It is safe to say the Reformers never had to tackle this question. However, it is certainly one we face now and has important implications to the fruitfulness of a pastor’s ministry today. As this question has forced its way on the scene as a result of our growing technological advances, so have strong opinions on this matter. Many of these opinions are nothing more than preferences. And yet, there are still some pastoral issues that need to be considered if we as pastors in this technological age desire to avoid any unnecessary distractions so to be most fruitful and effective. Here is a basic template for every pastor to consider in determining the kind of means we should use as we seek to minister God’s word to God’s people:
1) Consider your audience
The age of your congregation matters a great deal in discerning these issues. A pastor could sit at the bedside of a sick person and read God’s word from an electronic device and be found to do so with someone under 40 years old much more than someone over the age of 40. That is not always the case though. Just because a younger person will probably be more “tech-savy” does not mean reading from an iPod could not also be a distraction for them like it would be for an 80-year-old.
2) Determine your level of confidence
These decisions need to be made on your confidence level relationally with the person to whom your are ministering. How well do you know them? How well do they know you and will they understand, even expect you, to whip out a Kindle when you go to read God’s word to them? I suggest always erring on the side of caution. If you are visiting an 80-year-old widow who does not own a computer of any kind and still does not know what the internet is (trust me, they still proudly exist) it is probably best to always take a hard copy of God’s word to read with her. She may think you are trying to pull something over on her if she cannot see “Holy Bible” printed on the front.
3) Know your surroundings
Making this decision is not just based on the engagement of the person, but the places you minister where others might be around. I think hospitals, funeral homes, and similar traditional settings where many different kinds of people with different backgrounds and ages will be involved present needs to be properly evaluated. Pastors need to realize some might interpret your gadget your brought that “acts as a Bible replacement” as a distraction. Think of unbelievers in the room who may be wondering what are you reading. “You could be reading anything from that thing. How do I know it is the Bible?” On the other hand, your small group Bible study with your crew of college students where everybody is reading off a Kindle or iPod…a physical Bible might look even strange to them.
4) Guard from legalism
As many pastors possess their own “soap boxes” on this matter, each of us need to guard from being legalistic about this issue. God’s word is no less God’s word in printed form inside a really snazzy colored cover with a giant cross on the front, or on the really tiny print on your smart phone. Let’s keep this from becoming the next “King James only” controversy and just call it what it is: a preference. As long it is a credible translation of the Bible and a credible, untampered printed or electronic copy of that translation (of which there are many)…it is God’s word. Don’t make more of an issue of this than it should be.
5) Trust the source
Our effectiveness to minister to our people ultimately has nothing to do with the means from which we read it, as long as it is the inerrant, infallible, powerful Word of the living God. God, by his Spirit and through his living and active word, is what changes and effects people. Minister that word and do not rely much at all on the “mechanics” of what you read from, but do so in a discerning way that avoids any distractions from God doing what he does through his word in the lives of his people when his shepherds faithfully bring it to bear on souls.
Lately, I find myself doing regular Bible reading off my I-pad mini, yet you will always find me with a hard copy of God’s word when entering a funeral home, hospital room or home of an elderly saint. At this point, you will not find me using my iPod when I preach, not out of any theological principle, but because of my fear of trusting technology that much. Each pastor needs to determine his own comfort level to embrace the blessings of technology as we should, yet mindful of any unhelpful perception that might exist that could hinder your efforts to care for souls.