Steve Jobs and the Creep of Technology

Steve JobsThough originally said in dismissal of market research, Steve Jobs’ now famous words, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them,” teach us something about consumerism and technology. Who would have thought before 2007 that you needed a cell phone as powerful as a computer? And just three years later we were convinced that everyone needs an almost identical device, just with a larger screen. I am talking respectively about the iPhone and iPad, two pieces of technology I cannot imagine my life without. So perhaps Jobs was right. In fact he most certainly was. But notice that he refers to what people want, not what they need.

As I wrote in a previous post, the choice to live in the modern sea of technology is unavoidable. But the flood of devices, social media, and apps means we are in serious danger of drowning in it. Technology is not merely tailored to meet a need while remaining hermetically sealed from the rest of our lives. They almost always demand more space than we intend to give them. As James Sire puts it in The Discipleship of the Mind, technology imposes how it is used. When I finally got my hands on my iPhone 3G it was so that I could have a cell phone and music player in one device. But six years later my iPhone – no, not the same one – has crept into most areas of my life, shaping how I do things, and even my thought processes.

The word technology is derived from older ones meaning ‘craft’ or ‘skill.’ And many Christian authors trace it back to Genesis 1-2, understanding it as a part of God’s appointing mankind to subdue and cultivate the creation. With this perspective we can rightly view technology as a tool. Theologians have observed this as a distinguishing mark of our species and indicative of the image of God.  One of those authors, Elaine Graham, in her essay The “end” of the human or the end of the “human”?, says that technology is a gift from our Creator, who has made us like him, to be creators. Technology, therefore, is God-given and we should ensure that our use of it is God-honouring. The question to ask then is: What does discerning use of technology look like?

The most obvious point to make is that in an age where early adoption is gospel, we should approach technology cautiously, gauging its usefulness and potential invasiveness. For companies and developers are certainly offering us what we want but not necessarily what we need. Technology is pushed onto us every day: friends, adverts, and recommendations suggest that every product is one you cannot live without. But I did live without it, for years. I managed to have meaningful relationships apart from Facebook and Whatsapp. I was productive before the rise of productivity tools. I found music that I liked without being told, ‘Those who bought this also bought…’ Those are trivial examples but the point remains: the Christian is called to be discerning and measured, perhaps especially with regards to technology.

Let me conclude with one last point. We have seen that technology is a useful gift and tool from our Creator God. Ultimately our technology should serve us and help us to serve God and love our neighbours. But the inherent danger of technology can be summarised under two paradoxical urges: control and idolatry. Firstly, technology promises power, sometimes even omnipotence, as it enables us to control everything around us. In a sense, the elevation and heightened expectations of technology deceives us about the human condition, and its limitations. We must remember that we are creatures, given tools with which we can serve God. Secondly, we must remember that those tools are not God. When we find they are beginning to control us, determining how we live and demanding our worship, we must turn again from idols to serve the living and true God.

This post originally appeared on at LifeWay Media blog and is published here with minor changes.

Church Growth: A Response

Recently on Rekindle, Graham has reflected on church metrics. What I’m posting here was originally written as a comment on this post, but I’ve decided to move it to a post of its own, because I feel the topic is important enough to (try) keep the conversation going. Here’s what I had to say.

I wonder if Graham isn’t singing in harmony with Carl Trueman and others: there is a big problem with our current desire to be popular and celebrated. Churches are finding themselves in awkward positions, where their use of metrics is driving them to look a pale shade of early church life. We really should be heeding these warnings, and considering where our use of metrics and our ungodly desires are urging us on in increasingly unhelpful directions. This is something Graham’s post makes inroads with.

However, it might be worth separating the issues he raises: on the one hand, we need to discuss the wrong desires that are calling for data-comfort, and on the other, we are reading data wrongly, and so need to be helped to use it properly. His post addresses the first, but I think a Rekindle series on the latter would be helpful (and demanding). Perhaps we should attempt it.

Data is a fantastic feedback tool, and larger churches (especially) should have people who know how to interpret and are listening to all the data they can get their hands on, because of the nature of these institutions and the use data feedback provides as a management tool. If done properly, I think it could even help address the problems of Trueman and co.

I read Natural Church Dynamics by Schwarz a little while back. He locates himself within the church growth movement, but almost completely ignores attendance figures because of their inability to explain their existence. All his measurables revolve around the quality of church life because he sees these as the ‘growth forces’ that result in worthwhile numerical additions. I say this to flag the reduction of metrics to church attendance in Graham’s post, but also to segue into this next point.

