The August 8, 2011 of the Christian Century had an article about young people, church camp, and technology called “Tech Detox.” The article largely bemoaned teenager hyperconnectivity and expounded on the importance of praying cell phones and gadgets out of the hands of young people while at camp so that they can meet God.
I’ve read several articles in recent months which seem to complain or give advice about the need to disconnect in order to experience God, reconnect spiritually, etc. The more of these articles I read the less I believe that this is really about toxic technology and the more I am convinced that this is actually about a generation gap.
We all know what a generation gap is. As each new generation is born, grows up, and comes into adulthood there are generational differences that due to changing culture, technology, life experience, and circumstances that cause misunderstanding and mischaracterization of younger generations by older generations and older generations by the younger. One of the areas it seems to me that is misunderstood is in the area of technology.
Because people are living longer we find that we have not just one or two generations living together in our society but as many as five generation. My Grandfather was a rural mail carrier who began his work with a horse and buggy and retired delivering mail in a jeep. Baby Boomers and Tweeners like myself and many Millenials remember times with much less technology before email, before the internet, and yes before VCRs, and DVDs.
Changing technology is a facet of the larger subject of “change.” Different people adapt to change at different rates, some are slow to change, and some out right oppose any change to the lifestyle they are comfortable with. So when it comes to the use of technology by our teens there are some things we have to recognize and adapt to:
1. Change is inevitable. The way people live today is a far different than it was in my Grandfather’s day and also different than the society my parents grew up in. So why should we expect that our children would live and interact the way we do?
2. The purpose of church is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” It isn’t to make young people experience church, camp, or life they way we do or did.
3. If we insist that young people experience God the way we did following our own culturally bound ways of doing things we are just as likely not to reach them at all, and not to make disciples of them.
So what does this mean? Does it mean we never tell young people not to use their cell phone in a church venue. No I don’t believe it does. But I do believe at all costs we must stop treating and talking about changing technology and change in general as if change is “toxic.”
When it comes to camp I don’t care if young people are making wood carvings and shooting arrows or sitting in a room playing video games. What I do care about is that we give them a contextually relevant message about the love and grace of Jesus Christ and God’s love for each of us. When we go onto the mission field we seek to meet people where they are with their own culture, their own language, and in their own context. We don’t expect them to dress like we do, talk like we do, or have a culture like ours. We better be doing the same thing with those around us here in the US as well if we ever hope to share the gospel message with them.
How can we speak about the transforming power of Jesus Christ if we are sharing the not so subtle message that change is bad? My reading of the gospels gives me the impression that Jesus was never about us staying the same. In fact Jesus was about radical change, radical hospitality, radical commitment, and transformative life changing world shaking grace and love. If anything is toxic it is stagnation.
So lets stop singing that old song “What’s the Matter with Kids Today” and instead let younger people share with us the changing technology they love and we can share with them the transforming and changing gospel that we can all love together!