The doors of Facebook literally sit a few exits away on the freeway from where I live in Silicon Valley and I can walk to Google just down my street. But the buzz that’s energizing the tech scene up about Mark Zuckerberg lately isn’t his latest product announcement or Facebook’s earnings call on Wall Street.
Zuckerberg has left the corporate meeting scene and begun meeting with everyday people right where they live. In his self-proclaimed “Year of Travel,” Zuckerberg recently met with a group of pastors in Texas.
What’s significant about this meeting is that it is both shocking and unexpected—in Zuckerberg’s response to the experience and to the people who met with him.
This meeting challenges us to rethink where we land on the different sides of faith, culture, politics and technology.
What’s possible when technology and people of faith merge?
Zuckerberg’s meeting reveals a seismic shift in our high-tech culture and a sobering wake-up call to us in spiritual leadership as technology and religion intersect.
Here are four takeaways the church can’t afford to ignore:
Stop observing culture and start having conversations.
Zuckerberg said that his new personal challenge for his year of travel is to “get out and talk to more people about how they’re living, working and thinking about the future” in light of a “tumultuous last year.”
In other words, Zuckerberg is using his technology leadership to talk about the matters of the soul. He is having conversations about what matters to people and engaging with their lived experiences.
This meeting has fired off discussions about what faith is (Zuckerberg once tagged his status as atheist on his Facebook profile, only to later remove it and state “Religion is important.”) along with generating skepticism about his motives (rumor has it Zuckerberg’s doing this as a precursor to political aspirations).
Conversation Changes People.
Regardless whether you believe Zuckerberg’s motives are as he says, the simple truth is that conversation changes people.
People feel honored by conversation. Conversation gives people a voice and fosters connection. So stop merely observing culture and start having conversations.
Jesus knows this and he lived this. In fact, Jesus asks 307 questions in the Gospels, but only only answered three out of the 107 He was asked.
Jesus asked more questions more than He answered. He went to places everyday people lived and ate and hung out with them. Jesus’ example shows us authentic conversation generates more questions because it invites discovery.
Stop speaking over and start listening.
When Zuckerberg says he “met with ministers in Waco who are helping their congregations find deeper meaning in a changing world,” the pastors were touched and shocked.
From a Waco Tribune article, we learn that Aaron Zimmerman, an Episcopal priest from Waco, Texas and other religious leaders were stunned to learn that they would be meeting Zuckerberg.
“You could have knocked me over with a feather,” said Zimmerman. Everyone was even more surprised when Zuckerberg told them that he did not to come to give a speech but to ask questions and listen.
“The clergy spoke 90 percent of the time. That impressed me a lot,” Zimmerman said.
The apostle Paul understood the power of listening and speaking the culture’s language as the first and most important step of connecting to people.
“[People] of Athens, I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and examined your objects of worship, I even found an altar with the inscription: To an unknown God.” (Acts 17:23)
Use technology to create trusted communities.
In December alone, Amazon sold millions of smart devices, nine times as the year before. They also added devotional reading as one of Alexa’s newest skills, sharing content from Christian publishers like HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Thomas Nelson and Zondervan.
According to Barna’s research, millennials are blending their faith and technology through digital reading of Scripture. It’s an escalating trend, not just for millennials any more as evidenced by the YouVersion Bible Reading app that hit over 250 million downloads last year.
We need more of this entrepreneurial thinking—and not just in obvious market channels like book publishing—but in every sector whether it be art, design, science, education or manufacturing, wherever God’s people are experiencing life.
Seven out of 10 of practicing Christian millennials read Scripture on a screen, while 54 percent of practicing Christian millennials are also heavy users of watching online videos about faith.
We need to be asking where the Church is in this movement to shift our perception of where community happens and how spirituality is experienced, both within and beyond the tech sector.
Facebook is a company whose stock rises and falls on Wall street. If Facebook is leading this conversation of faith and creating community, where is the Church’s leadership found? You and I hold the most authentic and real gift to offer to the world by sharing our real, authentic stories ourselves. And we might just be missing an opportunity to do it.
I can’t help but think of what Jesus said about his work. When people asked him “What must we do to perform the work of God?” in John 6:30, Jesus replied, “This is the work of God: to believe the One He has sent.”
We may not be multi-millionaires like Zuckerberg, but as believers and professionals in the millennial generation with marketing and social media skills, we have a very valuable resource: our entrepreneurial passion and ingenuity. We can apply gifts to our Heavenly Father’s work—not to push products and elevate our branding and message, but to come alongside real people and ministries to give social media and technology wings to further conversation, so that actual people can believe there is a God who hungers for them to be loved, valued and heard.
Love him or hold him at arm’s length, Mark Zuckerberg has opened up the national conversation on faith, elevating the importance of religion and the role it plays in our culture.
Will Christians sit on the sidelines or will we innovate new ways to share the work of God’s grace?
is author of the 40day soul detox Whispers of Rest and Finding Spiritual Whitespace. An inspirational speaker and retreat leader, she has touched thousands of lives through storytelling, visual arts, nature, prayer and meditation. Bonnie’s writing is featured on Klove, Christianity Today and Catalyst Leadership. She lives in California with her husband and their two sons.