Keeping Your Technology Tools from Becoming Toys

I am so thankful for the tools I get to use in the ministry. I remember the good old days—they really weren’t that good in the tool department. Since I’ve been ministering to kids, a lot has changed with technology. When I started, photocopiers had not yet been invented. I made publications with individual press on letters, an exacto knife and rubber cement, and then ran it off on a mimeograph machine. I now use three computers (one laptop for church and one laptop and a iMac for JWM), an iPad2 and an iPhone every single day. I have multiple backups, and I also use the cloud as well as Dropbox. I have an AT&T media package and also a Verizon mifi so I have both major networks. On top of that I tweet, I text, I Facebook, I use CM Connect, I have 11 email accounts and I also use Instagram. (And, yes, I have my own iPhone and iPad app; be sure and download it free in the iPhone app store.)

I’ll never forget the day I got my first computer. It was a Commodore 64. I remember thinking it was amazing; I’d never need anything more than this. At first it seemed like a time waster, entering all the names and info to create a database. Then it happened: I hit command-S and was able to sort that database just how I needed it, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I can’t imagine doing ministry these days without all this technology. Not only has it changed a lot, it’s still changing, and I hope it will continue to get better and more powerful and useful in the future. But how do you keep these tools of the trade from turning into toys and distractions and time wasters?
 
Here’s what I do to keep the electronic tools I use to stay a blessing and not a curse …
 
1. Turn off all sound notifications for texts, emails, tweets and other social media apps, and set an appointment to check your devices. During work I set a time three times a day. I’ve found not hearing the notifications help me to stay on-task. Even with the visual notifications of Mountain Lion, I can ignore those better than the beeps, dings and bells and keep working. If it’s time-sensitive, I have them call me and tell me they sent what I’m waiting on.
 
2. I do not have non-work email accounts on my work devices. I am very thankful I have the privilege of being bi-vocational (both vocations just happen to be ministry-related). I never want the church I serve to feel they are not getting my best. I don’t work on Jim Wideman Ministries stuff during my office hours at the church. (I wrote this article at 8:01 P.M., not A.M.) Not having personal or JWM email accounts on my church machines keeps me focused. I also only post on church Facebook and Twitter accounts during office hours.
 
3.  I turn my cell phone on silent when I’m in my office and use my office phone for all calls. (I make personal calls only on my cell phone when I’m on break or at lunch.) I know I’m weird, but I still have a home phone number. I put my cell phone on a charger when I’m home and do not use it except when I’m mobile or it’s an emergency.
 
4. While we’re talking about calls, here’s a great personal policy to adapt: I try to limit all business calls to three to five minutes unless it’s a phone appointment, and I schedule those from 15 to 30 minutes. I learned this trick from a pay phone I saw years ago that had a sign on it that said: Business Phone—please limit calls to three minutes. I remember thinking, “The phone on my desk is a business phone.” It’s been a helpful practice to follow.
 
5. Maybe because it’s my age or the fact that I am a workaholic, but I do not have any games on my ministry devices except games I can use in programing a service. I know what you are thinking: Jim, you don’t have small children. You’re right, but I have a grandbaby, and when he gets old enough to need to be entertained, I’ll give him his own devices. But just like I think it’s important to take back some of the time we have to minister to our family, I also think we need to return to rocking it old school and talk in the morning, at night, when we’re at the house and when we go somewhere.  
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Jim Wideman
Jim Wideman is an internationally recognized voice in children’s and family ministry. He is a much sought after speaker, teacher, author, personal leadership coach, and ministry consultant who has over 30 years experience in helping churches thrive. Jim created the Children’s Ministers Leadership Club in 1995 that is known today as "theClub" which has touched thousands of ministry leaders each month. Jim believes his marching orders are to spend the rest of his life taking what he has learn about leadership and ministry and pour it into the next generation of children’s, youth, and family ministry leaders.