Tom Arthur: The crackberry and holy timekeeping

Noxious as the smartphones are, they can show what we value in ministry.

I mostly hate my smartphone.  I’ve intentionally not set up my phone to get emails, and I rarely hand out my cell phone number. The job for omnipresence is already taken as far as I’m concerned.

But recently I realized that I’ve been participating in an old Wesleyan practice without even knowing it. Twice now I’ve been with a colleague when the question of the use of our time has come up. The second time this happened we began to recount our daily time use when we both realized that we carried a record of it in our pockets. While I don’t use my Blackberry to keep up with Facebook, I do appreciate it for its calendar functions. That’s the main thing I use my phone for, to keep track of where I’m supposed to be and when. I suppose you could do this old school with a written calendar, but I appreciate the ease of making appointments repeat.

So here in my pocket was a record, a journal if you will, of how exactly I use my time. It was a little scary. What did this journal say about me and my ministry? What did it say about what I love? 

As my colleague and I began to unpack the use of our time as recorded on our phones, some clear distinctions came to the surface. My time was spent almost entirely in leadership development. I meet weekly one-on-one with each of my ministry staff. I meet monthly one-on-one with each of my team leaders.  During these meetings I check in with each person and see how they’re doing spiritually. Then we dive into how things are going in their respective ministry areas. The fruit of my time use is clear. I have very strong leaders who do a lot of the ministry in the church without my ever knowing about it.

My colleague’s use of his time was different. He spent much less time with his leaders and an incredible amount of time in the community. I don’t mean necessarily to imply organized time in the community. He spends a lot of free-floating time hanging out in coffee houses. In fact, he knows all about the 31 coffee houses in the vicinity of his urban church. He has gotten to know the owners of these places, the employees and the regular patrons simply by hanging out in public spaces.  The fruit of his time in the community was obvious. His church, which began a year and a half ago, regularly has 200-300 people attend at worship.

There are costs to both ways of using time. For my colleague, the cost was a lack of time in private spiritual practices and leadership development with his core leaders. For me, the cost of the way I use my time is a lack of evangelistic opportunities, since I am ensconced in my office and not building relationships or networking broadly in the community. I suspect that over time my colleague will have to move in my direction of time use. I have already begun to take steps toward the way he uses his time.

Keeping a journal of how one used his or her time was a key method of spiritual growth for the early Methodists. I suspect that Wesley would be proud of these conversations I’ve recently had, and I’ve gained a new appreciation of how my smartphone is helping me grow spiritually. 

How do you use your time, and how do you keep track of it? Want to sit down over a cup of coffee and talk about it? Bring your phone.

Tom Arthur is pastor of Sycamore Creek United Methodist Church in Lansing, Michigan.