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MUG_GainesSeveral decades ago, a Christian philosopher in Canada, named George Parkin Grant, began to notice a trend in our world: we were becoming technological. It wasn’t just that we were technological because we were using things like cars and computers, but it was something larger. Our imaginations were technological. Our identities were technological. In our eating, our drinking, our waking, and our sleeping, we are technological people.1

Being a technological people may have a lot to do with how many times we pick up a cell phone to send our kids a text message rather than walking upstairs to tell them that dinner is ready, but it probably has more to do with the way in which our technology has shaped us to see the world. The technology that we began to use—things like gas engines, interstates, air travel, assembly lines, computers, and the internet—began to tell us that the world was under our control. No longer were nature, distance, or ignorance things which had power over us, but now, we were able to shape the world, to use our technologies to make it less of a wilderness, to iron out the wrinkles that make life difficult, and to enjoy the incredible promises of advances in transportation, medicine, and information sharing.

Even our worship and ministry bears the benefits of technology: you don’t need to know Greek or Hebrew when preparing a sermon anymore because Bible software knows it for you. The absence of a forgetful parishioner’s tithe check doesn’t ever have to be a problem again because the funds can now be automatically withdrawn from her bank account each week. Busy members of our congregations who travel for work on Sunday don’t need to miss your sermon because they can download it as a podcast and listen to it in the car on the way to their Monday morning appointment. Undoubtedly, technology brings with it incredible benefits, but every benefit comes with a cost. Perhaps, this is why Grant was so fond of the old Spanish proverb: “Take what you want, said God—take it and pay for it.”2

What are the costs of being a technological people? Arguably, one of the biggest costs may be that we are a people who have been so shaped by the technology we use that it has robbed us of our ability to see the beauty of our vocations.

What are the costs of being a technological people? Arguably, one of the biggest costs may be that we are a people who have been so shaped by the technology we use that it has robbed us of our ability to see the beauty of our vocations—even ministerial vocations. If we look back at the roots of the word ”technology,” we see that it comes from the Greek word techne, meaning art or craft. In the ancient mind, techne was the kind of thing one did for the sake of the beauty in performing the task. Think of a sculptor sitting in front of a piece of marble, chisel in hand. The sculptor looks over the rough surfaces of the raw stone, runs one hand over the rock, and carefully begins to apply the wisdom of his craft. He knows how the marble will react to his tools, he knows which tool to use to bring out the desired effect, and he knows all this because he is deeply familiar with his craft. Only after a deep familiarity with the art of sculpture can he do the work of unveiling the beauty that hides inside the stone. And in unveiling the beauty of the sculpture, he also reveals the beauty of his craft, of his techne.

In the age of technology, techne took on a different meaning. On the lips of a deeply technological people, the word became “technique” rather than “art,” and this began to shape our imaginations. What we once thought of as artful vocations are now seen as technical jobs. For example, whereas politics was once understood to be the art of governing justly, it might now be said that politics is more about using the right techniques—slogans, sound bites, slander, and opinion polling—to be elected; the good politician is the one who can use the best technique. The business leaders, I fear, are not formed to think of their work in terms of creatively and imaginatively introducing new services to new markets but understand their work in terms of using the right technique to achieve outcomes. As a technological people, we are now shaped by the technology we use. We feel we are at our best, when we apply the best technique. Those things that were once our tools now suggest they have the ability to make us into better politicians, business leaders, and pastors. The problem is that tools can only get you as far as technique—they cannot make the user into a more imaginative artist.technological-age1-250px

Could it be that pastors in a technological world are subject to the same kinds of pressures? Could it be that ministry in a technological world is now defined in terms of simply using the right method, skill, or technique? I wonder sometimes if our technological vision of the world has transformed the vocation of ministry from an artistic and creative call to preach the good news of Christ into a mere job, in which ministers of the gospel are seen as good pastors if they simply employ the right techniques. The deluge of best-selling pastoral “how-to” books, blogs, and articles may provide an answer to my wondering.

Pastoral Identity in a Technological Age
The implications of ministering in a technological age also apply to questions of identity. In our imaginations, do we see ourselves as pastoral artisans or achievers of technique? If your congregation is anything like mine, you can probably recount the ways our people have been formed to think of pastors as those who need to execute the right techniques: to preach the right way, to counsel the right way, to administer the right way to achieve proper outcomes. Fulfilling one’s responsibilities is certainly a good thing, but I wonder how much the techniques we use in ministry begin to tell us who we are as pastors.

In a technological world, technicians are the masters of their machines. They can replace, operate, and tinker until their machine does exactly what it’s supposed to do. But the irony of the situation is that the machine actually becomes the master of the technician, for the technician’s skills and knowledge are only valuable in relationship to this particular machine. Refrigerator technicians are only valuable if they can make a refrigerator refrigerate. If, after a visit from a technician, your refrigerator does anything other than refrigerate (even if it now makes toast or dries your laundry), the technician’s vocation can be called into serious question. The value of a technical vocation is rarely novelty.

