Face-to-Face in a Facebook Age
Steve Jobs was responsible for many of the technological revolutions that we now use on a regular basis. While Jobs did not invent e-mail or video chat, his products greatly facilitated their expansion and use. Apple computers were some of the first machines, for example, to incorporate built-in cameras into monitors, laptops, phones, and tablets. On numerous occasions I have found such devices incredibly useful—its been a way for me to see my family when I am traveling on the road. E-mail is also an efficient way to communicate and disseminate information quite quickly. Given that Jobs was a key trafficker of technology like e-mail and video chatting, it may come as a surprise that he believed that face-to-face meetings were important. Jobs’ biographer recounts:
“Despite being a denizen of the digital world, or maybe because he knew all too well its isolating potential, Jobs was a strong believer in face-to-face meetings. ‘There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by e-mail and iChat,’ he said. ‘That’s crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow,’ and soon you're cooking up all sorts of ideas’” (431).
Such an observation is certainly an important one, not simply for business, but also for the church and ministry. Facebook may be an appropriate venue for sharing that you just bought a “half-caf decaf mocha-choca ya-ya,” to quote a famous comedian, at Starbucks and that everyone should know about it, but can a tweet or e-mail really convey the gospel and the attending physical presence of an ambassador of Christ? Jesus did not merely phone or tweet his ministry in. He physically came and walked the dusty roads of Israel with his disciples—he ate, rested, traveled, discussed, and lived with his disciples.
In an age where many institutions are taking greater and greater leaps to on-line education, the church may be embracing trends that might have a crippling effect upon it later down the road. Would we be willing to go to a surgeon with an on-line degree? I suspect we would want a surgeon who was trained properly and did a number of surgical internships under a seasoned surgeon to operate on us. Why are we so insistent about embodied medical care but not so concerned when it comes to matters of the soul?
J. Gresham Machen once observed, much to the consternation of fundamentalists, that oranges and cigars were some of the best aids to hearty fellowship. After Sunday worship he would bring oranges and cigars to the dorms at Princeton and he and the other young men would sit around, eat, smoke, and fellowship. In such a venue ideas, struggles, laughter, and theology were undoubtedly exchanged. It takes a while to smoke a cigar, which means that Machen’s friends sat down for long periods of time. Cigars aside, people inherently know this. When a baby is born, family travels great distances to meet the newest member of the family. When a couple is married, people physically gather to watch the ceremony and celebrate. When someone dies, people pilgrim to console the family who has suffered a loss. Facebook, e-mail, Twitter, and video chats are no substitutes for physical presence.
Such is the nature of ministry. The pastor must be physically entrenched in the life of his church—talking with his congregation, fellowshipping, and showing them hospitality. And if such is the nature of the ministry, then should we educate our ministers any differently? There is no substitute for learning in community, sharing ideas, listening to others, and spending time with your classmates and professors. It is often outside the classroom where a lot of learning goes on, where you run into someone and ask them what they’re doing, reading, or thinking about.