Technology has given us some powerful tools that are useful in our efforts to advance the kingdom of God among the unreached peoples of China. Massive databases of information on unreached peoples have been compiled and are being constantly updated. Communications systems that will allow intercessors, strategists, pastors, missionaries, and others interested in these people groups to access the information they need and to connect with co-workers are in development.
Increasingly affordable digital video cameras, editing equipment, and projectors are making it easier to put a face on unreached peoples, which is key to mobilizing intercession for and outreach to them. Widespread availability of VCD players in China has made it possible to distribute evangelistic and training videos within China.
The Internet is opening channels of communication with the rest of the world from within China that would have been impossible a few years ago.
It would seem, at first glance, that we ought to uncritically accept all these tools, and use them to the fullest extent possible. However, it might be wise to take a step back and consider the downside of our increasing reliance on technology in our quest to fulfill the Great Commission in China. In the insightful book Changing the Mind of Missions, Jim Engel and Bill Dyrness caution us against relying too much on the tools of technology, along with the other products of modernity.
There are a number of issues we must consider. Her are a few suggestions, offered not as the final word on this subject, but in the hope that they will stimulate some constructive thinking and dialog that will result in the wise use of technology in the discipling of unreached Chinese peoples.
Balance High-Tech Methods with High-Touch Ministry
Christian ministry is all about relationships. While God revealed something of what he is like in the natural order, when he wanted to fully reveal himself he came forth in the flesh. In like manner, we may be able to communicate something about God through the tools of technology, but there is no substitute for incarnational communication. A VCD of the Jesus film (to use one example) may be a relatively effective means of communicating the story of Christ, but a person—or better, a community of people—in whom the Spirit of Jesus is living is a far more effective means of bringing Christ himself to the unreached.
This is not to say we shouldn’t seek to distribute printed and audio-visual media that contains the gospel message as widely as possible within China. But wouldn’t it be better, whenever possible, to have this done by near-neighbor Christians who will use these resources to explain and supplement their own personal and corporate proclamation of the gospel in the context of on-going relationships?
The relational dynamic in communication is especially important in Asia. A recent article in the LA Times, “Selling the Internet to Skeptics,” telling the true story of a business marketing goods made in China through the Internet, made it clear that the key to success is personal relationships. The headline on the second page of the article said it all: “ASIA: Human Contact Still Vital to Bridging Internet Gap.” If that is true in creating business connections, how much more in creating spiritual connections!
In our urgency to reach the unreached, I fear that we sometimes forget that God has sovereignly chosen to use people to disciple people. The discipling of the peoples of the earth cannot be accomplished merely through the communication of propositional truths. The Chinese characters for “disciple” carry with them the idea of a student going to the door of a teacher to seek a mentoring relationship. What if, when the student comes, he finds not a teacher but only a book, VCD, or website? These may be effective tools, but can never substitute for a disciple-maker—to say nothing of a community of reproducing disciples!
Test for Appropriateness
Just because something exists doesn’t mean we have to use it. That seems obvious, but you wouldn’t know it by the way we all rush out to buy the latest gadget to hit the shelves and then try to figure out how to use it in our ministry. An insightful article in the December 2000/January 2001 issue of FSB (Fortune Small Business) magazine cautions against such faddish excesses: “It’s all too easy to get sucked in by whizzy, high-tech toys that, in the end, clog the arteries of the business processes in your company rather than speed things up.” The article acknowledges that the payoff for using the right kind of technology can be huge, if—and it’s a big if—appropriate technologies are employed.
The article suggests two important tests of appropriateness:
- What is the expectation of real world return on investment?
- What level of technology can your business absorb and support? Be selective in your technology choices, the author advises:
Focus technology investments on precisely identified business problems, not on what’s new and hot or on what you want to play with . . . . This means that you have to think broadly about the technology path your business should follow, and not just about the right technology for the here and now. It takes thought, planning, and time before you commit to the expenditure.
This latter point is crucial for our work in China. The only way the huge task of discipling all the unreached peoples of China can be accomplished is through the multiplication of reproducing disciples and churches. Thus, the methods we use generally ought to be reproducible. We should seriously consider whether it is appropriate to use technologies that are not available to the church in China in our ministry there.
Obviously, the equation is different when considering what we need to manage our work and communicate with constituencies in our sending base. Still, using wisdom in tech purchases is vital.
Have Realistic Expectations
In his recent book Hooking Up, Tom Wolfe includes an essay entitled “Digibabble, Fairy Dust, and the Human Anthill.” In this essay he challenges the popularly held belief that the Internet is destined to transform human consciousness. He dubs this belief “digibabble,” which he defines as “the purely magical assumption that as the Web, Internet, spreads across the globe, the human mind expands with it.”
While most Christians would disavow having such an obviously humanistic belief, there is evidence to suggest that we have been infected by it. How many of us, as new technologies developed, have fallen into the error of thinking “This is the key to reaching the world!” Think back to previous technological breakthroughs: the printing press, radio, and television, for example. All these were hailed as the ultimate solution to the challenge of world evangelization. But were they?
Obviously not; the task has still not been completed. All these tools have been very helpful, but in and of themselves none has proven to be the silver bullet that would enable us to complete the task of world evangelization. We need to have realistic expectations of what technology can do.
Wolfe tells us that the Web, the Internet, does one thing: it speeds up the retrieval and dissemination of information. Most of us have found that the Web is also a great way to establish and maintain connections with people. Nevertheless, access to a huge amount of data on people groups does not mean that we are any closer to reaching them. A great deal depends upon how we use the information. If it results in more fervent and effective intercession, in developing wise strategies for the discipling of these peoples, in enabling the global body of Christ to partner together to reach them, then—and only then—will it be of any use.
This final point might be the most critical one. Each of us in the body of Christ brings a part of the answer to the question of how the Great Commission might be fulfilled. As researchers and computer gurus and evangelists and disciplers and publishers and church planters and people with other gifts and tools work together in partnership, we can see great progress towards the goal our Lord has set before us.
Let’s use wisely every tool God has given us—technological or otherwise—in the service of our King, and his kingdom will advance, not by humanistic machinations, but by his Spirit working in and through his church.