The following are actual messages from my cell phone over a five-day period. (Mild editing has occurred):
I got the internship!!!
My mother is a b****
Cn u shoot me a recomdtion lettr? like today?
R U for real? What wuz the email for?
i ate the same thing for breakfast i had for dinner
life sucks sucks sucks sucks sucks sucks
im making curry
Wish me luck.
Can u teach me to drive stick?
I still love him. What am i supposed to do?
Okay, I have this student—I’m guessing you have one who’s similar. She’s a senior this year, mom and dad are divorced, she has a part time job, she’s struggling to hold onto a 3.8 GPA (to get the college scholarship), and she went to the homecoming dance with three of her friends because she broke up with her boyfriend just a few days before. That last text came from her at two o’clock in the morning. Between school, relationships, parents, a part-time job, and the “boyfriend,” I’m lucky if I see this girl once every two months. But I still talk to her pretty much every day.
I was a holdout to get a cell phone. I didn’t want one. I thought it was impersonal and cold. So, I said no. I stood my ground. I told people “If you want to talk to me, TALK to me.” Soon, it was ME who was becoming the deterrent to communication. You only have to sit alone in a school parking lot for so long…waiting…before you get the idea that maybe you should make yourself a little more available. I bought the cell phone, joined Facebook, and became an email machine.
Times they have changed
The result? I have fifteen students in my Sunday night meeting and I have contact with more than 50 during the week. I text and email multiple times during the day. Not just “Hey don’t forget Sunday’s meeting!,” but “real” conversations. Texting fees are now part of my youth budget.
For us “old folks” (I’m 46) it means getting our brains around a new concept of the phone. When I was a teenager you didn’t talk on the phone unless you were six to eight feet from the wall it was plugged into. (My friend Dave had a cord that was probably 18 feet long. It was a wonder of technology.) Phone conversations were supplemental to regular conversation. Phone conversations were what you had with your friends until you could have a real conversation.
For today’s youth, there is no difference between a conversation face-to-face, and one by way of IM, Facebook, or texting. This means I can have hundreds of “real” conversations a week with my students.
Youth ministry isn’t about Sunday nights anymore. I have this vision in my head of “Future Youth Minister.” He sits in one of those funky chairs that hovers in mid-air in a small bubble of a room with hundreds of screens. There’s one keyboard hooked into all screens, and a headset that allows him to talk to anyone, anywhere. But then the question becomes “When does future youth minister breathe?” I don’t know. I’m still kind of working on that one. I know I sat and texted back and forth with that one girl for an hour. She’s over him now, but it took awhile.
Then on mission trip, retreats or lock-ins something happens. When the nearest cell phone tower is miles away, when there is no wi-fi, when a dead battery means you may have to sit and talk to someone…that makes a conversation really real. Talking face-to-face late at night on the third day of the mission trip becomes akin to seeing grass after spending a few years at the North Pole. A reassuring hand on the shoulder becomes like coming home to mom’s cooking after a semester of mac & cheese. “Real” becomes real.
By using texting, Facebook, twitter, and IM, we aren’t turning the culture into youth ministry tools. That’s the wrong way to look at it. In your students’ world, these are actual meaningful conversations in 140 characters or less.
When we re-think our ideas of what it means to be connected we open new doors into our students lives. The opportunity for encouragement, reassurance, and affirmation is 24/7. “I’m always here for you,” means exactly that.