Monday, March 7

Paperwork and information exchange

I don't know about you, but I spend an enormous amount of time on paperwork and exchanging information with other people. In fact, as a missionary, it embarrasses me to admit that more of my time is spent exchanging information than engaging in what I consider real face-to-face people ministry!

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?

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've been doing my 2011 planning - better late than never. But keep getting stuck. Something missing the mark. THIS IS IT. Wow. Thank you!!!!

GuyMuse said...

Anon.,

I finished mine last night and got it turned in. Tonight I´m tackling 2010 Fed Inc Tax! The reason you´re stuck on your 2011 planning is that you´re distracted reading my blog! :)

tpowers said...

WOW. Guilty as charged. Thanks for your challenging and helpful thoughts.
Timmy
Kiev, Ukraine

GuyMuse said...

Timmy,

Thanks for stopping by. I think most of us are drowning in an excess of information and paperwork. It seems to be the enemy's new tactic to distract us from the "main thing" by filling our time shuffling papers and exchanging information. Just my 2-cents.

BParsons said...

Sometimes I miss mission work so much that tears come to my eyes. Sometimes I would give anything to be back.

Thank you for your annual moment of relief, when for a few minutes, at least, I can be glad I'm not there any more.

GuyMuse said...

Bruce,

LOL! Yep, it's the other side of missions that rarely gets told! I have begun to track the daily amount of time I am spending on ie and paperwork in general, and "tears come to my eyes" as well!

Bruce G. said...

Wow Guy, so convicting! Thanks for
your honesty!

Don Barger said...

Man... I forgot about taxes. One more thing for the list...

GuyMuse said...

Don,

I actually convicted myself by what I wrote and did our income tax right after posting this article!

Anonymous said...

It is so very easy to get involved in things that are not as important as people work. Years ago, I heard of a pastor who said when he got a new staff member, he didn't supply them an office, so they would spend more time out with people. Would be a good idea for many of us to not have the office or make sure we get out of that office to be with those who need us most. Other things are necessary, but I have to keep asking myself, what is most important.

GuyMuse said...

Anon.,

What you write reminds me of Jesus' words in Luke 10, Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary...

There are many 'necessary' things to be taken care of, but Jesus makes it clear that what Mary had chosen would not be taken from her. It is when the necessary begins to take precedence over the truly important (eg. doing what Jesus commanded) that we need to make any needed adjustments.