Just about all of us have been affected (and in good ways) by the communications revolution. But there are downsides, advanced in part by our ability to move our ignorance around the world at spectacular rates of speed. But there is another danger besides high-speed gossip and slander, which is the danger of mistaking a superficial good for a real one.
Just like old-fashioned letters, on-line communication can solidify and buttress genuine friendships and family connections. But they can also be a cheap substitute for them. Let me illustrate the principle, and then move on to apply it to missions and networks of missions support.
If you have a number of Facebook friends, and your kid breaks his leg and you are in the ER with him, it is a true comfort to be able to send out a prayer request. The ones receiving the prayer request, even if they are not especially close, can offer up a prayer for what is a pretty clear situation. But many of the tangles and trials we go through in this life are not of the straight-forward broken leg variety. They usually have to do with complications of personal relationship, along with the ins and outs thereof, which relationship problems can many times be like trying to solve a melting jelly ball equivalent of a Rubik’s Cube, with some unhelpful person jabbing at your elbows. When someone puts up a prayer request about something like that online, every yellow warning light on the console along the inside of your forehead ought to start blinking. You can pray, sure, but just don’t think you know what’s going on.
Scripture says this: “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Prov. 18:17, ESV).
I can’t tell you how many times I have seen a well-meaning crowd of sympathetic cyber-counselors trying to help somebody fix or address “their situation,” when I know full well that there was much more to that situation than the prayer request would or could let on. This kind of thing is almost never just a broken bone in the ER. Sometimes I know this because I know the whole circumstance through other means, and other times I know it from how the whole thing is being represented — and by how the whole thing is surrounded by pseudo-closeness from cyber-friends.
So apply this to missions. One of the great needs of the hour in missions is true accountability, connection, friendship, and dedicated support. This need is obviously not met through complete detachment or abandonment. But neither is it met through a showy media blitz — whether an old school slide show and newsletter, or the new school web site with Facebook updates.
If someone is on the other side of the world, we should never forget that they are on the other side of the world. The cyber-revolution has made it possible for us to deceive ourselves about how close we are and, we think, if we are that close, there must be true accountability. No, true accountability is a three dimensional incarnation, and involves mastery of languages, a biblical form of governance, competence in bookkeeping, and true face-to-face relationship. Distance communication, whether done with papyrus or ones and zeros, is a true blessing. But it is built on the foundation of true face-to-face relationships — which should not be be confused with facebook-to-facebook relationships.