Can you picture your first computer? What did it look like and what could you do on it? Do you remember the first time you connected to the internet? How long did it take you to go from page to page? Can you picture your first cell phone? What did it look like and what were its capabilities? How about the first time you sent an email, how weird was that? When was the first time you tried a digital camera?
The world has changed so much since our first computers, cell phones and the first time we got on the web or sent an email. Our desktop computers have turned into small, thin laptops. Our clunky, gray screened cell phones have turned into mini-computers that have many different functions. The internet has gone from a slow, fun thing to do to a must have information mega-tool. We have gone from having tons of pictures in albums to storing them on CDs and on the internet. Technology has changed so much of how we function today. We have become a digital, mobile world where people are doing all sorts of things in the palms of their hands. The question is, are you connected to it?
Why does a youth pastor have to be connected digitally? For starters, this is a great way to stay connected with teens. In a recent cnet.com article, it stated that “advertisers are clamoring to reach teens in digital environments because that’s where they’re spending much of their time–either online, with cell phones or playing video games.” Take a quick look around your youth program. How many of your students are on facebook, have a smartphone where they are texting, checking email, surfing the web, taking pictures and sending them to their friends or are tweeting something or another. Today’s youth are connected to the digital world. It is a primary source of communication for them and a perfect opportunity for you to stay connected to them.
Secondly, as a relational based ministry, we need to be out with students. But, at the same time, we have to be in the office doing administrative work, planning and answering calls and/or emails. By being mobile and connected digitally, you can be with students while also being able to receive important emails or calls as needed. I know Youth Pastors are not CEOs of huge companies where their immediate response is vital, but I do believe it is important to be able to be reached at any time.
Now, there are always exceptions to the rule. My friend Robbie Pruitt, the Youth Pastor at the Church of Epiphany in Herndon, VA, DOES NOT have a cell phone. In his overly exaggerated and entirely too long of a list of reasons why, he does have some solid reasons. For instance, he said that by not having a cell phone it causes him to plan ahead better and it allows him to be with people rather than always having a phone ring when he is spending time in a meeting with others. He also said that he has an office and phone line and he checks his voicemails and his email regularly. These are all very good reasons why not to have a cell phone.
However, the fact that Robbie does not have a cell phone does not mean that he is not connected. He carries his laptop around everywhere and prefers email. He also stays connected to his youth and others through his blogs (one of them is My Two Mites – http://robbiepruitt.blogspot.com) and facebook. Even thought Robbie does not own a cell phone does not mean that he is not connected. The point is that we live in a mobile, connected world. If we are not connected in some form or another, then we are missing opportunities to engage people in today’s world.
How can you be digital/mobile? Here are just a few ways you can become digital:
- Start a Facebook account, if you haven’t already (MySpace is out). This social network is free and is great, not only to connect with students but also your friends and other Youth Pastors
- Get a Smartphone (or at least text messaging and email ability)
- Use a Laptop
- Take more digital pictures and videos and post them online so everyone can see them. Facebook is great for this.
I know it is easy to say that you need all these things in order to be digital and work in a mobile world. The fact is, as Robbie has pointed out, you do not need all these items, but I do believe that you do need some of them to stay engaged in the culture. The bigger question is how can you afford all these things, especially working at a smaller church/organization with a limited budget from your youth program? I have never worked with a budget of more than $15,000 before and I know that you can these supplies. It may just take a little creativeness on your part.
Here are some ways you can creatively stay connected with a limited budget.
- Find out exactly what your budget is and where you are spending money. See if there may be wasteful spending and if any funds can be reallocated into different, more necessary areas.
- Post a Needs List at your church. There may be business men/women who have an older model laptop or phone they can give you. Or, they may have a new one that they want to give you. A few years ago a parent called me up to see if I needed a brand new PDA that he had just gotten. I did not need it, but another Staff member at our office did so he gave it to her. People are generous and want to give, especially when there is a need. However, if we never let anyone know our needs, we may never find out exactly how generous they can be.
- Write a Needs Proposal to your Church Leadership about these specific needs. If your church/ministry wants you to be with students, this is a perfect way to reach them and stay connected to administrative needs at the same time. You may not have enough money to get all these things from your youth budget, but the Church should have office and administrative money they could pull from. My suggestion is to not get greedy and try to get the most expensive MacBook Pro or a $300 smartphone with the most applications. As you examine your needs, you will be able identify what devices you need to be successful. Then, you can formally go before your Church Leadership, Board or Elders to make a proposal for these items. The key here is to outline exactly why you need these items.
As you get engaged with these items to help you be more efficient and reach more students, I want to issue a word of caution on being connected. Having these products is great because you are connected all the time. In the same way, it can also be a bad thing that you are connected all the time. For example, in Exodus 20:8-10a, God says, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.” Just because we are connected, does not mean that we have to have technology physically connected to us all the time. When it is your day off, take a day off. Don’t answer your phone, check your email or even facebook. When we do this, we are working and not keeping the Sabbath as God commands us to.
Secondly, as Robbie mentioned, when we are too connected all the time, we can lose sight of important relationships. For instance, nothing drives my wife crazier when I get home at night than when I answer text messages, phone calls or emails. She feels that even thought I am physically home, in all reality, I am not because I am checking these things. As good as technology is for us to be connected to others, take time to rest, re-energize and focus on those closest to you. Do not become a slave to technology.
TAKE A MINUTE and…
- Take an inventory of your digital, mobile needs. What do you currently have and what do you need?
- Start researching what Mobile devices you need to get. What are their functions and prices.
- Get connected!
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