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 you 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.