Help Me Kickstart The Church Website Expert's Guide to Squarespace

As you probably know, I'm helping to start a church in downtown Toronto. To help pay the bills, I work on other projects as a tentmaker one day a week. One of those projects has just gone live on Kickstarter. It's called The Church Website Expert's Guide to Squarespace.

Here's the deal: I want to help churches create excellent, affordable websites using a great service called Squarespace. To do this, I'm publishing an ebook that will offer practical advice on how to build a great website. I've put together a website that explains all the details. I think this project will help churches, and it will also help support me in my work here.

If you're interested, would you consider backing this project? Let others know about it as well. Check out the video below, the Kickstarter page, or the www.churchwebsite.expert page.

Back to regular programming on Thursday. Thanks for your help with this!

Being Present in a World of Cell Phones and Social Media

So much of the time I’m not completely present. I’m thinking of what else I need to be doing, or somewhere else I would rather be. I don’t think I’m alone, either. I sometimes sense that others are half-present, suffering from what one person has called continuous partial attention. We can end up skimming through life, ministry, and relationships.

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One of the culprits, to be honest, is technology. I find myself checking Twitter and Facebook more often than I’d like to admit. I sometimes suffer from phantom vibrations of my cell phone. I forgot my cell phone one evening at a concert and felt a little lost. I also felt strangely judgmental towards others at the concert who spent the evening looking at glowing screens rather than at the artist who was right in front of them.

And that’s the point: we miss what is right in front of us — stunning, average, or even negative — because we are plugged into screens that are roughly 8-10 square inches.

What’s hard to believe is how new a problem this is. I remember seeing the first iPhone from a friend who is a tech journalist, and it was only seven years ago. When I sent my first round of Facebook friend requests in 2007, I received this puzzled response from a university professor:

I have no idea what "Facebook" is. I'll have to ask my boys...I suspect that they know what this is. Do let me know what you have in mind with this.

When I joined Twitter in 2007 (the same year as I joined Facebook and saw the first iPhone), it wasn’t the time suck that it is today. My first tweet, by the way, was a lame and only one word long:

In his book The End of Absence, Michael Harris observes that this is all so new that we haven’t even stopped to consider what we’ve lost when we’re always connected. “Soon enough, nobody will remember life before the Internet,” he says.

Just as previous generations were charmed by televisions until their sets were left always on, murmuring as consolingly as the radios before them, future generations will be so immersed in the Internet that questions about its basic purpose or meaning will have faded from notice. Something tremendous will be missing from their lives— a mind-set that their ancestors took entirely for granted— but they will hardly be able to notice its disappearance.

We went camping this summer, and were completely unplugged (no cell phone signal, no Internet, no power) for two weeks. By the time I came back, I found that I had no desire to immerse myself in social media again. Since then, I’ve drastically cut back on the number of blogs I follow, and the number of tweets I read. (I follow over 2,700 people but make use of lists to help me manage that number.) It took a complete break from social media for me to be ready to make drastic changes. And yes, I’ve thought about going back to a dumb phone, although that may be a little too drastic. (See David Wells, though, on six ways that cell phones are changing us. The article is definitely worth careful thought).

There’s no going back, but there are some steps we can take. I’ve found these ones helpful:

  • Consider a digital fast. It is hard to be aware of how deeply we are immersed in technology until we take a break from it. Take a break as an experiment to see how you feel.
  • Make it a little bit harder to pull out your cell phone when you’re bored. At least you will be aware of when you pull it out absent-mindedly to pass the time, when you could instead be alone with your thoughts or the people around you. (Surprisingly, some people would rather be shocked than to be alone with their thoughts.)
  • Turn off the screens at a certain time of the day. We’ve tried to start putting our screens (except for the Kindle) away at 8:00 at night. It’s made my evenings a lot more enjoyable.
  • Cut back. Stop reading so many blogs and tweets. Separate the essential few from the trivial many. (Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less is helpful here.)

I continue to live both online and off, but I want to be deliberate about where I am choosing to focus. This will no doubt be an ongoing struggle, but I want my life back. I want to be present.

I’m guessing that you do too. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you are managing your life so that you are present despite the new technologies that can capture us before we even think.

Review: Logos Sermon Finder

Just a few years ago, many of Tim Keller’s sermon manuscripts were all on paper. He talked about this in a sermon in 1994:

In my life, I have about a thousand sermons I wrote from about 1975 to 1985 that are all written on paper, hard copy. They’re not on any disk. They’re all there. That’s it. I spent 10 to 20 hours on each one of those things, and they’re all in one basic long file drawer. I look at that and I shudder sometimes. I say, “What would happen?”

