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Smart phone addicts make poor ministers

During the past week, I’ve been blogging about smart phones and missions. A number of those participating in the World Race have said, “We’re adults – we need to be treated as such.” Yesterday I posted a smart phone addiction quiz. Of the 100 first people to take the quiz, half were addicted and…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

During the past week, I’ve been blogging about smart phones and missions. A number of those participating in the World Race have said, “We’re adults – we need to be treated as such.”

Yesterday I posted a smart phone addiction quiz. Of the 100 first people to take the quiz, half were addicted and the other half need to reflect and do a gut check. Based on the experience of our missionary partners, World Racers are addicts.

The right question is not “How do we treat adults on the race?” The right question is “How do we treat addicts on the race?” Another way to look at it is, what is the right perspective on smart phones and missions?

For this I turned to one of our missionary partners in Japan, Peter Thompson. Peter has hosted two of our teams and has a balanced view.

First, I live in the suburbs of Osaka and Kobe. We are a wired family and have a wireless network in our house. Our house here in Japan has a fiber optic line. I am not against being connected at all.

Here is what happened with the first team we hosted. Whenever we asked them to do anything, they did it with excellence and passion. They served wonderfully. A total blessing to our work here. Both teams were awesome.

Whenever we did not have a specific task for the first team, they sat on the couch and did stuff on their devices. For example, we would say, “you are free after lunch through 4:00” and I would find them on the devices pretty much the whole time. When we ate dinner together, some were constantly replying to messages.

I heard many conversations about blog and Facebook likes. From the moment they came into our home (some were sleeping at a different location), devices were taken out and they were connecting. I was hoping they would get out and prayer walk, or try to meet more people at the local stores. To experience more of Japan. (Though we live in suburbia, not a big city, so this can be hard. And Japan is not a country where people are standing around and hanging out.)

For the second team, during orientation I believe they were asked to limit their connected time to 30 minutes a day. Some followed this, others didn’t, spending any unstructured time online. This team, just as the first, did their ministry with excellence, willingness and passionately.

My advice is this. Ask Racers to limit their online connections to 30 minutes a day. Then, turn off Wi-Fi and use the device only as a camera. Don’t use it to listen to music, watch videos or anything else except when you have private, alone time.

My opinion is that by connecting so much to others online they will miss the opportunity to fully connect with the Japanese people. And by fully connect, I’m referring to a heart-level connection that sometimes only happens when one is desperate for friendship and relationship, and one is willing to move out of their comfort zone to find it.

It seems to me that devices provide enough comfort that Racers don’t get ‘desperate’ enough to connect with locals. I am using desperate here in a healthy way, that it is a good thing, and that it is used by God to draw us closer to his work.

And from a purely human perspective it is odd to have people in my home, and then just have them ignore others and look at their cell phones.

Interestingly, before phones, we dealt with this in terms of iPods and portable game players, lIke Nintendo DS and Sony PSP. Even computers. Short term workers, when tired and looking to unwind or de-stress, would pull out a device, put on earphones, and check-out.

The problem has never been that people need down-time. We understand that and always build-in down-time for any team. But in the context of Japan, where being a part of the group is so important, Japanese co-workers took the behavior to mean that the workers did not enjoy/appreciate the group. Many pastors asked, “why did they come to Japan if they just want to play games?” So we took a two-prong approach.

There were some in the mission that were for a flat-out ban on devices. However, their approach was one of “trust us, we know how to minister here, devices are bad.” I felt like that disrespected the teams that came and assumed too little of the teams’ maturity. I always found that when a proper explanation was given, everyone was on-board.

We have spent more time training teams about how to relax and unwind in culturally appropriate ways. To understand how their actions may be interpreted in the eyes of national believers. And we have spent time equipping national believers, especially pastors. 

Equipping both sides of the team was helpful to create tighter unity, avoid miscommunication, and see the Gospel proclaimed. 

Comments (2)

  • I’ve commented on a couple of the pieces on this topic over the last week. I want to emphasize something I remarked about earlier. Part of this dynamic is building team community and accountability into this discussion. The “treat us like adults” comment shows some misunderstanding of the difference between western cultural “independence” and the more intimate value of living in Christian community. There is huge growth potential in helping young team members learn what it means to “submit to one another in love.” That means engaging the humanity of each person on the team and putting away the distractions of technology.

    I also question the pejorative term “addiction” in this context. These young folks have grown up in a culture that deeply intertwines technology into everything — there is no intentional “line being crossed” or conscious “choice” being made. It’s like telling eskimos they are “addicted” to snow or fur coats. It’s the “way it is” in their daily living context. Unwinding that by conversation is far more productive. Talk about intentionality. Talk about the value of being present in the moment with those around them. Talk about deferred gratification. Talk about spiritual gifts and praying for patience and forbearance.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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