Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"Get out from behind your computer!"

In conversation with another pastor this week, I heard him say he wished more pastors would "get out from behind their computers" and "go do ministry". Sigh.

I doubt he knew who he was talking to.... If there's a pastor that's in love with his computer, it's probably me. So, lex semper accusat, there are probably... ok, I am sure there are times when I should be doing something else than sitting at my computer. I am a sinner, ya know.

On the other hand, this isn't the first time I've heard that sentiment, "get out from behind your computer and do ministry". And while as I first admitted, there is some truth in it, for myself as I am sure for many other pastors, is there another side to it?

Every pastor has significant freedom in choosing how to spend his time. Doubtless all of us will sin in this regard, and frequently. And honestly, there's usually some basis for the criticism.

I think it's easy to criticize how another pastor spends his time - too much time gabbing at the local bakery, too much time studying ancient church fathers, too much time going to his kids' basketball games, too much time "out of the office", too much time in the office....

Not just pastors, I suppose, but anyone could fall under scrutiny for how time is spent.

But I thought a little further...

"Get out from behind your computer".... but I do so many different things on my computer. I write things: Sermons, Newsletters, Emails, Plans and Studies... and I read things: Blogs, Articles, News, Wikis, Sermons, and even the Bible! I use the computer to discuss important matters with other Lutherans (which hopefully helps them and certainly helps me). I "instant message" friends and colleagues. I publish my sermons. I update the church website. Oh, yes, and there's that silly Facebook Jetpack game, too.

Are any of these things "ministry"? Depends on how you define it - "service"? Yes, some are. "Ministry as in Word and Sacrament Ministry"? Yes, that too - not so much sacrament, but certainly word. I can't tell you how much I share and how much I learn and grow from information I get via a computer screen.

It's almost as if the other pastor could have said, "Put down your pencil and paper and books, and get out and do ministry"

Are there times when that's a valid criticism? Sure. Are there others who should be reading more, learning more, writing more? Yes.

So maybe in my little Hegelian struggle here I'm looking for a synthesis that includes a balance of all these varied tasks and responsibilities of the pastor. Throw in a little post-modern "to each his own" (i.e. let each pastor use the talents and abilities God gives him to the best). And add a healthy does of humble confession that no matter how I spend my time, I will find a way to sin.

And there's my thought on the matter. Now I have to get out from behind here and "go do minstry".


RevRuesch said...

Pastor Chryst,

Thank you for your insights...that I felt applied to myself as well. I, too, spend a great deal of time on my computer and often fear that I do it too much.

I think the essential thing is for each pastor to recognize the areas of ministry he is accountable for and to balance his time between them. Is reading a theological article on your computer a poor use of time? Not in and of itself. Is reading that article while a parishioner has been in the hospital for a week without a visit?

It sort of reminds me of the old saying they teach you at seminary, "Context is king." What's the context in which you're using your computer time?

Thanks for your thoughts!

Pastor Matt Ruesch
Garrison, MN

Anonymous said...

IANAP, of course, but with the exception of the narrow preaching and sacraments, "doing ministry" and "being on the computer" are not necessarily exclusive.

Christopher D. Hall said...

If I were feeling snarky, I would respond, "I wish more pastors would stop criticizing other pastors and 'do ministry" instead."

You are right to say that we are all responsible for the time we have been given. But we are accountable ultimately to only one judge. We should judge ourselves so that we don't have to judge others. Someone important once said that. :)

Thanks for the post!