Discerning Church Learning to discern the movement of God's Spirit

Meeting in Person

This past week, I was listening to a podcast from a well-known seminary. The guest, a higher education professional, was responding to recent trends in online education; he expressed concern about the lack of face to face interaction. While he affirmed the use of technology in education (his school produces a weekly podcast), he asserted a model of education that adequately balances personal interaction with online correspondence. While some technical skills may be sufficiently acquired through less personal modes, he felt it requisite for personal professions (such as teachers, nurses or clergy) to be trained in face to face settings.

As a pastor, I share his concern, particularly as leadership teams make decisions in the life of the church. We now have the benefits of 24/7 communication; email, social media and text messages make the dissemination of information uncomplicated. Yet we may find something missing as we limit our interactions to these channels. In a busy world, coordinating schedules for face to face time is inconvenient and often deemed inefficient.

The apostle John writes several letters of instruction to congregations; we know these letters as first, second and third John in Scripture. In his second letter he admittedly holds back in his writing. He says,

(2 John 1:12 NIV) I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.

While issues need to be addressed, John feels that paper and ink are inadequate. He opts for face to face discussion. We can take a cue from the apostle. While the efficiency of technology is enticing, personal conversation cannot be replaced. As we implemented the Process of Discernment developed at First Baptist, I was surprised by what happened in our face to face meetings. Members of the leadership team walked into meetings on opposite sides of an issue; when they exited the room, they were unified in direction. How did this happen? I suspect that the Holy Spirit moves in our conversation as we gather. I have a hunch that this cannot happen through digital connections. John knew that paper and ink would have limitations. Hearing the tone of voice, looking into the eyes of the other or experiencing non-verbal dialogue is not possible. While digital communication has developed far beyond paper and ink, it is still deficient.

May we discern the use of cultural tools (email, social media, text messaging, Skype). Certainly they have their place; they are tools for communication. Yet we must not replace better tools with inferior tools. Face to face communication is prime ground for the work of the Holy Spirit. As God communes in the Trinity, we live together in relationship as the body of Christ. Personal interaction cannot be exchanged for digital connections. While meeting in person will not always be expedient, we should retain the practice.