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One Pastor’s Battle With His iPhone

We tend to embrace technology without much consideration. Advancements must be good because, after all, they are advancements. If we can be more connected to people and process more information then it must be a win. Right? Why should we even give it a second thought?

The ubiquity of smartphones should cause us to think for a minute. According to Pew Research data, 58 percent of Americans have smartphones while 90 percent have a cell phone. This is a very connected society. It is also a very new phenomenon in history. This should cause us to think and ask some questions. Is this level of connection necessary? Is it good, harmful or indifferent? Is it changing me? Is it changing the way I relate to others and do my job?

I am a pastor. I also have an iPhone. As a result, I have had to think through a number of things and make some adjustments in terms of productivity and technology. It has been a process over the last several years. I think I am actually thinking about this and applying it in a healthy way now.

It’s been said before, and rightly so: Technology is a tool, not a master. It cannot dictate our lives. We cannot be frozen without it. Below are some considerations and conclusions based on my own personal examination. This is slanted towards pastoral ministry but not limited to it.

(1) An iPhone is neutral; it is not inherently bad or good.

We can fall off the cart on both sides here: Technology is bad, therefore stay away; or technology is awesome, therefore immerse yourself and your life in it. The technology is neutral. It has unfathomable potential, but the moral assessment of how it is used pivots on the user. This helps me keep the conversation where it needs to be: on me, not simply on technology.

(2) Our phones are more of a mirror and magnet than anything else.

The phone tells us what we truly value. Like a magnet, it pulls out of our heart what we think is important. What do we learn about the woman who is always on Facebook or Pinterest? How about the guy who is constantly refreshing the sports scores? What about the man who looks at pornography? How about the student who is obsessed with taking pictures of himself or herself and staring at pictures of others? How we use technology tells us who we are. It is a mirror and a magnet.

(3) Alerts are mislabeled: They are interruptions.

I used to have alerts for pretty much everything. New email? Alert. Someone tweets at me? Alert. Facebook like? Alert. Breaking News? Alert. You get the idea. You can guess what would happen. My phone would beep and buzz all day long. Then I’d get curious, “What is it? I should really check and see.” You know what happens then right? You become enslaved to whatever alert there is. And the odds are, whatever you are working on at the moment is actually much more important than whatever else “just happened.”

A number of years ago, I began turning off alerts, one by one. At present, I have no alerts on my phone except [for] a phone call or a text message. I cannot imagine it being any other way. If I want to know something, I go and find out, when it is convenient and appropriate. Limiting the alerts means limiting the interruptions.

(4) I don’t “need” to have email on my phone.

I used to think that I needed to have email on my phone. I felt as though if I could know something, then I should. I would check my email many, many times a day. You know what I found out when I assess this? If it was very important, somebody usually called or texted me. A lesson learned for me is, just because I have access to information does not mean that I need to know it in real-time.

Some people need to have email on their phones because of their job. My suggestion is simply this: If you don’t need to have it, then don’t have it. If you can, define the terms of your email. Perhaps you can afford a reasonable plan to check your email in the morning, at lunch and at the end of the days that you are working. This has been so very liberating for me (and my family).

(5) A pastor’s job should not be fundamentally changed by technology, but served by it.

I like to read the old guys with fantastic hair and beards: you know, the Puritans and Reformers. In so many ways, I want to be like them, emulating their commitment to Christ and his church. I got to wondering, how much different does my day-to-day ministry look than say, Thomas Watson? And why? Could I be a pastor in his church? Would I even know how to do it without my iPhone and laptop? In the ministry, the technology is to aid us, but I don’t think it should completely recast what we are doing so that it looks drastically different than it has throughout history.

The same could be said for being a mom. Sure, there are technological developments that enhance and simplify your life, but they do not completely reshape or replace the core elements.

(7) My phone (and technology in general) must be seen through the lenses of stewardship.

A steward is someone who is not the owner but the caretaker. He is the one who has been given something for the purposes of using it faithfully, even improving upon it, in view of giving an account. We are stewards of our lives. Therefore, everything we do should be seen in light of the reality of stewardship. Nothing, even when there appears to be nothing to do, escapes this reality.

(7) Saying “no” to things is saying “yes” to other things.

I love the standoff between my news apps and my Bible. It is a powerful moment of resolve and commitment to say “no” to something because when we do we are saying yes to something else. When I say “no” to distractions on social media or the news then I am saying “yes” to those around me. I am saying “yes” to thinking, planning, meditating, or praying. Saying “no” is a powerful sanctifying work to a flesh that loves to be told, “yes, you can have this.”

There is no doubt far more that could be written on this. I just want to encourage people to be thoughtful when using their technology. The fact that iPhones are not standard issue by our Creator should cause us to think carefully about how we can use them well, and potentially not so well.