Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What's a Pastor of Technology?

I read today that publisher Zondervan have bought an online community programme from Mars Hill Church. The guy who developed the software is Zack Hubert who was described as 'Pastor of Technology' at Mars Hill Church.

What the heck is a pastor of technology? I know people think their computers are demonised and in need of deliverance but do websites need shepherding? Does the PA need counselling? Do laptops need discipleship sessions? Good grief.

Anyway he's not anymore, he's got a new job with Zondervan as vice-president of something. I used to think being a vice-president was important until after several work trips to America it dawned on me that everyone is a vice-president of something.


Anonymous said...


What is a "Pastor" of Technology?
* Tyndall Wakeham
* May 8, 2006

A church planter comes across an incredible sound system selling at a rock-bottom price - but he hasn't started his church yet, and he has very limited funding: should he buy the sound system?

A church in an upper-class part of town wants to begin a "contemporary service" on Sunday mornings immediately before an existing traditional service - the local Audio/Visual installation company recommends they purchase a very expensive digital mixing console in order to expedite the transition between services: is it the best piece of gear for the job?

An established church staff begins planning a new website design with a large searchable database of various teachings - and the estimate on the new site is very high: should the church spend that much money on their website?

Yes. No. Yes. Arriving at these conclusions, however, is more difficult to describe. Every church has to make decisions about how to spend their resources, especially when it comes to technology. I'm the Pastor of Arts and Technology at Ecclesia, a church planted four years ago in Houston with the help of Acts 29. At Ecclesia, we're no different; but we have felt since the beginning that there are some investments essential to achieving our goals of communicating the Gospel. The first example above is of Ecclesia - and, yes, we bought the sound system for a song.

Technology: What's Really Important
Ultimately, answers to questions about technology should reflect our answers to questions of church identity. For Ecclesia, we knew that music would be a central part of our ministry, inside and outside of worship. We also knew that good music would be of utmost importance. In order to attract and keep good musicians, we invested in high-quality gear from the start. If we had thrown together a piecemeal or low-quality system, the musicians would never have wanted to play through it. Nor would they have waited around very long for us to upgrade. In the first year the church existed, we received glowing comments from professional touring musicians about the joys of playing through our system. In the end, our sound system helped bring not only great musicians, but also great audio engineers. Perhaps most importantly, our sound system drew people off the street who followed their ears to the church, a different kind of being led to faith. Ultimately, this investment in a particular technology was an investment in our ability to communicate the Gospel, and an investment in God's calling for our church.

Four years later, we're looking at similar issues with a completely different area of technology: playground equipment. Children have become more and more prominent members of our community - and it is time for us to invest in our ability to communicate the Gospel to them. Right now, we don't need to invest more money in sound gear; our current tools are adequate to achieve our goals on that front, but we need better tools for achieving our goals with kids. The bottom line is this: at every stage along the way, a church planter and a church staff need to evaluate the ramifications of technology on the society in which the church exists. How will a particular piece of technology realistically affect our ability to communicate the Gospel and achieve our goals in the context of our particular church in our particular geographical location? My role as Ecclesia's Pastor of Arts and Technology involves this constant evaluation. In a sense, my job is to shepherd our people, pushing them into the fields of technology at certain times, and pulling them out of the fields of technology at other times. My job is to constantly remind our people that we can graze in these fields and make use of them, but these fields are not our home.

Gear: What I Actually Need
Since day one at Ecclesia, we have made difficult decisions to invest a lot of our resources in certain technologies, and to invest none of our resources in others, including some technologies that are seen as critical in other churches. The key here is context. If your church sees artistic expression as the primary mode for worship, then lighting, paint and clay might be a lot more important than a recording studio. If your church focuses on social justice issues and spends a lot of time in live phone conversations with relief organizations or missionaries abroad, maybe you need to invest in telephone hybrid interfaces so you can connect your phone lines into your sound system. If you're planting a church in Seattle, maybe you should invest more in your ability to brew coffee than in your wireless network.

However, as important as it is to invest heavily in technologies that support your church, it is equally important to pull back out of those technologies that don't serve your church. Why invest in a stadium quality sound system when you've got 50 people meeting in an over-sized living room? Why buy a projector with HDTV inputs when all you use the projector for is PowerPoint? Why buy a satellite dish or cable for the church building when the only time you'll ever use it is for Super Bowl Sunday? Our church is very visually oriented: film, photography, paintings, sculpture are all utilized as mechanisms for communicating the Gospel. Nonetheless, we actually use much less gear than some churches who are not visually oriented at all. Are $8000 projection screens really more than twice as good as $3000 screens? Do I need the brightest projector they make when I'm always going to be using the projector in a dark room with no windows? Do you need a projector for your small group meetings, or do you need a photocopier?

The key is to think critically about how a given technology will assist the church in the long run. Also, think critically about who your church will become if you do or don't invest in a given technology; is that the church you want to / are called to become? Some technologies demand we invest in them; but many technologies are ultimately superfluous.

What Kind of ________ Should We Get For the Church?
I've received numerous requests from different churches for help with technological questions. Invariably, people want to know what kind of mixing console they should purchase, or how bright a projector do they need, and how bright is the one we use, etc. However, without the context of the particular church, these questions are misguided, and specific answers would be meaningless. Here are some questions that I ask people when they ask me what kind of equipment they should buy:

How big is the room/facility in which you want to use this technology?

How many people are you expecting to reach on a regular basis with this technology?

What purposes will the technology serve, i.e. what sounds are you amplifying, what visuals are you displaying, who will be using your website, what needs to be lit better, what rooms in your facility need network access, etc.?

What goals are you trying to achieve with this technology? What are the overall goals of your church?