What I found interesting while reading was the significant overlap between Heard’s 5Ms and his 8 growth forces: both see health as the crucial factor that influences numbers. Whether that is helpful or right, and if both, the exact way maturity influences conversions are useful conversations that we should be having.


In my original comment, I posted a quote from Tim Keller’s Center Church. I just dropped it in there, out of nowhere. I included it because I felt it provides useful language and an accessible framework, which holds together both the need to be faithful and the need to reach the lost. For the sake of continuity, here’s the quote:

“As I read, reflected, and taught, I came to the conclusion that a more biblical theme for ministerial evaluation than either success or faithfulness is fruitfulness. Jesus, of course, told his disciples that they were to “bear much fruit” (John 15:8). Paul spoke even more specifically. He spoke of conversions as “fruit” when he desired to preach in Rome: “that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles” (Rom 1:13 KJV). Paul also spoke of the “fruit” of godly character that a minister can see growing in Christians under his care. This included the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22). Good deeds, such as mercy to the poor, are called “fruit” as well (Rom 15:28).
Paul spoke of the pastoral nurture of congregations as a form of gardening. He told the Corinthian Christians they were “God’s field” in which some ministers planted, some watered, and some reaped (1 Cor 3:9). The gardening metaphor shows that both success and faithfulness by themselves are insufficient criteria for evaluating ministry. Gardeners must be faithful in their work, but they must also be skilful, or the garden will fail. Yet in the end, the degree of the success of the garden (or the ministry) is determined by factors beyond the control of the gardener. The level of fruitfulness varies due to “soil conditions” (that is, some groups of people have a greater hardness of heart than others) and “weather conditions” (that is, the work of God’s sovereign Spirit) as well.
The church growth movement has made many lasting contributions to our practice of ministry. But its overemphasis on technique and results can put too much pressure on ministers because it underemphasizes the importance of godly character and the sovereignty of God. Those who claim that “what is required is faithfulness” are largely right, but this mindset can take too much pressure off church leaders. It does not lead them to ask hard questions when faithful ministries bear little fruit. When fruitfulness is our criterion for evaluation, we are held accountable but not crushed by the expectation that a certain number of lives will be changed dramatically under our ministry.”

Five Steps to Feeling Better About Killing Unborn Children

The old guard, out-dated media, hate-filled Christians, and a few pesky psychologists – as well as psychiatrists – have for too long persuaded the general public that abortion is harmful. Fortunately in recent times this oppressive narrative has been overturned. If we ignore the fact an unborn human is killed during an abortion, they certainly have become “safe, pain-free, and convenient.” But another phenomenon has been harder to deal with: our consciences. It is almost as if we know that killing another human out of self-preservation is wrong, even evil. So I have assembled a few of the choicest ways to get around your annoying conscience, arranging them into five easy steps.

1. Use cold, scientific, and dissociative terms

Firstly, you have to stop using phrases such as unborn child and words that make you uncomfortable, like ‘human,’ ‘baby,’ and ‘life.’ What you need to do next is depersonalise and dehumanise whatever is growing inside the womb. The word foetus is a great tool when doing this. No one gets attached to a foetus, surely a foetus does not have feelings or significance. I would go as far as saying you should give up the word abortion, opting for termination. You know, like when you cancel your contract with MTN or Standard Bank. You could go even further and refer to it simply as an operation, opaque enough that you could be speaking about the removal of an appendix. The bottom line is you must choose your language carefully, which will help you to think less about taking the life of an unborn, helpless child.

2. Major in women and forget the foetus

women's reproductive rightsThis step will sound both extremely selfish and selectively narrow, but you need to make abortion a matter of women’s rights, freedoms, and challenging the patriarchy. This is a very effective step because it proves that anyone who values a foetus does not value women. In fact, anyone who tries to tell a woman that terminating her unwanted growth – similar to cancer really – is wrong is a chauvinist and bigot. Who gets to tell others what they can and cannot with their bodies? Oppressors. This rhetoric provides a remarkably impressive smokescreen, entirely obscuring the fact that another body is even in the frame. If you find that this step is not working, either to ease your conscience or defeat your opponents, just remember that it is always those with power who get to choose, with no regard for the weak. And those weak-minded fundamentalists and even weaker foetuses have no say.

