A Timely Word – John Stumbo Video Blog No. 79

February 12, 2020

12:22

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John addresses how one of today’s most powerful resources may be a leader’s greatest temptation and offers three practical applications for returning to ministry fundamentals.

Transcript

Leadership is full of temptations. Today I’m addressing one under-discussed temptation that many of us are experiencing. I’ll get specific, maybe even meddle. Thanks for joining me for what I trust will be a timely word.

Our world continually develops new communication tools. From the printing press to phone apps to whatever comes next, we live in a world infatuated with the latest. Every new resource brings fresh opportunities for the Church to advance the name of Jesus and brings the temptation to be distracted from our mission.

I first noticed the trend when graphic design software became available. Oh, the visually irritating world of clip art was coming to an end and the thrilling opportunity to say something with our own carefully created graphics was now available. It was a weekly-bulletin, youth-retreat-brochure, church-newsletter revolution! And we lost days, perhaps weeks of real ministry.

What do I mean? As some youth pastors and camp program directors, and others of us discovered the technology, hours once filled with people interaction were now filled with layout design. Rather than being face-to-face with a teen, we found ourselves staring at a screen.

Then came video editing. Wow, if layout design was captivating and time consuming, video editing took it to the next level. The software was still crude, and the hardware slow, but that didn’t stop us. Dozens of hours, perhaps to the neglect of our own family, were invested for what? So we could show this cool video for a few seconds or minutes. Once. Maybe twice. Then the VHS tape collected dust on an office shelf—an obsolete technology, and decaying evidence of how we had invested our lives.

Before I proceed, I must clarify. There are proper times to use technology. As culture makers and community shapers, we benefit from multiple forms of communication. That this message is coming to you via video or podcast is evidence that I don’t want to return to some pre-Gutenberg or pre-Gates era of history. And, I don’t believe that graphic and video designers are wasting their lives. Quite the contrary. I love the fact that creatives can add shape, color, sound, image, and texture to our experience. Artists and creatives who for too long had little opportunity to express their giftings in the Church are increasingly given freedom to contribute to our spiritual experience and understanding of God through their eye-catching, thought-provoking, soul-stretching work. It’s a worthy calling.

So, while I’m neither anti-technology nor opposed to those who use it, I am highlighting these as two examples in my lifetime of when we failed to resist the temptation to engage the resources available to us. Had the 14 hours used to create a retreat brochure been invested instead to make phone calls to parents and invite teens face-to-face, there would have likely been more youth at the retreat and more relationships developed along the way. Some of the youth group parents would have loved to have been gathered together once in a while to pray for their teens; but instead, we were consumed with making the video, evidently believing in the power of the screen more than the power of prayer.

I may sound like some old guy who is resisting change. Yet, please don’t miss my point. Just because we have access to a technology, even a powerful communication tool, doesn’t mean that we should use it. This is counter intuitive. The “use every tool available to you” thinking may have been good advice before we had so many options, but I question it today, especially if you have limited staff or volunteer support, because all of us are limited in the precious, irreplaceable resource called time.

Wise leaders understand that saying “no” is as important as saying “yes.” This applies to many areas of ministry, including what communication tools we choose to engage. Say “no” to something so that you can say “yes” to what really matters.

Today I’m thinking specifically of temptations provided by the powerful communication tool known as social media. To those who are licensed Alliance workers, I say: If a major percentage of your time isn’t nose and heart in the Word of God, or knees bent in prayer, or face-to-face with a living person—encouraging, planning, counseling, consoling, evangelizing, discipling—it doesn’t matter how impressive your social media accounts are. I believe that social media is a powerful temptation potentially distracting us from real ministry.

Countless leaders are spending countless hours engaging on a wide range of applications about a wide range of topics with a wide range of people—most of whom they don’t know. Meanwhile, I remain unconvinced that hours of scrolling and moments of cajoling or lapses into trolling qualify as effective ministry. Has social media in its many forms become a leadership temptation? I believe so. Does it have a positive place of influence? It can. Have we learned to use it well? Too often, not.

My single point for these 12 minutes is: Leaders, let’s identify and overcome the temptation to use every tool available to us. My current example is social media, but the potential examples are numerous.

