I survived two years as an EDGEr, an overseas mission trip to Norway, and most of my dating relationship with my now-wife, Heather—all without a cell phone. Shocking, right?
In those pre-iPhone years, the only devices available were the “you need a backpack for it” models with pay-by-the-minute plans. Instead of grabbing one of those, Heather and I hand wrote letters, used phone cards to call each other on corded phones, and even mailed each other the occasional mixtape, thoroughly kicking it old school. But as much as those efforts at communication meant to me, they couldn’t compare with the joy of being together in person, face to face.
When I finally gave in and bought a cell phone, it was for ministry. I couldn’t reach the students any other way! Almost every student had a cell phone now, and they almost never answered their dorm phones. I decided to make use of the available technology, but—again—my desire was always to meet face to face.
Technology has come a long way in helping us connect with each other. Through it we can build and strengthen relationships, advance the gospel, and encourage and equip disciples. But screens and wires can never replace the impact of real-time physical, emotional, and spiritual presence. Whether in ancient times or today, such presence has always been vital to deep connection. We see this throughout the Scriptures:
- God spoke with Moses “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11).
- God sent Jesus specifically, in a human body, to be “with” us—Emmanuel (John 1:14).
- Jesus “appointed twelve … so that they might be with him” (Mark 3:14).
- Paul longed to again see those he had ministered to “face to face” (1 Thessalonians 2:17, 3:10) and sought to encourage and bless “all who have not seen me face to face” (Colossian 2:1) through his letters.
- John communicated in writing his desire to “talk face to face” (2 John 12, 3 John 14) with the elect lady and her children as well as the beloved Gaius.
Dawson Trotman, the innovative founder of The Navigators, would likely have welcomed our modern means for advancing the gospel. But I think his audio sermon, “The Need of the Hour,” indicates his priority of face-to-face interactions when he says, “How did the message go? Not by telephone, not by television, but by ‘tell-a-person.’ That’s the only method they had. It was as simple as that. Everyone was to tell someone else.”
I’ve appreciated opportunities to connect through technology during this season of lockdowns, masks, and social distancing. But if anything, it has only strengthened my desire and value for being physically with someone else whenever possible.
As believers and Navigators who value Life-to-Life discipleship and relationships, may we continue to use every means to connect—while always seeking the true, authentic presence that only happens face to face.