Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Think about how many things in life you need to apply that principle to. While you’re at it, reconsider where you feel you’ve nailed it but may actually need a good gut-check.

How about when it comes to technology in your life or ministry?

mp3 My 12-year old son owns an MP3 player that I don’t see much of. He only uses it a few times a week, which means I typically refresh his playlist about every two months. That happened recently when he mentioned how he’d put the device on my office desk and was hoping I could add some new tracks.

It seemed like an easy enough task.

The only problem was I ended up loading songs into the wrong MP3 player. Apparently, I own one that I don’t see much of either. Both are black, only mine has a screen that allows the user to see the title of the track that’s playing. I didn’t realize my mistake until my son pointed it out to me.

“Here you go, buddy,” I said, placing the device on the dining room table.

“What’s that?” he asked.

I was confused. “It’s your MP3 player.”

He was confused. “No, it isn’t.”

“Wait… that isn’t yours, is it? I’m sorry. You’re right. I must have loaded songs onto the wrong player. Tell you what – I don’t really use this one, so how about you just keep it? It’s actually a much better device.”

“I appreciate that,” he offered, “but I’m content with the one I have.”

I was confused again. “Well, I understand that you like the other one, but did you notice how you can see the title for the track you’re playing on this one?”

“Yep, but I don’t need that.”

“This one will also let you fast-forward more easily,” I countered.

“Dad, I’m really content with what I have. Is that okay?”

It was a striking question.

Of course, I know the right answer. My wife and I intentionally nurture the value of simplicity into our family. It’s also a benchmark of how I try to minister in our church.

Still, I didn’t realize until that defining moment how much I’ve let “justifiable greed” snag pieces of me that I still need to push back against. I literally was on the verge of debating with my son that he needed a “better” device to be happy. Thankfully, I shut my mouth and honored his decision.

Here’s the principle again: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

technologyWe can easily struggle with this when it comes to a kind of tech lust in ministry. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Peer Comparison: Perhaps your conscious frustration with how other churches have more resources than you is creating some unconscious action steps in what you’re doing. Does your ministry website really need all the bells and whistles that their ministry does? Who is the website for, anyway?
  • Self-Validation: It’s easy to spot how students use technology as a status symbol. Might you do the same thing? For example, is the purpose of your blog to share Jesus, or to create a platform to be “discovered” and “noticed?”
  • Unnecessary Streamlining: In some cases, it makes sense to say something in a technological format to maximize the people we could reach. In many other cases, we use that as an excuse to avoid the hard work of investing into people. Do you really need to create your own podcast for students or youth ministry when you could instead use that time to personally talk with teenagers and fellow youth workers? Could a phone call or a personal visit have a greater impact than yet another text blast?

Decades ago, people generally believed that technology would make our lives easier. In some ways it has, but it’s also made it possible to complicate our lives that much more. You won’t just feel this when you’re banging on the church copier or yelling at your phone for not working with the speed you need them to.

You’ll usually feel it when you experience the inverse reality of the truth I shared earlier… for while it is true that “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should,” we’re more familiar with “Just because you should doesn’t mean you can.”

King Solomon (said to be one of the wisest men to have ever lived) shared about how he didn’t apply wisdom in this area: “Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11)

Saved By The Bell phone

Keep in mind:

  • Not every piece of technology is essential. Things that were once cutting edge eventually become old news. When do we decide it isn’t worth it versus when it is?
  • Not everyone will use technology the way you insist they should. Our church created a message board system to get everyone more active on our website. We later realized that more people in our church preferred to use Facebook instead. It was a good lesson to learn, but we wasted time creating something useless. (Tim Schmoyer shared some great thoughts on this.)

Maybe you don’t have access to what the church down the street does. Sorry about you not getting what you think you deserve.

What you do have that you can never deserve is Jesus Christ. He shared his most famous sermons on mountain sides and along the road. Here we are today, twenty centuries later, still affected by his personal investment into a dozen young people who changed the world.

Might there be a lesson there?

Share your thoughts:

  • How are you maximizing technology?
  • How is technology really not panning out like you thought it would?
  • How are you intimidated by what’s out there?

Thank you for loving students!



