One of the most noticeable developments within the church in recent days shows up at the beginning of each sermon I preach when I invite the congregation to turn with me to a particular passage of Scripture. At that moment, a growing number of congregants reach into their pockets to grab their smartphone. Some don’t move at all, opting instead to simply read along with the words as they appear on the screens projected behind the pastor. It happens each and every Sunday.
As a result, the collective rustle of pages turning on Sunday morning has been reduced to a gentle whisper.
But, is this an inevitable result of the increased use of technology? Is this a byproduct of the age of the smartphone? Or is this something that we should resist?
It is my contention that the church should aim to preserve the use of a physical, hard copy of the Bible during worship services rather than depending on smartphones and projector screens.
Now, to be clear, I’m not saying that a physical copy of God’s Word is somehow inherently superior to using an electronic copy. I believe an electronic copy of the Bible can be an extremely useful tool. I use electronic copies of the Bible all the time. In my sermon prep, I will have multiple translations and versions of a passage pulled up on my computer screen. I have the Bible app on my phone and use it to look up or reference passages on the go.
But when it comes to corporate worship, I believe a case can be made for using a physical copy of the Bible.
Consider these few reasons why I believe using a physical, hard copy of the Bible is a better alternative in a worship service than using your phone or just looking on the screens:
A hard copy will limit distractions.
By design, your phone is not a Bible. Your phone is a distraction. You are an email or a text message or an impulsive desire to check social media away from being completely sidetracked.
Technology may fail.
At times, the internet may not immediately work as you open up your phone. The app may crash. It may need to be reset. The slides may not appear on the screen in the right order or at the right time. These issues may not happen often, but they are part of the risk that isn’t present with a hard copy of God’s Word.
A hard copy aids in following an expository sermon.
When a pastor exposits a text of Scripture, you’ll frequently hear him say, “Look back at our passage.” As we study a passage in depth, we will reference what the text says over and over again. Having a Bible open to the passage allows for it to remain accessible and to stick in your mind.
A hard copy allows for easier note-taking.
Physical copies of the Bible allow you to write cross-references, sermon outlines, or other personal notes for further study.
A hard copy helps with Bible navigation.
As you use your Bible frequently, you begin to know how to navigate and find passages more quickly. If you rely on an electronic copy, you are less trained to know how to find passages and verses.
A hard copy aids in Bible memory.
In the same way, seeing the words on a specific part on a page can help with Bible memorization. Because when you hold the Word of God in your hand, when you smell the leather binding, when you hear the rustle of the page turning, when you visually see the words on different parts of a page—your senses are activated in a way that they just aren’t with a handheld device.
We are setting an example for the next generation.
Our children are being raised in a world where technology is all around them. Yet, for something like Bible reading, there is an ability to display reverence and distinction for God’s Word.
Technology can give the appearance of being disengaged.
Few things are more distracting and discouraging for a pastor (or even other worshipers) than looking out and wondering, “Is that person on their Bible app, or are they checking their email?” If someone is looking down at their Bible, the preacher is encouraged to know they are engaged with what the text says.
Again, if you choose to use an electronic copy for corporate worship, I’m not suggesting that you’re some sort of inferior Christian or that you’re walking in sin.
I’m simply suggesting that we consider the wisdom of committing to using a physical copy of the Word of God for corporate worship.