Digital Distractions: Chasing after the wind?

CC BY-SA 2.0 qthomasbower via

CC BY-SA 2.0 qthomasbower via

Last evening I participated in the weekly #LuthEd Twitter chat with a number of other Lutheran educators.  The topic for the evening was “Managing Digital Distractions” moderated by Dave Black.

The chat represented the clear consensus that we all are being significantly challenged by digital distractions.  And, if we as educators are challenged by this, how much more so must students in our Lutheran schools be.  If there’s ever a topic appropriate for my Just Pressing On blog which carries the subtitle “Living, Learning, and Working with Technology”, it’s this issue of “digital distractions”.

This morning I read about the Barna Group’s recent study that uncovered 3 of the trends that are redefining the information age:

1) People feel modern life is accelerating and becoming more complex.

2) People want to be culturally informed, but they are becoming accustomed to skimming content.

3) People are moving beyond mere facts and information, and are looking for holistic integration of faith and life.

Please see the Barna website for more from this study including several excellent infographics.

What caught my eye in the Barna Group’s study were the connections made to faith.  Barna Group noted two groups of people that “particularly feel these strains”, one of which is “people of faith”.  The study showed that 71% of evangelicals and 71% of Catholics “are the most likely to agree life is getting more complex.”  Barna Group concluded:

This may suggest that evangelicals and Catholics, who both subscribe to a precise set of community and theological convictions, are sensing a growing disparity between the rhythms and values of their faith and the demands of a rapidly changing culture. As a result, many look to sources of information that can reconcile that widening divide and offer the balm of clarity in the midst of a complex culture. (emphasis added)

Within the scope of Barna Group’s second noted trend, they found that “Christians want to keep up with culture and trends just as much as anyone else.”  They want to be informed, but are being overwhelmed by the speed and volume of information flowing past.  Barna Group proposed:

…[people] want their information to be compact.  This doesn’t mean they don’t want substance; it more likely means they want to get to the substance faster(emphasis added)

Regarding the third of the trends noted by the study, Barna Group found that 79% of “practicing Christians say they want to know how their faith speaks to the current issues they face.”

The director of this study, David Kinnaman, concluded the reported with these observations about the challenges facing the Church:

“What’s more, because of these broad trends, the faith community is now facing stiff competition with media and social media on what makes for a meaningful life. If the printing press made it possible for anyone to read and access the Holy Scriptures, the digital revolution is changing where people look for external sources of authority. Need insights about parenting, health, money, death, diet, marriage, work, fashion and more? Whatever information or wisdom you need is available to consumers with the swipe of a finger or click of a mouse. By making information about living a better life instantly accessible, the digital age is making the Church no longer the sole arbiter of what it takes to live a life of meaning. There is huge competition now on who or what gets to interpret reality for people.

“In this respect, we think there is a significant opportunity for the Christian community to address people’s hunger for meaning, for cultural insights and for ‘curated’ content, while at the same time taking seriously the fact that people are increasingly overwhelmed and distracted. For Christians, these trends suggest that cultural interpretation and discernment can be a form of apologetic for faith. In a fast-paced culture of complexity, believers can assist the broader society, perhaps like the biblical examples of Daniel and Paul, by providing a sort of cultural analysis that leads to deeper understanding of meaning, the Church and Jesus.”


So how does the church respond to this?  This study suggests that people are looking for sources of information that can compact it for them and provide clarity amidst the complexity and confusion of the digital age.  Can the Church even dare to compete with other information sources that seem to be more nimble and savvy?

My own denomination, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS), has it’s own successful and rather 21-century focused publishing house – Concordia Publishing House.  The LCMS has a polished monthly magazine – The Lutheran Witness.  The website for the LCMS is current and navigable.  The LCMS promotes its own apps, widgets, RSS feeds, and social media.  I can’t expect much more from a denomination representing 2.3 million members.

However, is it possible that the Church’s well-intentioned and honorable efforts to be content providers actually adds to the confusion and complexity of the information flowing past it’s members.

Maybe the solution lies in educating the faithful to rise above the increasingly complex digital world – as we’ve been taught by the Church since our baptisms to “be in, but not of, the world.”

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.  -Philippians 3:20-21 (ESV)

In ancient days, King Solomon wrote of his being perplexed by the madness of seeking to keep up with the world’s wisdom:

I said to myself, “Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.”  Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind. – Ecclesiastes 1:16-17 (NIV) (it’s worth reading all of this chapter)

By competing in our media-saturated world, is the Church attempting to feed a hunger that is insatiable?  I wouldn’t ask the LCMS to stop doing all the excellent work I’ve mentioned above.  However, I also think we need to re-focus the faithful (including our students and their parents in our Lutheran schools) on what matters most.  As Solomon concluded Ecclesiastes: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.”


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