The cute picture to your right was posted by my wife yesterday. Amy and I have a good time nudging each other about the other's use of smart phone technology, but there is a serious side to this issue that is too often excused, or outright ignored in our current climate.
The fact that I'm writing this article and publishing it via electronic media should be enough to demonstrate that I am not against technology. Through the internet and related communications devices, my office can operate "virtually" without actually having to be "in" the office. All our staff are issued smartphones and laptops so that we can easily stay in touch with each other while in various locations across this vast association, which stretches from College Park to southern Pennsylvania.
Additionally, smartphone technology allows me to stay up to date on the latest national and international news (CNN is so last generation!), converge all my social media in a way that allows me to better communicate with the churches I serve, or stay in touch with an old high school buddy. Last month while in India, I could be reached by any pastor in our network who simply dialed my cell number as if I were in my office in Eldersburg, Maryland, and Skype technology allows me to host virtual "face to face" meetings no matter where I find myself in the world. It also lets me see my wife and kids when I'm away. Everything from important meetings to sermon preparation is expedited because of technology that is right at our fingertips.
But there is another side to this issue. When the need to "stay connected" results in one being disconnected from those closest to him, an addiction has been formed that must, for the glory of God, be broken.
I admit, I have been there. Regrettably, the comical scene you see in the cartoon cell above has been played out in the Rainey household, on more than a few occassions. To this day, it remains a difficult struggle. After all, I get about 200 emails a day. My combined social media connections are in excess of 2000 people, and I serve a network of churches where roughly 12,000 people worship every week. So there is always an update, a message, an alert, or a need. And thanks to the technology at my fingertips, I'm ALWAYS aware of it--for better or for worse.
So here is the bottom line, (and I know more than a few pastors who need to pay heed to this as well). Of all 12,000 people who attend our churches, none should be as important to me as the one I'm married to. Unfortunately many times, by virtue of my never-ending phone-checks, I've communicated just the opposite. Over the years, I've had to re-assess my relationship with all of my electronic gadgets. I would suggest that anyone, in any profession, do the same. Every household is different. Therefore, I would not prescribe exactly the same approach for every family. Nevertheless, I do hope my description of our own approach to this issue below will encourage more families to set appropriate boundaries. For our household in 2012, there are three, non-negotiable rules that are in play where smartphones are concerned:
1. 8 PM is "shut-off" time. At some point, the office has to be closed, even if its "virtual." For me, closing time is never later than 8 PM each night, unless an evening meeting has me out later. If its 8:15 and I'm at home, you will not be able to get in touch with me unless you are the Associational Moderator, the Chair of our Administrative Team, or our Office Manager. Over the years, I've discovered that these three folks know what actually constitutes an "emergency." Most of the other 12,000 people in our network don't. Between 8 and 8:30, we are putting our kids to bed, praying with our kids, reading Bible stories, sharing potty humor, talking about any problems at school (sometimes those problems and potty humor are related, but I digress), and being a family. After 8:30 is time for Amy and I to be together, talk about our day, watch a movie, pray together, and just be husband and wife. Twitter updates and text messages don't enhance that time. They steal from it.
At the end of the day, there is only one person who can ensure that my family gets the time from their husband/dad that they are entitled to and that person is me. To literally say with your actions "12,000 people will just have to wait" requires some hard boundaries.
2. The phone is in another room during dinner, or in the car during a family event. I used to take my phone into my son's band concerts. The result was that I never enjoyed the concert because I was either reading the news or responding to an email. A generation ago, the question was "when is dad getting home from work?" Today, the question is "when is dad going to put his work down and pay attention to me?" I don't want to repeat those early sins, because when I communicate with my smartphone that a news article about the GOP debate is more important than my son's improved trumpet skills, I am sinning against my son.
Family meals are another time when the phone is not a welcome device. Early in our marriage, we set a rule that we would not answer the house phone if it rang during dinner. It is ironic that 17 years later, that rule is still in place, but somehow it became acceptable to bring my DROID to the dining room table and ignore my wife and kids while responding to a Facebook comment. There is absolutely no emergency so great that it cannot wait until after family dinner to receive my attention. (and, just as a reminder, there is no such thing as an emergency "on Facebook.")
3. "Need to use only" is in effect on family vacations. Before we leave on vacation, I record a message on my phone that states when I'll be back, and a number where those who need more immediate attention can call one of my staff. I do NOT leave those who call an option to be called back before I return.
Instead, I turn the phone OFF, and put it in the console of our family's minivan. I only take it out and turn it ON when Amy and I are going to be separated during the day. Again, our Associational leadership have Amy's cell number, and know that in an emergency, they can get to me through her. But I do not answer a phone issued to me for business purposes if I'm not supposed to be conducting business.
On several occassions, I have unknowingly called pastors on vacation, and had more than one of them actually pick up the phone while on the beach with their families! Guys, we really aren't needed that badly! And if we have conditioned our people that we are "always available" and further enabled that attitude by the way we abuse technology, we not only sin against our families, but also against the people we are supposed to be equipping for ministry, because we have trained them instead to be dependent on us.
Technology is a wonderful thing. Unfortunately those of us who use technology have fallen minds and sin-sick hearts that have often turned a wonderful, time-saving invention into an idol. I hope some of the ideas above will be helpful to others, as you seek to strike the balance between staying connected to work and refusing to be disconnected at home. To those who are out of control, from a guy who admits to having once been out of control, stop sinning against your family, and get dominion over your smartphone!