Equipping the Saints: Stepping on the Brake

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If you’ve been a reader of this blog for a while, you know that I have trepidations about Internet communications. I’m also concerned that the speed of our lives is out of control, as several posts here on that subject will also attest.

The Wall Street Journal ran an article combining the two issues: “A Manifesto for Slow Communication.” Absolutely read it.

Face-to-face communications between human beings is down for the count. As soon as most of the people in one of my long-time small groups were on Facebook, the group folded. Another small group Bible study my wife and I are a part of is attended mostly by those folks who have the least connection to high tech gadgetry. It should come as no shock then that even though this group is open to people of all ages, my wife and I (in our mid-40s) are the youngest people there.

As the Church, these issues pose a serious problem.

What happens to the people in the pews when the business world says “40 hours a week,” but keeping your job means actually having to work 80 hours a week?

What happens when people no longer have time to invest in the life of their church?

What happens when people stop doing ministry because they are too busy?

What happens when everyone stays  in touch by Facebook, but no one meets together face-to-face?

What happens when our dependence on online communications depletes our ability to recognize vocal and body language clues?

What happens when the primary means of teaching others, face-to-face student-teacher engagement, is lost?

A friend of mine who was hired for a 50 hour a week job was working 70-80 hours instead. When she pushed back after several years at that pace, her boss was upset, despite the deluge of accolades my friend had received over her many years of service. This is the world that has been pulled over your eyes...She’s now looking for work.  Hers is a common story.

I worried that Facebook would not be satisfied as a supplementary connection among friends, those who would otherwise meet face-to-face. Indeed, I was right. This summer has gone down as the least personal of my entire life. Facebook seems to be the only way many communicate.

I noted the small group demise above, but another Christian small group we’re a part of pretty much went on hiatus this summer. The reason? People were too busy.

Midweek church services are falling by the wayside. Hardly any church around here has a Sunday night service, either. Fewer churches have Sunday School for adults, though we somehow still manage to cobble something together for the kiddies (when our harried, frantic volunteers can find two seconds to breathe, that is).

Like a decade-old, cotton T-shirt washed too many times on hot, our social fabric is growing increasingly thin. We still recognize the T-shirt for what it is, but we can see through it now.

Questions for this generation of Christians:

How will we educate the Body of Christ if we don’t meet together regularly?

How will leaders identify spiritual gifts in their congregants and nurture them if they don’t meet together in person?

How will younger Christians see the life of Christ modeled in the mature Christian if we can never find time to get together?

How does one read the countenance of another via Facebook?

What happens to the laying on of hands in a digital age?

I don’t have an answer for those questions (and many others like them) other than to say that we Christians must be the countercultural example. If we don’t start slowing down and living differently, then Christ will come back to a world without faith. Because you can’t throw a new convert into a microwave for a minute and expect a fully baked disciple when the bell dings.

17 thoughts on “Equipping the Saints: Stepping on the Brake

  1. Lots of questions.

    I think the trend towards a lack of non-Sunday-morning activity well predates Facebook; the Bowling Alone trend has been there for a while. A lot of people want to put in the minimum and not be bothered.

    Facebook is largely asynchronous, so it fits into people’s schedule. Weekeday small groups actually take a block of time; you can’t do it from 1-3AM if you need to. People need to schedule the time in.

    I’m the pot calling the kettle black on that front, for I teach nights and can’t make it to Wednesday night activities. I’d like a day job, but where I’m placed has me teaching adult college students, and that means evenings.

    • Mark,

      My church has a couple small groups that meet very early in the morning. I’ve got to believe there are similar groups out there that you might be able to attend. Have you checked?

      My beef with Facebook: 1) If I am not on it, I am missing a great deal of what my peers used to tell me via phone or in person, and 2) whereas Facebook was seen as a supplement to communicating in person, I believe that it is replacing in-person communication, and the signal-to-noise ratio is even worse. What I get from someone in five minutes in person could be a month’s worth of Facebooking.

  2. Sulan

    Good subject matter. I haven’t been to facebook, still like looking in the eyes of the one I am addressing, cling to snail mail, do not pay any bills on line, miss the world I grew up in tremendously, am amazed that children don’t use their imaginations anymore and have to be entertained all the time.

    Yep, I sometimes feel like a breed that is almost extinct.

