My Reflections on 2014 Game Changers Summit ICT4D = Information Communication Technologies For Development
held in Nashville, Tennessee hosted by United Methodist Communications
Since answering the call to ministry, I have been passionate about the potential within the United Methodist denomination to connect globally using new modes of communication and technology. Until this conference, though, it seemed that people with my same passion and call were hardly ever around the same table. Instead, we have sat alone at our laptops, feeling like we may be lone voices in a virtual wilderness calling the church to enter the digital waters, so to speak.
At this conference, kindred spirits from diverse backgrounds were gathered in one place. Innovators, missionaries, team-builders, dreamers, techies and struggling pastors like myself who dream of digital discipleship but perhaps have been forging it alone.
Until this conference, I held a variety of opinions (gripes and grudges) as to why our local churches are slow to implement change in the digital age. When I sat in that conference and heard Ken Burns, author of The Rise of a Reluctant Innovator, I realized that my assessment is not completely fair. Our North American churches have been slow to implement technology because, in part, we have considered tech a luxury item designed to improve our lives. Ken Burns gave a great presentation showing that most Americans think ICT is primarily expensive smart phones, high speed connections. Unfortunatley, thiss limits our understanding of the potential simpler, well executed ICT solutions like SMS text-messaging on a "dumb phone".
When I recall challenges I have faced in implementing ICT in the context of the local church, I see that the tools were mostly for added personal benefit, not missional work. If the only reason for having text messaging in the local church is to get word out about something frivolous, then most people will opt out. . The push-back sounds something like “I don’t like texts.” or "Texting is impersonal." or "What about the older people who don't have cell phones?" What if instead they knew that the texts would be missional, important, or even life-saving calls to action? After seeing what our United Methodist churches are doing in Africa with text messaging, I see that the reason it is effective is there is a problem being solved. Persons across great distances are in need of life-saving information. United Methodist missionaries and agencies have less "push-back" because getting a text about safe drinking water of the hours of a clinic are all vital to survival. Comparing this to my more affluent community, I see that my church members can get our updates from our news outlet of choice. The church is not needed for that. But what if we had a national crisis? Could we quickly respond as a team of united United Methodists? Personally, I think our collective response as United Methodists is not as strong as it could be. Our potential to take action currently relies in how well local churches have put in place readiness teams (and thankfully many have)! Yet imagine if we harnessed our denominational reach and called every one of the 7,390,691 UM's in the United States via a simple ICT solution like SMS?
I left the Game Changer Summit with an awareness that digital discipleship is more than just having a cool new app. I was humbled that much of our ICT is not for development, but for self-indulgence, which certainly runs in opposition to our belief that the church “exists not for itself." What if we saw ICT as for digital discipleship? With United Methodists across the globe at a virtual connectional table?
The game changers conference challenged the North American viewpoint that technology is a luxury item for self-indulgence, and turned the conversation around to envisioning how technology can connect us globally for serving others.
ICT4 digital discipleship could be a real game changer because it could bring voice to the voiceless and invite in persons whomay otherwise be left out. There is so much that is possible because we are in the
the digital age. My passion and call has really been widened - beyond church email lists, slick websites, and into appropriation of new technology for grand, global, missional purposes. The work of the Holy Spirit upon the church is to widen the people of God and connect us across cultures, nationalities and distances, (see Acts 2.) Imagine how, with ICT we might live out the statement that the church is “open to people of all ages, nations and races”! We can live it out in a whole new digital way.