Adam Thomas Q&A

May 3rd, 2011
Adam Thomas

This week, Shane Raynor had a conversation with author Adam Thomas about his book Digital Disciple. (Now FREE on e-book! See links at end of article.) They also discussed technology, social networking, and his youth devotional website.

SHANE: In your new book Digital Disciple you mention that when Christ is present, connection between Christians becomes communion, and you also write that communion can happen online. How does this change how a 21st Century church does ministry?

ADAM: Connection becomes Communion not just because Christ is present. We have to recognize Christ’s presence in our relationships, both real and virtual, to be able to participate in Communion. The 21st Century church can thrive by tapping into the amazing capacity for networking that the Internet has created, but it won’t thrive if it just delivers virtual content. The church must continue to champion real, face-to-face, embodied contact between and among people. This type of contact will be more important than it ever has been when we spend most of our lives online.

SHANE: Are there ways you think churches can misuse technology or rely on it too much?

ADAM: One area that jumps to mind is the current trend to allow people to fulfill their monetary pledges to their churches via Paypal or some other Web application. I am wholeheartedly against this practice. (For that matter, I’m against people snail-mailing their pledges as well, unless there’s a health reason for it.) When we set our pledges to direct debit from our accounts, they just become another bill. We lose the necessary step of bringing it to church and offering it up to God during the service. Pledging isn’t just about making sure the church has enough money to keep the heat on. It is a spiritual practice that helps us connect our blessings back to God’s overwhelming generosity. Paypal pledging erases this connection, in my mind.

SHANE: Do you think the internet and social networking are widening the generation gap or helping bridge it?

ADAM: Well, if you look at Facebook trends, you’ll see that women over 55 (I think that’s the number) are currently the biggest new group on the social networking site. In that sense, the younger generations are pulling the older ones online. However, at my church I am conscious of the need not just to post my sermons online but also to have a dozen copies in the back of the church for folks who do not feel comfortable browsing for it on the Internet. In that sense, the Tech has created another dimension, in which (mostly) younger folks live to the exclusion of those who do not have the know-how to access it. It all comes down to this: the younger generation of Americans (Millennials and those after us) grew up bilingual (or, in some cases, trilingual). We know English and Computer. Older generations had to take “Computer-as-a-second-language” classes. That’s where the gap exists.

SHANE: How does "the Tech" make your life easier in parish ministry on a daily basis? Are there times when it has the opposite effect?

The Tech makes my life easier in parish ministry mostly from an administrative standpoint. I make a whole lot of documents every week – from bulletins to lesson plans to flyers to signups. Without the MacBook I’m using to type this right now, I don’t know where I’d be. It can have the opposite effect, though. I use email quite a bit to converse with parishioners, but email is really not the best vehicle to use for that purpose. A face-to-face chat is infinitely better in a pastoral situation than any number of emails. Furthermore, email is never the place for private or privileged discussion. But it happens, sometimes without the pastor being aware that an email chain is leading that way.

SHANE: Someone recently said that Facebook is killing the church. The argument goes that people don't need church to connect anymore. What do you think about this?

ADAM: I think the exact opposite. Facebook allows us to connect, yes, but every connection made via the Tech is a pale imitation of the ones made in real, physical, you might say, Incarnational ways. I think online connections have the potential to be real and transformative because God is present in every connection. But while Facebook allows us to make and sustain connections, the need to shake someone’s hand or sing a hymn with a group of people in the same room will never lose importance. In fact, with more connection happening online, it might just very well become more important to have a sanctuary where real contact is prized.

SHANE: You talk about a "Tech Sabbath" in Digital Disciple. How do you think mobile phones and the internet have affected churches' expectations that their pastors be reachable? How can pastors set boundaries on this?

