This week I have been reflecting on Matthew’s gospel and one particular verse in chapter ten has been running through my mind, almost constantly.
Matthew 10:16 I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. (NIV)
Jesus was sending out the apostolai for the first time. The twelve were to go first to the Jews and Jesus had given them power to equip them to cast out unclean spirits and to heal all sorts of sickness. Their power was, as yet, untested; they had no idea what might lie ahead, but Jesus had commanded them to go and there was no way they could refuse.
I imagine that the first apostles, who were sent out to expand Jesus’ work and as part of God’s plan, probably felt much like those of us now attempting to be disciples and make disciples in the digital world. We’re at the start of something, in the early stages of this journey. Technology is changing so fast that we can hardly keep up with new innovations. Sometimes it can feel like trying to keep upright on a treadmill where we have no control over the ever-increasing speed of the belt!
I believe that we are called to go out into the extended reality of the digital environment and that the same principle applies today as applied to the first apostles – Jesus still equips those he calls.
But, like the first apostles, we are being sent out as defenceless as sheep into a world where wolves lurk; teeth glinting in the darkness. So we need to be like snakes in our ability to avoid danger, to be shrewd and not gullible: but we also need to be innocent and pure as doves, not harming anyone, not causing offence or discord. It was good advice when Jesus first gave it, and it’s good advice now.
We must be aware of the dangers we can encounter online and of the dark places that exist. We must be aware of these “wolves” in the darkness, but not just for our own safety.
Those of us with children must be just as vigilant about their safety in the digital world as we are in the physical world. For example, it’s sensible to make use of parental control tools on computers and TV, when they are available. Internet controls or filtering software is in place in only 39% of households where a child aged 5-15 uses the internet at home (Ofcom ‘Children and parents: media use and attitudes report’ – October 2011).
Yet 99% of 12-15 year olds, 93% of 8-11 year olds, and 75% of 5-7 year olds use the Internet regularly (Ofcom, March 2010). In fact, 74% 5-16 yr olds have own laptop or PC; almost 58% of 5-16 yr olds can now access the internet in their own room (ChildWise Monitor 2012).
According to Psychologies Magazine 2010, the single largest group of internet pornography consumers is children aged 12-17 and 1 in 3 10 year olds have seen pornography online Over 80% of 14 – 16 year olds regularly access explicit photographs on their computers or laptops. These figures are very worrying.
The increased use of phones that have internet access means that these figures may be now even higher. Nearly 9 out of 10 children had no security settings on their phones and only 46% of parents were aware that they were even necessary according to a YouGov and Carphone Warehouse Report in 2012. It’s now possible to buy an app that can give parents control over a child’s mobile phone and block access to certain sites or the whole internet.
We’re called to be disciples and make disciples, to help bring in the Kingdom of God in many uncomfortable places, many dangerous places. The digital world can be such a place and our mission is as important and urgent here as in anywhere in the physical world. And we still can rely on the Holy Spirit to be with us on this mission.
At the recent Christian New Media Awards Conference, #CNMAC12, Sr Catherine Wybourne shared a prayer, and these lines from that prayer have written themselves on my heart:-
Send forth your Spirit upon us now.
Purify our hearts and make us attentive to your promptings
that we may be true missionaries in the digital world.
Grant us the humility to seek you above and before all other things
that all we say and do may be done in your name and for your glory.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.