How do these goals you're now trying to achieve with this technology relate to your overall goals?

Do you have anyone who can engineer/maintain this equipment?
What are you currently using to achieve the same goals?

Can your current system be upgraded/updated/expanded, or do you need to replace it entirely?

If you have a particular piece of gear in mind already, why do you want to purchase that brand and model in particular?

Most technology isn't one-size-fits all. Therefore, it's impossible to write a "How-To" article on purchasing the right equipment or constructing the best system, etc. For example, sound gear isn't all about volume...or size, watts, or anything like that. What works in one venue may or may not work in another, and why a system works in a given venue is more about the finesse of equalization and speaker patterns than about how much power the system puts out. Three well-placed small speaker cabinets might serve better than 4 or 8 larger cabinets ill-suited for the room. The website your church needs will be intricately different than the website design I'm overseeing at Ecclesia. Nextel cell phone service might serve you better than a 15 line phone system. When you're trying to make decisions about technology, it's important to know there is a lot of variety, and the details can be essential.

The Right Question to Ask Is:
For large scale questions (What kind of speaker cabinets should we use? How should we design our new website? Is it cost-effective to use a wireless pager system for our nursery?), it is often necessary to consult with someone with audio/ visual/ lighting/ web engineering and installation experience. Smaller scale questions (What kind of microphones are good for mic-ing a kick drum? What kind of Reverb/Effects processor should we buy? Is a 3 megapixel digital camera good enough?) can sometimes be answered by good research and asking a lot of questions. It's always a good idea to consult the manufacturer's website or their representatives, in addition to consulting sales rep's at a store or installation company. The second example at the beginning of this article came from personal experience when I saw a salesman from an installation company convince a wealthy church that they needed a $10,000 digital mixing console in their gym to insure against losing settings for good sound between services. In reality, they could have spent $1250 and just hired an engineer with a good ear. On the other hand, I know a church that wisely invested in a state-of-the-art digital mixing console, which cost 2.5 times as much as our entire sound system. This console incorporates a ton of features they were really going to use, and these features would have cost many thousands in separate outboard gear. This church also invested in a person qualified to operate the equipment. The point is that sales rep's and installers don't always have your best interests in mind, especially when they get paid commissions. So ask yourself the hard questions about what you really need, and then ask the right people the right questions about what piece of gear will be the right fit.

Clearly, there is a lot of technical expertise that can make these decisions easier to make. However, manufacturers and sales rep's are not the only place to find this kind of expertise. If you think technology is going to be a significant factor in your church's ability to achieve its goals (and it certainly will), your best investment will be in the right people in your community of faith. There are certainly people in your church who have the experience, or the desire to attain experience, in any technological area with which you might need help. As a church planter, you need a liaison between you and the technology, someone to help you utilize technology for your goals. Seek these people out: make your needs known to your congregation, and be ready to spend time encouraging and mentoring people into a pastoral role in regards to technology. Even if you can't find experts, more than likely you can find intelligent people who are interested in learning more. And while you're serving their desires, they are serving the church.

The Pastor vs. The Engineer
I'm no Luddite. Nor am I a worshiper of technology. But as the Pastor of Arts and Technology at Ecclesia I must be critical of all technologies, encouraging the use of some, and discouraging the use of others. This role is a pastoral one, a role of watching over the flock. The church in general, and your church in particular, needs to be careful of its use of technology. This is not only because of financial integrity, but also due to the power that technology has to shape your community. We need to be careful not to allow technology to supercede or distract from Christ at the center of our worship; but we must also be careful not to allow poor implementation of technology to weigh us down and cause us to miss our mark. What kind of church would Ecclesia have become if we had purchased a less-than-great sound system? What kind of church would the church in my third example be if their people, who thrive on intellectual teachings, were unable to re-visit past sermons on their website? What kind of church are you called to plant, and what kind of church will you have if you skip this process of introspection and evaluation?

Peter Kirk on 19 November 2008 at 21:28 said...

But I guess in American churches they don't have vice-presidents of anything, so if they employ someone and want to give them prestige they have to call them pastor of something.

I suppose Mars Hill now has a vacancy. Would they consider a woman as their new "pastor of technology"? If not, on what scriptural grounds? If British law were applied to this they would find it hard to show a "genuine occupational requirement" for a man, although this is allowed for real pastoral vacancies for men only. Or perhaps Mars Hill would appoint a woman but find a different title for her.

Peter Kirk on 19 November 2008 at 21:44 said...

Also I can't help being a little bit worried that this acquisition by Zondervan, hard on the heels of their acquisition of Bible Gateway, is a step towards large parts of the Christian marketplace being taken over by a commercial company, and indeed one in the same group as a large proportion of the secular media in the UK as well as the USA and Australia, the group whose chairman and CEO is Rupert Murdoch. For the evidence see this page and this one. I'm not suggesting a secret conspiracy, just an open policy of acquisition with potential worrying consequences.

ianjmatt on 20 November 2008 at 15:02 said...


To answer the question on Mars Hill and women, they are fully inclusive. Their 'lead elder' (not senior pastor who reported to the eldership board) was, until recently, a woman.

Phil on 20 November 2008 at 19:11 said...

Hi Ian
Not sure you've got the right Mars Hill. I think you're thinking of the Rob Bell Mars Hill in Grand Rapids. This Mars Hill is led by Mark Driscoll in Seattle!

ianjmatt on 21 November 2008 at 09:07 said...

Mars Hill Smars Hill ... what's the difference?

Other han theology, ecclesiology and geography of course!

Can't even read my own internal announcements properly!


Post a Comment

Recent posts

There was an error in this gadget