Allow me to press further with three practical applications:

One. Permission granted to not use the latest tools. If they are helpful, great. If they are a distraction, walk away. I’m encouraging thoughtful restraint. Do we really need to be current on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and LinkedIn? Is that really helping us? Let’s choose the essential over the available.

Two. Please use this as a challenge for priority realignment. I realize that some may misuse my words as a reason to scorn those who are using tools that they don’t. In our movement, we don’t define spirituality as being three steps behind current trends. If we idolize old eras and methods, we’re committing the same mistake as those who idolize the latest fad.

I’m not calling us to scorn these tools, instead I’m asking us to make sure we haven’t drifted from the fundamentals of ministry. You know the what they are: Prayer, worship, listening to God for His direction, Sabbath, evangelism, discipleship, building community, developing and releasing others for service, holiness. Fundamentals. Stay focused. Stay grounded. Keep to the basics. If tools like social media truly aid us in living out those fundamentals, great. But have the discernment to know if they’ve become a distraction.

I fear that some of our lay leaders or licensed teammates are spending a significant portion of their days posting comments on social media sites, engaging in all-too-often inflammatory conversations to the neglect of their soul, their family, or their community they’ve been called to serve and then have gone to bed that night satisfied that they’ve done real ministry.

Pastor, your church didn’t hire you—IW, we didn’t send you—to engage hour after hour on social media. That may be an OK hobby, but it’s not your ministry. I get it that some use a tool like Facebook Messenger to connect directly with members of your congregation or your prayer supporters. That’s not what I’m referring to. There is a place for careful utilization of these tools. I’m calling for a priority realignment. Have we become so engrossed by a distraction that we’ve gotten away from the fundamentals of ministry?

And three. An intentional simplicity will serve us well. One young leader recently confessed to me that most every time he gets on social media, more than once a day, something makes him angry—the tone, the topic, the opinion robs his peace. He looks forward to Lent so that he can take a break from the constant noise. Fasting from social media for a short period is acceptable in our religious circles, but complete withdrawal is relevance suicide, or so it feels.

I’m not asking Alliance leaders to drop all their social media accounts. The Alliance itself has a large social media footprint. We’ve found it an effective tool for storytelling, prayer engagement, fundraising, and family connections. But, my social-media-loving friend, perhaps the fear of missing out is the biggest fear that you need to address this year. If your need to be in the know, to be relevant, to be able to engage in every conversation is of greater import than the health of your own soul, family, or ministry, maybe you should join me in some intentional simplicity.

I think social media’s power is largely driven by two subtle forces. I’ve already mentioned one, F-O-M-O, the Fear of Missing Out. We feel marginalized, irrelevant, or out of touch, even embarrassed if we aren’t current with all the latest news, gossip, and issues.

Let me add the potent second: LOHV. Yes, I made that up, L-O-H-V, Love of Having Voice. We feel empowered, engaged, and even spiritual if we have expressed our voice, our opinion. Social media gives us the satisfaction of being able to speak into any topic on the planet, and we like that. I’m just not convinced it matters. Hence, some intentional simplicity would serve us well.

One of the greatest temptations a leader must overcome is the temptation to engage every resource available to us. This video comes to you with the prayer that we will identify this temptation, and access the Spirit’s power to overcome it, experiencing thoughtful restraint, ministry realignment, and intentional simplicity.

After 77 days in the hospital and months of recovery at home, the church that I had served kindly invited me to participate in a leadership meeting. It was a good and necessary meeting, well run, Kingdom-oriented. In my wheelchair-feeding-tube-weak-of-voice state, I engaged as best I could. I felt honored to be back in the circle. Perhaps a half hour into the meeting, without forethought, I scribbled a sentence on the top of my notepad. I wrote, “Did I come back from my deathbed for this?” Valid topics were being discussed. Necessary planning was being appropriately carried out. Yet, the Holy Spirit was prompting me to be intentional about my use of time. Life had been returned to me. I wasn’t to waste it even on something that served a good purpose. Just because I could participate didn’t mean that I should participate. May someone receive this as a moment of reflection and reassessment for how you are using your most important resource—time.

 

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