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The Disconnect of Always Being Connected: Why Your Phone May Be Hurting Your Ministry

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The Disconnect of Always Being Connected: Why Your Phone May Be Hurting Your Ministry


That was the feeling I had as my eyes caught his from across the room. A special time between father and son, quietly polluted by an email that had no right to be there. After the work day I had arrived home and was playing with our almost-2-year-old son in our lower level. As he haphazardly slammed his "plastic" pizza in his "plastic" microwave and filled up his "chocolate milk" cup, my mind wandered to my inbox. As I pulled out my phone and searched to see if the email I was waiting for had arrived, I looked up and saw my son locked on me.

It was at that moment that I was prompted to evaluate just how connected I was and how that connectivity could be creating a subtle disconnect in the most important part of my ministry…relationships.

Smartphones aren't inherently bad. I could give you a list of all the productive things I do with my phone that I could never have done with my previous "dumb phone" I had years ago. But what's always interested me about digital technology is how it impacts us relationally and culturally. How the devices in our pockets that keep us so "connected" have unintended consequences that rob us of connectedness in our physical relationships.

We are tethered to our phones over meals or meetings never really being 100% present. Our conversations are littered with acceptable interruptions. Our physical engagement with one another includes our devices and they might interrupt us. Or worse yet, we choose our devices over the very people we're engaged with. If you begin to look at your day and take inventory of your engagement with your spouse, friends, family, teammates, coaches or athletes - you may be surprised…I was. Sprinkled in throughout those physical engagements was a spattering of interruptions that my phone made or interruptions where I chose to disengage. I made the decision that my email, Facebook, Twitter or any number of other apps were more important in those moments than the people I was around.

If relationships are the foundation of our ministry, then we must steward over them well. Digital technology impacts our relationships and we would be naive to think otherwise.

The Choice Is Yours

Ultimately the phone in your pocket is yours. You decide if it vibrates, rings, alerts or flashes. You decide if you pick it up and check your email, reply to a quick text or see what your 3,212 Facebook friends are doing. The amount of engagement you have with the people you encounter every day is your choice. Take back control of your device if you need to and change the way you engage people.

Set Some Boundaries

There are a variety of things you can do to keep the mobile interruptions and distractions from your relationships. From placing your phone in a box while at home, to turning your phone to silent, to creating boundaries on how you'll use your devices. Some people have a no-phone policy at the dinner table. Others have a portion of time in the evening, over the weekend or on Sunday where they simply don't use their phones. For me, I've had to be more aware of my tendency to grab my phone while at home and resist the urge to disengage. As I write this there have been even moments today that I've chosen my phone over people for no valuable, necessary reason.

Lead the Way

While it has become culturally acceptable to be huddled around your phones as you wait for your meals to arrive at your favorite restaurant, you set the pace. You create the norms. During your meetings, one-on-one times, even as you wait in a crowded school hallway before your next appointment…you are helping to shape what's acceptable. You may find that while awkward at first, your time with people is more rewarding, more productive and more relational once the distractions and interruptions are removed.

Find The Balance

Like everything, moderation is key. Dump your smart phone altogether and you may lose out on productivity and some legitimate connectedness with those close to you. Let your smart phone infiltrate all of your daily relational engagements and you cheat the person or people right in front of you. Based on your context and conviction, fight for balance. Be honest, transparent and willing to do whatever necessary to restore a healthy balance.

As my son turned back around and grabbed his plastic pizza out of the microwave I put my phone back in my pocket. Since then I've become more aware of my surroundings and tendencies. My mobile habits are a work in progress but my relationships are worth the effort. How much more relational depth awaits us? How much more breakthrough could we encounter? How better could our time be with one another?

As my son grows up the one memory of his father I don't want him to have is the one where dad always had a phone in his hand or at his ear.

May we do the honest work of exploring how our mobile devices impact our relationships. And may may we do whatever necessary to better engage and value those relationships that God has entrusted to us.

16 comments (Add your own)

1. Stacey Dickens wrote:
Thank you! I appreciate the reminder and the nudge to tell me to not let life's relationships pass me by because I'm too connected to my smartphone. Not so smart, huh?!

Mon, May 13, 2013 @ 8:17 AM

2. Kim Boyce wrote:
Great article, Danny. I've begun to set boundaries with my phone as I've realized how rude it is to be checking it instead of focusing on the people I'm with and that what's coming in on my phone is not the most important thing. There is life apart from calls, texts & email, its time to be set free from bondage to our phones.

Mon, May 13, 2013 @ 8:55 AM

3. Scott Ashton wrote:
Well written reminder. Certainly an area of hypocrisy for me. I feel unimportant and frustrated when someone I am in physical "presence" with checks their phone. And yet how many times a day do I do it? Perhaps even unwittingly. You remided me to engage 100% with those around me. If expecting a very important and time urgent call or text explain that on the front end of the meeting. Here's to remembering where our pockets are.

Mon, May 13, 2013 @ 9:18 AM

4. Gary Beets wrote:

Mon, May 13, 2013 @ 12:29 PM

5. Ryan Horanburg wrote:
Awesome! Thanks for helping to set the example for us young Dad's! You the man!

Mon, May 13, 2013 @ 7:29 PM

6. Dave Johnson wrote:
Thanks Danny! Setting "Boundaries" does lead to success with our use of multi-media.
Historically, one of our first instructions from God was to set boundaries. (Genesis 2:16-17 )16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat:17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it: for in the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die. I am not an expert but it does seem, at times, my smartphone leads me to think I can know all things. I am blessed with family and friends who the Lord is able to speak through. "Stay off your phone, computer, tablet, ect...!"
We must choose to focus on His instructions with what has been provided for us.

Tue, May 14, 2013 @ 2:11 PM

7. Peggi Horn wrote:
We have become so consumed by technology and I really appreciate what you said. Although I have seen several people in Sunday School read the Bible from their phones , not e-mail, Facebook, etc. It is a good thing to have at the right time. Thanks for saying relationships should be MOST important. In a group of 8 people....mostly family... over the weekend, I saw all eight disengaging with a teenager who had just been selected to be a cheerleader. She was so excited and needed that special time with people who came to see her. Instead of spending precious time with her, they were texting or talking to someone else. Parents, grandparents and friends need to give time to each other. Being so family oriented, I sometimes think people may get tired of hearing me talk about my family,friends and my FCA family as well as showing pictures of them all. I appreciate what Scott Ashton said. Let's all try to make our relationships a priority. Boundries are something we all need to set...including myself. Thanks!!!! Sorry to be "so long winded".

Thu, May 16, 2013 @ 10:46 AM

8. Betty Lou Peckham wrote:
Good insight and well said, Danny. Thanks! Amen to all the above!

Tue, May 21, 2013 @ 12:59 PM

9. Jackie Peterman wrote:
Thanks for sharing, this is such an important message. I've recently been trying to place "boundaries" on how I use my device. Seeing the email count on my front screen seemed to shout at me "check your email NOW!". So, I changed the setting so the email count doesn't show anymore, and I am disciplining myself to only check my email at specific designated times. It has helped me a lot.

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About the Author
Danny Burns

Danny Burns is the Director of Digital Ministry at FCA’s National Support Center in Kansas City, Missouri. Danny helped lead the Northwest Missouri State Huddle as a varsity distance runner until 2004 and joined FCA in 2005.

Graduating from Calvary Theological Seminary in 2010 he’s one of the pastors at the Avenue Church & has a passion to see the Gospel transform lives. He, his wife Ashley and his family reside in the Kansas City area.

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