Facebook Can’t Replace Church

Mark Zuckerberg recently said he believes Facebook can become a force for community organization, much like churches or little league sports. His comments have prompted reflection on both the Church’s place amid a changing cultural, and the role of technology in organizing people. Some scoffed at Zuckerberg’s ambitions, while others asked if Facebook could indeed replace the Church.

Since the future is not for us to know, perhaps the best thing to do with comments like these is to see what they bring into focus and what they fail to see altogether. Lest we think church can easily be replaced, I’d like to turn the attention to what many inside and outside Christianity often fail to see in regards to the Church. God’s design for humans, where Christians find their meaning and the reality of the church’s mission provide us three reasons why Facebook (or any other institution) can’t replace church.

Read the rest of my article over at Relevant.

Skye Jethani on Church and Technology

Skye Jethani has an interesting Twitter thread on church and technology. Here’s the original thread on Twitter where you can see replies and Skye’s further thoughts. And here’s the thread in text format for easy reading:

Folks are flipping out about Mark Zuckerburg saying Facebook can replace the church by connecting & leading people, but is he wrong?

Facebook gives us the impression of community without all of the drawbacks of actual human interaction. We can carefully manage our image…

…and only “friend” those we agree with. It puts us in control. It also give us immediate access to an incredible about of information.

The downside of social media & tech is that it dis-incarnates us & ultimately cannot satisfy our deepest longings for human connection.

Of all people we Christians ought to recognize how essential incarnation is; to know that bodies, flesh, & in-person community

Sadly, much of the church is just as enamored w/ dis-incarnation as Zuckerberg. This is due, ironically, to our commitment Christ’s mission.

Evangelicals in particular have believed that message alone matters & medium is irrelevant. That’s why they’re eager to employ any & all…

…vehicles for communicating the gospel. Radio, TV, t-shirts, bumper stickers, gum wrappers, political parties, ukuleles, etc.

They say the medium is neutral & only the content of the message matters, but this is so easily shown to be utterly false. For example…

We’d all agree that I can destroy my marriage with only the internet, but can I have a healthy marriage with only the internet?

That silly example shows the medium of the web is capably of great harm but only limited good. In other words, medium matters.

So, when I see church leaders enthusiastically embrace all tech as neutral tools for ministry/mission, do they understand the implications?

Tech offers us the illusion of omnipresence. It allows us to escape the physical limitations of our bodies to transport ourselves elsewhere.

I no longer have to be present with those near me, or even with my own thoughts, thanks to the phone in my pocket.

They have become totems giving us the god-like power to escape our bodies. This temptation is especially strong for ministers.

We have a divinely ordained mission; why shouldn’t we us god-like technology to help us reach more people than we could as embodied pastors?

Incarnate ministry is slow. The word is transmitted person-to-person. The care of souls requires us to be physically present. How agrarian.

Digital, dis-incarnate ministry means mission can industrialize. Now we can all scale our influence & reach 1,000s via pixels.

Dis-incarnate ministry is so much cleaner, so much more efficient, & infinitely more marketable. But is it the way of Jesus?

When Jesus came to dwell among us he “emptied himself” to take on flesh. He set aside his omnipresence to occupy a physical body.

Jesus was not everywhere, doing everything, engaging everyone. He accepted the confinement of a body. Incarnation is necessarily limiting.

This is what a minister enamored w/tech fails to recognize. To be human is to accept our incarnate limitations & embrace them as good.

It means emptying ourselves of the prideful desire to be like God, to be omnipresent, and to resist the lies of technology.

Jesus became incarnate to redeem every part of us—mind, soul, and body. Ministry in His name must do the same.

Learning the way of Jesus means accepting & embracing our embodied limitations. It also means being physically present w/those we serve.

I’m not saying all tech is evil. Heck, I’m tweeting this rant. But we must be aware of it’s seduction & the way it dis-incarnates the church

Tech temps us to be everywhere, do everything, & engage everyone, but we can miss what God is doing right where we are.

Ok- done for now. I welcome your thoughts. What is the proper place of tech in church/mission?

Developing Wisdom for the Digital Age

Complexity requires wisdom. Since the beginning, life has continued to increase in complexity at a more rapid pace. Each societal, cultural, or technological change requires wisdom for how to navigate the new, more complex world.

We used to have decades, or even centuries, to develop a base of wisdom through living and thinking deeply. But that world no longer exists.

The pace of wisdom and technology

Remarking on this in the preface to his book The Tech-Wise Family, Andy Crouch writes, “…the pace of technological change has surpassed anyone’s capacity to develop enough wisdom to handle it.” I think his point is that technological change is coming much faster than we’re able to develop wisdom about how to react to it. And he’s right.

