The Smartphone and the Soul

It’s still a good quote, even though it’s dated:

Fax machines, emails, telephones, beepers, an over-committed schedule, the press of people's needs...these are the tools of mass destruction for spiritual leaders. Their development and deployment often proceed without inspection. They threaten to shut down the spiritual leader's communion with God. Once that happens, the leader's effectiveness is destroyed. The leader becomes a casualty of a struggle that is as old as humanity – the drowning out of eternity by the screams of temporal concerns. (Reggie McNeal, A Work of Heart)

Fax machines? Beepers? Other technologies have taken their place, most notably smartphones. According to the one report, smartphones have had one of the fastest penetration rates of any technology ever introduced. I remember seeing a secret review unit of the iPhone in 2007, less than a decade ago. It’s impossible to go anywhere without seeing one now.

Is the phone in my pocket a tool of mass destruction for the soul? Does it hinder my connections with people and God? Maybe there is some danger. Consider what these numbers reveal about Canadians between the age of 18 and 24:

  • When nothing is occupying my attention, the first thing I do is reach for my phone — 77% agree
  • I check my phone at least every 30 minutes — 52% agree
  • The last thing I do before I go to bed is check my phone — 73% agree
  • I often use other devices while watching TV — 79% agree

Since smartphones aren’t going away, we’d better learn to live wisely with them. Secular books like The End of Absence and Christian books like The Joy of Missing Out and The Next Story explore what technology is doing for us, and how we should now live.

I have two thoughts.

First, pastors and church leaders have to go first. Technology gives us great tools, but always at a cost. Unless we’re careful, we’ll get swept away in the currents along with everyone else. I heard a pastor speak recently about some of the habits he’s cultivated to maintain his spiritual life in an always-connected world. He checks email only twice a week. He’s disabled email on his smartphone. He puts his phone away when he arrives at home and refuses to check it. While I’m not suggesting that we should adopt his habits, I am suggesting that we think carefully about the habits we want to cultivate so that our souls can thrive.

Second, we need to disciple in light of this technology. People haven’t changed, but some of the pressures we face are new. We’re constantly connected, instantly available, and glued to screens from the moment we open our eyes in the morning to when we shut them at night. As Michael Harris writes in The End of Absence, “That is the end of absence— the loss of lack. The daydreaming silences in our lives are filled; the burning solitudes are extinguished.” We need to disciple others in light of these new realities, and consider practices that guard our souls in this always-connected world.

We live in an always-connected world. While I’m happy about this, there are trade-offs. We need to think carefully about how to live well with this technology, which is a gift, but also a potential danger to our souls if we’re not careful.

Saturday Links

Links for your weekend reading:

13 Needs That Christianity Meets

What needs does Christianity meet? That’s the question Williams answers in chapter 2 of Existential Reasons for Belief in God; A Defense of Desires and Emotions for Faith, a book that argues for Christian faith on the basis of the number of basic human needs that it meets.

4 Inner Rings You May Be Pursuing

Lewis said as we pursue these Inner Rings we often transform into people we never intended to be. Here are the four principle Inner Rings manifested in our everyday lives.

7 Suggestions for Planting a Church or Revitalizing in a New Community

Here are 7 suggestions for moving to another community to minister.

What Small Churches Can Do

The mission Jesus gave the church is neither size-dependant nor fulfilled by one church.

How To Listen To a Sermon

So the call is to listen eagerly and expectantly to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, looking for instruction and edification at every opportunity. But our eagerness must be joined with careful reflection.

Shutting off the E-mail Firehose

The following eight steps will help you overcome e-mail overload.

Blind Spots: Becoming a Courageous, Compassionate, and Commissioned Church

I spend next week with a group of fellow pastors from all over North America. We’re all evangelical, but we have our differences, sometimes on very significant issues. It’s easy to see the faults in others and to retreat to our own silos, confident in our strengths but ignorant of the weaknesses that others can clearly see in us.

That’s why Blind Spots: Becoming a Courageous, Compassionate, and Commissioned Church by Collin Hansen is so important. Hansen writes about the strengths and corresponding weaknesses of three types of conservative evangelicals:

  • Compassionate — those who emphasize Christ’s compassion for those who are hurting
  • Courageous —  those who love taking a clear stand and emphasizing sound doctrine
  • Commissioned — those who focus on evangelism and outreach to unbelievers

The differences between these groups are marked, and the tensions run deep. According to Hansen — a self-confessed member of the courageous tribe — we can’t afford to remain divided. “The magnitude of our challenges today ought to dispel the illusion that any one wing of the divided church can go it alone,” he writes.

How can we overcome our divisions? Hansen suggests a clear way forward: to become aware of our own blind spots, so that we will see our differences as an opportunity. “Let’s start small,” he suggests. “Can you love a fellow Christian who sins differently than you do?” We need all need all three types — the compassionate, courageous, and commissioned, “in full, blessed abundance— in ourselves, our local churches, and the church at large.”

The bulk of this short book examines the Christlike traits and corresponding blind spots of each type. The compassionate can compromise; the courageous can retreat; the commissioned can assimilate over-contextualize. Each group must confess its own blind spots. Each group must recognize its need of the others.

Blind Spots is a short read, but it packs a punch. I found the division of evangelicals helpful, even though the divisions aren’t as neat in reality. I appreciate Hansen’s desire to work together and to escape what he calls a circular firing squad. And I applaud his prescription: that we focus on our own blind spots rather than those of the others, and that we recognize our need of the others, rather than on how much they need us.

I’m sick of silos, but I have to admit I’ve built my share of them. Blind Spots points the way forward to breaking out of our silos, recognizing our own weaknesses, and then partnering with others. We need courage to face the challenges of today, just as we need compassion to love our enemies, and God’s commission to take the gospel to all nations. I’ll remember that next week as I meet with other pastors, remember my own blind spots, and learn from those who are different than me.

More from Amazon.com | WTS Books

Read an excerpt (PDF)

God Save Me

God save me

...from roast beef without horseradish
...from sushi without wasabi
...from goat without curry
...from roti without spice
...from thirst without water
...from bread without gratitude.

God save me

...from nights without sleep
...from mornings without wonder
...from tears without comfort
...from grief without hope.

God save me

...from busyness without purpose
...from weeks without Sabbath
...from life without margin
...from money without generosity.

God save me

...from romance without commitment
...from commitment without romance
...from family without laughter
...from laughter without love.

God save me

...from law without grace
...from grace without obedience
...from sin without cleansing.

God save me

...from leadership without servanthood
...from ministry without prayer
...from preaching without power
...from church planting without evangelism
...from churches with a doctrine of grace but no culture of grace.

God save me

...from discipleship without suffering
...from praise from people but not from God
...from a life lived without hearing, “Well done, good and faithful servant”
...from living for any other purpose than His eternal glory.

God save me from anything less than grace-fueled love for God and neighbor.

Saturday Links

Links for your weekend reading:

The Gospel Coalition Ontario Conference

Registration is now open.

3 Ways Leaders Can Maintain an Exercise Routine (and Why They Should)

Here are three ways to embed exercise into your life.

The Most Ignored Commandment

Once a week, God walks out on the Sabbath bridge to meet us. But most of us are no-shows; we unapologetically stand up the Creator of the universe, week after week.

How Successful People Work Less—and Get More Done

Successful people know the importance of shifting gears on the weekend to relaxing and rejuvenating activities.

Gospel Irony: When the Gospel Prevails in Unlikely Places

We take courage in this: the gospel prevails in unlikely places.