3. Forget the evils of ‘service providers’ such as Planned Parenthood

This is a very important step if you are to successfully sear your conscience about certain abortion practices and clinics. We do need to first consider the undeniable facts: Planned Parenthood sells the organs of terminated foeti. Now, this may sound like something that Nazi doctors would carry out, experimenting on hapless Jews and other minorities in the 1940s. But it is not, because they are experimenting on foeti, not humans. Though it is odd that the organs and tissue harvested from whatever is growing inside those pregnant women can be matched with and even given to actual human babies. While working towards forgetting the obvious evils done in these clinics we can also learn from these practitioners: they are remarkably calloused to the point that it is strength, like a worker’s blistered hands. Just listen to how they speak about killing unborn babies (crushing spines and dismembering foeti), without a hint of remorse. Powerful. Nietzschean.

4. Speak about victory, progress, and triumphs

planned parenthoodMany doctors around the world and throughout history have laboured tirelessly to preserve the lives of children growing inside the womb. Simultaneously – and somewhat ironically – vast progress has also been made in the field of abortions. This might seem disingenuous. On one side doctors are caring for these foeti and on the other they are killing them, yet both are commended. But let’s overlook this peculiar paradox and speak exclusively about historical victories, such as Roe versus Wade and Casey versus Planned Parenthood. Thanks to these momentous triumphs women have reclaimed their reproductive rights and bodies. Simultaneously the shackles have been thrown off of medicine, meaning its advances can now be used to kill those it was designed to and initially sought to protect. Progress indeed.

5. Believe the lies

I am not here revisiting Planned Parenthood (above), or medical professionals who have successfully grown wealthy by butchering humans and trading their body parts. I want to finish where we started. Many people who have had abortions might try and tell you they regret it, will never forget it, and suffer intense emotional scarring as a result of it. What should you make of this? There is no doubt that the vast progress in the field of medicine means abortions are standard and safe procedures, resulting in little or no pain. Your body, future reproduction, and sex life will not be endangered. But will you be able to walk away both physically and emotionally whole? Yes, of course. What do those people who have had abortions and spend their entire lives regretting them really know? This is arguably the hardest step, because it involves the killing off of your conscience. If you are unable to do that, then abortion – for whatever reason – will always haunt you. So believe the lies: convince yourself that killing an unborn, defenceless, and  miraculous new life will not affect you, permanently.

Doodle: Interpretation versus Information

LibraryA few weeks ago, after the men’s Bible study that I am involved in, someone asked me what study notes and material I received at Bible college. We have been reading through Romans and anyone who has read it carefully will be familiar with the occasional confounding phrase, even passage. Therefore the question is understandable. Furthermore, I remember being in awe of Bible teachers as a young Christian in my teens and assuming that with enough commentaries I would be able to do what they did. However after an honours in theology and just over five years in local church ministry I was able to answer this man’s question quite differently to how I might have ten years ago. While there is no denying my library has grown in that time, while my savings have shrunk, what I have learnt formally and in my day-to-day Christian life is that reading and understanding the Bible has less to do with information and more to do with interpretation. Let me explain.

At college we did have courses on specific books of the Bible: Exodus, Psalms, Proverbs, Ezekiel, Mark’s Gospel, Acts, Romans, and Ephesians. But, as you might picked up from that list, many books were excluded, even though I lived on campus as a full-time student. You might also have noticed from the list above that seemingly more important books, if one can make such a distinction, were omitted: Genesis, Isaiah,  John’s Gospel, and Revelation. But the value of the book studies we did, along with other more general courses, was that we were taught principles for interpretation, tools for faithful reading. What are those? Simply put, we were equipped to read biblical texts carefully, in context, and by considering things like genre and original or authorial purpose. For example, in our course on Ezekiel we learnt tools for understanding Ezekiel that can be applied to all Old Testament prophecy. Sadly, such an approach is all but lost in many churches today where Bible verses are treated like the sayings of Confucius,  explaining the vast theological confusion that currently reigns.

In his useful, compendious, free, and excitingly titled essay New Testament Hermeneutics, G. K. Beale provides a few questions that might further help you understand what I mean by interpreting the meaning of a text:
1. Does the meaning reached fit with the larger context?
2. It is in harmony with rest of biblical revelation?
3. How well does it illuminate the rest of the passage?
4. How does it compare with other commentators’ interpretations?

