by Aaron Myers – Director of Digital Outreach for Crescent Project
A few years ago a friend of mine asked me an interesting question. We were talking about the urgency to see the day when the billions from unreached people groups have an opportunity to respond to the gospel and be connected with a follower of Jesus. Jesus came after all “to seek and save the lost”, He told us that “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come”, and his final instruction to His disciples – and to us – was to “go and make disciples of all nations”. With nearly 3 billion people in the world who have not yet had an opportunity to hear the gospel, urgency is desperately needed.
His question was clarifying: “What is the one thing you could do with the majority of your time to see the most people hear the gospel?” I’d recently had a couple of good conversations online with two of my non-Christian friends living in Asia and Africa. They both lived in countries where less than 2% of the population were Christian. I had met them on an app that helps language learners make connections for speaking and listening practice. The answer to my friend’s question seemed clear enough. Using websites and apps like this one, I could literally talk with hundreds of people from unreached people groups online every month. As much time as there is in a day and as much endurance as I could muster, I could be speaking and interacting with men who live in Muslim Hindu and Buddhist majority countries. For most, I would be the first true follower of Christ they had met. With a little persistence and a lot of prayer, I am confident that I’d be able to read the Bible and share the gospel with most of them in time. Some might argue, others might just begin to ignore me, but because Jesus is calling people to himself and tells us that the harvest is plentiful, with enough conversations, I am certain that the Holy Spirit would lead me to those who are ready to learn more and to believe. Our ability to connect online with the lost is unprecedented in the history of missions. No other generation has had the ability to so quickly and so easily step into relationships with men and women who live in hard to access regions of the world where there is little if any local access to the good news of Jesus.
But here is the challenge.
All of this is possible because of the Internet and the smartphone. These two innovations in technology, while creating amazing opportunities for good, are both fraught with temptations toward distraction and evil. Social media sites are created specifically to be addictive. Scrolling through Facebook is an awful lot like pulling the handle of a slot machine – and for good reason! Facebook consulted with casinos to learn how to create an interface that keeps people scrolling. Unlimited information is now available at the tap of a button meaning that, while we can find thousands of translations of the Bible, every teenage boy also has access to pornography and online bullying is a growing problem.
So what are we to do? Like the Apostle Paul, we must look at each new innovation and ask the question, “How can we use this to glorify God and partner with him in the work of expanding His kingdom?” Paul lived in a time when an innovative and expansive new network of Roman roads allowed the Roman empire to subjugate and oppress people across continents. Paul determined to use those very same roads for his missionary journeys. The potential for evil exists in nearly every new innovation that comes around and as followers of Christ we have the responsibility to determine how we interact with and use these innovations in ways that are pleasing to and partnering with God. There are many important conversations that need to be had about this, but one thing is for certain: The internet and social media will either rule us or we will rule them.
Here are a few suggestions for how we can begin to make sure that you are using all things digital in ways that allow you to work with God rather than being distracted and controlled by the Internet and social media.
I recently read Justin Early’s book, The Common Rule, and one of the suggestions he gives is to take daily breaks from your phone. He turns his phone off each day when he gets home from work for an hour. This allows him to focus on being present with his wife and children. It also trains his heart to not be dependent on his phone. I’ve tried to leave my phone charging overnight in the living room of our house. I know it’s crazy, but I use an alarm clock to wake up. In the morning I try not to pick my phone up at all until after I have had my morning quiet time. I sometimes put a sticky note on it that says, “DON’T TOUCH UNTIL AFTER SPENDING TIME IN THE WORD.” It seems silly, but that is how weak I am! I need all the help I can get.
I’ve recently begun trying to leave my phone on the counter where I charge it on Sundays. I try not to take it to church. I try not to pick it up during the day. I just let it sit there. I try to do the same with my computer – fasting as it were from all Internet and digital devices. I’m not batting 1,000 but it has been liberating and allowed me to read books, write letters and just be with family. I’m finding that it is as much about training my heart and mind as it is anything else.
The Minimalist Phone App
A few months ago I installed the Minimalist Phone app on my android phone (I don’t think it is available for Apple phones yet). This app takes a highly visual and colourful digital interface and transforms it into an analogue list of plain text. It functions essentially the same but the appearance is far less enticing. It sends a subtle message to my brain that I don’t need to scroll through all the apps. [Learn More]
A few years ago I installed the Freedom app on my computer. This app allows me to create a schedule where certain sites or apps are blocked for a certain period of time. I can set the schedule. So for example I’ve set it so that I can’t check any news or sports sites between 6 pm and 5 am the next morning. I wish I had more self discipline, but I need apps like this to fight the good fight for me. I’ve found it a helpful tool for allowing me to take more control over how I use my time. [Learn More]
The most important thing we can do as followers of Christ working to minister online is to spend time abiding deeply with Christ. In John 15, Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Apart from Jesus, we can do nothing. NOTHING. The most important thing we can do as we minister online is to spend time with Jesus. Prayer. BIble Reading. Worship. Meditation. Fellowship. We must remain in Jesus and to do that, we have to set aside time to be with Jesus.
The Internet, smartphones and social media are not going away. Like innovations that came before, they have changed our world in both positive and negative ways. As followers of Christ we have a responsibility to discover how we can utilize these new technologies in ways that honor God and carry the gospel message to those who have not yet heard. Setting digital boundaries will cause us to live out of step with the culture around us and the culture of our non-Christian friends. This is part of our witness! We are citizens of heaven and are following the Lord, not human ways.
My prayer is that you will actually find yourself spending more time online – but focused, intentional time, sharing the gospel with friends who have never had an opportunity to respond to the good news of Jesus.
Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
– Ephesians 5:15-16