Understanding the Digital Divide in Pastoral Ministry

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Understanding the Digital Divide in Pastoral Ministry

Introduction 

In the cities of today, where there is so much to attract and please, the people can be interested by no ordinary efforts. Ministers of God’s appointment will find it necessary to put forth extraordinary efforts in order to arrest the attention of the multitudes. And when they succeed in bringing together a large number of people, they must bear messages of a character so out of the usual order that the people will be aroused and warned. They must make use of every means that can possibly be devised for causing the truth to stand out clearly and distinctly[1].

I am Nnamdi Edu, a pastor at Rivers West Conference of Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Nigeria.

 

In recent years, churches have been bombarded with programs and activities that constitute change. Pastors have heard that they need to improve church members’ spiritual lives through effective preaching and teaching. Many of these pressures for change arise from the desire to actualize the church’s mission. In particular, these programs and activities do not yield a positive output without going through a formidable process. With this, one of the processes of actualizing effective ministries is ICT use.

 

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As we live in a world of technology, we perform our tasks using either the Internet or the computer. However, there is a divide between those who use them. Defined as inequalities in access to and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs)[2], the digital divide is still one of the major concepts that is not given much importance in pastoral journals, creating separation among Ministers who preach the gospel. According to Prensky, ICT users are divided into two groups: digital natives and digital immigrants[3]. In the current pastoral ministry, the extent of utilizing ICT in ministries may differ because of this divide. Therefore, pastors, who are digital immigrants or digital natives, should understand the use of ICT in ministering the word of God to win more souls for our Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

Digital Natives in the Pastoral Ministry

 

Digital natives, or sometimes called millennials, are the technology users who were born in the digital era.[4] According to Prensky, one of the renowned authors in ICT, digital natives are those who were born from 1980. He identified this group of ICT users as native speakers of the digital language of computers, video games, and the Internet[5]. However, people born before the said year have a different understanding of digital devices. In the Pastoral ministry, there are few pastors born within this age; therefore, those who have access to computers and knowledge to operate digital devices are a few. As a result, most of our congregations, which are dominated by millennials, are not satisfied with church programs.

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As a pastor, I was fortunate to minister to a group of youths recently in a local church. Whenever the PowerPoint turns off because of a power shutdown or by mistake, the youth always display negative emotions; they became frustrated because of interruption during the presentation. In fact, if ministers are not sensitive to the needs of their members, they will not be able to perform their duties well, thus losing their members. One way to address this is by encouraging technology integration. Ellen White put it this way,

 

Our future for eternity is at stake. The churches are withering up because they have failed to use their talents in diffusing light. Careful instruction should be given which should be as lessons from the master, that all may put their light to practical use. Those who have the oversight of the churches should select members of ability and place them under responsibilities, at the same time giving them instruction as to how they may serve and bless others[6].

White affirmed that members with special skills should be encouraged to utilize those skills while fulfilling their church duties. This implies that digital natives in the pastoral ministry should be encouraged by church leaders to integrate technology into their programs and help the congregation to learn those innovative ideas. I have observed that every time I use PowerPoint to present sermons during public evangelism, the attendance of members seems very encouraging compared to when I preach without one. Studies have shown that learners (members) are able to retain 50% of the things they hear and see[7], and if we want them to retain 85% of it[8], we should engage them with technology.

 

Digital natives and Discipleship

 

Discipleship isn’t one of the things the church does; it is what the church does[9]. We are all in the business of making disciples for Christ. Pastors who are digital natives are at advantage of leading people to follow Him. Currently, social media is one of the fastest-growing platforms to promulgate the gospel. Pastors who are digital natives spend reasonable time-sharing messages about Jesus Christ. They create groups where members can express their concerns. These pastors always respond to messages via emails. They also spend time making videos and posting it on the Internet, sometimes on YouTube, wherein millions of people could view their sermons and programs. In fact, these groups of pastors can occasionally send text messages to their members, encouraging them to keep trusting Bible promises. We must all do the work we are called to do.

 

Digital natives and Bible studies

 

Bible study is the lifeline of the ministry. Any pastor who intends to progress in the ministry must constantly study the Bible because it will enhance his/her ability to acquire new knowledge and lead the congregation. However, we live in an era when the traditional approach of studying the Bible is fading away.

 

For millennials, they feel bored when they are studying, and they prefer to have the lessons downloaded on their phones, iPad, etc. for easy access. Using an electronic bible, they can easily scan through the pages anytime, anywhere. The Bible says,

 

Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful (Joshua 1:8 NIV).

 

Digital natives and research 

Currently, the Internet is one of the most reliable research tools for ministers. Pastors can find ideas for their sermons from social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and other various blogs.  Rupp, William, and Alan put it this way:

 

Technical innovations available on the Internet are likely to encourage the development of new forms of ritual and other interactive religious innovations.[10] 

Furthermore, one of the ways that pastors can understand the antics of Satan is to seek insights into understanding the current era through social media platforms.   Indeed, the overarching benefit of finding sermon ideas through the use of technology (internet) is that it helps the preacher to cultivate a culture that fosters individual learning; and therefore, digital natives should leverage this key research tool.

 

Digital natives and community of practice

 

Digital natives perform their networks among their colleagues.  Pastors who are digital natives can speak the languages of the computer and the Internet. They share messages with their communities via email and other social media platforms. With the interest of setting up a website, they could publish and promote their church programs online. Furthermore, they create Facebook pages as a medium to share ideas.

 

Nowadays, quite the opposite is often seen in the pastoral ministry. Many pastors do not have knowledge of ICT and, as a result, find it difficult to utilize it in making followers for Christ.

