Technology is deep in our DNA as United Methodists. John Wesley used cutting-edge printing technology to do more than make copies of the Bible. He printed everything from hymnbooks to texts filled with home remedies by the thousands. This enabled the people involved in the Methodist societies to grow in their love of God in a way that was accessible to only a very few before printed books were available to enable the spiritual growth of the masses.
United Methodists like the Rev. Lee Barnes continue to leverage technology for their personal spiritual
growth today. Barnes is quick to point out a 21st century expression of the Wesleyan proclivity to publishing devotional material for the masses. Rather than coming through a printing press, it comes through an app: "d365 Daily Devotions." He explains, "It gives you different aspects of prayer and scripture reading to move through."
But modern technology has branched out from being simply a digital expression of the physical printed material. One of the negatives of the modern age is that the same technology that enables us to read a daily devotional and have a prayer wherever we are fills our lives with hundreds of new distractions that can steal our mindfulness and distract us from what is really important.
Barnes has a busy life as the conference youth and family ministry consultant for the North Carolina Conference. He has found another app that helps counter the distractions. "The 'Chill' app helps bring me back to a mindfulness of what I'm actually doing," he says.
Barnes says that through the very source of the constant distraction – the notifications on our smartphones – the "Chill" app offers prompts like "Is something making you anxious right now?" or "Is your jaw tense?"
"It gives me reminders that help me recognize whether I am out of peace right now so that I can get back into a sense of peace and do my best work," he says.
Throughout the years, United Methodists and their predecessors have been known for their incredible preachers, many of whom travelled around as circuit riders gathering crowds in each city proclaiming the gospel. To hear some of the greats, thousands of people would travel for miles to attend one of the field preaching services.
Amy Shreeve, coordinator of higher education and campus ministry for the Illinois Great Rivers Conference, does the same thing each week without the hours of travel. "My devotion time is when I run," she says.
As she cares for her body through physical exercise, she pays attention to her soul by listening to
podcasts. She has access to all of the leading voices of the day through this incredible tool. This makes it possible for her to stretch beyond the familiar ideas.
"I always try to expand my perspective and find preachers that will challenge me theologically or socially," she says.
Her podcast playlist includes "Church of the Resurrection," "Church of All Sinners and Saints" and "Two Feminists Annotate the Bible," among others.
With the world at our fingertips, United Methodists are continuing to do the same thing we always have: leverage technology for personal spiritual growth. As we enter a new season in The United Methodist Church with publications like Interpreter fading into online offerings, we celebrate with gratitude the gift of technology and a history of constantly looking forward to use it to make disciples for the transformation of the world.
The Rev. Jeremy Steele is Next Generation minister at Christ United Methodist Church, Mobile, Alabama. He is also an author, blogger at jeremyword.com and a frequent contributor to MyCom, an e-newsletter published by United Methodist Communications. He has written the technology department articles for Interpreter for the past two and a half years.