*Love Tony’s insight on service and youth ministry? Receive his articles every Tuesday when you sign up for the SYM Today Newsletter!*


50 Things Tech Took…

Brandon Early —  September 29, 2013 — 1 Comment

I read a post called “50 things killed by technology” several years ago. It was cool looking back on the many things we no longer need due to the advancement of technology.  This past week I ran across an infograph of this list that makes me glad I live in this day of tech but also make me feel old…very old.

I found one major thing they left off the list…Prank Phone Calls!!! I guess you can use #67, but for the most part the art of the prank call is gone.  What do you think is missing from this list?


The Technology Tornado

Amber Cassady —  September 19, 2013 — 4 Comments

Hey Y’all!

I know technology is an important part of what we all do. But are we letting it take over our entire life? Here are some great tips from Jake and Melissa Kircher to help you set boundaries with your favorite devices:

Nora_newborn-18 By Jake and Melissa Kircher

As the school year is in full swing now, and our schedules have filled with a million things to do, it can be really easy for technology to take over your time. Twitter, Facebook, email, Instagram, Vine, text messaging; all these things can suck you in so that work and ministry become a 24-7 gig. Technology is definitely not bad. And when it’s used in a healthy, balanced manner, it greatly enhances both ministry and life. But when you find yourself staring at an iPhone screen more than your spouse or family… something needs to change.

This area has been a particular struggle in our own marriage, and one that we have by no means figured out. We’ve had many talks and constantly wrestle with what boundaries work for our relationship. In this day and age you can’t completely disconnect from the world, but nor should you be so distracted by constant email pings and texts that you’re not present for your family. This technology conversation has a lot of gray areas and so it takes a fair amount of effort and communication to hash out.

Here’s the main goal: Don’t allow screen time to replace face time.

People need attention. They need you to be focused on them, listening, alert, and engaged. There is no formula or set of rules that you can follow to guarantee you’ll be great at paying attention. And chances are that as the capabilities of technology expand and integrate more and more into our daily lives, this will be an area you’ll have to work on a lot.

As you talk with your spouse and family about technology, be sure to listen to each other’s opinions and work together to create boundaries that fit your unique needs.

Here are some things we’ve enacted in our own marriage and family life:

1) No technology at meal times. Phones are off or on vibrate, they are not sitting on the dinner table. Computers and iPads are closed and put away.

 2) No charging devices in the bedroom. It’s really hard to have quality time when things keep buzzing, dinging, and drawing our attention away from each other. Plug in and charge the electronics in another room.

3) Work email goes to a work computer. For us it helped to not have ministry emails dinging into Jake’s phone. It kept him constantly “at work” even though he was home.

 4) The freedom to say no. We each have the freedom to express frustration if we feel the other one is being sucked too much into the technology tornado.

5) One Sabbath day. Technology is turned off and totally ignored one day a week. (In theory! We admit, this one is hard to do.)

Have fun using these new ways to limit the control technology has on your life!

Thank you for loving students,

Jake and Melissa Kircher

@jakekircher      @MKircher83


Picture courtesy of traveldealsnetwork.com

I have a love/hate relationship with summer.  On the one hand it’s an awesome time of relationship building with students. While, on the other hand it is one of the busiest seasons in our ministry. I can handle the craziness because I know it’s just a “season.” However, it is easy in ministry to turn this short stint into a lifestyle.  It begins with allowing phone calls and emails to creep into my day off.

I understand that just saying, “I’m off now,” doesn’t allow our brains to disconnect. Perhaps we take a vacation while sacrificing 1, then 2, then 5 days off.  Obviously, it begins with allowing ourselves both VACATIONS and DAYS OFF.   Beyond just taking the time, how can we make these days restful?


  • Talk Ministry But Don’t Talk Details

I love to talk ministry, but logistics, details and daily frustrations are on “moratorium” in conversations on these days.   Take the time to get back to the heart of your calling and take an eagle’s eye view.  Dream.  If you could do anything in ministry and nothing held you back what would it be?

  • Enjoy Something

Has it been forever since you called an old friend, visited a favorite ice cream shop or built a sand castle? When is the last time you took time for family and just say back and liked being with them? Take a moment to allow yourself the freedom to remember what you like to do and who you like spending time with that isn’t in your job description.

