By Revd Dave Stedman.

During my recent visit to Kenya I was privileged to be the one of the speakers at the Baptist Convention of Kenya general assembly. More than 2,000 delegates gathered at Kanduyi in Bungoma County not far from the border with Uganda for the event. In addition to sharing information about eVitabu, I was invited to speak about Christian ministry in the digital age. The talk was well received and several exciting new contacts were made, not least with the Kenya Baptist Theological College and the Aberdare Baptist Convention that covers eight counties in central Kenya, around 300 churches, and borders the Central Rift Baptist Convention with which we have partnered over the past decade.

Here is an edited version of what I shared at the convention:

The world has changed. We are more connected than ever. Twenty years ago, before my first ever visit to sub-Saharan Africa, a simple email exchange took several weeks. My contact in Uganda lived deep in the village and had to walk several kilometres to find a boda-boda (motorcycle) to carry him to a matatu (taxi bus) stage where he could get a ride into Soroti Town. On reaching town there may or may not be power and regardless, there was never a guarantee of an internet connection at the cybercafe. The round trip was both costly and time consuming.

Today, that same man still lives deep in the village but with his smartphone he can send instant messages, make video calls, take selfies, engage with social media and bank online. The world has changed, and this new digital age has implications for both ministry and mission in Africa.

As followers of Jesus, and especially as Christian leaders, how do we share the everlasting gospel in this ever-changing media landscape? Luke 4:14-30 provides some transferrable lessons that can help us navigate our response and engagement to the increasingly embedded, embodied and everyday reality of mobile media technology. You can like it or loathe it, but you cannot ignore it. For most it is impossible to avoid.

Jesus engaged with the technology of his day.

“Jesus took the scroll, read from it, then rolled it up.” Jesus often used the technology of the day to enhance his ministry: boarding a boat for a pulpit, fashioning a whip in the temple, even being executed on a piece of hideous technology. Human beings are technological creatures, participants in God’s creative process. We should not fear digital technology any more than any other form of technology but it should be handled with care; deliberately, intentionally and strategically for the Kingdom.

Meredith Gould wrote this prayer back in 2010. It is a contemporary take on Saint Teresa of Avila’s prayer ‘Christ Has No Body’ and is helpful as we consider our online engagement:

Christ has no online presence but yours,
No blog, no Facebook page but yours,
Yours are the tweets through which love touches this world,
Yours are the posts through which the Gospel is shared,
Yours are the updates through which hope is revealed.
Christ has no online presence but yours,
No blog, no Facebook page but yours.

— Meredith Gould

Jesus was in his hometown but announced a mission to the nations.

Jesus reads from Isaiah 61 with its Jewish notion of ‘jubilee’ – a day when debts would be cancelled, slaves set free, land laid fallow and the sick restored. This message met with everyone’s approval. You can almost sense sage heads nodding and the amens being raised. But he then suggests that jubilee is not confined to the ethnic nation of Israel but is for widows from Sidon and lepers from Syria. Jubilee is for foreigners, for Gentiles as well as Jews: a mission to the nations.

The Church has a long tradition of missionary endeavour, faithful servants travelling to the ends of the earth to share Christ. But I want to suggest in the digital age we carry the nations in our pocket, the ends of the earth are a swipe away. There are a myriad of new communities, cultures and people groups online not limited by borders. This is a mission-field as much, perhaps more, than the geographic nations. The church needs to be there, not just present, but active. We need a mission to the Metaverse!

Jesus faced opposition but was resolute and determined.

The suggestion that the gospel was for gentiles as well as Jews was not well received. The religious elite take Jesus to a precipice and want to throw him off the cliff. Somehow he escapes but the episode highlights the reality that the announcement of the gospel will not always be welcome, and may even make us unpopular. As much care needs to be taken online as with in-person interactions to share the truth in love. We must not to use anonymity to be unnecessarily provocative, unloving or unkind but promote peace and pastoral concern in every engagement.

The key phrase in the entire text comes in verse 21 when Jesus says, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”. The time has come, the Kingdom is near. This means today, not just one day in the distant future, but now and every day, present and continuous. Today, this technology is our technology! Today, this freedom is our freedom! Today, this mission is our mission and today, the Spirit who anointed Jesus, is our Spiritual power-bank too! Most of us are called to mission at home, others to the nations, but who is being called to the Metaverse?