In 1953 Ray Bradbury published the dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451. In it protagonist Guy Montag observes his wife using “Seashells,” described as follows:
And in her ears the little Seashells, the timble radios tamped tight, and an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk and music and talk coming in, coming on the shore of her unsleeping mind.
The purpose of Seashells was to provide non-stop entertainment, news, and talk in order to control thought and prohibit rebellion. Sound familiar? The dystopian world envisioned in Fahrenheit 451 is the reality in which we live, minister, and preach. To borrow from Neil Postman’s 1985 classic, people are amusing themselves to death.
To complicate matters, Christians are often complicit in our culture’s gluttonous consumption of media. The monetization of information is big business. It’s hard for Christians to preach against Seashells when we are helping to produce and market the electronic ocean of sound. The world of sensory bombardment in which we live—and perpetuate—is a world in which it is increasingly difficult to take a thought captive (2 Cor 10:5), be slow to speak (Jas 1:19), be silent (Prov 17:28; 1 Pet 3:3-4), and live quietly, minding our own affairs (1 Thess 4:11).
Perhaps one immediate need is for churches to question the prevailing wisdom that a relevant ministry must adopt and implement whatever technology is trending. What is your church’s philosophy of technology? An effective church leader doesn’t need a podcast, live stream, blog, or even a media presence. An effective church leader doesn’t need to comment publicly on what’s trending. These activities are not necessarily bad, but neither are they necessary.
The media challenge for ministers is not only to discern what content to consume, but also what content to create. The church must not unwittingly become part of the problem, distracting the very people we intend to shepherd from the life God is calling them to live. If your church has the mission of getting its members into the community for Gospel outreach, do not construct a virtual bubble that is counterproductive to that mission. As we all know, physical presence without mental presence is not effective Gospel presence.
For fellow preachers, I offer the following suggestions as you seek to communicate biblical truth through the din of noise:
- Challenge people to think. A person can consume a great deal of YouTube and read endless threads of Twitter or Wikipedia entries without being compelled to think deeply about issues that matter most. Whatever your style of preaching, provide thoughtful and biblical content, ask good questions, and challenge people to think.
- Maintain and explain your commitment to expository preaching. The fact is, God’s word is able to cut through the noise. Jesus’ promise still stands: My sheep hear my voice (John 10: 27). As pastors, we must not only maintain our practice of preaching God’s word, but also communicate why this practice is imperative.
- Keep the Gospel front and center. In any culture, at any time, the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Rom 1:16). Don’t give people what they want; give them what they need.
- Encourage moderation. Drunkenness comes in different forms. A person drunk on a thing is controlled by that thing. God’s word says that we are to be controlled by the Spirit. There is readily available evidence to suggest that technology is not only habit forming, but addictive. Just as we would challenge people to moderation in other areas, we should challenge moderation in regard to technology. This may include setting a curfew on technology, or a season of abstaining from social media, or talking specifically about self-control in regard to media.
- Develop and communicate a philosophy of technology. How does your commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture inform your use of media? How does your church seek to intentionally stem the tide of sensory bombardment? Think these things through, write these things out, and then communicate these things to the church.
At the end of Fahrenheit 451, society is burned to the ground and those in exile are left to rebuild on the basis on what they have read and committed to memory. In a similar way, the church must be an outpost of serious thought and attention to the only Book that can bring life from the ashes.
Adam Groza (PhD) is a Vice President and Associate Professor of Philosophy of Religion at Gateway Seminary in Ontario, California. He is a contributing author to Marriage in the New Ministry Culture and Idealism and Christian Philosophy. His writing has been featured online at places such as Baptist Press, ERLC, and CBMW.