For the last month I’ve been pacing myself through a process which most professors lament: grading. Earlier this fall, I spent a week teaching three dozen graduate and undergraduate students in a youth culture class offered through The Coalition For Youth Ministry Excellence program founded by my dear friend, Marv Penner. This resulted in a stack of papers roughly a foot high that require my attention. . . and I’m getting there. And while I typically find grading to be drudgery, the task with this class has been encouraging due to the thought and effort they’ve put into several of our very practical assignments.
One of the assignments they had was to read Tony Reinke’s fabulous book, 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You. (You can listen to my interview with Tony here). Based on what they learned in Tony’s book, all of our youthworker-students had to write a pastoral letter to the kids in their ministries. Not only are these letters good, but I have been personally challenged by what I’ve been reading while grading.
One of our students, Rachel Hamming, has been working with Young Life in British Columbia for some time. I’m sharing Rachel’s letter to her students in its entirety. Perhaps you will be personally challenged to not only think about your own practices with technology, but to write a similar letter to the kids you know, love, and lead. . .
To our dearly loved Young Life Campaigners,
I see so much greatness in you – such potential to embody the inbreaking Kingdom of Jesus and bring His gospel of healing and restoration to the world. You are so strong together. The way you love and care for one another preaches such a beautiful grace, your stories of healing woven together have so much strength and beauty. You truly are the dangerous ones.
I want you to be aware of how everything you do affects you. Your phone is slowly changing you. Image by image, notification by notification it is changing you in the same way that thousands of washes of gently moving water can change hard rock, slowly eroding and shaping it so it is barely recognizable. I ask you to consider again as I do often: Who are you becoming and how are you being formed? Are you being formed more into a person of love or less? Are you noticing more of the fruit of the spirit in your life or less?
What you give your time and attention to is what you really worship. What does your time and attention go to? Where your eyes are, there is your treasure and your heart as well. Technology is as powerful as dynamite. It’s explosive power can be used to build or destroy. I am concerned that it could be destroying us at times if we are not careful. I strongly encourage you as I have before, to put your phone away an hour before bed at night and don’t pick it up in the morning until after you have been awake for at least an hour. Use that time to connect with God and with yourself – to be reflective and to process your emotions and thoughts. Before bed, ask the Spirit to guide you back through your day so you can see where you partnered well with Him and where you were distracted. In the morning, start the day quietly and gently by connecting to God through His Word and through prayer, paying attention to your interior life so you can be curious about what you notice about yourself. Let the precious Word of God wash over your mind and soul, let the love of God fill you as you contemplate Him, breathing Him in and submitting quietly to His will for your life. He is the creator, he knows you intimately. Pay attention to anything he might be saying to you. Process it with your community.
Everything we do does something to us. Apprentices of Jesus must practice digital minimalism along with the other simplicities of His Way. Less distraction. More silence and solitude so you can be strong in the truth. Practice being present with people. When you are with people, make their image-bearing reality in front of you the priority, not the nagging device in your pocket. The distractions of the world can wait so you can cultivate compassion by being fully present with the other. Take a month off from social media at a time, then maybe a year. Free yourself from the tyranny of approval. You already have the approval of your heavenly Father – the only approval you need, you don’t have to hustle and perform for the cheap drug of shallow approval from your social media accounts and be deceived into what the truth is from your digital algorithms.
If you slow down long enough in your mind to contemplate the deep things of God and His word, then you will become a person of love – wise and be able to lead not only yourself but others courageously into truth. Then you will know who you really are and how you really are – a creator and healer like your Heavenly Father who wants you to partner with him in the restoration of all things. This is what He is all about.
Ask yourself often – what does Jesus say about this? What does the Way of Jesus teach about that? What does the Bible teach about this? What do the great mothers and fathers of our faith teach about that? How can I understand this in a Christian way? When has something like this happened before in History and how have Christians responded to this?
I am so encouraged that you ask really incredible questions and think critically about the culture you are living in, the time that you find yourself in. Know that God chose you to be alive now – to be a Christian now, his ambassador to the world. There is no one else more qualified to take the Gospel of Jesus into the world than you. You are chosen and loved, and I am honored to serve you.
With great love and deep affection,