Last year I led a breakout session at a small, local, ministry conference on communication tools. I spent the first half of the session talking to the 30-some people about not getting hung up on technology… to use it, but to know its limitations and its trappings. In all the wonders of the Digital age, it’s own communication mediums don’t equal significant connection, nor should the success in image, branding, and management it can bring be mistaken as virtues in the Kingdom of God.
There are multiple examples in Scripture of godly men and women (and, you know, the Messiah) who communicated what God asked them to simply/profoundly and the people either followed wrongly or just ignored them. The church needs to untangle her identity from business models and the models ideas of success.
I’ve spent most of my vocation in the IT/business field, and as I told the group at the conference why they shouldn’t use technology for certain things, the one older lady commented that it was odd that I was “going against” my profession. But perhaps my previous profession helps me better understand the pitfalls.
Technology can be a gift and like anything can turn into an idol. Os Guinness says it well…
…the biblical view of how to use God’s gifts… without idolizing them requires [that]… the giver must be in the gift. As George McDonald said, “No gift unrecognized as coming from God is at it’s own best.” When we recognize these requirements, we find God in all his gifts and in him find all things. But when we do not, God’s own gifts become idols. And no one is more against his own gifts when idolized than God.
At the beginning of this year my bi-vocational life of IT and church staff changed into a full time pastor. I’m thankful that the small church I serve has a team of pastors as well as elders and deacons leading the priesthood of believers, and that our church staffs based out of who a person is rather than a specific slot to fill. This vocational shift further made me consider the way I need to interact with technology, both on a ministry level and for the care of my soul.
There are obvious benefits to the following smartphone apps I’m going to suggest you uninstall. But let me say that, while most of the benefits are immediate, they don’t lend themselves to a healthy rhythm long term… in fact I think they could be detrimental. Part of the detriment is their ability to always be on, to always be attached to us. Cell phones (or other mobile devices) for a lot of us are simply an appendage that we think are a natural part of our physical makeup. It’s like air and we don’t notice the air we breathe… but all air isn’t good air, there could be toxins that slowly suck the breath out of us. Cultural tools should be used to assist us in Kingdom values; they shouldn’t be used to assimilate us to worldly values.
(Please note that Facebook and Twitter are not on this list because it should be a default that you are only interacting with these when on a laptop or desktop. These are the biggest conveyors of proportionally useless fodder mistaken as connection.)
Email isn’t (shouldn’t be) a high priority communication tool. And when I say high priority, I mean relational. It’s good to convey a bulk of information or info that needs to go to multiple people at once. Dealing with relational items is not dealt with well via characters on a screen, there needs to be voice to voice, face to face communication, humanity involved. Email in pastoral care can easily turn into a control mechanism to keep people at a certain distance. If something is pressing, people (you or them) need to call or stop by. If you are in a meeting, you shouldn’t be worried about an email coming in, you should be focused on the task or person in front of you. Future voices can wait their turn.
Additionally, worship of the pinwheel (that refresh icon) gives us a false sense of possible importance and immediacy that doesn’t actually assist in taking care of things in a timely manner. Uninstall your email app and wait till you get to your laptop to check in.
It used to be that when I sat down I had space to be bored, to think, to not think, to defecate in peace. Then I got a smart phone and my down time was eaten up by always trying to acquire information, whether watching the latest movie trailer or researching some theological topic. Since uninstalling the Internet app, I’ve been more aware of some of my fears and have had more time for moments of prayer and gratitude. I thought that the internet would have helped enlighten me more culturally and as a Bible nerd, but it was really just a distraction to hear/feel what was going on inside of me. With screen idolatry, you always end up losing more than you gain.
Yep. The Bible app. Uninstall it. Get your 12 pound book out that is hard to carry. Or memorize it.
Reasons?  Research has shown (as of now) that you rememberwhat you read more from reading a physical book than a scrolling on a screen.  The search function in Bible apps makes us lazy in remembering where things are in the Bible.  Nobody, especially your kids, knows that you are reading your Bible. I’m not advocating reading your physical Bible to look cool or holier than thou, but rather to display that it is important to you. Your kids don’t know what you are looking at on your phone, but breaking out your leather-bound booty (treasure, not derrière) is a physical distinct symbol of what you are looking at. As a person who preaches, when I see someone in the congregation looking at their phone, there are times I wonder if they are looking at their bible, or sports scores, or porn. Who knows?!
The above mentioned apps are uninstalled on my phone (or restricted in which I have to unlock and use 10 extra key strokes to access, which seems like so much work). I miss them at times, but every-time I think to use them I get to question whether I need to do so RIGHT NOW. Usually I don’t. There have been times where I have needed to, like getting on a train without a ticket and needing to purchase online quickly.
So… try it for a week. Take inventory. See if it’s no big deal or if it’s really hard. If it’s really hard, don’t just go back to the same routine. Why is it hard? Is it hard because it should be in the ministry that you are doing, or is is difficult because you are playing into some standards that shouldn’t be standards within the church? Are you gaining effeciency in some way, but sacrificing more important values and practices in return?
Also, uninstalling these apps isn’t a fix all solution that will guarantee your life to be more spiritual, but they might be a step in stewarding your daily rhythms and the best way (not the easiest way) to communicate with the people around you.
Just so you know I’m not a Luddite, here are three digital resources I recommend you tap into.
Verses Project – Music and Visual Art to help people memorize and meditate on scripture.
The Bible Project – These guys are doing creative summary videos on books of the Bible or Bible Themes.
Church History – Ryan Reeves from Gordon Conwell has a church history you-tube channel that could just be listened to or watched with the supplemented visual aids. It’s lecturing and not as “creative” as the previous two resources, but good material doesn’t need to be sparkly to be edifying. Church history is one of the most important areas of study for anybody in the church. If the church is an organized organism, church history helps us to see our spiritual heritage for better and for worse. More importantly, it helps seep into our bones the fact that OUR generation isn’t the center of everything, and that we need to be thinking generationally about our faith.