As I write this, it’s 2017 and both Google and Apple have already held their annual developer’s conferences. The central themes of both were artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). The iPhone was introduced a mere ten years ago in 2007 (along with Facebook and Twitter), kicking off the smartphone explosion which revolutionized the way humans interact with the world. But we’ve had little time to reflect on all that’s changed.

Think of how this has worked with something like social media. It used to feel like every 6 months a new platform would come out you’d have to be on. While you were still trying to learn Facebook all your friends were getting on Twitter. While you were learning Twitter you heard about this photo sharing app called Instagram everyone was loving. Then it was Snapchat. Next it’ll be some VR or AR platform. Each of these requires unique wisdom and discernment to use, but we’ve had next to no time to develop that wisdom – much less pass it along to the next generation.

That’s not to say there’s no wisdom for navigating these spheres, but there is significantly less wisdom for using Twitter than, say, driving a car. Both require some amount of skill and competency, and both can be quite dangerous, though in different ways.

Becoming desensitized to the promises of technology

Perhaps more dangerous than the speed of technological change is that we’ve become used to the pace and no longer wait to evaluate whether or not a new development actually delivered on its promises. Crouch writes, “We are stuffing our lives with technology’s new promises, with no clear sense of whether technology will help us keep the promises we’ve already made.” Facebook ballooned to the social behemoth it is today before we could think through the ramifications of consolidating so much of the world’s attention on one company’s view of what’s most important.

Now, maybe more than ever, the church needs people who will think deeply about the world around it. That world is changing faster than ever before, and if we’re not careful it’ll be like finding ourselves in a hole of our own digging. We’ll climb out, eventually. But it would have been much easier to stop digging the hole so deep to begin with.

A call for wisdom (and courage)

So this is a call for wisdom, which is really a call for courage. The world has changed quicker than anyone expected. But we can’t continue to idly accept the latest Silicon Valley offering without thinking deeply about it. We need the courage to be different, to ask tough questions, to be late adopters, or even to opt out entirely of certain forms of technology. But we can’t get there unless we cultivate technological wisdom rooted in theology.

I’ll be sharing more on this subject here in the days ahead, including more writing on the subject and sharing more resources that are helpful in developing a deeper understanding of the digital tech landscape.

6 Practices You Should Do Every Morning Before You Get to Work

How you spend your morning matters. It sets the tone for your day and determines how effective the rest of your day will be. Yet many of us wake up at the very last minute, rushing from one thing to the next until we collapse at our desk an hour later.

Many people start their workday this way. As a result, their productivity is off to a poor start, and without discipline it will most likely continue that way throughout the day.

If you’re tired of groggy mornings and poor productivity, there are 6 practices you should do every morning before you get to work.

1. Wake up at the same time

Research continually shows waking up at the same time (even on weekends) has tremendous benefits to your health and wellness. Our bodies run on a circadian rhythm, so the more regular our sleep patterns are, the better we feel. Everyone likes to go into a situation knowing what to expect; our bodies are the same way.

Admittedly, I’m not great at this, but I’m working on it. Waking up at 5:30 every morning (I have 3 small kids, not a lot of quiet times available) is one of the several things I’m actively working on improving. When I get up on time, my morning is more relaxed, I feel better, and I’m calmer when my kids wake up.

Doing this means you’ll need to set an alarm, or perhaps several. One way to ensure you get up that’s miserable to employ is to put your alarm or phone across the room so you have to get out of bed when it goes off. Simply getting out of bed makes the process much, much easier.

2. Spend time in silence and solitude

Nothing helps me start the day more focused and relaxed than spending time in silence and solitude. For me this means sitting on the same couch with the same pillows and doing the same thing – reading the Bible, reflecting, and praying. If those things don’t happen, I start the day on edge. But when they do happen, I’m almost always calm, prepared, and more joyful.

The research on this is hard to ignore. Engaging in regular silence and solitude helps you avoid burnout, increases your sensitivity to your own thoughts as well as others’, improves memory, strengthens attention, and on and on it goes. Noise surrounds us every minute of every day. The only way to stay healthy in the midst of the chaos is to shut out everything and see what you’re actually thinking – not what someone else is telling you to think about.

As someone who practices the way of Jesus, it’s where I spend time in his presence. It’s where I’m reminded that I’ve been rescued, redeemed, and adopted into God’s family. It’s where I’m reminded that as part of that family I’m called to go and love others and tell them what that’s like.

Don’t hand your morning over to Mark Zuckerburg. Shut everything out and just be still. You may be surprised what you hear.

