One thing I love to do when I’m on holiday is read the paper. Each day I’ll buy a copy of the Times and look to read it throughout the day whenever I get a chance. I start with the back pages and catch up on the days sport, then move to the front of the paper and finish up with the business section. Much of it is interesting, some of the stories are horrendous whilst some are just depressing.
One article in particular caught my attention early in our summer holiday. Matthew Moore, the Media Correspondent, wrote a story entitled, ‘Apps mean mobile phones are for texting, not talking’ highlighting a change in trends in how we communicate with one another. Some key stats in the article were: 1 in 5 people spend 40 hours a week online; on average we check our phones every 12 minutes; and the majority of those under 35 check their phones within 5 minutes of waking up. The piece revealed the increasing trend to use messaging apps rather than make phone calls and how we’re feeling that our mobile devices are now interrupting face-to-face interactions. This last point stuck with me.
Simplicity and shortcuts
We live in a world where ease, simplicity and shortcuts are celebrated! We’re now able to take a picture within a matter of seconds on our phones compared to 30 years ago when you had to take out a rather large, cumbersome camera and then spend time doing the manual focus – I much prefer the phone! We can now buy something instantly after thinking that we want it, thanks to the internet and it can arrive at your doorstep the next day (thanks to Amazon Prime) and you’ve not had to speak to a single person! Some of you are saying “Amen” to that whilst others are maybe still wary of buying from the internet.
Ease, simplicity and shortcuts do have their drawbacks and the rise of technology and social media has, as the Times article pointed out, had a big impact on how we interact with one another. Emails fly about, our phones buzz constantly with incoming messages from Whatsapp groups, Snapchat, Facebook messenger, Twitter and Instagram (I’m sure I’ve missed several others!) are all a regular part of our daily lives.
While such apps are not necessarily bad things, I think we need to be careful with them.
Face to face
In the books of 1st, 2nd and 3rd John we have John (most likely the disciple) writing to a group of house churches around Ephesus. They’re short letters – especially the 2nd and 3rd book – they’re the ones that are hard to find that are somewhere between Hebrews and Revelation.
They’re short for a reason. At the end of the latter two books we have John telling his readers that he has much to say but would much rather tell them in person. I do wonder what else he had to say and what he said to them in person!
“Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete” 2 John 1:12
“I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.” 3 John 1:13-14
In our world of tech and ease, sometimes we can forget that importance of being face to face. It’s easier just to send a quick message and get what you need rather than take the time to be with someone.
My encouragement to us as a church (and very much myself!) is to be counter-cultural and let’s do more face to face communication than via a small screen. I know it’s not always possible to do this. We live far apart and are busy and sometimes a quick question can be answered within seconds but let’s not always jump to that.
When we spend time face to face:
- We show we value and appreciate the person.
Our time is an expensive commodity. Our schedules are maxed out, we try to push even more into what little hours we have in the day and therefore our time is very precious to us. By taking time face-to-face we show that we appreciate the person and our biggest interest is in them. One thing (of the many!) I’ve learnt from my time in South Africa is that relationship is key. You don’t just rock up to someone and ask them for something! You spend time asking them how they are, how their day was and how their family is before you ask your question. It takes time, it takes intentionality…but it bears fruit. When we are face to face we show that person that they are important to us – more important than just getting what we need.
- We become people orientated instead of task orientated.
Jesus is passionate about people, not tasks. The gospel is for people, not tasks. Jesus came to save people, not tasks. Jesus didn’t just send a message to us, he came to this world. He came in person to speak to us, to share life with us, to bring a message of hope, comfort and life, and his actions backed up every single word. Imagine if Jesus had come to this world, died on the cross, rose again but had never taken time to be with people. Jesus is passionate about people – he knows each and every single one of us intimately. We need to follow his example.
We love achievement – the sense of accomplishment when we get to tick a box and complete something (I like a good list and ticking things off!) but we need to see that people are more important. There are several people within our church family who do this so well and I very much appreciate the example that they give. As we purposefully go to spend time with one another our focus will naturally and gradually begin to be about people and not just the tasks.
- We allow our tone to be heard.
Tone is lost in an email or WhatsApp and so often things are misunderstood and can easily lead to confusion that can cause a lot of harm to our relationships. As much as we try to use emoji’s to show our tone (or cover up our tone!), it’s just not the same as hearing someone’s voice. How something is said is as important as the words that are used.
- We build community with one another.
Steve Taylor recently spoke from 1 Corinthians 12 and was reminding us that we are the body of Christ. Bodies are connected together. They don’t work with great distance between each part but are deeply inter-connected and reliant upon each other. If we are to function well as the Body of Christ we need a deep sense of community that will only come by us investing face-to-face time with one another. As we strengthen our relationships with each other we open up more and more, we become more transparent and a depth of community, fellowship and accountability is possible.
- We get joy from being with one another.
Paul and John have the same reflection that being with one another brings joy. In 2 Timothy 1:4 Paul writes, “As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy”. His joy is not in a task. His joy is in being with people – his fellow brother in Christ and spending time with him. Over the summer I had the joy of spending time with 7 others from the church family out in South Africa and 22 others down at Soul Survivor. I can promise you that as we all spent time together that there was much joy!
I know that many of you do a great job of this. Grabbing coffees with one another, lunches, dinner, meeting together for prayer, going out on walks etc. Let’s keep that up! As we see the trends in culture to spend more time using electronic devices for communication let’s push against that when we can.
Messages and emails aren’t bad, they are a very useful tool for us, but where it’s possible, let’s decide to get some time face-to-face. Let’s be about people! Let’s value people.
I hope to see you all soon face to face where we can chat, catch up, encourage one another in the Lord and find joy being together.
Love and blessings.
Scott MacDonald, September 2018