While the viral power of social media often is overestimated, face-to-face communications have some distinct advantages that are unappreciated. The nonverbal communication that is made possible through emotions, facial expressions, and tone of voice helps to strengthen the power of face-to-face communications. It was put thus in a 1966 sociology book by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, academics from Boston University and the University of Konstanz, Germany: “The most important experience of others takes place in the face-to-face situation, which is the prototypical case of social interaction. All other cases are derivatives of it…. No other form of social relating can reproduce . . . the face-to-face situation.”
Forty-five years later, despite generations of new technologies, the fundamental truth still pertains. (The Face-to-Face Book [New York, NY: Free Press, 2012], 24).
God understands the significance of face-to-face communication. After all He made us and knows how we are hotwired. He showed up in person two thousand years ago. His chosen disciples connected with Him face to face and so the apostle John could write:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 NIV)
John could see the glory of God because he had seen the face of Jesus.
No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him know. (John 1:18 NIV)
There are many reasons for the Incarnation. A key one is this: God wanted us to know him better, to know him accurately, so that we could enter into a relationship with Him. And although I grew up in a Christian family, I didn’t realise this until I was fifteen. Before that I thought Christianity was primarily about doing Christian things, like attending worship services, being involved in church ministries etc. I was fifteen before I realised that the heart of Christianity is entering into a personal relationship with Christ.
If we get to really know God through a face-to-face encounter, it would make sense then that we also communicate Him to others best in face-to-face encounters. I am grateful for the many evangelistic approaches that are available to us today. In addition, many churches put up Christmas productions to get the Word out in this Advent season. Still, I can’t help but feel that to be able to properly communicate the reality and nature of God, the non-believer must have a personal encounter with a human being who reflects Christ, who, through his or her face, reflects the face of God.
When Jacob encounters an Esau who had chosen to forgive him, he says: “. . . to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favourably.” (Genesis 32:10 NIV) And Jesus, truly God but also truly man, can tell Peter; “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9b NIV)
We live in an age where we have access to all sorts of communication technology. We are grateful that we can connect in so many ways. (I just signed up for ooVoo for a conference call with some ministry colleagues in the U.S.) My fear is that in our uncritical embracing of new communication technologies, we are drifting further and further away from face-to-face relating. It is ironic that it is the hard-nosed world of business that understands that we can’t do away with personal connecting.
Jeff Cutler trains clients on the best ways to harness the power of social tool and content marketing in brand-building strategies for their products and services. Despite the current dominance of digital technology in those disciplines, Cutler finds face-to-face interaction the best tool for building his own business . . . (“Air on the Side of Success: The Art of Connecting,” Inc., Dec 2013/Jan 2014, 40).
Christmas can be such a busy and noisy time. Let’s choose to make time for some face-to-face time with our Lord. And let’s make sure that we have some face-to-face time with the friends we want to introduce to Christ. May they see Christ in us.