ADAM: Of course, mobile phones make reaching the pastor much easier: I carry my iPhone with me everywhere. I also tend to leave my Gmail open whenever I’m in the office, so people know I get back to emails (a little too) quickly. That being said, I’m not convinced that the Tech is changing people’s expectations. As far as I know, people have always expected their pastors to be reachable 24/7. The only difference is that now we actually are. That brings the boundaries question into focus. I am quite thankful for caller ID and voicemail. I do not answer every phone call. And my wife is training me not to check my email as often as I usually do. Pastors must develop for themselves a system about when to answer a call or respond to an email. If I answer an email at 7:00 am on my day off then people will email me on my day off. It’s up to me to figure out my own boundaries.

SHANE: As someone who has worked with youth, you've seen the positives and negatives of Tech in kids' lives. What is your advice to parents about how to manage their childrens' technology?

ADAM: The biggest change that I have witnessed in young people in the last decade or so (since I myself was one), is the change in where information is stored. Young people today know how to find and access information, but they don’t know how to store or analyze that information. The Tech has created external brains for people, and youth who have always had broadband don’t need to worry about storing information in their own heads when it’s just as fast to google something. That being said, my advice to parents would be to engage your children in critical thinking. Ask them questions that don’t have searchable answers. Also, ask them questions that need emotional answers: how do you feel about a particular thing and so on. The more they train their brains to analyze and critique, the more they will need to keep information “in house.”

SHANE: Because of technology, Christians have more information at their fingertips than ever before-- theological works, Biblical reference materials, you name it. What potential do you think this has for the church as a whole?

ADAM: The potential here mirrors the potential that began with the Gutenberg Bible. With the advent of the printing press, the Bible went viral (well, as viral as something could go in the 16th century). In the same way, all the secondary and tertiary material about the Bible is now more readily available. This has the potential to make non-seminary trained followers of Jesus more informed about text-critical issues and the like. Of course, there’s always a danger – and this is one I know personally. When I can go online and keyword search the Bible, I read it less and less. Back before their were chapters and verses, you found the passage you were looking for by reading until you found it. Not so anymore. I read the Bible on my computer now more than I do a bound copy. I’m not so sure that’s a good idea.

SHANE: There's a lot of noise out there. How can a Christian avoid information overload?

ADAM: That’s a great question. There are a couple of sections in Digital Disciple about this very topic. The bottom line is this: human beings miss the constant things because we adapted to notice what is changing. This keeps us from noticing the presence of God as readily as we might because that presence is constant. Practicing noticing God’s presence is the absolute best way to avoid information overload because it involves being tranquil, being silent, and listening for that still, small voice.

SHANE: You run a blog and a site called "Devo 180". How much time do you spend publishing these sites and what do you hope to accomplish with them?

I probably spend about an hour and a half a day on Since it’s a daily thing, it takes more maintenance than, which is my blog. However, since the Devo site is designed to have a more conversational tone, I don’t spend as much time polishing the writing on it. If I post something on the blog, I have really worked on it. Thus, the blog posts tend to be more infrequent, but higher quality. With the Devo site, I hope to provide people a tiny bit about following Jesus every day – just three minutes can go a long way. With the blog, when I began it, I was really just looking for an outlet for writing following seminary. I know that my grandmother reads it, and that keeps me accountable.

SHANE: What has it been like writing your first book? Do you have any advice for first time authors?

ADAM: Writing my first book has been both exhausting and exhilarating: exhausting because I already have a full time job and I wrote the book during vacation time; and exhilarating because I have this golden opportunity to have my writing begin conversations with other people. The funny thing is that, while I was writing, I told myself I wasn’t writing a book. I convinced myself that I was writing forty blog posts. This helped me take things in sizable chunks. If I had sat down to write a BOOK, then I never would have done so. The second draft is the time to take the material and make it all flow. Advice for first time authors? Let’s see. Read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. That’s where I found all the advice I could digest. Also, start a blog if you don’t already have one. Those of us who know how to spell and use grammar correctly need to unite against the tangle of bad spelling and horrid sentence structure that is found online.


comments powered by Disqus