Digital Natives and Immigrants
What does this statement mean? "We must also understand that 'digitizing' is just about the technology. It is also about understanding how the digital era shapes those who are living in it."? Let's take a deeper dive by first looking at biblical example of this.
As the children of Israel were preparing to cross the Jordan river to enter the promised land, Joshua met with the leaders of the three of the tribes who had been apportioned land east of the Jordan. He told them that even though God had given them "a place of rest", their job was not finished. With this privilege came the responsibility of fighting alongside the remaining tribes to help them conquer their territory (Joshua 1:10-15).
Here are 4 significant elements in this story:
There is 1 body of believers
There are 2 groups within that body with distinct responsibilities.
There is a new world that must be conquered.
There is a necessity for the community to be 1) unified around a common purpose and 2) respect what each group brings to the table.
In this narrative I see a picture of the current church and the digital challenge facing it.
The church is on ONE body of believers. I believe that our efforts to provide age-appropriate teaching has skewed has the unintended impact of segregating the church and reducing intergenerational relationships.
Two groups within that body with distinct responsibilities. While we are one in identity, the present pandemic has highlighted the unquestioned digital divide between generations. Mark Prensky describes these distinct groups as Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants. People who were not born in the digital era and later adopted the new technology are named as “digital immigrants” whereas people who were born during or after the digital era are dubbed “digital natives”. The digital era begins in 1980. As such, based on Prensky’s definition, the adults aged 40 and above were categorized as “digital immigrants” (Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants).
We must acknowledge the reality that, when it comes to how we "do church", we are not going back to the way that things once were. The incorporation of digital technology -live streaming, the use of social media, video conferencing, for eg. - is here to stay. This is not a bad thing because everything must change. That is neither disrespectful to or dismissive of previous generations, but an acknowledgement that death is a necessary part of life - "I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives" (John 12:24). If we are going to effectively communicate in this new land, we must acknowledge its existence, learn its language and master its technology. This brings me to the last point.
Digital natives (DN) and digital immigrants (DI) must operate, not in competition with or in criticism of, but in a coordinated and complementary partnership with one another to the glory of God, for the advancement of kingdom purposes and building up of the body of Christ.
Digital immigrants need to know that the church of the future will be populated with and led by digital natives. Immigrants (of which I am one) must be committed to passing on our knowledge and wisdom via discipling/mentoring relationships. We must be willing to humbly and gladly learn from natives. To ensure its future health, today's church must understand how digital natives communicate, relate and see the world differently from digital immigrants. We must be willing to share leadership.
Digital natives need to respect the foundation on which their current lives are built. It has been said that if you stand tall, you do so on the shoulders of those who have come before you. The fact that a wineskin is old does not mean that it no longer has value. Natives need to be willing to be discipled/mentored my immigrants. They need to learn how to conquer to digital world without losing grasp of their faith moorings.
Jonathan Pokluda, Pastor of Harris Creek Baptist Church (Waco, TX) which has done a great job of blending natives and immigrants, stated that we are making a critical, maybe even fatal error, if we fail to make these adjustments. He observed, "If you are not reaching the future of the church your church has no future."
We can learn from each other. Our willingness to do so will determine our future.
Part 4 of this series addresses the second requirement by taking a deeper dive into what discipleship looks like in of "Ark-building" leadership.