What you will notice from Beale’s questions is that commentaries are only mentioned in the last. The preceding questions deal with reading the passage in its context (historically and in the biblical storyline), making use of clearer passages in Scripture, and considering a passage or verse within its immediate surroundings. How you read the Bible is in some ways more important than what you read about the Bible. In the same way that you do not pick up a novel, open up to a page at random and read a couple of sentences believing that that is what the novel is about, we should not treat Scripture as a repository of unrelated but inspiring sentences. Meaning is determined by close reading, knowing the context, and comparing your interpretation with the rest of God’s revelation in Scripture.

HermeneuticsIn conclusion, if these disparate thoughts can actually be brought together, the Christian faith is not housed in a body of work or library but in the living text, God’s inspired words. We benefit immensely by reading scholars who have sought to correctly interpret the Bible throughout history, we even learn as we study those who interpreted it incorrectly. But at the end of the day we must meet God in his Word, as he addresses us in his text. This is how God has chosen to reveal himself, rebuke his people, and reach those who do not know him.

Church Growth: Must We be Passionate about Numerical Growth?

A few weeks back I posted on church attendance and the role numbers might play in evaluating ministry, both positively and negatively. I argued that unqualified numbers indicate little more than trends, can be misleading or even deceiving, and easily become a source of discouragement. One of the catalysts for my own reflection upon the church growth movement and its principles has been Andrew Heard. I have critiqued an aspect of his teaching (here), but in this post I want to interact with his point from Acts that being passionate about numerical growth is a necessary part of the gospel fabric and ministry. When presenting this at a conference, Heard admitted that being passionate about numerical growth leaves us wide open to compromise, providing a sort of tension. However I believe that being passionate for growth also requires careful qualification. I hope to develop that, in part, with this post.

Growth in Acts was a result of the church’s passion for Christ

Church growthBefore we get to some of those qualifications, we must ask if does Acts does show that being passion for numerical growth is necessary for gospel ministry. I have written previously on the purpose of Acts, arguing that by embedding gospel sermons in narrative Luke’s aim was to: (a) call its readers to repentance and faith in Christ while (b) emphasising that the success of the gospel is owed to the Holy Spirit. More simply, we might say that Acts emphasises the word about Christ and the work of the Spirit. There is no denying that Luke records numerical growth throughout (Acts 2:41, 47; 4:4; 5:14; 6:1, 7; 11:24; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20). But in holding to the aforementioned twofold purpose of Acts, this numerical growth resulted from the faithful proclamation of Christ made effective by the Spirit, which is why we repeatedly read that it was the Lord who added to his church. To risk being accused of splitting hairs, I think we would do better to argue from Acts that the apostles were passionate about Christ and dependant on his Spirit, rather than passionate about growth and dependant on methods. With that in mind, let us consider two qualifications for the statement, ‘Being passionate about growth is a necessary part of gospel fabric.’

Numerical growth must be measured by real conversions to Christ

I mentioned some of the dangers of metrics in ministry in my previous post. One of those is the misuse of numbers; we can, as one commenter said, seek “data-comfort” through metrics. This is not to say that this will always be the case but we must ask both why we are counting on Sundays and what those statistics show. The problem with counting heads on a Sunday is that the number of people who attend services is not an indication of how many Christians belong to your church. Therefore what we can infer from numbers is confidence of growth, perhaps of “seekers” but not an indication of conversions. Commenting on Acts 2, John Stott writes, “Salvation and church membership belonged together; they still do.” All of the numbers in Acts refer to conversions, not adherents or visitors. History tells us that tens of thousands of Jews made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Pentecost and therefore we can safely assume that Peter addressed more than 3000 people. In fact, Acts 2:41 makes it clear that not everyone who heard received the word and baptism. The incredible number in 2:47 was not how many listened to Peter but how many came to Christ.

Conversions have little to do with us

Church growthAnswering the question, “Who grows the church?” in The Courage to be Protestant, David Wells strongly expounds the sovereignty of God. He writes, “Nothing…is more absurd than the panic that now grips the evangelical church. It is terrorized by the specter of postmodernity. Reading today’s “how-to” literature, one has to draw the conclusion that the church’s days are numbered unless we rush in to prop it up with our own know-how. God, you see, has more on his hands than he can possibly handle.” Wells concludes that section of his book with an appeal for us to let God be God over his church, for this will liberate us from feeling or thinking we must do what we are incapable of doing: “We cannot impart new life.” Believing numerical growth can be unlocked by a better strategy comes close to unbelief. Wells continues, “We turn to structures and programs, appearances and management, advertising and marketing. Our preoccupation is with what we doand therefore with what we control.” Strategies, structures, and ministry models do not deny the sovereignty of God but the confidence we put in them to grow God’s church might.

