Nathan W. Bingham
Connecting in a Hyper-Connected World

Make That Digital Elephant Disappear!

OR Why the Internet Isn’t “Magic Land.”

Pulling a rabbit out of a hat is the skill of a well trained amateur. Making an elephant disappear is reserved for those in the league of David Copperfield. However, make that a digital elephant and now everyone is expected to be able to pull off the trick.

An Illusion

There is an illusion—an act far more enchanting than having an elephant disappear before your eyes—that has spread far and wide across the world wide web. It’s an illusion that is captivating millions. The line of thinking goes something like this: if it’s online then it’s easy. If it’s digital then it’s inexpensive. If it’s composed of bits and bytes then it’s quick.

This belief is not unique to Christians, but over the years I’ve witnessed a Christian voice (perhaps a vocal minority) grow louder in their complaints and demands via comments and emails. In their mind, every Christian ministry is expected to have every possible resource (study tools, videos, books, audio, articles, apps, etc.) available on every possible platform. And they want it now! Not only do they want it now, that want quality, and they want it for free. A thank you is seldom heard when this is actually achieved, after all, it was online and therefore easy, inexpensive, and quick, right?

This is not evidence of Christians growing in grace, but growing under a delusion. As a Christian geek, an ‘insider’ if you will, I’d like to sound a corrective.

The Reality

I speak in black and white terms like this because for one to believe that getting quality resources online is easy, inexpensive, and quick is to be deluded.

The reality:

Quality online resources often take a team of people with great skill, at great cost, with a great investment of time.

Large Scale

This is especially true for those more large scale ministries and projects. But remember, just because a ministry is having a large impact doesn’t mean it has a large team with a large amount of resources.

I was speaking to the founder of a very popular free online tool for Christians recently. We were discussing ways to improve and expand this tool. He informed me that over the course of the project he had invested many millions of dollars into it. A financial sacrifice that has blessed millions. I asked how much financial support he had received from other Christians. His answer? A few hundred thousand dollars. Not even a drop in the ocean.

Like clicking your fingers and making a digital elephant disappear, this Christian (now a small team of Christians) is expected to magically make this tool available as an app for every smartphone, and jump on every technological bandwagon and fad. Sure, these are great expansions to make, but the Internet isn’t “magic land.” It doesn’t “just happen.”

Small Scale

This isn’t only true for those serving millions, but true for those serving tens, hundreds and thousands.

Take Christian bloggers, for example. They have annual costs for domain names and ongoing hosting charges. In addition to money their largest contribution is time. And to write well and often takes lots of time. Yes, this is every blogger’s choice. Yes, this is only small scale. But the reality remains: blogs are not the fruit of “magic land.” In fact, speaking with a wide variety of bloggers it’s true many blogs are born not out of “magic,” but out of sweat and tears.

3 Ways You Can Help

You can help acknowledge the digital elephant in the room, and in so doing potentially make it disappear.

Here are 3 ways:

1. With Your Prayers

I wrote recently how pixels are people. Well, behind every digital Christian ministry, resource, tool, or blog, is a person or group of people. And they need your prayers.

I’d like to encourage you to think which Christian ministries and individuals bless and serve you online over the course of a typical month. Perhaps it’s browsing Monergism.com or Ligonier.org, listening to Albert Mohler’s The Briefing or Mike Horton’s White Horse Inn, reading Justin Taylor or Tim Challies’ blog, or following @BurkParsons on Twitter. Whatever your list looks like, write down their names and consider committing to pray for one of them every day.

What a blessing it would if more Christians prayed for those serving the online community.

TIP: Pray for their continued wisdom, stewardship of resources, desire to glorify God, etc.

2. With Your Finances

Remember, it might be available for free, but it wasn’t free to produce and make available to you.

Consider for a moment the Martyn Lloyd-Jones Recordings Trust. Oh, how we all rejoiced and the Twittersphere almost exploded when Phil Johnson tweeted recently that all of Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ sermons would soon be free. But think for a moment. This doesn’t mean this ministry’s operating costs have reduced or disappeared. In fact, with such increased attention, it is likely their costs have increased.

Update: Thanks to “threegirldad” for letting us know that this was the case. MLJ Trust had to impose a download limit and move their site to a more powerful server. Click here to see screenshot of their news announcement.

Larger Ministries

So think back to that prayer list from the previous point. Add to that list now possibly The Martyn Lloyd-Jones Recordings Trust, Desiring God, The Gospel Coalition, and many others. Now who on this list could you consider making a small or generous donation? An act done out of love to say thank you and to help bless others just as you’ve been blessed?

Bloggers

If times are financially tough for you as they are for many, why not make use of Amazon links. Many bloggers include links to Amazon and other book stores when mentioning products. If you use their links before making a purchase they’ll get a small commission. It’s not much, but like a tip jar it helps cover some of the costs.

3. With Your Words

As I said in the intro, the jeers from the audience have been growing louder. Assuming Christians serve and work in “Magic Land” where everything is easy, inexpensive, and quick, unrealistic expectations and burdens are laid upon many. Sadly, the online world doesn’t always promote the sending of thank you notes or expressions of appreciation. Instead, it fosters demands and complaints in comments…on blogs, on Facebook, on Twitter, and in emails.

You can help change this by drowning out what I hope is a vocal minority. The combined Christian “voice” online could be one of grace, love, and thankfulness.

I’d love to see an outpouring of public appreciation left on ministries’ blogs, Facebook Timelines, and Twitter accounts. Tell them you’re thankful for the nameless and faceless team (or in many cases, individual) that works hard behind the scenes. Let them know that you praise God for how He is using them. Tell that blogger how they’ve enriched your Christian walk and how you appreciate their writing. Say “thank you,” knowing that they’re working hard to serve you, under God, as best as they can.

Have You Been Enjoying the Magic Land?

If we are all honest, we have all been enjoying “magic land” to some extent. Even if we’ve not been jeering from the audience our expectations have been high. We want immediate satisfaction and we want it for free.

Whether you’ve been in the audience or only sitting on the sidelines, at the very least my prayer is that this post will bring an issue to your attention. And then possibly, as you consider what a wonderful job many in the online Christian community do for the cause of Christ, you’ll change how you pray, use your finances, and use your words.

Ironically, as I type this my hosting service has gone offline. If only I was connected to the Internet at the moment I’m sure I’d get someone complaining. Why don’t I upgrade my hosting, you ask? After all, that’d be easy, inexpensive, and quick, right?

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