Thursday, June 20, 2024

Navigating Technology in Ministry: A Pastor’s Reflection on Post-Pandemic Church

Clergy Commentary by Pastor Paul Biedenbender

The Biedenbender family/Contributed

Well, that escalated quickly.

That was the thought that crossed my mind as I digested the first few pages of the EPIC report, “The Continuing Impact of Technology on Congregations.” I couldn’t help but think of the trajectory of our own congregation that lines up with the results of this survey of churches across the country. Many of us were thrown kicking and screaming into a new era — a new era that was unfamiliar and uncomfortable, having to figure out so many things on the fly. Lessons were learned, some picked up on quickly and others through trial and error, as we dug into the further features of Zoom, YouTube, and Facebook Live.  We scoured Amazon in order to see what was affordable and user friendly as we strove to improve sound and video quality. 

Why? The obvious answer is a global pandemic named COVID-19.  Restrictions and recommendations were put in place that made us change what we do best as churches — gather.  But there is a better answer to why we changed what we do so quickly — our love for God’s people and our desire to share with them a message of hope and security in a world thrown into fear and caution. It’s why pastors and church leaders pivoted to do what needs to be done to continue to serve their members and reach the lost and searching.

The same question of why needs to be at the heart of the matter as churches wrestle with and settle in on their use of technology for their ministries. I found myself considering primarily the role of a pastor while reviewing the results in the report of where churches have landed in their use of technology for worship and ministry.

In these instructions to Timothy, Paul gives encouragement to the young pastor when he would become discouraged by the popularity of false teachers and the fickleness of human nature. A pastor coming out of a pandemic and wrestling with the questions of “How much?”in the use of technology can be a discouraging internal dialogue as well.  I still don’t really know what I’m doing. Is it worth the effort? Is it doing more harm that good? Does too much lend itself to feeding the isolation that so many are lost in?  Does not enough leave us neglecting a tool to reach as many as we can? Can we even do it well enough?

That’s where those words are useful that an inspired Paul shared for the pastor. Keep your head. Endure hardship. Do the work of an evangelist. Discharge all the duties of your ministry. In other words, keep being a shepherd and many times those questions answer themselves. We listen to the sheep God has called us to serve and do what we need to do to make sure they are being fed. Sometimes, it’s right in our wheelhouse as we prepare worship and sermons, set up coffee conversations, sit in living rooms, pray in hospitals, listen over a beer, etc… Other times, that means stretching our own skill set and/or calling in the help of others in the body of Christ to fill in the gaps in our own abilities and time restraints. 

Is technology helping me discharge the duties of my ministry or is it creating a disconnect between the shepherd and his sheep?  God has blessed our day to do ministry with an incredible tool in technology.  The pastor must wield that tool reflecting faithfulness to his calling and genuine love for God’s people.

The study had some difficulty defining a “vibrant church.”  I wouldn’t want my church to consider itself vibrant simply because we are up to speed and frequent with technology. Vibrance, in my opinion, exist when two factors are present:

  1. Faithful proclamation of the gospel.  We have a treasure in the message of Christ that brings hope, peace, strength, unity, love, service, and more.  Clear, gospel centered, preaching and teaching breathes life.
  2. All things to all men.  The vibrant church listens to needs and serves those needs.  Whether it’s taking time to learn a new culture, listen to an individual, understand a circumstance, or stretch ourselves to places and abilities we didn’t know we were capable of, they all reflect ways that we show love to people and find ways to get that life giving Word to them.  When people are valued and honored by being listened to, it is going to lead to a vibrant gathering/church.  When the use of technology by a church is a way to value and serve others, we demonstrate a willingness to be flexible in carrying out our mission. 

What’s it all going to look like in five years?  We’re OK not having the answer to that question.  May God help us to keep our heads in all situations and discharge our duties faithfully even if/when things escalate quickly on us again.

Pastor Paul Biedenbender has served at Christ Lutheran Church in Denver since his assignment from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 2005. The neighborhood congregation offers worship and Bible studies in both English and Spanish with much of its outreach coming through community service projects. Paul and his wife, Teresa, are blessed with four children – Jazmine, Camila, Emma, and TJ.