They may still be sitting there in a drawer somewhere, but things have changed. I know have over 1,200 of his sermons in my Logos library, as well as 1,300 of John Piper’s sermons, not to mention hundreds of sermons by Charles Spurgeon and now Greg Laurie.

Here’s what’s good about this: I have an embarrassment of riches with me everywhere I go, as long as I have my phone, tablet, or computer with me. As I prepared my sermon for tonight, I was able to study the text, read many of the best commentaries, and then check out what great preachers did with the text. I can search within the sermon archives I own, or browse them by date, series, or by Scripture reference. For instance, check out some of Greg Laurie’s sermons on Philippians:

I don’t know Laurie that well, and his preaching style is probably different from mine, but that is a good thing. I appreciate seeing what someone who is different than me did with the text.

Logos does a great job of explaining how it works at their site.

It’s easy to access sermons by passage.

  1. Open Guides > Passage Guide.
  2. Enter a Passage in the Reference Box — e.g. James 1
  3. Scroll down to the "Sermons" section. You may need to click the triangle to expand it.
  4. Click on any blue sermon title to open the associated sermon entry.

Each sermon title will display the passage it covers and some may include the date when they were preached. Here's what it looks like for the passage I preached last weekend:

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Any good thing can be abused. I never want to begin a sermon my reading how others preached the text. Nothing can replace the preacher’s own wrestling with the text before turning to commentaries and the sermons of others. Also, it’s never a good  to preach someone else’s sermon as your own. At some point in the process, however, it does help to see how other capable preachers have handled the text. It can spark ideas and sharpen the sermons that we are about to preach.

There’s value, too, in having these sermons in Logos. I feel like I’m just scratching the surface of what this program is able to do, but I can’t imagine doing without it.

Getting the job done requires that we have the right tools. Logos is a tool I’ve come to love. If you are a preacher or a serious student of the Bible, I encourage you to take a look at the sermon archives that they have available.

Find out more about the Logos Sermon Finder page here.

Thanks to Logos for giving me a copy of Greg Laurie’s sermon archives to review.

Continuous Partial Attention

Daniel Goleman mentions a phrase in his new book Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence. It's "continuous partial attention." It's not a new phrase; it's supposedly been around for some 15 years. But it is both descriptive and damning at the same time.

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Continuous partial attention means that we are paying attention to many things, but at a superficial level. We're never completely tuning in to one thing because of the other stimuli competing for our attention.

  • It's checking in on Facebook while the professor lectures.
  • It's pulling out the smartphone while on a date with your wife.
  • It's tweeting in the middle of a sermon.
  • It's missing out on what's here because we're wondering what's going on somewhere else that we're missing.
  • It's never being able to pray because we're too distracted. 

What's lost is the ability to pay attention, to sustain thought, to be fully present. And that's a shame when it comes to our most important relationships, not to mention our ability to think and pray.

I know two things. One: this is not a good way to live. Two: it's dangerous to the soul. Could this be one of the greatest pastoral issues that we are facing today?

Two Tech Tools

I'm always on the lookout for tools that make life easier or more productive. Here are two. I found one recently, and the other one I've been using for a while now.

Transient

Sanebox

I can relate to what this New York Times writer says about email:

This month alone, I received more than 6,000 e-mails. That doesn’t include spam, notifications or daily deals, either. With all those messages, I have no desire to respond to even a fraction of them. I can just picture my tombstone: Here lies Nick Bilton, who responded to thousands of e-mails a month. May he rest in peace.

Email drives me crazy. Rules and filters help, but it's hard to keep up. I recently came across Sanebox, which does a lot of the work for you:

SaneBox filters your Inbox. We separate emails that you must deal with right away from ones that can wait at least a couple of hours. And we do it automatically with no fuss and bother. All you have to do is click twice and eventually pay us some money.

So far so good. It's like having somebody separate all the flyers and junk mail from the stuff that actually matters. They give you a free trial, so you may want to check it out. I don't get any affiliate fees; it's just because I think it's a helpful service.

IFTTT

IFTTT stands for "If This, Then That."

Transient

You can set a trigger (the "if this" part) based on almost anything on the internet: the weather, a Google Reader post, something on Twitter or Facebook. This will cause a certain action to be taken. If you don't know where to start, you can simply use recipes that other people have created. For instance:

  • When Facebook profile picture changes, update Twitter profile picture.
  • Thank people in Twitter when they mention you or RT
  • Text you the weather every morning
  • Send starred items in Google Reader to Evernote

The possibilities are almost endless. It's a great free service, and you can't lose giving this one a try.