One of the things I didn’t learn in seminary was how to exercise ministry in 140 characters. I’m referring, of course, to texting. It’s become rather ubiquitous in our culture to simply send short messages to one another via our mobile phones.
My mobile is what I call a “dumb phone.” Not because I get frustrated by the technology, but it is NOT a ‘smart phone.’ It’s a basic phone. T9 texting, 140 character maximum, no camera or MP3, no touch screen. Just a phone. And it serves its purpose as such. I can talk, and I can text. And that’s enough.
I use the phone to connect with people for a number of things. I have a (long distance) sports buddy; we share scores when one or the other cannot be watching the game, we banter quite a bit back and forth when we can. It’s not as good as in person, but it’s better than nothing. I have a fitness buddy; we text in the morning with an attempt at motivating one another to do some exercise. I have a friend who texts when we’re trying to set up a mutually convenient time for a video chat. I have an overseas friend (who is terrible at time zones) who texts after learning that the growling on the phone was not a pet dinosaur but me at 4am. I can let friends know that my plane has landed safely or that I’ve been delayed by customs. It’s handy (as the Germans say).
Ministry also happens quite a bit on that tiny piece of tech. Parts of the parish I serve are long distance, all of my colleagues are long distance, and texting is cheaper than phoning. It’s a way to connect with people in a relatively quick way, without demanding their immediate attention. It’s a way of communicating that can be easily ignored when busy with other parts of ministry.
I get prayer requests by text, and can send out a quick affirmation of my response. I send out brief notes of encouragement to people without interfering with their work. I set appointments with folks, I confirm details of upcoming events, I inform people if I’m running late. I’ve received texts of support from colleagues on difficult days, I’ve learned positive outcomes from medical procedures, I’ve had visit requests from care home staff.
I do not think that technology is ever going to take over pastoral ministry, but I do find that some pieces of technology are beneficial to exercising that ministry. I find that the phone is not a means of doing my job, but a tool that enables me to try and do my job more efficiently. I believe that phones have a time and place for use; we don’t need to have them with us and turned on all the time. I treat the phone as being there for my benefit, not the other way around – I will not interrupt a pastoral visit to answer a text, for example – the in-person always wins. But the phone is there – and it provides support both for me to receive and for me to extend. And I don’t expect that will change any time soon.
Do you find mobiles a help or a hindrance in your work and ministry? Is there other technology that you cannot do your job without?