the ones who are producing what is next.”
Stix affirmed the need for more conversations like those happening at Faith Tech to provide support for people working in tech. “I became quite lost, as a leader within the very dream that I helped create, but I didn’t know who to reach out to.”
A tech sector veteran, Stix admitted to finding the rate of change to be staggering when he visited Silicon Valley in the US recently.
Churches need to see how start-ups throw caution to the wind in trying new approaches and understand that “courage doesn’t exist without the presence of fear,” he said. “We have to be courageous enough to embrace change.”
Hanna believes churches can learn rapid prototyping, quickly trying to iterate new services and approaches for their target audiences.
Pyke agreed. “My encouragement to church leaders is — try new and strange ideas.”The fastest-growing religious designation is those who claim no affiliation, possibly as many as 35 per cent of people. Among millennials that number is 40 per cent. One in three kids under the age of 20 leave the church.
“Whether we like it or lump it, the world around us has changed.”
Millennials are a misunderstood group who are looking for authentic connection to purpose, Stix said. As many as 55 per cent of the people in that age bracket are looking to change jobs this year, providing an opportunity for leaders who figure out how to relate to them.
People working in tech can still learn important lessons from the church, Hanna said. One of these is the message of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God and recognizing that as children of God, “out of confidence in your identity comes uninhibited creativity.”
Church plants are taking unusual approaches to reaching the next generation. The Geekdom House group, which works under Crestview Park Free Methodist Church in Winnipeg, MB is doing outreach to the gaming community to start a church, Pyke noted. “If you don’t like what you are getting, you have to change what you are doing.”
Society will soon be at an inflection point “where we will see more encounters with God in boardrooms, in incubators, in cubicles and whatever the space is than we will see them at the altars of local church buildings,” Hanna predicts.
Jesus’ experience with his disciples was experiential, not classroom based, he noted.
Pyke often thinks of Jesus’ response to a blind beggar who asks him for mercy. The story in Luke 18 says Jesus responded: “What do you want me to do for you?”
Pastors, tech workers and business people should all be asking each other that question, she said. ◆