3. Eat a powerful breakfast

Donuts are my favorite breakfast food, but they aren’t exactly a powerful breakfast. They’re fluff – they fill you up one minute and they’re gone within an hour. Eating a powerful breakfast, on the other hand, can increase your metabolism, help make your more active, and give you a mental edge.

Protein is an important part of that power. This is why people have been eating eggs for breakfast for so long – they’re rich in protein, which is good for you and me. That’s because, according to Donald Layman, professor emeritus of nutrition at the University of Illinois, “Protein has greater satiety than either carbohydrates or fat, making people feel fuller and more satisfied for a longer period of time.” And the fuller we feel, the less we eat.

If you wake up on time, you’ll have plenty of time to make yourself a powerful breakfast.

4. Check your social media

How many personal things do you take care of as soon as you get to work? Are you checking Twitter, scanning Facebook, or browsing the myriad of newsletters you need to unsubscribe from? How about clicking over to ESPN to check the scores and headlines?

When we make the most of our mornings, we’re most productive in the hours before lunch. Wasting those hours on unproductive tasks will come back to bite you at 2:30 in the afternoon when the coffee is wearing off and you still haven’t tackled your main to-do’s.

If you give yourself ample time in the morning, you’ll have enough time to scan Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, newsletters, and anything else you like to keep up with. Checking these things at home is also far more honoring to your employer.

5. Review your calendar

Most people spend their days, productive people invest their days. When you just walk into the office and wonder what’s happening today, you’re already off to a weaker start than you could be. By simply opening up the calendar app on your phone or pulling out your day timer (they still have those, right?) you can orient yourself to what the day will bring, and plan accordingly.

When you review your calendar before you get to the office, your mind starts to prepare itself for tougher parts of the day and you can relax a bit by knowing what to expect. The best practice would actually be to make a to-do list the night before and then review your schedule and list in the morning before work.

6. Tell someone you love them

There’s great wisdom in knowing how brief life is. Life is precious, and you’re not guaranteed tomorrow or the next hour. The same goes for your loved ones.

So start the day by telling those close to you how much you love them. Don’t let their significance stay hidden. Saying “I love you” changes them as well as you.

When all is said and done, our lives are measured by who we love and leave behind. Don’t leave for work before wrapping up your spouse, your kids, or your parents and telling them how much they mean to you.

VR and AI are About to be in Your Living Room

You’re living the last technological revolution right now. In fact, you’re probably reading this on it — your smartphone. It wasn’t that long ago that it didn’t exist. And it really wasn’t that long ago when only business people had them for work (remember Crackberries?). Before that it was the PC.

Most of us knew these things existed and maybe we wanted one, but it seemed like they were just out of reach. Until they weren’t. Then we all got one.

Well, we’re on the precipice of another one of those technological moments, but this time it’ll be with VR (virtual reality) and AI (artificial reality). Most people I talk to seem to have no idea about this, so let me see if I can paint the picture of how close we are to having both of these in our living rooms (or strapped to our faces), and then talk a little bit about why it’s important to know.

How close we are to VR

“Imagine 10 years ago trying to envision the way we use cellphones today. It’s impossible. That’s the promise VR has today.”

That’s Matthew Schnipper writing for The Verge, probably the biggest tech and gadget site online these days. That’s a huge claim when you think about the complete revolution of the iPhone and subsequent smartphones back in 2007. Our world has fundamentally shifted since then. Now, information is immediate. Boredom is outdated. And connection is endless.

And the biggest companies in the world know how close we are to VR entering into the mainstream. Facebook is betting $2 billion dollars on its Oculus Rift. Google just launched its Daydream View headset along with its new Pixel phones. Then there’s the HTC Vive, Playstation VR for the upcoming Playstation 4, Microsoft Hololens, and on it goes. Apple, noticeably absent from the above list, is surely going to release a VR headset or something similar in the near future. The iPhone 7’s powerful camera is poised to take VR into most of our pockets.

With names like that pushing this technology as hard and fast as they are, it’s only a matter of time before we all have one laying around in our tech drawers. It’s still a bit of an open playing field when it comes to exactly which kinds of devices will usher in the VR era, but at this point the shift is imminent.

C.T. Casberg wrote a great piece for Christianity Today recently on this, saying,

“VR is set to go from a niche tech-curiosity to a living room staple. Despite some initial hiccups, some Wall Street analysts project that by 2020 VR will reach between $20 billion and $40 billion in sales. One VR developer I spoke with noted that some projections have the virtual reality industry becoming larger than the current film, music, and videogame industries combined. While that falls on the more optimistic side of predictions, it speaks to the tremendous expectations of just how far VR is poised to go.

