When I started as a youth director in 1997 I had a full head of hair, and a pager. Yup, a pager. They were all the rage at the time because cell phones were still car phones, and the size of a small toaster. Most students didn’t have pagers. When I led youth group Bible studies, everyone was present in the room. What I mean is, there were no outside distractions from phones, so every student was forced to either participate in the discussion, or at least be distracted with the very real relationships with the people next to them.
Obviously things have changed. This past Sunday I saw adults at church glued to Facebook, and games on their phone, rather than interact with the people in the fellowship hall. At 180 I increasingly see kids on their phones and iPods during free time. Many of them look super lonely and depressed while they chat on their phones while ignoring the people right next to them. Two weeks ago I grabbed phones from two girls who were right next to each other. When they looked up, I forced them to look at each other and recognize they have a real friend who is present! They laughed and went back to Facebook.
There was a time when students would at least attempt to look like they were listening, even if they were “sneakily” checking their phones. Last night, in High School group, at least half the kids we openly staring at their phones, texting, playing games, snap chatting, and ignoring me. When I asked a question, they seem surprised that they were in a room with other people. During free time, some of them were getting out at the game we played, because they were too busy checking their phones.
I know I’m ranting and I’m a hypocrite standing on my smart phone soap box.
There are so many obstacles and distractions in youth ministry, that I’m really excited when high school students show up. The problem is, those distraction just physically follow them into the room now. My students, who I love, sometimes seem to be more comfortable sharing shallow thoughts across the internet then they are sharing anything with the person next to them.
I’m worried we’re losing the ability to be together as people.
I’m more worried this will effect our ability to live out the gospel.
Think about some of these changes that have created isolation.
It used to be that we’d wait in line at the grocery store and make small talk with the people around us. Now we pull out our phone to avoid feeling awkward.
It used to be that we’d brew a pot of coffee and hang out with people over a great conversation. Now we fire up the Keurig and brew a cup of coffee with no thought of being with other people.
Even watching TV has changed. There was a time when families would watch TV together, now we all watch our own screens and interact with each other much less.
Jesus boils the Bible down to love God and love people. It seems we’ve boiled life down to love technology and leave me alone.
I want kids to know Jesus, and maybe I need to use technology to get their attention. But I don’t want to affirm that technology and social media is the end all. God speaks to us through his Bible and through the church. We need each other more than ever, and what better way to communicate, encourage, challenge, and listen, then to do it face to face.