  3. Dan,
    When you say things like you have in this posting, there are more than enough who would say you’re reactionary, out of touch and over the hill. “Times are a-changing,” perhaps their argument would go, “and you need to adjust if you’re to reach this next intenet communicating, long hours working generation. The message is the same, techniques must change.”

    I think this is what we heard back in the 80’s and early 90’s about seeker sensitivity. 20 years years later, the news flash– oops, looks like that didn’t produce disciples. I see no sign the church growth movement, and the “evangelism” by marketing trend is either learning from mistakes or abating. Who knows what, if we even have 20 more years, will be the news flash, “oops,” then as a result.

    We need to stop trying to get ahead of sociological curves and start getting behind the Gospel. It’s time to dig in our heels and start being countercultural. What would happen if we dared to be different from the world, and a whole lot more similar to the scriptures?

    • slw,

      I am convinced more and more that what is most simple works the best. I am considering pulling out of a lot of the tech stuff I am involved in simply because it diverts me from genuine life.

      In many ways, the only reason I am in it is because this is where other people have fled to. But I realize that fleeing with them may not be the answer. In fact, it may be the problem.

      Where I have no answers is in knowing how to recover a life locally when everyone else has gone off to “that foreign land.”

      • Maybe a lesson from Noah or from Jesus commissioning disciples, or even the Waldensians in the late Middle Ages: going two by two can have a big effect on the history to follow?

  4. Dan, you left out an element of your small group’s Facebook demise. The members of your Facebook group now have people they want to hang out with. And I don’t mean that as a joke. 😛

  5. I feel a bit like a dinosaur myself Dan in that I’m not on Facebook or Twitter and most of my friends are. I’m trying to understand the logic of reconnecting with people on Facebook that you haven’t seen in 20 years or more and likely won’t see in person again. I appreciate your stance on this and wonder where this is all heading. One of my best friends has over 1,100 friends on Facebook (?!). Why does all this ‘connectedness’ seem to be creating more isolation ?

    On another note, sadly, it seems like the answer to most of your first set of questions is, “It already has…”

    Blessings to you –

  6. I spend too much time online, but partly because I have a hard time getting anyone else to do anything. A young lady and I are going out to dinner this Friday and a revival service. On the plus side, I wouldn’t have kept in touch with her at all, much less made plans for dinner and the service, except for the Internet and that she has a Facebook profile. On the negative side, she lives an hour away.

    What’s worse than using online wizardry to keep up with friends, which I advocate heartily, as long as you can tone down the time-wasting aspects of it, is when you sent friend requests to people you consider old friends, and they reject your requests. I’m left wondering, “What’d I do?”

  7. Dave Block

    I’m not convinced that most people spending time online are using it to replace face-to-face interaction. My purposes and interactions online — including on the Facebook group I created for my church — are very different from those I have in the small group I attend. I’m usually using Facebook late at night when I couldn’t be having face-to-face interaction. It’s a complement/supplement, not a replacement.

    Even if you disagree, I don’t think you should pull up your stakes online. If you want to reach people, you have to make some concessions as to where your audience would receive you message/interaction. Keep encouraging believers and witnessing to nonbelievers locally while maintaining the blog globally.

  8. DC

    When I found myself ignoring my own children who were sitting right in front of me, allowing the television to ‘interact’ with them, while ‘conversing’ with someone I hadn’t seen or heard from in twenty years via Facebook I knew that something was out of control.

    Just to throw it out there: technology is neutral, right? It is neither good nor evil. It is the way we use it that is the real issue. Is that not true? We would not be having this excellent discussion if it were not for technology. I could have sent a hand written letter I suppose.

  9. Might I propose a different cause and effect? Perhaps the internet isn’t the cause, it’s the effect. Maybe the cause is that everyone’s work hours continue to expand, so no one has time to meet face-to-face anymore, so they’re forced into internet communication to keep up? For example, 3 years ago my friends and I all saw each other 4 or 5 times a week. Now that all of us are working full time, we never see each other. Why? One works 5 am – 1, another 9-5, another 1-10, another 4-midnight, etc. As one gets out of work, another is going to bed. As one finishes dinner, another leaves for work. So perhaps this is the effect of businesses expanding their hours, and thus their workers having to work weirder schedules?

    Just musing. Don’t know if this is dead on or a total miss.

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