Communication, Spirituality and the Future

By Lynne M. Baab
Seed Sampler, a publication of Mustard Seed Associates, Winter 2010

In the past two decades the variety of new communication technologies has exploded. These new ways to connect with people and to access information will have a significant impact on spirituality in the years to come.

One area of impact involves access to information and resources for spiritual growth. Many Bible translations are now available on the internet, as are Bible study guides, devotional material, resources for connecting with the church calendar, and countless blog posts and articles that make suggestions about spiritual practices.

An increasingly significant role for Christian ministers and leaders is to help people discern the gold amid the dross in these resources. Many Christians have no idea that such an abundance of resources are available online. Others are overwhelmed at the options. Yet others are accessing material from dubious sources when better resources are available. Increasingly, Christian leaders are using Twitter, Facebook and blog posts to provide links to material they find helpful. Church websites and bulletins can also be used to direct members to helpful material. A commitment to providing guidance will be increasingly necessary.

A cornucopia of resources and opinions from the global church is much more readily available online these days as well, a trend that will continue to bless and confuse in the years to come. The fantastic opportunity to learn about Christian practices in other parts of the world is offset by the challenge of discernment. What practices from Christians in Bolivia or Sri Lanka are relevant and helpful for our faith community in Omaha or Tampa or Toronto?

Discernment about practices that come from other religions will continue to be essential as well. As globalization has increased and world religions appear on our doorstep because of immigration, we need help figuring out how to dialog with and learn from people of other religions. The internet makes information about other religions very accessible. As an example, I love the practice of mindfulness that comes from Buddhism, but I try to practice it in a Christian spirit.

What does that look like?

Where can a Christian get helpful, accurate and biblically informed information about such topics?

Christian leaders will continue to need to engage with these questions more frequently and think strategically about using every possible means of communication to steer people to the valuable resources that exist online.

Friendship and Community

A second area in which new communication technologies are having an impact on Christian spirituality is in the practice of friendship and Christian community. Cell phone text messages, Facebook, Skype and other technologies are changing the way people connect with each other. I’m currently writing a book on friendship in the Facebook age (to be published by InterVarsity Press in 2011), so my own friends have been sending me a plethora of articles and links to online resources about friendship in our electronic age. These articles span a wide variety of opinions.

On the one hand, many Christian writers say that the only “real” relationships happen in face-to-face settings, therefore Christians need to severely limit their electronic communication in order to nurture “real” relationships. On the other hand, others report the ways they have grown in faith and have nurtured helpful relationships online.

Increasingly home groups and prayer support groups are using text messages, email and Facebook to stay connected between meetings. Many individuals use text messages to send urgent prayer requests and to ask for support. Congregations and fellowship groups are using Facebook groups and pages to dialog and communicate information about their communal life.

Christian community increasingly has an electronic component to it, and that component will most likely increase in the near future, and for many people today the movement between the face-to-face and electronic world is seamless. Because electronic communication is embedded in the activities of everyday life for so many people today, Christian leaders will increasingly need to speak, teach and write about characteristics of Christ-like relationships and the ways those relationships can be nurtured both on and offline.

When I was a child, I thought the twenty-first century would be characterized by flying cars and frequent trips to the moon. That didn’t happen. Instead we got a myriad of new ways to communicate with people nearby and far away. Christian leaders need to carefully consider the way these new communication technologies create challenges and opportunities for the Christian community.