Jackson Fong / First Baptist Church / Downey, California / JacksonF@fbcdowney.org
(This is the next in our series of Feature Articles from Youth Leaders Only 102 – which has the theme of TECHNOLOGY: Doing Ministry in the 21st Century.)
When I first started youth ministry, I crammed a ton of things into a backpack. As I was also taking graduate classes, so I ended up carrying another bag as well. I’d have to pack papers, resources, giveaways, my laptop, various reference material for whatever I was prepping for, a camcorder, maps, address books, camera, first aid kit, flashlight, tool kit, my Bible, water, and random junk food. Trying to bounce from class, to the office, to wherever the kids were was quite the juggling act. Keeping track of all of that information was a chore. I had to prioritize, plan, and communicate well. Some days were tougher than others. I remember getting lost on my way to a newly-formed leadership team meeting where I ended up being late due to making a wrong turn on to a wrong freeway. (I ended up on a military base next to the Mexico border!)
Fast-forward to today. With the advent of compact technology, everything is available at the touch of a button. I can have countless resources connected to my phone. I can send a group email or text to hundreds in a minute. I can do more and accomplish more in a couple of minutes now than I could get done in hours before. That’s a good thing, right? Don’t get me wrong, I love technology. If someone were to get me in on all of the coolest gadgets and the newest tech, I think I’d be all over that. But is efficient always effective? Here are seven points of tension we can struggle with concerning technology in ministry.
1 Time management
Not too long ago, the process of putting together a flier, invite, or calendar would take days. Putting together an audio-visual presentation would take weeks. Now, all of that can be done in hours if not minutes. With all that time saved, how early are we planning ahead? How much time or effort do we take in planning and preparing? Sure, we can just pop the address into the GPS, but I have found that blindly following the device is not always the best way to go. I was once traveling with a high school group on a trip in Northern California and we traveled in circles because the GPS couldn’t tell which freeway we were on! If I had used the map instead, (or made the time to check the route ahead of time, I would have known that a parallel street would have saved me time and the embarrassment of getting lost.
Self-Check: How often am I waiting till the last moment? How far in advance am I planning and working?
2 Social Development
Proper use of grammar, personal eye contact, tone, and the ability to read body language were all things that used to be really important in youth ministry. With an abundance of text abbreviations, and the norm of texting, many of our students (and youth leaders) operate more behind screens than we used to, and pay less attention to proper grammar. I’ve been amazed at students who could read a text and then text a response (with their phone in their pockets), hit send, and hold a conversation in class without having to look at their phones. We can rely more on spell-check or auto-complete. Then, I remember the times where there were breaks in communication because of a misinterpretation of a text or an email and that would cause some additional drama in youth group. Sometimes, even with adults! I find that students (and leaders) don’t interact as well together. Responses can be extremely brief, people have more difficulty speaking to and with each other. We’d rather post all our thoughts online and not take the time to consider the impact it would have. Sometimes people don’t even care about how it might be perceived. In the past, we had a little more time to consider the impact of our words before we would mail a letter. Now we can just hit SEND and it’s out there.
Self-Check: When was the last time I walked my students through improving their social development? When was the last time I did something that would have been considered “rude”?
3 Connectivity with Parents
I remember stopping by homes of students, sometimes having meals with their families. I remember mass letter-folding-and-mailing days. I remember having to take hours, if not days, to contact every family and follow up about how they were doing, or how their students were doing. Now, I can send everything out on in a mass email. I can post letters or fliers on the church website, kick it out on Twitter, set the events on Facebook, or post to Instagram. In the flood of information that is out there, I can have things posted everywhere and parents will still miss out on the info.
Self-Check: When was the last time I had a face-to-face with a parent just because?
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