At one time I thought technology would never get any better than the self-correcting typewriter and press-on letters. Now I'm learning to create HD videos and podcasts. As I've researched video and podcast hosting and distribution systems, at times my brain felt like a jumble of data that would never sort its way into a linear path of what to do next. I'm getting it figured out, but as I'm working out the next steps, I reminded myself of four guidelines I've used in the past to encourage people to try computers and websites without losing the focus on the importance of fully fulfilling the Great Commission. These helped me and may be useful if you are facing new challenges in communication technology:
#1—Don't confuse the media with the message
The media, the tool you use to craft and share your message is and will be constantly changing. Media changes always seem overwhelming and they are often difficult to get through. The change from typewriters to computers for church office communications, from cut and paste layout to MS Publisher to create the church bulletin, from print only to the expectations of a website and social media communication assortment for every church, from flowers to adorn the pulpit to multi-media projection systems—all of these have taken place in the recent experience of the church. The challenge is not only in learning how to use them, but to not allow the demands of the technology to overwhelm the priority of your message. Technology can be extraordinary demanding, but it must never be your North Star. Every person, every church has a North Star which guides all your communications whether you are conscious of it or not. The only appropriate North Star for the church communicator is to fully fulfill the Great Commission—to help people come to know Jesus as Savior and to grow to maturity in Him. The media is not our message—our message is our message. If our eye is on the goal of sharing Jesus truly and completely and growing followers into disciples , if that is the core of our message, though there are many parts of it and many steps in sharing it, we won't be thrown off course when new tools appear.
#2—Get your story straight
Story and narrative are key tools throughout time and in any media. Our Bible is primarily story wherein we see how God works as it is illustrated through the lives of his people. The communication tool of story is primary in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, not only do we have the Gospels and Acts, but the letters are a part of a living narrative, written in the stream of a conversation between the writer and a specific group of people. The new tools of communication, particularly with the ease in the creation of video make it tempting to focus primarily on the craft of story-telling. While we want to use our tools well, as communicators for the kingdom of God, as ambassadors for Jesus, we must constantly make certain our message is clear. When people see our story, we want them to respond to Jesus and to grow to discipleship maturity in Him. No matter what tool you use, always measure results. Are people coming to know Jesus as Savior? Are they growing in their faith? Are they knowledgeable about the Bible and able to help another person meet and grow in Jesus? The stories in the Bible result in changed lives—don't settle for anything less with yours.
#3—Strive to make your tools invisible
One of the key goals for selecting typography for print or digital viewing is that the typeface chosen be invisible in the final product. A print or digital reader should never say "My, that is an interesting typeface." Your readers should be able to consume the message without distraction. For every new tool, web, video, audio--whatever it is, there is always the temptation to use bizarre filters, lighting, music, or effects. Every new channel requires editing. Any effect that calls attention to itself should be edited out, so there are no distractions to the message itself. Part of learning any new tool is to learn it well enough so your use of the tool never interferes with the message you are working to communicate. Just because you can do something with wild or surprising effects, doesn't mean you should do it. This advice, of course, is primarily for overall church and outreach communications. For your personal Facebook, YouTube or for anyone that works with middle school or junior high school ministry—use at will—logical, linear communication is not a requirement in every situation.
#4—Trust God always
No change in communication channels or technology is a surprise to the Alpha and Omega, our God who gave man speech, who smiles at the technology that astounds us, and who knows in advance every communication challenge we'll face in our earthly assignments. But we don't know and so we have two choices when faced with new communication channels and challenges—fear or trust. Fear will keep us stuck as our audience moves on. Fear can make us resentful, dismissive, and angry. Fear makes us old and shriveled in our souls and at worst it can make us question why God would allow social media and the demands of mobile computing to complicate already overly demanding church communication schedules. Trust, in contrast, even in tiny amounts, gives us excitement, energy, and enthusiasm to learn new things and rejoice in the new tools God gives us to communicate his eternal message. Trust keeps us ageless and reminds us that no matter how stiff our fingers might get on the keyboard or dim our eyes at the screen, that at our core, we are an eternal, ageless soul learning new challenges here, developing a pattern of trust in our God who will forever surprise us in the new ways we will serve Him.