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You Can Be a Lifesaver in the Digital Ocean

by Joani Schultz

Do you love swimming in the ocean? Or do you fear it?

Maybe you’re like me. Swimming in water, I like. Swimming in technology, I fear.

So might it help to imagine the fast-crashing waves of technology as an ocean?

As a church leader, I want to stay afloat myself and offer practical, life-giving resources to my friends in ministry. I don’t want us to fear this digital ocean.

I wanted guidance.

I thought if anyone could help me navigate this overwhelming ocean, it was Robin Raskin. She’s the founder of Living in Digital Times with over 38 years of expertise as an author, editor, events and conference creator, magazine publisher, blogger, TV personality, and consultant. She’s been swimming in these waters as former editor of PC Magazine, former skeptic when Wikipedia came to be, and watcher of all things techie for education, kids, and families.

So I interviewed Robin.

Her comments sparked within me not fear, but opportunities for ministry. I wondered, ”What can we uniquely bring to people in our churches who swim in technology 24/7? What ’lifesavers’ might our ministries offer them?”

Join our conversation.

Ponder Robin’s comments. Plus, try my “ministry crow’s nest” perspective—the place high atop the ship watching what’s happening in the ocean below. Take a deep breath. There’s hope for leaders adrift in a digital ocean.

LIFESAVER IDEA # 1: Accept our digital reality.

Robin: “It’s funny, back 30 years ago, when we started writing about families and technology, we talked about balancing ‘screen time’ and ‘other time.’ But with this generation, ‘screen time’ and ‘other time’ is one and the same. The screen is your third wheel in life. It’s there in your pocket. The mobile technology is something different. You’re not going into a room and turning on a computer. You’re whipping out your phone. So we all have to accept that that’s the kind of behavior.”

Ministry Crow’s Nest

Stop bemoaning technology. Robin reminded me, “This is an experiment that we’re figuring out…It’s like the best of times, the worst of times.”

What an opportunity for ministry! When the fast-changing waves of technology wash over us, we have Jesus. Remind all ages of the life-giving hope of Jesus. He doesn’t change when everything else around us does. He’s the Lifesaver to hold on to because he already has us!

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

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LIFESAVER IDEA # 2: Offer settings for face-to-face conversations.

Robin: [speaking of young girls] “Sometime they don’t pick up their eyes and make eye contact. They’re sometimes really afraid when they break up with each other on their devices. So using a screen as a crutch is a problem for all of us. It’s a lot easier to say something to someone when you don’t have to say it to them. So the best thing is to practice saying it to them. Remember to have conversations about what you’ve seen and all this information. I mean, there’s more information than anyone can handle, so the best thing we can do is to have communities that call it out to each other.”

Ministry Crows Nest

Churches already have small groups. Let’s use these gatherings to practice conversations. Face to face. Rare is the place where people look each other in the eye to bring support and care. And equally as rare are groups that encourage everyone to speak—not just the leader.

In our book Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore: And How 4 Acts of Love Will Make Your Church Irresistible, we devote an entire chapter to the act of love called “Fearless Conversation.” It’s packed with practical ways to listen and speak in love.

Imagine practicing hard conversations, growing in empathy, and sorting out the truth of information together! When our ministries become safe havens for conversation, we bring the world a lifesaver for relationships.

LIFESAVER IDEA # 3: Relinquish control as a teacher/leader.

Robin: “Teachers need time carved out for their own development and learning. But if they can’t have that, teachers need to be able to relinquish some control and let the kids [I’d add ALL ages] drive a little bit. We call it a ‘flipped model.’ If they [teachers] can relinquish a little bit of the ‘I’m in front of the classroom and I’m in control’ to ‘We’re a team and we collaborate,’ it’s going to be so much better and help kids discover their own education…Switch it up. Try these things. They [technologies] are not going to replace you, but they are going to augment what you do.”

Ministry Crow’s Nest

What if pastors and teachers let go of control and “flip” how we preach and teach? People learn best when they collaborate and make discoveries from the “guide by the side” rather than the “sage on the stage.”

I know, our “leader” fears are many:

What if I lose control? What if they go off topic? This takes too much time. I have good stuff to share. That’s my job to preach and teach. (Translation: I do all the talking.)

Instead, let’s “flip” it. View preaching and teaching as another way of serving.

We have a great model: Jesus.

Jesus “flipped” a lot of the world’s ideas. He didn’t give up his nature of God, but he did become a servant. He even talked about our new role:

“But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:26).

I’m not so afraid anymore.

Swimming in the digital ocean may just be more exciting than I ever thought!

Let me know how you’ve kept afloat in the digital ocean. What have you seen from your ministry crow’s nest?


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