By Helen Gibson
In our technology-obsessed, digital age, do Christians—especially those who work as designers, coders, and technologists—have a unique responsibility?
Stephen Olmstead thinks so.
Olmstead, who serves as vice president of product strategy for the InVision app, argues that technology is inherently good, but it leaves us with a “technological imperative,” or a unique responsibility to ourselves and others as we consume and create technology.
“We’re now in that digital age, and there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with these new areas that we’re digging into,” Olmstead said. “… These are unknowns. These are kind of sticky situations, but as believers, I believe we’re called to lean into that, to be leaders of those new technologies. Not to sit by the sidelines and wait till they’re figured out, but to be the ones who help charting that path.”
He recently shared this idea at Lifeway’s Faith Leads Tech conference. Faith Leads Tech was a one-day, single-track conference designed to bring together followers of Jesus Christ who, like Olmstead, are focused on technology and innovation.
The three-fold technological imperative
What is the technological imperative? In a broken world, Olmstead said Christians in technological professions have a responsibility to ask, pursue, and lead.
“That brings us back to understanding our place in the world,” Olmstead said. “We understand we’re in a sin-fallen world. Doubly, it increases our responsibility.”
First, he said Christian technologists should ask God for strength and wisdom in their work.
“I believe our mandate as believers is to ask God for the strength and the wisdom to pursue what He has for us in the field of technology,” Olmstead said. “Ask Him for wisdom. Ask boldly.”
Second, he said Christians should actively pursue innovative ideas and solutions.
“Not just sit there, not just wait for some divine intervention, but let’s use the skills we have now to lean in and start to craft the next wave of technology that can serve the Lord.”
Lastly, Olmstead said Christians should lead others.
“That’s why you’re all here today,” he said, addressing the crowd of designers, coders, and technologists attended the conference. “You’re all leaders in the tech field. It’s our job to help motivate others and get them excited about what we can do for the Kingdom.”
Together, these three responsibilities—to ask, to pursue, and to lead—represent a certain sense of boldness, Olmstead said.
“This is a call to be bold as we push into the next wave of what the Lord has for us in whatever field we are in,” Olmstead said. “Whether you’re a coder, whether you’re a designer, whether you’re a product manager, [this is] boldness.”
The faith of a [peanut] seed
To drive his point home, Olmstead shared the story of one particularly innovative figure—botanist and inventor George Washington Carver. Olmstead described Carver’s life as an example of someone who humbly asked, faithfully pursued, and boldly led.
“George Washington Carver was determined to use his skills to help the people around him, and in this case, it was poor farmers in the rural south growing cotton,” Olmstead said.
As the story goes, Carver found himself confronted with a problem.
He saw poor, rural cotton farmers struggling as they watched their fields produce less and less each year. So, he developed a solution. He introduced these farmers to the idea of crop rotation, using peanuts as a way to restore some of the nitrogen in the soil, resulting in improved future yields.
He didn’t just develop this idea and test it in a laboratory, though. Carver shared it widely.
“He went around in a wagon and started to teach farmers. … He would teach them and be patient and walk them through the process,” Olmstead said.
Carver’s solution, though successful, had some unintended consequences. It led to a surplus of peanuts—so much so that massive quantities of the legume ended up rotting away in storehouses.
So, Carver came up with yet another solution. He invented more than 300 products made out of peanuts, and he created a market for these new products, Olmstead said.
“The demand for peanut-based products skyrocketed. He used two instances of technology to solve a problem that helped man,” Olmstead said. “Today, Carver is credited with saving the agricultural economy of the rural south.”
Olmstead ended his talk with a quote about Carver’s life and legacy:
“It is reported that once Carver prayed, ‘Mr. Creator, show me the secrets of your universe.’
‘Little man, you’re not big enough to know the secrets of my universe, but I’ll show you the secret of the peanut,’ was the reply.”
Olmstead said that was a great way to think about technology. “It’s not always these big, massive sorts of things like we think about these earth-shattering technology changes. Sometimes, it’s as small as focusing on a peanut or a mustard seed.”
The story of Carver—and our current technological imperative—illustrates a valuable lesson for technologists, designers, coders and anyone seeking to solve problems in our current digital age, Olmstead said.
“Brothers and sisters, let me exhort you,” Olmstead concluded. “Think big. Ask the Lord for wisdom. Pursue that and teach others.”
To watch Stephen Olmstead’s full talk — in addition to 20 other talks, interviews and presentations — purchase the Faith Leads Tech conference recording. To learn more about Faith Leads Tech, explore the conference website.
Helen is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tennessee.