by Lance Witt
Virtually anything that can be productive can also be destructive. Whether it’s a car, a credit card, a knife, sex, or an iPhone, inappropriate use can do damage. There’s no question this principle applies to technology. Technology has opened unprecedented doors for the gospel. It has given ministries the opportunity to multiply their reach exponentially. It has made biblical knowledge accessible to billions. We live in a “more-faster-now” society. And ministry leaders love it because it means we can dream bigger, do more, and reach further.
But technology also has a dark side.
Technology has created opportunities for sexual predators. It has opened the floodgates to pornography and scam artists. Technology also has numerous subtle and more socially acceptable downsides. It has reduced our attention span, kept us more distracted, and raised the level of white noise in our lives. In his sobering Age of Speed, Vince Poscente writes, Crackberries have become the unofficial mascot of the Age
of Speed, but mind your addiction. Research revealed that allowing frequent
email interruptions causes a drop in performance equivalent to losing ten IQ
points—two and a half times the drop seen after smoking pot. Addiction to speed and technology is just as prevalent in the church as in society. Many are choosing to live online rather than in person.
The implications are not limited to the individual; they’re also potentially toxic for the team. I have developed “Ten Commandments of Technology” that I believe, if followed, would create a healthier team environment.
1. Thou shalt not use e-mail to deliver bad news.
E-mail is great for relaying information but terrible for confrontation. E-mail works well for disseminating data but is lousy for navigating relationships.
With e-mail there is no chance for the receiver to read your facial expression or body language. Nor can he or she hear your tone. When I’m simply reading an e-mail, I can hear whatever “tone of voice” I want. With e-mail, there is no chance in the moment for response and dialogue. There is no chance in the moment for clarification.
Quite simply, delivering bad news via e-mail is the coward’s way out. We dishonor and devalue people when we fire off harsh e-mails like Scud missiles. In a healthy culture, people sit down and have the hard conversations in person.
2. Thou shalt not put anything in e-mail that you would mind having
forwarded . . . because it probably will be.
I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. Several times I’ve had an e-mail forwarded to people I would not have wanted to receive it. So, when an e-mail deals with anything delicate, I’m learning to ask myself, “Will I mind if this gets forwarded?”
3. Thou shalt not e-mail (or chat online) during meetings.
This was one of the team rules at Saddleback. It-s such a temptation to multi-etask in a meeting, but the result is we disengage and check out. This is the antithesis of “team.”
4. Thou shalt not use “bcc.”
Most often, “blind carbon copy” is used to secretly include people in the e-mail without the recipient knowing it. No good thing comes from blind-copying people on your e-mails. While it might have an appropriate use or two, the potential risks and negatives simply don’t make it worth using.
At one church I served, this issue caused some significant pain among the staff. We finally made a decision among the senior leadership that we would not use bcc in our e-mails.
5. Thou shalt be more personal than professional.
By its very nature, e-mail tends to come across as impersonal. Therefore, we have to work hard to come across as warm and personal. Make your e-mails more relational and less transactional. It takes a few extra seconds, but communicate as a friend.
6. Thou shalt keep e-mails short and to the point.
I know there’s occasionally a need for a longer e-mail. But, as a general rule, keep it simple and straightforward. With the inundation of information today, people have to filter and sort quickly. Be concise and remove the clutter. In communication, always choose clear over cute.
7. Thou shalt not text or take calls while in conversation or in a meeting.
I am amazed how many conversations I’m in where the other person will respond to a text right in the middle of our interaction. Interrupting a conversation to take a call is devaluing; that’s why they invented voicemail. It is the rare occasion when I must
take a call right this moment. And, if you must take a call while talking to someone else, explain why you need to interrupt the conversation and apologize for having to do so.
8. Thou shalt not call or e-mail people on their day off.
If we’re going to create healthy teams, we must begin to work harder at creating margin in people’s lives. One way to do so is to honor their time at home with their family and honor their day off or their Sabbath.
We should be proactive to communicate with our team that we want them to live healthy, balanced lives. And, they are not expected to answer e-mails or phone calls when they’re off or at home with their family.
9. Thou shalt use e-mail for prayer and encouragement.
Most of these commandments are “thou shalt not,” but this one is “thou shalt.” E-mail and texting (etc.) are wonderful tools for prayer and encouragement. In a matter of seconds I can send a message that says “you matter; you were on my mind.” And I can use e-mail and texting to write out a simple prayer on behalf of someone I care about.
10. Thou shalt give phone/e-mail/Facebook/Twitter (etc.) a Sabbath.
Part of developing a healthy team means developing a healthy rhythm personally. I encourage you to talk with your team about having a technology Sabbath where you literally and symbolically unplug for a day. Imagine what it could be like if for twenty-four hours you had live (instead of virtual) conversations. If you played with your kids instead of your iPhone. If you responded to your spouse instead of your e-mail.
Lance Witt is the founder of Replenish Ministries, an organization devoted to ministering pastors to help them become healthy, holy, and humble. He also serves as the Pastor for Strategic Development at Thomas Road Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. replenish.net