How to remain an effective pastor in 2017

Over the past few years I’ve grown increasingly convinced that my (over)dependence on technology is having a negative effect on my overall spiritual health, personal joy and effectiveness in ministry.

I use my phone/email/computer so much that my digital life has started to rewire my brain. Of course it is tremendously helpful in many respects, but I’m coming to see that overuse and dependence have dangers of their own. A few effects I’ve noticed my habits have created are:

  • I can’t even sit through a red light without pulling out my phone to check it. Even those quiet moments feel like they need to be productive, and the irony is by checking my phone, I’m virtually ensuring they won’t be spiritually productive.
  • My attention span feels much smaller than it used to. My ability to stay attuned in a conversation is hampered when I feel my phone buzzing in my pocket. I get so curious that it’s hard to pay attention to the person I’m with.
  • “Home me” is less home than I need to be. When I stay plugged in at home, my attention that needs to be undivided with my wife and kids is scattered. I forego fully enjoying precious moments because I just had to check an app that I just checked before I pulled in the driveway.
  • I think about other people less. When I’m consumed with the digital world, I find that I become more consumed with myself and other people just don’t pop into my mind as often. I more rarely find myself thinking about others, being prompted to pray for them and check on them.
  • I’m less joyful. I don’t know how to describe this, but when I spend too much time plugged in I feel more drained, apathetic and dull. Faithful and healthy spiritual disciplines tend to suffer, and my spiritual vitality takes a costly hit.

I’ve been watching this area of my life for a while now, and I know that technology isn’t going away (nor does it need to). So I’ve been experimenting with more guardrails that will allow me to develop a more healthy relationship with these elements of my life. Here are some I’ve tried that have been beneficial so far:

  • When I’m at home, my phone goes in a drawer. I know how apt I am to check every app on my phone like an addict, so I need to put some distance between it and myself. It helps to put in a drawer and make it a game to see how long I can leave it in there. This was painful at first, but time away from my phone has become very enjoyable over time.
  • Put a timer on email. I downloaded a timer for my menu bar on my computer, and when I open email I start the timer, making it a game to see how quickly I can process everything and close it. This keeps email from becoming too much of a black hole, and it helps me remember that my main job is not to respond to things, it’s to be proactive.
  • Delete apps that just aren’t good for my digital health. I’ve found that there are certain apps I just can’t have on my phone, because I’ll check them too often and it kills my focus on more important things. Email is one of them. The app for my favorite sports team (along with their message board) is another one. Apps like these are just not good for me.
  • Track my usage with an app called Moment. This app is pretty terrifying, because it tells you all kinds of statistics on just how much you use your phone. It tells you how many times you’ve picked it up today, how much total time you’ve spent on it, and even how much of your waking life you generally spend on your phone. It’s incredibly convicting and helpful at showing just how much gravitational pull this device has on my soul, so I put it front and center on my phone.
  • Minimize notifications. I found that my phone was buzzing and interrupting my day for far too many things, so I took a virtual ax to my notifications and cut off any that aren’t absolutely essential. It takes me a lot longer to respond to certain things now, but it’s been tremendously helpful for my health.

These things have been so good for me, and I plan to put them into practice more than ever in 2017. My goal is that this year will be the year where I become master over technology, instead of letting it be master over me.

Published January 4, 2017