Before you judge me too quickly though, this is not by choice. Yes I could choose to ignore all the communications, paperwork that fills so much of my time, but it won't make it go away. We live in an information society. Information is the commodity being traded. I engage in ie to the extent I do, not so much by choice, but because it has to be dealt with.
I personally think we are spending way too much time exchanging information. We are over saturated with information that we cannot absorb. Most of it doesn't even matter! (Of course, if it is information I NEED or WANT, then that's a different story! :)
Exchanging information has become an end in itself. Passing endless information back and forth seems to be the norm. It is what we do when we get up in the morning. Like alcoholics, we seem to have an unquenchable thirst for more and more. But wouldn't it be better to just start using a small portion of the info we already have and do something with it? The more time we spend passing info back and forth, the less time we have for doing what Christ told us to do.
All around me I sense an overall decline in fruitful ministry. How many of us can actually show ministry indicator numbers rising instead of falling? Seems baptisms, church plants, leadership training, discipleship, etc. are lower today than in the recent past. My own response to this is that "the work" has ceased to be the work. In place of what used to be old-fashioned missionary work of preaching and teaching, today we exchange information!
I have yet to do a personal study of time spent engaged in actual people ministry vs. info exchange, but would guess for many missionaries--including myself--it is somewhere in the ball park of a 3:1 ratio. Three times more is given to ie than pm (people ministry.) And then we are shocked at how little there is to report in the way of new Christ followers, baptisms, church plants, and new UPGs engaged. I sometimes think we are more in love with our media outlets and communication gadgets than we are with real people!
Ministry activities such as teaching, training, prayer, discipleship, counseling, mentoring, visiting, helping, encouraging, serving, listening, witnessing, planning, engaging, etc. take up MINUTES of our days, while HOURS are spent exchanging information via Skype, emails, phone calls, listening/viewing news, SMS text messages, Facebook, chatting, reports, tracking finances, logging receipts, blogging, filling out forms, tracking down needed information, clicking internet links, reading the latest 'must-read' hot book title, Twittering, skimming internet articles, meetings, and more meetings. Organizing, passing along, finding, tracking, reporting and exchanging info is now what we do. We have become information junkies!
Of course, some ie is necessary in order to engage in effective ministry. But when that ratio falls out of balance into something akin to my 3:1 ratio, something needs to be done. It would seem a 1:3 ratio--one part ie, three parts ministry--is what we should strive towards.
The real problem is not what everyone else is doing--or even what I think everyone else is doing--it is what I am doing! Where is my time and energy being spent?
Some of the things I am personally trying to do to overcome this lopsided 3:1 ratio...
1) becoming aware of the amount of time I am spending each day with paperwork and exchanging information
2) purposefully spending less time exchanging information by being more selective (prioritizing what is responded to, what is delayed, what can be discarded, etc.)
3) sticking closer to daily "to do" lists where real ministry tasks are at the top of the list
4) trying to get emails and other paperwork done during designated ie times of the day, rather than trying to tackle them all day long (the inflow is never ending)
5) being more intentional with ie that I select to engage and channeling it for specific ministry purposes (see "Why I Blog".)
6) resisting the temptation to "chase rabbits" (eg. starting out to do a simple Bible Study on John 3, and end up reading about the influence of Charles Wesley's hymns on the Great Awakening.)
7) realize that just because everyone else seems to be happily engaged in a 3:1 ie ratio, I don't have to keep up with everyone else
8) just because someone throws me the ball, I don't have to catch it (if I don't have the information being requested, just say so, and leave it at that rather than engage in a long hunt for something the one throwing me the ball could do for themselves)
What do you think about any of the above? Are you drowning in the sea of information overload? How do you balance these matters in your own life and ministry?