What’s Lost In the Capturing Attention on Screens
Many ministries and individuals have run to the flickering screens and colorful cases of mobile devices as an avenue for ministry. Where the ministry abounds is usually found in the things in which mobile is supported by.
Some years ago, I was asked by a brother in the faith with whom I developed a fast-friendship with to stay with him and his family while we worked on a project together. We figured that the project would take us a few months given our respective backgrounds and the energy we could put towards it. However, the project suffered several false starts and blocked roads, in part because we aimed for what was in the hands of the people we said we were ministering to.
One day during this project, and when we were both a bit tired from the direction that wasn’t happening, we took a trip to a local mall to look at one of the project’s early wins to gain some insight from what had been done. After taking a look at the installation and speaking with the small business which allowed for that project to be placed there (as something of a beta test), we made our way over to the food court as my friend was a bit hungry and needed a small snack. As he sat and ate, I asked him to do something for me: to look around and tell me what he saw.
My friend pointed to the kids, the families, the very loud babies, and the general sense of “noise” — of which he pointed out was one of the reasons that he could not sit in such a place very long. I asked him to look deeper. He pointed out some of the general attitudes that he sensed, and a growing sense of despair and consumerism that was very much embedded into the floors and walls of this shopping and eating space. I asked him again to look at what was there, concentrating on where the eyes of many of the patrons were. He noticed that nearly everyone had a mobile (phone) of some kind, and in many cases, intimate moments — one-on-one moments — were being ignored for the flickering screens and thumb-exercise performances.
We started from that point to talk about our project and what it meant to get on those screens. He would ask questions such as, “what kinds of devices are they using,” and, “the [project idea] really fits here because these people are hungry for God.” And it was at sentiments like the latter that I asked him to check his intentions versus theirs. Did the people really want God or godly content while shopping at a mall, or was the availability of such content something that some would find as an oasis in midst of that environment? I asked him would he be willing to speak with some of the people he sees and ask them what’s on their mobiles, what are their motivations, and if what he offers is something they’d like? He took me up on the challenge, but in those conversations, never got to the last question. He expressed dismay that all folks wanted to do was play games, listen to music, connect with friends, and largely, be left alone in their own worlds.
This is a hard thing to grasp in the subject space called mobile ministry. For several generations, the point of faith-on-media has been to drive people’s attention to God. If you will, moving that relationship and conversation about God from something in the (subconscious) background, to something in the foreground — so that decisions, behaviors, policies, and lives could be forthrightly altered towards something that sounds and looks like a child of the Most High.
Thing is, ministry has always been about relationship. And not just any relationship. Its something that Jesus showed Nicodemus in John 3 that goes beyond content and head knowledge. Its something that Jesus showed James, John, and their mother that went beyond posture and position. Ministry — at least part of what makes the practice stick in our minds — is a behavior and posture of living that seeks the best for someone else, at the cost of self, for the betterment of others and the increasing of the reputation of God (John 17:20-26). When ministry is most effective, if you will, is when it goes beyond the content and place of worship, and gets to the heart of the persons bonding with God Himself (John 4).
There’s a statement that I’ve often led with in respect to mobile ministry which fits and creates the need for it to be better understood: an app is not a strategy. Meaning simply that just getting someone your content, or making their personal window your loudspeaker isn’t the point of what we do in this space. At its core, it using the specific and unique characteristics of mobile to point out that a life better lived is possible, and its not limited if you happen to use a magic wand called a mobile device.
Mobile ministry is the forwarding of the traditions of the faith, using the technologies and behaviors we ascribe to mobile computing (source). That means its got to be more than just what’s on the screen. And many times, is simply nothing more than sitting down with someone over a small meal, asking questions, presenting approaches, and figuring out if those experiments will work.