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Ministry and Technology

P Coulson, Forres

With the possible exception of conditions in the days of Noah, and again in the days of Nimrod, the rate of change in man’s inventive ability has never been greater than it is today. The youngest reader will know that no sooner has that fashionable new mobile phone been bought than the next generation technology is already being advertised. The writer recently spoke to an elderly American brother who was a member of the first team responsible for investigating computerisation on behalf of the Ford Motor Company. He said that the cost of processing one item of information in 1952, if applied to technology today, would make an average mobile phone worth more than 1 trillion US dollars! Weighing his mobile phone in his hand, he said that the processing ability within it, if progress in miniaturisation had not been made since 1952, would require the equivalent of 4 aircraft hangars full of equipment. All that within the working lifetime of an elderly man today!

The Past

As with every change in society, sooner or later the effects are seen among individual believers and the local assemblies they comprise. However, the general human tendency to resist change, combined with the conservatism for which many dear brethren are renowned, has for generations resisted the intrusion of technology into anything to do with the functioning of a local assembly. The present writer remembers the debates years ago over the use of portable amplification equipment to assist in open-air preaching. One line of thinking, sincerely stated I have no doubt, was that the amplifier needed a microphone and microphones were used by pop singers. Therefore no microphone must ever be associated with the work of the Lord. Time has moved on, and many dear saints with impaired hearing are very grateful today for the facility of a loop system that enables them, via a microphone and amplifier, to hear clearly what the preacher is saying. Slowly, technology has arrived with us.

There was an occasion at a Bible reading when our late beloved brother Mr Albert Leckie was watching the preparations being made to record the meeting. The machines were big reel-to-reel recorders, festooned with cables. Our brother remarked wryly, "There was a time when the brethren were renowned for being book-worms. It seems that now they are all becoming tape-worms!" A humorous moment, but it is in connection with this aspect of technology that the burden to write this article developed. Such has been the progress in recording technology, and the widespread use of the internet, that clear problems have emerged, or will possibly emerge, by the unintentional misuse of available technology.

Recording used beneficially

Very few, if any, believers would desire a blanket ban on the recording of assembly meetings. Since recording technology became available, many saints have known the benefit of listening again to a message that was of particular interest or help to them. Also, those legitimately detained at home are able to listen to ministry they have missed. Because of recording technology we have the privilege of listening again to the teaching of men who are now with the Lord, and another generation of believers to whom these men are but names have the opportunity to benefit from their ministry.

So what is the problem?

The problem we face today lies in the indiscriminate distribution of recorded material, particularly via the internet. At least four issues need to be considered, and wise elder brethren need to be more aware, and more involved, in the zealous (but sometimes misguided) endeavours of younger men who want to make everything ever preached available to the whole world.

The first important factor to be considered concerns the nature of what is being recorded. The ministry of God’s Word is never to be equated to a secular lecture. The majority of ministry that is made available on the internet, free to be downloaded and listened to by anybody who so desires, is ministry that was given at some time to a particular local assembly of believers. Ideally, that ministry was prepared in the heart of the Lord’s servant by the Holy Spirit, and it was for that assembly on that occasion. The teaching of the Word of God is essentially for God’s people: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Tim 3.16-17). It follows that such ministry will have been along the lines of one, some, or all of the profitable purposes that result in the people of God being "throughly furnished unto all good works". Now consider, if the Holy Spirit used a man to bring a corrective ministry to an assembly in a certain place, and the ministry given was recorded, is it a wise thing then to make that recorded ministry available to the wide world, believer and unbeliever alike? If the saints need to have their faults exposed and corrected by the Word of God, that is not something for public consumption. David was wise when he said after the death of Saul and Jonathan, "Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph" (2 Sam 1.20).

The second point comes out of the first, and concerns the potential misuse of recorded ministry. Often, in order to emphasise the relevance of a particular line of teaching, a brother will first identify a perceived weakness in an assembly or among God’s people more widely. A person with malicious intent would easily be able to take such a message and either selectively quote it, or edit it, so as to present a wholly false impression of things. (Before any reader protests that such a likelihood is extreme, let the writer affirm that he is acquainted with more than one such misuse of ministry available on the internet.) The very technology that we can use for the good of others, the Adversary can also use to attack and discredit the work of the Lord.

Third, the widespread recording and distribution of ministry often shows a complete disregard for the effectiveness of a man’s ministry. Some very able servants of the Lord have a style of ministry that has taken many years of diligent application and meditation to mature. There are particular subjects to which they have devoted much time and study, and as they move amongst assemblies of believers they deliver their ministry to great profit. Again, before protest is made, let the writer declare that two very godly men, now with the Lord, had their ministry spoiled because the subjects they intended to expound in the course of extended visits overseas had already been recorded and those recordings had gone in advance of them. Such indiscriminate use of recorded material is both thoughtless and discouraging.

The fourth factor is also one that is real, not simply theoretical. A respected brother in Christ told this writer of a time when he overheard a conversation between a man who had attended the first of a series of meetings and the person responsible for recording those meetings. The first man asked the other if he intended recording all the meetings in the series. When told that this was the intention, the man stated that he would not then need to attend the meetings because he would simply obtain a set of recordings when they were ready. We would like to think that this was an isolated case, but it did expose another misuse of a facility that is in itself an excellent one.


What should we conclude from these things? First, the recording of ministry is here to stay and it can be of tremendous help. The unintentional misuse of the facility is the problem. Let the following suggestions be honestly considered:

1. A meeting should not be recorded at all unless the man who is speaking has first of all agreed. This is nothing other than Christian courtesy and gives the speaker opportunity to verify how the recording will be used. In particular, a man’s ministry should not be used on any website unless he has specifically agreed to this.

2. Before uploading (to any website) ministry given by men now with the Lord, those responsible for the site should seek the counsel of their elder brethren as to whether the ministry is appropriate for such use.

3. Elder brethren should take an active interest in how younger men are using this technology. Be patient as the young men explain the technicalities, and be wise as you advise them as to the content and use of assembly websites.

4. It is strongly advised that assembly websites use a password system so that not everything they contain is available to the wide world.

5. If material of an expository nature is required for website use, many respected teaching brethren would be ready to help in supplying such material. This would be infinitely preferable to the indiscriminate uploading of recordings of assembly ministry meetings and conferences.



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