Last Wednesday night I put my cell number up on the screens in our youth room during the welcome and posed a question to the group that related to the message I’d be delivering later in the evening. Announcing that the phone lines were “now open,” I asked the junior highers to text me their answers to my question. Their answers began flooding in.
I opened my message by reading aloud some of their answers to the group. As I was doing so, my phone continued to vibrate as more texted answers arrived. I was stoked both by the content AND the volume of their answers. As I transitioned into what would have been the normal content of my message, I encouraged them to keep texting me during my talk if God was speaking to them at a particular moment about a particular thing – or to text me if they had a question about something I’d just said.
For the first half of the talk, I tried glancing down at my phone occasionally to see what they were thinking, what God was saying to them, and what questions were being generated. While this maxed out my abilities to multitask effectively, I was super encouraged by what texts I was reading. Some of their thoughts and questions began to steer my message in ways that I hadn’t necessarily planned, but I trusted the Holy Spirit to walk us through the evening… however, unsure the waters might be.
About two-thirds the way through the talk I tucked my phone in my pocket, unable to keep checking their thoughts. And that’s when the real fun started. Whenever I’d get fired up about something the Lord was trying to communicate in that moment, my pocket would vibrate furiously for the next two minutes. I’d hit another patch where I could tell the Spirit was diving deeply into the hearts and minds of the junior highers and again my pocket would go crazy for a minute or two. You talk about encouragement!!
Seven students stepped into a relationship with Jesus for the first time that night. Many texted me to that effect. Several texted that while they weren’t ready to make the decision for Jesus that night, they were wrestling through what God was trying to say to them. It was incredible to be able to continue those conversations after the program was over, reflecting back with some of the students on the thoughts or questions they’d texted to me. Several in-person meetings and conversations have been scheduled as a result of those digital conversations.
It was a profound experience for me personally and I can’t help but think that this may be a part of the evolution of speaking to students in these next years. I also can’t help but think there will be an uphill battle to fight with adults who find having your cell phone out during church to be disrespectful and distracting. I’ve been one of those adults until recently. And while there are mountains of downsides and issues to tackle as we proceed forward in merging preaching with conversation – and digital conversation at that – I mostly can’t help but think this is a battle worth waging. Especially if it means we start breaking down the barriers between what we think is working when we’re communicating and start actually talking WITH our students and not just AT them.
When Jesus is preaching inside the crowded house and the paralytic gets lowered through the roof, Scripture tells us that as he interacted with that interruption in His teaching, he also knew what some of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law were “thinking in their hearts” and addressed them directly. I love that ability that He had to adapt to the moment during teaching and read His listeners. Since we don’t have unlimited ability to read minds and multitask, maybe twittering and texting might help us communicate a little more like He did.
I’ll text you later and tell you how this all works out.