My hope in writing this post is not to promote theological knit picking and it certainly is not to discourage being passionate about growing God’s church. But, working backwards through my points: we must remember the place of human effort and planning within the sovereignty of God. The most God-glorifying expression of our passion for growth will be seen in impassioned prayers for conversions. Finally, if we are truly passionate about growth we will preach Christ and him crucified, in the power of his Spirit. Nothing less will do. Nothing less will grow the church.

Church Growth: The Place of Metrics in Evaluating Ministry

Attending a conference, denominational synod, or church planting seminar, you do not have to wait long before you are discussing numbers and attendance. It’s not even that people specifically ask how big your church is. It is more that the question: “How’s it going?” either has the implied meaning of ‘how many people are attending your church?’ or we instinctively answer with statistics. I do not yet know what to make of this instinct in myself or that when I ask about your ministry all I am really interested in is how many people are coming. But I know it is not healthy, and I am fairly certain it is not biblical. Paul does not mention the size of a church once in his epistles, apart from celebrating their growth. And in Christ’s seven letters to the churches in Revelation it is the unimpressive and beleaguered churches that are commended (Smyrna and Philadelphia), while the influential and powerful churches are rebuked (Sardis and Laodicea).

Church metricsDiscussing the place of numbers in evaluating our churches and ministries, Marshall and Payne write, “Numbers can be a blunt instrument for evaluation. On their own, they don’t tell the whole story. Good numbers can be a sign of spiritual health, or they can indicate that you are running a non-demanding, people-pleasing ministry that lots of people like” (The Vine Project). Numbers do not tell the whole story, yet the way we speak and evaluate each other’s ministries I wonder if we actually believe that. After all, it is far more impressive to say your average Sunday attendance is closing in on 1000 than to admit that you are seeing little maturity in your church. Read that quote from The Vine Project again: numbers alone indicate nothing. Let’s not forget that Joel Osteen pastors the biggest church in America. So in this short post I hope to outline a few of my thoughts on and concerns regarding numbers.

They can be misleading

I wrote a post a couple of years ago asking if Satan can grow the church. I was not referring to pastors selling their souls or children to the devil in order to have bigger churches—though I reckon some might be willing to do that. In the post I looked at Jesus’ parable about the wheats and the weeds in Matthew 13. The conclusion I drew was that Satan is able to mislead God’s people by giving them what they desire most, so long as it draws them away from finding satisfaction and significance in Christ. I concluded that post by writing, “[Satan] revels in a church where attendance is the mark of faith and its leaders worship growth.” We must remember that we may grow a large ministry only to have most of it ripped up and burnt. The warning for everyone here is to pursue genuine gospel growth, and if you read the other ‘kingdom parables’ in Matthew 13 you will learn that that is often slow.

They make a cruel master

Church metricsWhen the first question regarding an event or service is, “How many people came?” you are setting yourself up for discouragement, or perhaps false confidence. On paper alone attendance is powerful, both to puff up and to pull down. Forgetting for a second the trap mentioned in my first point, let us consider a second trap, one that Satan I am sure also sets: discouragement. Consider the statement, “Only 20 people attended the prayer meeting.” Sure, that might be disappointing when you consider what percentage of your church 20 people represents, but 20 Christians did gather to pray. They surrendered their time and submitted their requests to our Father in heaven, and surely that cannot be an absolute discouragement. But when numbers are the primary measure of our ministries we will be crushed by disappointment and grow discouraged, often in spite of the work of God before our eyes.

They indicate trends not transformation

This is an important point that brings us back to Marshall and Payne’s above. Numbers can indicate if the church is growing, on a plateau, or in decline, but little more. When attendance is dropping we must ask some hard questions about that ministry or event. If the numbers have stayed exactly the same we need consider change and innovation. And if there is a growing trend we should ask if we are merely filling seats. However, in all three cases the numbers reveal trends and not conversions or Christian maturity. Therefore, in closing, I agree that numbers can play a useful role in helping us evaluate our ministries, through the force of undeniable statistics. But we cannot let numbers deceive us with false growth, nor can we allow numbers to rule over and discourage us.