Artists, on the other hand, do not command their materials as much as they work with them to bring out the potential of beauty that the media suggest.

Artists, on the other hand, do not command their materials as much as they work with them to bring out the potential of beauty that the media suggest. The media with which artists work do not make any kind of value claim on the artist because the artist’s vocation is not necessarily found in forming the media in only one particular way. Unlike the refrigerator technician, artists are not charged with making their media do only one thing or act in only one way but are instead free to bring new expressions of beauty into being. The value of an artistic vocation often embraces experimentation and novelty, especially when those expressions spring out of the particularity of the artist’s location or context.

A technological world does certain things really well. One of the things it does best is make a lot of things exactly the same. The Chevy Malibu I buy in Calgary looks and handles exactly the way as one I buy in Houston. The McDonald’s fries I order in Orlando taste just like the ones I eat in Sacramento. We have technique to thank for that. Assembly lines, and the technicians who maintain them, are very good at making very similar things. But is this a vision of the church? Is the church called to produce a lot of the same kinds of communities, so that the gathering of believers in downtown Seattle looks just like the congregation in rural Oklahoma? If ministry is technique, then yes, but if it is something closer to art, then it will tend to look different and tend to live out of its particular situation, location, and context.technological-age2-250px

Of course, understanding ministry in terms of technique can be a temptation that is especially alluring to holiness evangelicals. We have a long history with ministry as technique, going back to the days of camp meeting revivals. Perhaps the most well-known association of ministry with technique was Phoebe Palmer’s “shorter way” to holiness, which was often interpreted as a technique- driven ministry to bring about sanctification. Even John Wesley’s own pastoral theology tended toward a kind of technique at points in his life, so much so that others saw him as being obsessed with patterns, disciplines, and method—the first Methodist.

Are things like patterns and disciplines hindrances to ministry? I don’t think so. In fact, patterns and disciplines are there to form within us the deep familiarity with the things of God, which are essential to faithful and effective ministry. Where method gets us in trouble is when it starts to become technique, when it forms us as assembly-line producers of ministerial method. If ministry is merely employing a set of techniques, our identities as pastors are found in mastering the technique rather than being deeply formed in the ways of God.

What might vocational identity look like in a technological time? It’s not that we must use the latest and greatest technology to be good pastors, and it’s not even that using this technology means that we are selling our souls. It’s more that we need to see technology for what it is—a useful tool. When technology becomes the tool, pastors can be the artists.

What might vocational identity look like in a technological time? It’s not that we must use the latest and greatest technology to be good pastors, and it’s not even that using this technology means that we are selling our souls. It’s more that we need to see technology for what it is—a useful tool. When technology becomes the tool, pastors can be the artists.

An Artistic Vision for Ministry
Even the most well-intentioned, “how-to” seminar for pastors is no substitute for the deep and sustained processes of formation, which allow pastors to be ministerial artists. Ministerial methods themselves risk being reduced to mere technique if they are enacted from a shallow place.

One of the characteristics of pastoral burnout is that the joy of ministry disappears. That also tends to be the time when pastors cease thinking of their ministry in terms of art and begin thinking about it in terms of executing a set of techniques. In a technological mode, preaching becomes delivering a fine speech, pastoral care becomes a kind of self-help, and our pastoral vision does not extend beyond a set of simple techniques.

The art of ministry in a technological world requires us to see ministry as art. It requires us to be intentional about giving ourselves to processes of deep formation.

The art of ministry in a technological world requires us to see ministry as art. It requires us to be intentional about giving ourselves to processes of deep formation. To see ministry as art rather than technique, we need to let our craft be formed by our deep familiarity with our art, to be absorbed by the biblical story of God’s redemption, to be profoundly conversant with the wisdom of our theological tradition, to seek out and sit for some time at the feet of those who have creatively and artistically gone before, and to have a deep and intimate knowledge of the God who reaches out to creation. It is then that we approach ministry with the vision of an artist, to see the beauty that can emerge from the raw material. It is then that we can move beyond the practice of bouncing from technique to technique and minister from a deep place of rich formation.

Let me encourage us to see ourselves as artists rather than technicians. Let me encourage us to pursue those practices, disciplines, and communities of formation and education, which will deeply develop an awareness of God’s ways, so that our ministries may be more than the application of a technique, but a joyous interaction with the medium of our ministerial settings and contexts. Let me also encourage us to do so with a sense of gratitude for God’s faithfulness, for the God who remains forever active and present is also the God who brings new expressions of faithfulness into a world in need of good news. A technological world has shaped our vision to see ministry as technique and pastors as technicians, but in a technological world, may we know the delight of living in God’s faithful newness, as those who minister like artists.

TIMOTHY GAINES is a licensed Nazarene minister serving in the Chicago Central District and a doctoral research fellow at the Stead Center for Ethics and Values at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL.

 

1. George P. Grant, Technology and Justice (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1986). 2 Ibid., 9.

 

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#1 Chad 2012-11-13 15:56
How can I read parts one and part three of these three-part series?

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