  • Shut Off Technology

Yes, I know everyone says this. Still, I genuinely used to believe the world would stop spinning if a text, email or Facebook query were put on hold.  The voicemail of a couple of good friends of mine actually say,  “If you are leaving a message on X day, that is my day off and I will not be getting back to you until the following day.”   Me?  I know myself, if I have my smart phone all of this is too easily accessible.   So on my days away, my husband holds my phone.  Turn it all off intentionally.

  • Avoid the urge to use this as “make up” time.

Sometimes this is inevitable.  The grocery shopping or spring-cleaning might need to happen.   However,  as a rule do not allow off times to be the time you “get caught up” on reading or chores that have been falling to the wayside.  If you genuinely LOVE leadership books and they bring you energy then great.  If not they should not make your beach reading.

On vacations and days off most importantly remember the three “R’s:”  Refresh, Reflect, Relax.  Jesus took time to steal away and be with His father, just for the purpose of talking to Him.  It was something He loved to do,  that filled him up for what was ahead.   If we learn to rest in the arms of Christ,  we can begin to work towards a burn out relapse.   The last week will not give you ALL the answers,  but they should get you started.

What helps you unwind on vacations and days off?







Screen shot 2013-07-11 at 1.06.48 PMI don’t know about you, but I have a fairly tough time “shutting off my brain” at any point of the day or evening.  And technology does NOT help this.  You’re probably no different.  So, I have recently been making some changes with my daily rhythms and use of technology that has helped me actually pay attention to the people sitting directly in front of me.  I thought I would throw them out in hopes they might be a benefit to you as well. Here they are:

  1. Drive home.  When I drive home from “work” I have decided to do a few things.  First, I don’t have the radio on.  This allows me to breathe a bit and process through my day.  Secondly, I turn my phone off.  This allows me to unwind a bit before I get home.  Lastly, I get to my neighborhood about 5-10 minutes before I’m supposed to be home, park under a tree and sit there.  I pray.  I process.  I unwind.  This allows me to really be at home when I get there.
  2. Cell phone.  I recently changed my voicemail to say that I check messages every Friday.  This gives me time and space to respond to people as time allows rather than stressfully trying to get back to everyone.  I spend Friday mornings getting back to messages.
  3. Kids.  I have made a decision to not check my cell phone until my kids go to bed.  There are a few exceptions to this rule, like if we are waiting for someone to get back to us as a family or if we are having someone over for dinner than they are running late (or things like that).  When I walk in the door my ringer is off.  I then set my phone down on our kitchen island, face down, and pick it up later.  I’m not perfect at this, but it something I’m trying to do…and when I do, I tend to mentally be with my kids when I’m physically with them.
  4. Meetings.  I’ve now made it a rule that when I’m meeting with someone my cell phone goes off.  No buzz.  Ringer is off and I don’t answer it.  If there is an urgent call I’m waiting for I let the person I’m meeting with know that that call may come in before it does.  I also have a little deal with my wife.  She can call me at any time.  If I don’t pick up, I’m in a meeting.  But if she REALLY needs to talk to me she immediately calls back.  At that point I will tell the person I’m meeting with about my deal with my wife and they tend to understand.

The bottom line to all this is I’m trying to actually pay attention to the people who are directly in front of me.  I know, amazing concept.

In the last decade, huge advances in technology have allowed us to do what previous generations never thought possible. We can use it to record our favorite shows commercial-free, send video instantly to the other side of the world, or to heat and cool our homes more efficiently. One school district in my area has even used technology to replace textbooks in classrooms. That’s right. No textbooks, anywhere. Every student has a touchscreen netbook, equipped with open source software and curriculum. This departure from traditionalmethods has other districts and churches in my area watching very closely. I believe that in our ministries, we can intentionally use this available technology to teach the unchanging message of the Gospel.

In student ministry, you can use technology to help busy students stayconnected. Often times, students miss Bible study due to work, sports, and even other ministry obligations in the church. You can use Facebook chat throughout the week, Skype, the ministry website, and other Social Media to keep students informed. I work with a busy student  who uses the resources on the youth website and social media to have spiritual conversations with friends, applying what is being taught in youth group. It is truly a blessing to have an instant connection to provide help finding scripture about a certain topic or to simply pray for the situation.