And that’s just VR. AI is another revolution happening right alongside it.

How close we are to AI

Artificial intelligence (AI) is nothing new. What is new is how good it is. And make no mistake, it is good. I know, Siri almost never understands you, but Apple is behind in this area. Google and Amazon currently lead the way. Instead of getting bogged down here, let’s zoom out a little bit and see the bigger picture of what’s going on.

AI is in your smartphone and most of its apps. AI tells you when to leave for your meeting based on the traffic. It tells you the weather for tomorrow. It runs Google Translate.

AI is what makes Amazon’s Echo, Google’s Home, and other devices like them work. I received an Echo for Christmas, and the thing is downright magical. It’s one of the few devices that makes you feel like you’re living in the future. Now when there’s a house full of kids and every toy in the house is out, I can simply say, “Alexa, play ‘The Clean Up Song’!” and little hands and feet spring to action.

But it isn’t simply my looking up a song to play that’s being automated by AI. It goes much deeper than that. In a recent article for Backchannel Sandra Upson wrote,

“To visit the front lines of the great AI takeover is to observe machine learning systems routinely drubbing humans in narrow, circumscribed domains. This year, many of the most visible contestants in AI’s face-off with humanity have emerged from Google. In March, the world’s top Go player weathered a humbling defeat against DeepMind’s AlphaGo. Researchers at DeepMind also produced a system that can lip-read videos with an accuracy that leaves humans in the dust. A few weeks ago, Google computer scientists working with medical researchers reported an algorithm that can detect diabetic retinopathy in images of the eye as well as an ophthalmologist can. It’s an early step toward a goal many companies are now chasing: to assist doctors by automating the analysis of medical scans.

Also this fall, Microsoft unveiled a system that can transcribe human speech with greater accuracy than professional stenographers. Speech recognition is the basis of systems like Cortana, Alexa, and Siri, and matching human performance in this task has been a goal for decades. For Microsoft chief speech scientist XD Huang, ‘It’s personally almost like a dream come true after 30 years.'”

To give you a sense of the power of what’s going on here, you have to understand that the reason for AI’s recent success is something called deep learning (which is what’s going on with Google’s Deep Mind project, if you’ve heard of that). Deep learning, as Upson writes, “is the reason we’re on the brink of a more general intelligence.” Here’s what that looked like in the case of Google’s overhaul of its Translation service, as Upson reports:

This neural net had taught itself a rudimentary new skill using indirect information. It had hardly studied Portuguese-to-Spanish translation, and yet here it was, acing the job. Somewhere in the system’s guts, the authors seemed to see signs of a shared essence of words, a gist of meaning.

Whereas AI used to require massive amounts of human input on the front end, this is now changing to where that processing of raw information and learning is able to be done by computers.

While AI drives our devices, it’s also close to driving some of our workforce. And if you think that’s alarmist, read through the White House report that starts off like this,

“It is to be expected that machines will continue to reach and exceed human performance on more and more tasks.”

Translation: the White House expects lots of people to lose their jobs soon because their tasks will be able to be completed by AI.

Why we should care

As Casberg’s article mentioned above reasons, we should first care because of ubiquity. VR and AI are simply going to be a part of the fabric of our world, so to remain in the dark is simply not helpful. As Casberg went on to say,

“We are shaped by more than our life experiences. Our media, whether television, film, or literature, also shapes us, and under the right circumstances, can help us become more Christlike. VR is now poised to join the ranks of traditional forms of media, and we must be aware of its potential.”

As parents, citizens, and particularly Christ-followers, we should have a sense of what these digital tools are and know how they affect and change the world around us. What most interests me as we approach this new world is that last part — how Christ-followers come to terms with VR and AI.

screenshot-2017-01-03-20They both present interesting challenges and opportunities. For instance, VR headsets will at the very same time make it possible for you to experience simulated sex, or be immersed in a poverty-stricken country where you can empathize with the people living there. AI will automate some historically difficult tasks, and at the same time deprive millions of the only work they know how to do. And churches will begin to use VR as a way to experience their services as a fully immersive replacement to internet campuses (Life.Church has already released this in beta).

Perhaps more than anything, Christians must wrestle with what it means to have an immersive experience available in each person’s home when their Holy Book calls them to meet together in homes, not forsake meeting with one another, and expresses something unique about a Savior that chose to be incarnated as a human in the flesh. Perhaps we’ll wrestle with some of that here.

But for now, prepare yourself for the road ahead. It will surely be an interesting one.