Monday, March 23, 2009

LIFE AND MINISTRY BPC (before personal computing)

It may seem hard to believe, but there was an era BPC—“before personal computing.” I grew up in that era and I conducted my early ministries in that era. No, I’m not that old (really, honestly), it’s just that the information superhighway is actually a fairly recent innovation. I cannot imagine doing what I do today without a laptop, yet there was a day when I did.

What would I have done with computing technology in the early days of my ministry? How would it have been different?

1. Study. I was (and still am) a book guy. I have lots of books. And when I study and prep, there’s no substitute for having open tomes in front of me that I can flip back and forth, shuffle around, carry with me when I need to stretch, and (as needed) use to dispatch a spider or two to the afterlife.
Yet, there is no denying that some of my study and prep took a leap forward when someone gave me a copy of QuickVerse. Suddenly, I could compare Bible versions side by side, bring up a map of the region, and access a commentary. And with the internet, I could find illustrations, cultural connections, and a virtual deluge of info that could help me in getting ready for a sermon. These tools and more have not replaced books, but they have made finding and organizing the data a little faster.

2. Productivity. When I was younger, I remember the Sunday School lady coming into each classroom, count the kids, write something in her little book, and leave. I found some of those records when I later became the pastor of that same church. I admired the loving care and dedication of that dear saint, but I also wondered if there was a better, more efficient way of doing it, that at least would allow this woman to get to her own Sunday School class on time. Preparing bulletins, writing reports, and managing the sheer amount of basic paperwork was a task that took time and patience.
We have tools available now that would have helped, from simple and very basic spreadsheets to sophisticated attendance/security systems. Bulletins could be prepared, edited, and stored in advance. I could actually type a report, stop, save, and come back to it later, rather than have to invest a long period of time in typing it in one sitting.

3. Networking. The first church I pastored full time was a small church in Colorado, affiliated with a major denomination. Once or twice a year, we’d get together in our region and swap stories and get motivated about the latest denominational trend. But phone calls were not always practical and snail mail was, well, slow. And aside from the local ministerial alliance in our city, I had very little contact with anybody outside.
With the rise of the internet, that has changed. I can communicate in real or near real time with ministry colleagues across the country. I’ve met some in person, and some I haven’t, but I count them as friends and partners in ministry. This is tremendous, because it combats the feeling of loneliness that often swamps those in ministry.

4. Wider presence. Evangelism and discipleship are primarily “individual contact” activities. That will not change. But there are also other avenues that churches often use to spread the word that they are there. If your church had a big enough budget, you could take out advertising in the local newspaper or phone directory. You could invest in a bigger sign. And if you really wanted to be noticed, you could get a drive time spot on the Christian radio station or produce your own church broadcast. But if you didn’t have money, you did what our church did: try to get as many events mentioned in the paper as possible. And for a small church, that wasn’t very many. Our evangelism and discipleship were one-on-one, but we had no wider presence beyond that.
But with the rise of the internet, a church can create a website, have a podcast, and spread their message far and wide for little or no extra cost. It’s like having an instantly updated church flyer available to anyone 24-7! Many are the times I’ve thought about my early churches and what a website for these churches would have looked like.

5. Fun. Okay, I was not exactly cut off from civilization in these early ministries. We had cable. I listened to the radio. But there were few instant distractions available.
Since then, I have come to appreciate the internet as a place to read an interesting article from a newspaper in another part of the country, listen to inspiring music, or even watch an entire episode of a television show from my youth.

No, I did not have a personal computer or internet in those days. The ministries presented their own challenges and opportunities for growth and development. While I wish I knew then what I know now, I have no real regrets. But there is no doubt that the rise of computer technology has altered the way we do this thing called “ministry.” And another twenty years from now, I may once again be wondering what this era would have been like with the new technology.

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