Recently my smartphone quit. It would not charge. It was dead. Kaput. After giving my best Braveheart Freedom cry, I made an appointment to have the phone repaired. The earliest appointment I could schedule was a week away. I reasoned that with some work-a-rounds I could survive without the device. I even briefly toyed with the idea of not needing to get it fixed. After all, for many years I lived perfectly fine without any cell phone let alone a smartphone. Very quickly I realized not only did I use my phone, a lot. I also saw how the phone had become a mistress in my pocket.
That week was an out-of-digital-body experience of sorts. Rediscovering muscles that lifted my head straight versus letting it droop. I could see the crowns of the heads around me displayed. Faces were transfixed and aglow from their devices. The out-of-digital-body experience freed me to observe not only how I must also look during my own myopic moments of digital absorption, but also what the mistress in my pocket was causing me to miss. The following are a couple of observations from my sans smartphone week as to why we must intentionally and regularly practice a Smartphone Sabbath.
First, you are too valuable to practice a distraction driven leadership. As an effective pastor who loves, leads and equips the flock God has called you to, you have much to do. Sermons to prepare, bible studies to write, hospital visits to make, committees to lead, mission trips to organize, evangelism to conduct and on and on and on. Your tasks list is constantly growing. The more you do the more there is to do. If though you practice a distraction driven leadership will you never really be effective for the gospel. Distraction driven leadership will consist of leaping from project to project, person-to-person. A smartphone with its continual musical escapades of notifications can fuel that distraction. Your life, family, and ministry are too valuable to practice a distraction driven leadership.
Second, you may not know it, but you are web weary. You are bombarded with quantities of information every single day. News stories, blog posts and social media threads fuel web weariness. Just trying to keep up with whatever happens to be the latest trending topic is exhausting. Like an addict, you’ll be checking social media at stoplights. Scanning the web while waiting for your fast food meal to be bagged on the counter. Passive aggressively posting how the lady in front of you clearly has twenty-one items in the twenty items express lane. The constant need to be constantly connected and providing commentary for every moment of life will wear you out.
Third, your Pastoral FOMO will derail you. FOMO, the Fear Of Missing Out, was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013. Formal recognition of this vernacular acknowledges global insecurities and disconnections that are fueled by being constantly connected.
Pastoral FOMO fuels the insecurity that God is working; but not where I am. Pastoral FOMO fosters an envy of achievement and a fear of irrelevance. Envy that you are not pastoring that church instead of the one you are. The feeling of irrelevance that everyone else knows the coolest facts and phrases long before you have even heard them. Pastors, who most by nature are extremely competitive, can easily be consumed with what we think we are missing out on. We easily can be driven by the fear that our ministry in the middle of nowhere—wherever that happens to be—is irrelevant to the greater kingdom of God. Too much time with the mistress in your pocket fuels hyper-envy and an obtrusive questioning of self-worth.
The solution is not to give up the phone. The smartphone, or some version of it, will be ingrained into our global society until the Lord returns. The solution then is to intentionally and regularly take a tech Sabbath to both remind us that we are first created in the image of God and to declare we are not the chattels of any man or device. We will not build our bricks without straw. How can we, in a hyper-connected world, intentionally disconnect?
Put your phone on a high shelf when you get home. Take your phone out of your pocket, put it on vibrate and set it upside down on the highest shelf you can reach. On vibrate, so you will not hear it ring freeing you to listen to your family. Upside down on the high shelf means you will not see it light up. If the phone is easily accessible it will be too easy to check that text, that email or that tweet and get pulled into a black hole of social media where the one-minute quickly becomes an hour. Put your phone down.
Turn off your notifications. Notifications can be a constant distraction. Notifications break your concentration and inhibit the capability to think deeply. The continuous dinging of email is a blockade of engaging in the deep work necessary for ministry. Notifications foster a distraction that most of us do not nee…squirrel.
Post, don’t peruse. This will save your digital life. There several apps available that allow you to post to various social media websites without logging into the actual website. Meaning that you can pseudo engage with various aspects of social media by posting and scheduling posts without losing hours upon hours to the device. Enabling you to be a creator of content and not just a consumer. This technique is particularly helpful in maintaining a ministry and leadership social media presence. A different strategy should be used for personal posts, though.
What ministry in the digital and social media age looks like and should look like is still being written. My forced low-tech Sabbath prompted me to see not only how much I use the phone but some reasons why I need a regular break from my phone.
The phone was easily repaired. So easily repaired that I am embarrassed at not only what caused the problem but also how simple the solution was. As a result, though, I am working on setting some new boundaries with my phone that declare the right order of relationships. Boundaries that tell me I am human not a machine.
Have you noticed the same in your life? What strategies have you used to ensure your phone does not become a mistress in your pocket?