So, how do you begin to implement this new learning style in teaching spiritual matters? How do you teach students to transition technology into spiritual tools? I am learning as I go, but here are some key principles to help bridge the gap from the digital to the spiritual:

1. Use tools that are cross-platform. A great example of a cross-platform tool is The Bible App from YouVersion . YouVersion is available on a wide variety of devices from desktop computers to Java-enabled “Dumbphones”. You have access to over 300 translations in 150 languages . The Bible App also has the ability to share and sync  notes, bookmarks, and highlighted passages between multiple devices. This feature is one of my favorites. You can also post Bible verses and notes to your Facebook and Twitter feeds from within the Bible App.

We also use Youversion’s Live Event platform to distribute notes and resources. Whether it is a student or parent choice, today’s teenager is incredibly overcommitted and for many, church becomes “a casualty of the calendar”. There are so many sports, clubs, and other activities that take students’ time and attention away from spiritual
growth, so ministries must be intentional about keeping students connected. The Live Event Platform is convenient because it is built into the Bible App that many of them already use. They can also go online with a computer to get the notes and keep in touch with what is happening. In today’s youth ministries, being able to get information to students who miss Bible study is very important. It’s a way you canshow that you care about their spiritual growth, regardless of whether they are able to be at church or not.

Another tool I use is our youth ministry website . It is specifically designed for use with smartphones, desktops, and tablets/iPads. The site is also designed to be a resource in connecting with the church ministry and with other available resources. Our website includes a calendar of events and Bible studies, as well as integrating Social Media. Students can also use the site to sign up for text information alerts that we send using SYM Tools . On the resource page, we provide ways for students and parents to find out more about the current and upcoming curriculum and events. There are also links to blogs, game and idea sites, and tools that can be utilized by our church and other
ministries. Staff and students also use the site as a vehicle for sharing the Gospel with a Gospel presentation video produced in-house called “the Plan” . Links to this page have been distributed by Social Media, attached to Frisbees and water bottles, and included in candy bags handed out at local events.

2. Set clear expectations. Most of the time that I have been in youth ministry, I have expected students to keep cell phones unseen and unheard. Going from a strict “no cell policy” to embracing the use of technology in the youth room has been a change I never expected. Teenagers, like cattle, need good fences; therefore, setting expectations may be the most important principle when implementing technology into your youth group.

The device and Internet should never distract you or your neighbor from Bible study. The Bible says:

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. -Matthew 22:36-39 ESV

In our youth group, I set the expectation that the device is a tool to help the students gain a better understanding of the text of God’s Word. We use the technology to funnel spiritual material into their heads and hearts. I require silent ringers and notifications, no taking calls during Bible study, and no checking Facebook, etc.

3. Bring your own device. In the business world, Information Technology Administrators shudder when you mention BYOD. It can be challenging to support multiple devices in one network environment.

However, in a ministry setting, I encourage it. We have several students that bring their own iPod touch or smartphone. They use a Bible app and connect to Wi-Fi as needed. Truth be told, this is an area where my pre-youth ministry employment comes in handy. I have an IT background, so I don’t mind helping configure their devices. It
also gives me more opportunity for one-on-one interaction with each student. I am a firm believer that God never places you in a situation or job that you are not going to use later (except maybe advanced calculus).

4. Make the technology accessible. It is important to provide “hands on” opportunities for students to use technology to help enhance their Biblical literacy and spiritual growth. There is such a vast amount of Biblical resources at their fingertips. Not everyone has access to printed volumes of scripture commentary, but they are now available online, often for free.

Our church actually purchased a few Android tablets a couple of years ago. We have taken a “one device per table” approach. We have four students per table in our youth room so they can work together for research and discussion. They can pass their device once or twice and everyone can see what is on-screen.

As a ministry, you have to find what works for you and your students. For some, there may be budget limitations. You do not always have to buy new equipment. Some universities have technology auctions, where you can find some great deals. Years ago, buying new was the only way to get a warranty. Some refurbished equipment now includes a short warranty. There are also companies such as SquareTrade that offer a warranty on used equipment for a small fee.

Your church may even be in an area without reliable Internet. One option could be a Mobile Hotspot that converts a cellular signal to a Wi-Fi connection. Costs and service plans can be tailored to your usage and budget needs. Another option might be a monthly meeting someplace with Wi-Fi, such as a local coffee shop, restaurant, or church member’s home.

