What Hath Google Wrought?
I had a short conversation with a friend and Christian brother recently that impressed on me how the stakes — the demands — have become higher in this age of smart phones, iPads and Google. He told me of his pastor who made a strange and bold claim in a sermon; my friend was doubtful, so right then and there he Googled the claim, and learned that it was extremely dubious, at best. He said he had since done the same with other statements, enough to really compromise the impact of his pastor’s preaching … and perhaps even his personal integrity.
Now, probably every pastor in the world, including me of course, has failed at times in his or her research — especially since the dawn of the Internet, perhaps. We can’t know everything. We can’t verify every source. We can only do so much.
But we must keep in mind that almost anyone these days can do what my friend did.
First, that’s a challenge to remember that I need to be the first fact checker of anything I say from the platform. I have always footnoted or otherwise indicated my sources when studying for and writing a sermon, which has often paid off when someone asked for the source, or when, sometimes years later, I used it in an article or book. Even when, for the sake of focus, I’ve used phrases like “I’ve heard it said” or “it has been reported” from the platform, I’ve made sure to have a citation available so anyone seeking more information could get it.
Second, I’ve always had as a goal to speak so compellingly throughout a message as to make it hard for a person to daydream or disengage, even for only a moment. It’s a high standard, of course, but one that would these days make Googling my words a little tougher on the listener.
Finally, and most importantly in this new era of smart phones, I want to make sure that my words are always trustworthy, so that the person who does check their veracity would be reassured, as much as possible. I want my messages to build toward a response, and that goal is short circuited if a listener begins to think, “What did he just say? That can’t be right!” By the time he or she goes to Google on a phone, I’ve probably lost not only that person’s attention, but also the likelihood of the kind of response I’d been praying for.