The Stewardship of Technology
Andre Brink and Justin Woods interviewed by Larry Evans.
LRE: When did you first discover that you had an interest in technology?
AB: I can’t remember what age I was but I wanted to discover what made the noise in my teddy bear when I turned it upside-down. So I cut open the back to try and see what thisdevice was. I think that’s where my interest in technology started.
JW: Mine is a similar story. At an early age, I started taking apart whatever electronic toy I had to see how it worked. I remember fixing the family toaster when I was about eight.
LRE: Justin, What kind of work do you do?
JW: I’m the manager of web services for Hope Channel. My work involves helping shape much of Hope Channel’s technological direction. I had my own business doing web development consultancy and television production before coming to the GC.
LRE: Andre, you recently changed jobs within the General Conference. What are you doing now?
AB: I now work as the digital media director for Adventist Review Ministries who publish the Adventist World and Adventist Review magazines. We are creating a digital platform that will be highly interactive and will feature immersive and interactive content. It’s very exciting to communicate an ancient faith in a digital world. There will still be print versions but the digital version will be geared for all kinds of technologies—mobile phones, tablets, the web and so on. In addition to watching videos, the user will be able to listen to podcasts and view 360-degree videos and photos.
LRE: It sounds like in your respective fields you are both using technology and media to communicate the mission of the church. What developments do you see as the most exciting?
JW: For me, it’s integrating otherwise unrelated systems into cohesive systems that work together. This frees people from tasks better handled by machines, so that people can do what they do best.
AB: There are so many new developments taking place! One is called “augmented reality.”It includes combining print with the technology of phones and tablets. The app on a phone reads a symbol in the magazine and this brings up video or other interactive content on the screen of the device. A magazine front page or poster on the wall can come alive and the photo can start moving or the person can speak to you in the form of a video. This technology has a myriad of possibilities and can be used very effectively to communicate the mission of the church.
LRE: How does technology impact the mission of the church?
JW: Most modern technologies are simply conduits for efficiently moving ideas around the world. So regarding mission, technology lets us meet people where they are with what we believe. That’s really at the core of what the church is trying to do. Ideas and beliefs can be shared in a variety of ways to meet as many people as possible. Technology helps that happen.
AB: I really believe that technology leads to the growth of the church’s mission. Through technology the ministry of a pastor, for example, can be duplicated in a way to reach the whole world. With our radio, television and web ministries we see incredible growth.
LRE: Can the use of technology be a misuse of one’s stewardship? Can we use technology in wrong ways?
JW: If we focus on the technology instead of the message, we’ve lost our way. Technology is just a conduit for the message. It’s not about the conduit, it’s about the message.
AB: It can consume your whole life. We need to have a balanced life and we must not neglect family relationships. As with all things in the world, the devil always finds ways to use the good for the bad.
LRE: Are there any guiding principles that might help us to avoid these downfalls?
JW: We must remember what our true mission is. If we find ourselves spinning our wheels just dealing with the technology instead of what that technology is doing for our mission, then it is time to step back and reevaluate whether we’ve chosen the most effective technology or method for ministry.
AB: I’ve found that e-mail can be extremely distracting while at the same time quick responses are expected. I’ve actually forced myself to only check my e-mail at certain periods in the day and let it pile up a little bit. So there are simple little ways we can manage technology and not let it get the better of us.
JW: There is one fundamental ethical principle that we should mention, and that is to respect the privacy of others. This is critical.
LRE: Are we using technology as much as we should be?
AB: I think as a global church we’ve always embraced the newest technology very early. We’ve been early adopters—one of the first to be involved in radio and television. Today the Adventist Church, with its 11 million Adventist World Radio podcast downloads per day, is the largest podcast producer in the world. Of that 11 million, 8 million come from China. We have one of the biggest television networks in the world. Our web presence is good although it’s fragmented. It’s fragmented because we’re doing our own separate things. So yes, we really have done a lot but I really think with a more coordinated approach we could be even more effective. In the General Conference building, for example, there are 148 different websites. If we just worked together and did things more strategically, we’d have a much stronger presence.
LRE: Justin, Hope Channel keeps expanding. How many channels does Hope Channel have?
JW: Not long ago, it was 36. Today, it’s 45. Some are satellite broadcasts, some are web only, some are only video on demand. There is a growing global interest for each region to have its own Hope Channel. This is because one of Hope Channel’s guiding principles is to create content in the local cultural context of the viewer. As we grow, new challenges arise. We’re developing a new global website platform that will help bring a unified presence to each of these members of the Hope Channel family.
LRE: Can technology be an effective means of promoting faithfulness in tithing and in the giving of offerings?
AB: Here’s an example of how it is being used. In parts of Africa, they are very advanced with the use of cell phones for making payments. In many African countries, people don’t have a bank account but pay for everything using their phone. This ranges from paying for gas for the car, to buying a loaf of bread, to sending money to grandmother in a distant village. In some of our churches, people pull out their cell phone when it is offering time and pay their offerings and tithe at that very moment. So the church is using technology in a very interesting way.
JW: The development of technology over the last decade has really been the equalization of media. We no longer have the few people at the top who can communicate with everybody. Today, everybody can communicate with everybody. The stage is set for a communication explosion in the sharing of Bible truth person-to-person. Perhaps another dimension of the latter rain? By getting our technology processes in place today, when that time comes, we’ll be ready.
LRE: What advice would you offer the church about technology?
JW: Carefully determine the best tool for the job. If the best tool is some particular technology, then embrace it and use it to its fullest. But don’t use technology just for the sake of technology. Keep your focus on what technology is for: supporting our mission.
AB: We’ve got the technology. What we need now is content. We’ve got the systems in place so we can reach every corner of the world. We can reach the people wherever they are. Now we need to focus on content. I would advise the church to put a lot more money into creating this content. Sometimes it’s just a matter of doing things differently from the way we did them in the past and to move some of the money into digital platforms and the creation of interesting content.
JW: I agree. Content is key. Through technology, we now have conduits to nearly every single person on earth. But each of those people has countless conduits to choose from. So our conduit is worthless if our content isn’t compelling, because otherwise people will choose other conduits.
AB: The world is different now. It is less linear. People don’t necessarily watch things in a sequence anymore. They just jump around andwatch what interests them without starting at episode 1 and ending at 10. Sometimes they consume two or three episodes at one time. They don’t have to wait until the next week to watch something or to listen to someone. So we have to change our thinking from this linear process to a non-linear way of thinking, and provide content that will keep their attention and introduce them to God’s kingdom!