5. Making sure you prepare. Where I serve, we had to increase the WiFi coverage by adding additional wireless routers. We also added an open-source Linux-based server that works as a web filter and firewall for our network. There are some great options out there that will help keep your network and students safe. Some are very expensive, while others are free/open-source. You will have to find what works for you.

Another important consideration is making sure that there are enough software licenses available for antivirus packages and office suites (if needed). Software and antivirus companies all vary in how many licenses are included in the purchase price, so know what you are buying. Both office suites and antivirus packages can also be obtained
online for free. In addition, make sure that the license covers ministry/office use and not just home/personal use.

I also recommend that you secure the devices while not in use. Keeping the devices under lock and key protects the church’s investment and deters temptation. You can lock them in the church office, buy a locked cabinet, or do like I did and enlist a woodworker in the church to build a cabinet. Our cabinet has holes for charging cables and for heat dissipation.

6. Don’t give whiplash. Although there are great benefits to using technology in ministry, it can become overwhelming if it is used in every youth meeting. If you make the decision to integrate technology, it is not a point of no return. The technology should be an enhancement of what you are already doing. You can still use Bibles,
paper notes, and other methods to reach students. Teaching using a variety of methods also helps engage students with different learning styles.

The Bottom Line
No matter how much you agree or disagree with its use, the implementation of technology is only going to increase. Whether it is employed for economic, vocational/technical preparation or personal use, technology continues to change the way our students learn and spend their time. As youth workers, we have to be willing and able to
utilize newly available tools for sharing the Gospel’s message and helping our students to grow and mature into the disciples that Christ desires for them to be.

Brent Lacy serves as Youth Pastor in rural Western Indiana. He has served in rural youth ministry for 13 years. His first book, “Everyday Youth Ministry: Rural Youth Ministry: Thrive Where You’re Planted” is now available from Group/Simply Youth Ministry and on the Amazon Kindle Store. You can check out his blog at http://ministryplace.net

Smart Phones, Devoted Users
Courtesy of: Online Colleges

Pushing Paper: Revisited

Geoff Stewart —  November 28, 2012 — 6 Comments

More than a year ago, I wrote a post called Pushing Paper where I laid out a case for encouraging students to bring a “real” paper Bible and to not rely on using one the many great App based Bibles for their phones. I felt my case of bulletproof, signed sealed delivered and the jury would be unanimous. Of course it was not that easy and lots of people had some well thought out arugments for and against the case that I laid out for using paper Bibles over electronic:

Status: I may seem obvious but in most cases, a student’s cell phone is the most expensive thing they own, its their treasure and something they have worked very hard for. I respect how important the phone is to them but I ask them to respect or request to put it away in place of a paper Bible. We do allow phones and have had students text in questions, but for the most part, we ask that they be present and resist outside distractions, allowing them to focus on God.

Less Distractions: I don’t often find students thumbing through Leviticus instead of listening to my Sermons but I know that there are tons of distractions on iPods and cell phones and if I were honest, I would be working my way through Angry Birds some nights. Limiting distractions is helpful to keeping students focused, and help to not be a distraction to those around them. After all paper Bible ddoesn’t get texts, tweets, instagrams, tumblr, facebook or any other sort of digital distraction and the battery never seems to die on my NIV either.

Bibles are Cumbersome: This is a good thing! I love seeing a student walk in with a Bible under their arm. They are distinct and beautiful, many decorated with stickers, duct tape and they are unmistakable. Carrying your bible around is a statement, it’s a stance, it shows that it is something you value and that you are willing to tote around this obvious symbol of that.

So I am bringing the issue back for your consideration because a few weeks back, I messaged our leaders and asked them to please bring their paper Bibles to youth group and refrain from using their phones. For most of the team, it was business as usual and they understood the rationale and were more than happy to not use their phone Bible App.  But one my leaders; who often asks good questions, asked me if I was simply delaying the inevitable and that paper Bibles were a thing of the past and why not just accept it.

So my question is: Is my paper Bible going the way of the Commodore 64 / Blackberry? Am I just being a thirty-year-old fuddy-duddy? Is this a hill worth dying on?

geoff -@geoffcstewart