Digital Immigrants in the Pastoral Ministry

Prensky describes this group of ICT users as people born before the age of 1980[11]. They appreciate technology, but they find it difficult to adapt its usage. In the pastoral ministry, these pastors always seek assistance whenever they use technology during worship. They prefer traveling a long distance to business centers to seek professional assistance and are reluctant in acquiring technology.

 

One major problem that is being faced by digital immigrants is the inability to minister a congregation, which is mostly occupied by millennials. Although pastors appear sound in preaching and teaching, they still find it very difficult to address the needs of new-generation members who are born within the digital age.

 

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A local pastor visited one of the local churches in his district, and when he was about to preach, his host church leaders requested him to give the technical team his PowerPoint presentation in a USB flash drive so that they could project for the members. However, the pastor belongs to the group of digital immigrants; hence, he was unable to provide one. Because he preached from the manuscript, most of the youth in that local church left before he finished his sermon.

 

With this in mind, pastors should consider the needs of their members whenever they want to prepare their sermons. As it is not enough to preach, sustaining the members’ interests during a sermon presentation is crucial in the current congregation. White stated,

 

A pastor should mingle freely with people for whom he labors, that by becoming acquainted with them he may know how to adapt his teachings to their needs.[12]

 

What Every Digital Immigrant Pastor Should Do in Contemporary Congregation           

When encountering difficulties in the use of ICT in the ministry, pastors who are digital immigrants should follow these principles:

Learning

The first principle in the paradigm is learning. Because it is a continuous process, we discover many things every day. Learning takes place in two types of settings: formal (schools) and informal (churches, seminars, etc.). Whichever option we choose, learning is essential. Because we have a continuous education program, it pays to know how a pastor integrates technology, and it is not a waste of time and money. As a digital immigrant, I found it difficult to type and print something at first. However, I saw a huge difference in the outcome when I compared my performance with digital natives in the ministry. That is why I decided to learn to improve my performance in the ministry.

Understanding

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding (Proverbs 4:7).

Pastors who are digital immigrants should seek understanding from those who are knowledgeable. When church administrators assist in organizing seminars, they can integrate technology into their ministry. As stated in 1 Chronicles 12:32,

From Issachar, men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do—200 chiefs, with all their relatives under their command,

pastors born before the adoption of digital technology should understand the current era to address the needs of their present members. It will be difficult to plan programs if pastors do not consider the trend. Everything is going digital; therefore, church leaders must follow the trend to accomplish their mission. As wisdom comes from God, we should seek wisdom from Him.

Implementing

Applying the lessons we learn is essential in the ministry. If a pastor learns how to use a computer, PowerPoint, etc. and is unable to use it in the ministry, his/her new knowledge will be meaningless.

The utilization of technology affects how we worship and how we apply our profession on the mission field.[13]

There is therefore even in the best cases to implement these innovative technology ideas to improve pastoral ministry.

Evaluating

As an essential part of being digital immigrants in the pastoral ministry, evaluation is a tool that measures the output with objectives. Ministers should, at times, assess the outcome of the church’s programs to ascertain the effective integration of technology. This practice will provide evidence on whether the use of certain technologies is helpful in achieving the goals and objectives of the program. If the outcome does not meet the objective, the ministers can revisit the process they used to achieve the results.

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Conclusion

Digital integration in the pastoral ministry is not a done deal, but a continuous effort to be actively and collectively pursued by stakeholders such as field pastors, church leaders, and directors. Pastors should also understand that using digital devices could lead to better work performance. At the same time, pastors who are digital natives should work hard toward utilizing technology for the church’s effectiveness, improvement, and development.

 

In addition, pastors who are digital immigrants should seek knowledge about the use of certain technologies in the church to achieve effective ministries. Through this, pastors can learn, understand, implement, and evaluate innovative technology ideas to meet the needs of their members, particularly, the millennials.

______

Notes.

[1] White E. G. Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, p. 109.

[2] Scheerder, A., van Deursen, A., and van Dijk, J. (2017). Determinants of Internet skills, uses and outcomes. A systematic review of the second-and third-level digital divide. Telematics and Informatics, 34 (8), p. 1,607–1,624.

[3] Prensky, M. (2001), a. Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon 9 (5), p. 1–6.

[4] Sweeney, Richard. “Millennial behaviors and demographics.” Newark: New Jersey Institute of Technology 12, no. 3 (2006), p. 10

[5] Kopáčková, Hana. “Characteristics of digital natives’ generation in the context of mobile learning.” In 2015 International Conference on Information and Digital Technologies. p. 155–160. IEEE. 2015.

[6] Counsel for the church. p. 6

[7] Shabiralyani, Ghulam, Khuram Shahzad Hasan, Naqvi Hamad, and Nadeem Iqbal. “Impact of Visual Aids in Enhancing the Learning Process Case Research: District Dera Ghazi Khan.” Journal of Education and Practice 6, no. 19 (2015), p. 226–233

[8] Ibid.

[9] Hull B. (2014). The Complete Book of Discipleship: On Being and Making Followers of Christ, Tyndale House

[10] Rupp, William T., and Alan D. Smith. “A study of the interrelationships between the Internet and religious organizations: An application of diffusion theory.” Services Marketing Quarterly 24, no. 2 (2002): 29-41.

[11] Prensky, M. (2001). a. Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon 9 (5): pp. 1–6.

[12] White, E. G, The Acts of the Apostles, (Mountain View; CA: Pacific press publishing Association, 1911), p. 363

[13] Kelley, B. “The use of technology in the global church.” Proc. of 2008 CEEC (2008), p. 13-19.

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About the author

Nnamdi Edu

Pastor Nnamdi Edu is a district pastor for the Rivers West Conference in Nigeria. He received his B.A. in Religion from Andrews University and his M.A.Ed. in Religious Education from the Adventist University of the Philippines, where he currently lives while getting his Ph.D. in Educational Management.