These past few weeks I have been thinking about our modern age in terms of technology, especially our smartphones. Handheld supercomputers that do all kinds of things, even talking to us unprompted; or at least semi unprompted. This is still a bit raw but my Microsoft Surface that I am using to type this blog injected a new editing program that absorbed last week’s blog draft and made an independent decision to flush my doc into cyberspace. Okay, perhaps that was a weird way to say, “I lost my document” and you must take the new improvements with minor setbacks. And it is starting to be a little funny that my blog is on Pastoring with Tech and the Tech ate my homework.
As a pastor, modern tech has changed the game in terms of connecting with the flock. There is no substitute for face-to-face interaction (i.e., counseling with coffee) but texting the moment God lays someone on your heart presents a unique advantage we did not have 15 years ago. Even calling someone from, “wherever to wherever” is akin to being dialed like a military soldier with your walkie, just to check someone’s living conditions.
There is a new cadence of conversations that now span the time zones where you can have a ministry of encouragement. What I want to zero-in on is the opportunity to write encouraging texts to people. I remember an insight from a book, On Writing Well, by William Zinsser, in the introduction. Zinsser recounts the new phenomenon that email has brought to society. Though email by 07’ had been around for a while he found that people (who had never been writers) were now writing all the time. I resonated with this because this was true for me. My job then as an Associate Pastor demanded I type emails for ministry communication and administration all the time, so for the first time I was typing, writing, and messaging frequently. Typing speed increased and I found that I could compose through my fingers just about as quickly as I could think. Amazing. I used to have to force writing handwritten letters and suddenly I could zip out communication to others almost effortlessly! I recognize the difference between good writing and hammering thoughts out through email, but I think you see my point that something has changed in terms of a new tech culture of writing.
Here’s how I want to apply this to where we are nearly 15 years later. Today we have cellphones, most of which are smart. Your smartphone will either drag you away from the Lord through its millions of distractions or it can become your means to engage the Body of Christ. You can read the Bible on your phone, take notes on your phone, understand current events on your phone, and check the weather (or anyone else’s weather) on your phone, so why not just text someone who needs encouragement from your phone. A timely word, letting someone know you were just praying for them, and or perhaps sending a few Bible verses.
There has been a handful from Anchorage Grace Church or Grace Christian School from our flock who have been sick or who have had dear family members in the lower 48 who have been sick and dangerously so. It is always heartbreaking to hear of scenarios where people have become isolated from personal contact and especially when it is their immediate family. Still, what has come of these very trying stretches time has been the ease of connection through texting. I know texting is the epitome of second best when compared to taking face-to-face but do not let a second-best opportunity slip away. Reach out.
It is not a reach to compare current isolation from others to what the Apostle Paul experienced, as a missionary-prisoner. I think we forget how Paul (my hero) was a convict with a probation anklet, under Roman house arrest, while writing half the New Testament. At times while changing to a Roman guard with limited visitation rights, Paul used his time to make disciples. He also wrote to clarify doctrine, conducted Bible studies with churches through snail mail correspondence and wrote Scripture under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. By no means should our texting notes be put on this scale but likewise do not miss Paul’s precedent for sending encouragement a ready means called writing!
Judy (my wife) on more than one occasion has texted someone while I am preaching a sermon in our church service. She confesses that the Lord laid someone on her heart that she needed to forgive, bless, or reconcile something. I tell you that, not to greenlight surfing the internet, when I am trying to engage you with God’s Word, but to say, be sensitive when the Holy Spirit might prompt you to communicate with others at the moment!
Some days ago, I called a lady in our church who lives between here and Arizona, who has just made public she has stage-four cancer. She and I talked and cried together (along with her husband while on speaker) while I was here in Anchorage, and she was in Arizona. This conversation would have been better face-to-face, but it was nevertheless, irreplaceable. The best version of talking with a believer when facing probable death is when the believer has accepted the Lord’s plan, come what may! This being the case, I was strengthened in my faith. And there were texts that followed!
Though the modern tech is just that, modern, it does not eclipse the spiritual dynamics that are always present when we are trying to encourage others. Paul wanted to see the Thessalonians “face to face” but was literally stalled by Satan. So, what did he do? He set down and wrote them a letter and then sent one of his best friends, Timothy, as his proxy. I will end with Paul’s version of this when he was writing to a church he especially loved.
1 Thessalonians 2:17-20
But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy. (ESV)