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Disconnect: Permission for Pastors to Power Down

Your undivided attention on date night is one of the best gifts you can give your wife. Your kids need your undivided attention during your quality time with them. Your congregation trusts you to give undivided attention to your preparation of each week’s teaching, so you can seek and study the truths that will draw them closer to God. And on your Sabbath day, God wants your focus to be on him – it’s the whole point of it. We can’t give our full attention to any of these four arenas when we are constantly dinging, vibrating, ringing, answering, scrolling, updating, reading, responding … you get the point.

In my experience, the most difficult to honor of these four disconnects is the Sabbath day.

So let me be clear: I am not proposing that you put your cell phone in a drawer for the entire day – it’s practically impossible. But you can make a concerted effort to focus your attention on God, family and rest rather than the emails that you “could” catch up on or the phone calls that you “should” make. If you need to send an email or two, fine. For the most part, however, create intentional distance between your cell and yourself, and direct your energy toward engaging in a true Sabbath.

The Fear Factor

There is one other thing that keeps most of us from disconnecting (besides our proposed addiction): the fear that we will be needed during the time we’ve made ourselves unavailable. Intentionally disconnecting is both a statement and a test of faith. By powering down to completely focus on certain activities, you are releasing control of people and your church back to God. You are essentially saying, “God, I acknowledge that the world will not fall apart if I spend a few uninterrupted hours away from my phone.”

The biggest trap that keeps many of us over-connected is a self-created, constant sense of urgency. We have something of a savior mentality, so we too often can sometimes make problems more problematic than they really are. We make ourselves too invaluable. When we step back and gain perspective, however, we remember that we are not actually in control. Don’t misunderstand – we are called to have our hand to the plow, and we are called to diligence, discipline and excellence. But we are not the ultimate determining factor in our lives and our churches; God is. What a relief! We would be wise to put more trust in his sovereignty and less in our own. As we do, we will be able to periodically step away from the onslaught without fear, thereby honoring God and acknowledging his true position.

Consider this scenario: A couple calls your office because their lives are falling apart, and they are on the brink of divorce. They need help. They need to talk to you. You are their last hope. So, your secretary texts you that they want to meet with you today, as soon as possible. But you are booked solid until six o’clock. What do you do? Well, most pastors want to jump on their white horse and save the day. They typically want to sit the couple down, point them to God’s truth, show them a way out of their pain, patch it all up and send them on their way. If you choose to do this, you will need to call your wife and tell her that you aren’t going to make it home for dinner, tell the kids goodnight over the phone, and then go save someone else’s family. I contend that this is wrong decision, albeit for all the right reasons.

You should be available to meet with the people in your church who need you – especially those who are dealing with urgent life situations. But here’s the truth that we all know and yet at times we fail to acknowledge: If this couple’s world is in shambles and they are considering divorce, the situation will most likely be the same three days from now. If your secretary tells them that you can meet during work hours later in the week, they will wait to talk to you. You don’t have to charge into battle at the expense of spending quality time with your family. Of course, there are exceptions but, in general, things that at first seem urgent are really not, and we are not as indispensable as we’d like to think. This tyrannical immediacy lays the groundwork for our hyper-connected lives, forcing us to be continually engaged as we bounce from one “crisis” to the next. But, great news: God has it all under control; let him lead you into learning to let go of the perpetual urgency.

Finding Focus

The problem of being unable to wisely disconnect continues to compound. The Hewlett-Packard study referenced above also found that “today’s dependence on daily technology, including e-mail and cell phones, can be slightly more detrimental to your IQ than smoking marijuana…Continual e-mail use and text-messaging lowered the average worker’s IQ by as much as ten points. Smoking marijuana regularly, on the other hand, causes only a four-point drop in intelligence.” Now that’s scary stuff. We are unknowingly inflicting damage on our brains worse than that caused by drug use!

Jesus didn’t mince words when he taught us that our body is his temple. We wouldn’t consider damaging our mental capacity with drugs, and yet we do worse when we allow our focus to be continually skewed by our “smart phones.” Ironic, don’t you think?

As a generation of technology addicts, we are slowly losing the ability to focus on anything for an extended period of time. Most of us would be hard-pressed to think about one thing for a solid hour without the distraction of a phone call, text message or email. Try it sometime. I have become convinced that lack of focus, disguised as work overload, is one of the biggest issues pastors face. But those of us who feel overworked are probably not as overworked as we think; rather, we are overly distracted, and this distraction is sabotaging our productivity, not to mention the instant accessibility that decreases our focus on God. We are putting ourselves in a position where we can’t simply “be still” and hear God’s voice. And since we are in the business of advancing his kingdom, not our own, this can prove to be quite a problem. Our tendency to over-communicate with each other often results in a breakdown of communication with the one we need to hear from the most.

So what is the solution? Learn to disconnect. You hereby have permission to master the art of periodic unavailability. Let it be a gift you give yourself. Go about your work with zeal and integrity, but when it is time to focus on your wife or your studying, focus with the same zeal and integrity. I challenge you to take the dangers of distraction to heart and prayerfully make the necessary changes. Decide to disconnect when it’s called for, so you can find focus in all areas of your life. When you manage the time and resources God has given you as he intends – rather than as our culture demands – you unlock the door to unimaginable blessing. So do yourself, your church and the ultimate purposes of God a favor: turn off your cell phone and go play with your kids.   

Originally published on SermonCentral.com. Used by permission.