The Social Hour – Gadget Use During Worship?

Like many other smartphone users, I typically take my iPhone with me wherever I go. If I’m heading out to work, running errands, or even just getting the mail, my iPhone is coming with. It holds all the information I need to make it through the day – as well as my favorite games, apps, news feeds, etc. Given the large role that smartphones and tablets play in our daily lives, it makes sense that we would bring our devices to Church with us. From acting as an electronic Bible for referencing Scripture, to being as a simple pad for taking notes during the Sunday sermon, these devices are a helpful aid to many Christians during worship.

Taking a quick look during last Sunday’s church service confirmed this fact for me. The minister giving the sermon that morning was reading it from his iPad. The two women in front of me were reading the morning Scripture using a Bible app on their iPhones. These kinds of uses for personal technology during Church are visible throughout many congregations.

As I continued to look around, I also observed people using technology in other ways during worship services:

  • A teen playing Kandy Krush during the sermon.
  • A minister taking pictures of the choir during praise and worship, and posting it to Facebook.
  • Another person taking a quote from the preacher and posting it to Twitter during the sermon.

More and more Christians are using their devices during worship services. Many pastors actively encourage their congregations to text or tweet during church. In a Houston Chronicle article about the trend, Pastor Kerry Shook of Woodlands Church asserted that this use of technology is “a way to make members feel they’re part of the message”. Other churches offer “Selfie Sundays”, where worshippers are encouraged to take pictures of themselves during the worship service and post them on social media.

While some embrace this trend, there are some Christians who are dismayed by it. Just as technology can help us to better connect with the preached Word during worship services, it can also give us access to a world of OTHER things. These other things can quickly become a distraction, pulling the user out of the worship service. The question that some Christians are asking is – at what point do our smartphones and tablets stop helping our worship experience and begin distracting us from it?

This divide illustrates the growing need for a discussion within the Church about the role of technology during worship services. While it may be tempting for us to jump to old stereotypes, this shouldn’t become a pro-technology vs. Luddite discussion. It’s a matter of what helps us best accomplish what all of us came to Church to do, which is uplift the name of Jesus.

For some Christians, the use of technology during worship is a non-issue. Phones and tablets give us the chance to enhance our worship experience by providing us quick access to the right information, as well as helping us to make note of what’s important. Taking pictures, recording video, and using social media are simply a natural extension of that utility. Our devices are the fundamental medium by which people communicate with others, and are common elements of everyday life in the 21st century. Part of the Church adapting to modern society includes being welcoming when it comes to both people and their gadgets. Since we use these devices regularly Monday through Saturday, why would we change our behavior on Sunday? Additionally, technology should be a tool for evangelizing in any church today. By posting a picture of the choir singing, or tweeting a line or two of this week’s sermon, Christians are actively reaching out to people in their social networks, sharing God’s Word and encouraging others to come to church.

Conversely, there are those that say our use of technology during worship has begun to eclipse in importance the reason we are in Church in the first place. Since our smartphones and tablets are communication devices, it is easy to allow them to distract us from the worship that is taking place around us. When you take out your phone to send out a quick picture of your church’s Dance Ministry in action, your praise of God in that moment is paused for the sake of that post. What happens if, while sending the picture, you receive some other post or picture that catches your attention? Or shortly after your post, your phone vibrates, notifying you that someone comment on it? In these situations, its very easy for us to be drawn into that virtual world and begin a totally separate conversation. This takes us on a tangent that removes us from the worship service, and away from worshiping God. Our sole focus of at this time should be on God – with all other things being secondary. While posting pictures of a worship service, or sharing sermon quotes may be a form of spreading the Gospel, the primary goal of the worship service is to express our love and worship to our Savior, Jesus the Christ. Church services are a special time that is set apart solely for this purpose.

So what do you think – has the use of smartphones and tablets during worship services become a distraction?

Money For Nothing – Google and the Future of Work

A couple weeks ago, the Financial Times published an exclusive interview with Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page. The interview is largely centered around Page’s vision of the future, and Google willingness to make big gambles on what are now “fringe” technologies, in the hope that they will radically reshape our future for the better. As part of this discussion, Larry Page discusses his vision for the future of work. Page’s perspective is that artificial intelligence, sooner or later, will eliminate most work, which in his mind is a good thing.

“Rapid improvements in artificial intelligence, for instance, will make computers and robots adept at most jobs. Given the chance to give up work, nine out of 10 people ‘wouldn’t want to be doing what they’re doing today’.”

Page goes on to say that trying to cling to work for work’s sake is not the way to go.

“The idea that everyone should slavishly work so they do something inefficiently so they keep their job – that just doesn’t make any sense to me. That can’t be the right answer.”

The interview is worth reading, as it provides insight into the mind of Page. Whether you agree with him or not, Page and Google  play a major role in determining what you and I see online today, and will likely be a part of what our future with technology will look like.

His views, while inline with what one would expect from a Silicon Valley executive, raise other, more complex questions. What the elimination of work might mean for humanity from a spiritual perspective? Does work have any real value beyond – simply accomplishing a stated objective?

The Book of James speaks to the important role work plays in our spiritual maturation. Chapter 1 opens with:

 2Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

In this verse, James makes the point that the difficulties we experience enable us to become more spiritually mature, since they test our faith. While the trial is unpleasant, and we wish they would end quickly, they are also something we should give thanks for because they make us better Christians.

At the times, James was speaking to the early Christian Church, which was undergoing persecution from the Roman Empire. For them, the trials James was referring to likely spoke to that condition. Most Christians in the Western world don’t undergo the type of persecution the Early Church experienced, but we do experience trials. For many of us, one of the major sources of trials in our lives is work. Whether occurring on a job, or in the process of trying to complete a difficult personal task, work frequently puts us in trying and stressful circumstances. These conditions often test our faith, and push us to rely on God. We lean on Him to sustain us through whatever we’re going through. The experiences we endure while working are often given context and meaning when later viewed through the lens of Scripture.  The things we experience while working, with the help of the Holy Spirit, can mature us spiritually when we persevere through them.

Given this understanding, how do the words of James sit when compared to Larry Page’s work-free future?

Technology has now advanced to the point where humanity must begin to consider the cost of eliminating work altogether. Larry Page is right in saying that in the near future, artificial intelligence and robotics will advance to the point where it will simply make more sense to use machines to do most work. And while it’s easy for us to sit back and daydream about a Jetson-esqe future where a cadre of robots attends to our every need, the real implications of this fact may be more complex. Losing “work” –  both in terms of employment and general labor – would remove a huge source of the “raw material” Christians need to strengthen our faith and become spiritually mature.

What do you think – are there any spiritual implications for Christians if Larry Page’s vision of a work-free future comes to pass?

Share your thoughts in the comments…