by Amy Jacober

A Public Service Announcement to youth pastors

Connections are my great reminder that God designed us to be a communal people. Technology has allowed us to be connected more than ever. Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, texting, Instagram and a whole lot more let us catch glimpses into the lives of our friends, family and well, quite frankly, people we’ve never even met but heck, they put it out there! At the click of a mouse or touch of a screen we can know about what is happening at our church and halfway around the world in a matter of seconds.
But what happens when all of this technology to connect and inform actually keeps us from doing just that?
I have a pet peeve when I am driving people in my car. I hate when all my passengers are on their phones and I become the chauffeur. I hate even more when one person is on the phone, shushing everyone trying to hear a bad connection and the rest of us sit silently so as to not interrupt. Before you think I’m clueless and anti-technology, I’m not talking about emergency calls or getting directions or even quick check-ins. I mean when the entire car is held hostage because one person doesn’t have the social awareness that he or she can actually talk about that movie or who they like at another time.
I have met several pastors recently who share a similar technology pet peeve. More importantly, it is a pet peeve that can cost a youth pastor his or her job. So here goes…consider this a PSA:

Put away the smart phones, texting, iPads and anything else that may be small, really cool and absorb your attention when you should be hanging out with and talking to teens, volunteers, parents, staff and any other living breathing human with whom you should be building relationships.

I know it can be fun to look up the latest coolest app, and if you actually have the self-control to show a few people and then put it right away, go for it! If, however, apps are like quicksand for you and you think you only look for two minutes or less when in reality hours can slip by, don’t even pull out your electronic device of choice.
I sat with a senior pastor a few weeks ago who was expressing great concern. He was the lead champion of the new youth pastor hired to be a part of a team of student leadership. The new leader was vibrant, intelligent, funny and she had a passion for social media. This was all a part of the reasoning for hiring her! What they did not anticipate is that she seemed to prefer social media to the actual social part of life. During staff meetings, she took notes on her iPad and surfed the web. During downtime in youth group, she found a quiet corner and reviewed YouTube for future videos. During conversations with volunteers and parents, she left her phone on the table, texting constantly throughout conversations.
The complaints were coming in faster and faster. When confronted, this young woman told the pastor that she was fully engaged in the ministry. She defended her actions as being a model for how young people connect. She was genuinely shocked to hear that it was not only adults who felt she was disconnected but that students had expressed a sense of interrupting or not being important when in her presence. She offered to make some changes and she did, for about a month. Slowly but surely, her old ways crept back in and the pastor and youth committee had enough.
I have a student at the seminary where I teach who has pushed me hard to consider this situation from a new angle. Her take is that the younger generation really does communicate in a different way. She argues that it is a different set of skills and a different set of rules that determines what is or is not acceptable communication. In short, she argues that maybe younger people just don’t think it is rude to text, surf the web and have a heart to heart talk with someone in person all at the same time. I agree that there is a new pattern of communication. However, I disagree that all conversations are fair game for multi-tasking but I can concede that maybe, somewhere, someone does not find it to be rude.
The difficulty is not whether everyone finds this to be rude or not—many people do. The difficulty is reminding those of us who are comfortable with multitasking and technology that many people do find it to be rude. The pastor I spoke to was beyond the point of asking for advice or even prayer on how to best guide or correct this young woman. He was sharing with me that the next week was going to be her last. They had a meeting scheduled for later that week and she was being fired, in person.
Talk with your leaders. Talk with your staff. Ask others around you who are more objective than you if you come across as absorbed in your gadgets. If they say yes, consider it a gift and an opportunity to change. This way you get to keep that great job in ministry that you love AND earn money for the next generation of your favorite technology!
Amy Jacober is the proud mom of two beautiful girls and wife of one husband. They spend loads of time as a family doing ministry together. When not at camp or on a mission trip, they can be found at home cooking and playing games. She is a professor of youth ministry, serves as a volunteer with teens and loves to write and read with the intent of being a part of kingdom work. She has most recently authored The Adolescent Journey and has two new projects in the works.