Here’s a thought experiment for you: Imagine that the next time you’re in church, you take out your iPhone and start twittering. You tweet the part of the hymn that most impacts you. You tweet your expectations and hopes for the sermon. You tweet some various points of the sermon. You tweet some ways you will apply the sermon. Then you tweet the benediction. Now, imagine that everyone around you is doing the same thing. Don’t you feel like you’re having real fellowship? Isn’t this a great example of true community?
Okay, maybe this was a bad idea.
In “A Theology of Twitter,” I defended Twitter as an aid in personal fellowship, but I have a knee-jerk reaction to those pastors who are encouraging their congregation not only to embrace twitter in their daily lives, but to use it in the midst of the weekly church meeting. The question is, why don’t I appreciate this sort of adaptation of technology for church-related uses?
The truth is, when I’m sitting in church myself, I don’t feel as badly about it. Sometimes, when my mind wanders, I start thinking of really good status updates. I start to consider if it’s really such a bad thing to Twitter in church. After all, like church, the point of Twitter is community. Where’s the conflict?
The conflict comes in when we consider that two vastly different types of communities often conflict with one another, especially when they occupy the same time-frame. The time I spend twittering and thinking about twittering is time I’m not focusing primarily on my local congregation. There are actual, living people in my church that I want to commune with, not only through the conversation and interaction that takes place after church, but also through the corporate singing and sermon intake that takes place during church.
Scripture provides plenty of instances of early church meetings. There is plenty in Scripture to go on when it comes to what the local church service ought to look like. One of the things that most characterizes those meetings is it is primarily a communal experience. Believers set aside this time to encourage one another through fellowship, corporate singing, prayer, and mere physical and mental presence. Any primarily individualistic activity tends to conflict with the concept of a biblical church service.
If there are any questions about whether or not Twitter is too individualistic for corporate worship, consider how you feel when you’re at lunch or dinner with someone, in mid-conversation, and they take out their phone and start checking twitter or twittering themselves. Besides being rude, it is communicating a certain value or priority. “This is more important than you right now.” Further, we feel slightly alienated because we are not able to take part in what is on the screen. That person alone is the one who is involved in that activity at that moment.
Even if we all agreed to bring our iPhones to church and read one another’s status messages during the service, what would be the point? To add our own two cents to the proclamation of the Word, a scriptural mandate that has gone unchanged for centuries? Then again, maybe you feel as if you have something to share that could impact people in a way greater than the sermon: something powerful or personal, a better illustration or application of the point.
And maybe that’s the problem. This culture tells us that we should be primarily concerned with contribution, democracy, and interactivity. The truth is, the biblical concept of the Sunday morning sermon is focused less on those ideals and more on testing ourselves against the truth of scripture, examining ourselves, and considering how we might encourage other church members in the truth being preached. These are all intensely focused activities that cannot be summed up in 140 characters, nor can they be adequately pursued while we seek to come up with the right words to share with our “followers.”
Twitter and Facebook, on the other hand, feed our cultural obsession with sharing ourselves. This is not such a bad thing most of the time. Certain churches with tech-minded congregations could get a ton of benefit from encouraging the use of Twitter and Facebook outside of their services throughout the week. But when we’re in the midst of corporate worship, it’s little more than a distraction.
Here’s one more thought experiment for you: Imagine that the next time you’re in church, you leave your iPhone in your pocket, because everyone you need to hear from or talk to in that moment is in the room. When a section of a hymn impacts you, you sing with fervor and thankfulness, and listen for solidarity in the voices of others. You think of what your expectations and hopes are for the sermon, and you pray that God will make them so. You allow the sermon and scripture to search you, a passive prologue to a more active response, which comes when you are forced to acknowledge some applications you would never share with anyone on the internet. You think and pray about these things and make a plan to ask your friend sitting next to you to hold you accountable. Then you listen as the benediction reassures you with a promise of God’s constant presence in your life. Now, imagine everyone else is doing the same thing. Don’t you feel like you’re having real fellowship? Isn’t this a great example of true community?
Okay, maybe this is a good idea.