More and more in the news we are reading about these revolutionary new devices called “3D Printers” which are sci-fi machines that can literally “print” anything you want (well, obviously, with some limitations!) NASA is trying out machines that will even “print” food that is made from a “recipe” of powdered materials that can be stored indefinitely on long distance space flights! This morning I am also reading about a new material being developed that is ONE MOLECULE thick but is so incredibly strong that it will not break even if you sat an elephant on the eraser end of a pencil and balanced the pencil point on a sheet of it.
As a huge fan of science and technology I find developments like this to be so very fascinating and amazing. But as fascinating as the science really is, the repercussions might not be so amazing for the health of our human race in general. It could be argued that up until recently, technology as done much to advance the (overall) quality of our lives. No one really is so sad they didn’t live 100 years ago. However, the prospect (that is even now beginning to envelope us) is a society and world in which our lives are so automated that there is literally no work for vast segments of the population. In the past decade we have seen the middle class in our country shrink dramatically while the great divide between the rich and poor grows even wider. Factory jobs are being displaced by robots. Secretaries are being replaced by iPhones. Yesterday I stopped at a large, new convenience store with four automated checkouts! There was ONE attendant who stood there at the counter with a spray bottle making sure it was clean.
Just think a few years down the road when you get your new-fangled 3D printer… if you need a ping pong ball to play a game, or a flower pot for the front porch, or a nice little toy for your nephew’s birthday – you won’t need to go to the store. You can just download a data file, press “Print” and a few minutes later it will be presented to you – exactly the way you wanted it! First we said good bye to the neighborhood hardware store. Next we will say good bye to Walmart! We lost a lot of livelihoods in the first round. How many more in the second round? And if you think that is bad, just imagine the potential social unrest that will develop in China when a billion people don’t have even their low end factory jobs filling Walmart shelves?
And so what does this mean for our church and ministry? What does it mean for Christians in general?
I think mostly it means that there will be an incredible amount of people who are going to be without any hope and meaning for their lives. They will be everywhere. As our economy evolves (or devolves), those who are not skilled or gifted with intelligence appropriate for our advanced workplaces, are going to continue to be marginalized, beaten down, and unable to find meaningful employment. It means that many Christians are going to have to learn how to be blessed in their poverty. It means that Christians who are blessed with resources are going to have to learn to be humble and discover that it really is a blessing to share. It means that the church has to learn how to speak EFFECTIVELY to the marginalized and those without hope. And finally it means that the church has the chance to define and share what it means to have a true and beautiful hope in the Lord Jesus – a hope that is not of this world… a hope that just does NOT come out of a 3D printer!
Let’s put on that Armor of God and take up that Sword of His Word, girding ourselves with the breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth, and the helmet of salvation. We will need it because we are in for an incredible ride!