Texting not Talking

The Loss of Confrontation Skills

My phone goes off. I don’t look up from what I’m doing. I know that it isn’t a phone call. I know that no parent of a youth or parishioner is trying to call me. I can guess with very little chance of being wrong that it is a text message. From one of my youth that is understandable: it’s how they communicate and how I communicate with them. I’m a children’s and youth minister so texting is part of the role.

But more and more likely the text is from an adult. And the information on the text really merits a phone call rather than a text, in my opinion.

In the past 4 years, I’ve had the following situations where texting was used instead of talking:

  • A midnight multi-text message from a church member. When I finished reading and called the person out of concern, the person did not pick up and texted back “I don’t feel like talking right now.”
  • A phoned request for a meeting with a church member was ignored and the person texted back immediately “Can you just text me what you want to talk about?”
  • I would call a church member, leave a message, and only receive multi-page texts in reply. It would be  months until we would have a conversation on the phone.
  • A pastor texted several church members on Saturday asking who would be available to volunteer on Sunday. (whoops, that was me! And it didn’t go over well!)

The specific conflict is between synchronous and asynchronous conversation: conversation that happens in real-time and conversation that happens “whenever.” I ran an online religion forum for years and the conversation was more hostile, most likely, because it was asynchronous. We could just write and leave and not see the effect on others until we wanted to. Nowadays we could write on someone’s facebook wall and leave. We could fire off an angry email and leave. But rarely will we go to the person and tell them our problems. We prefer asynchronous conflict management.

There’s a lot of church marketing material that says to use social media to connect with your community. That’s fine. I’m not a tech curmudgeon by any means and this isn’t a diatribe against texting. But the negative consequences of establishing asynchronous conversation as the preferred interaction are pretty severe, in my opinion.

Some personal considerations:

  • I am unbelievably grateful that people are interacting with me. Every text or phone call or email is a joy that people care enough about the youth and children’s ministry to talk about it. I am thankful, I am just trying to channel these interactions into helpful categories.
  • The problem started with me. I’m the one who saw that postcards, emails, facebook updates were not getting through to the families. So instead of calling every person every week, I started mass texting. It’s my fault. I’ve created this monster.
  • I must stress that I understand texting with my youth. That’s just the way they communicate. Texting is also the only way I can communicate with them effectively. That’s fine. But I’m troubled by the lack of conversations being held by adults who should be able to communicate better.
  • I also understand that people have work or have family issues. That’s the reality of the world we live in and I can do nothing but respond in grace.

But there are days that I wish I was like my senior pastor and not tech-savvy so people would know not to text me critical information. Again I’m not a technology curmudgeon but I do believe in using technology in helpful (not harmful) ways. And the reliance of texting to solve conflicts or avoid conversation is, in my view, a harmful development.

Our church will most likely be the last one to put their services online. Not because it is not important (I wrote about web video here), but because to be bodily in the room interacting with others seems to be a waning value but is so important in our increasingly polarized discourse. My senior pastor wondered to me one afternoon if the Church is the last bastion of the personal interaction: where we learn civil discourse and personal consideration as parts of holy living. I did not disagree.

I’ve resolved to deal with this epidemic of texting adults in the following ways:

  • Establish some textiquette with your adults. Explain what Texting should be used for: routine non-critical information. Texting that you will be 5 minutes late to a meeting or where the football game is is perfectly acceptable. Texting a 3-page reason why you can’t volunteer this Sunday is not proper textiquette.
  • Establish personal preferences for phone calls. Whenever I get a text message that is more than routine information, I more than likely will call the person back asap. If they don’t answer I usually say “I just got your text, sorry you can’t take the time to talk.”
  • Do some personal reflection and conversation on why people don’t call me. Do I have bad confrontation skills? Is there something about me as to why people won’t call me back? Do I not brush my teeth effectively?

I think this is important as children learn communication skills from their parents. If their parents cannot confront issues and disagreements in synchronous ways, then how will the children?

What do you think?

  • Am I calling the kettle black because I am the one who texts a lot? The problem isn’t texting, it is the content of the texts or the motivations behind texting rather than talking.
  • What can the Church do to maintain the virtues of civil discourse? What can we do to encouarage confrontation skills with our parishes?

Discuss.

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Comments

  1. Nancy says

    I have to wonder how Jesus words, “But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses” should be interpreted in our digital age. I wonder if Jesus would have recommended a Go-to-Meeting to take care of the problem.

  2. Xan says

    This issue was actually one of the (several) last nails in the coffin of my last relationship. I think part of the problem with texting over serious subjects is an issue of vulnerability. When talking in person, you are opening yourself up to someone in a very direct way. You convey a whole range of emotion with vocal patterns, pitch, hesitations, ect that is not conveyed by text, and that seems to make many people uncomfortable. Especially now that it can be avoided. Texting (or iming) creates a barrier that we can hide behind to minimize the emotional impact of the conversation. As well as hiding our own emotions, it lets us avoid confronting others emotions directly. Some people seem to be unable to handle the level of vulnerability that a vocal, real time conversation requires. In my opinion, however, if you’re not willing to open yourself up to that level of emotional vulnerability then you will rarely ever have a meaningful conversation.

  3. says

    You used the word “asynchronous.” Isn’t that what this blog is built on? It would also include e-mail and voice mail. I am enjoying the blog atmosphere because it gives me a chance to be more thoughtful. I am frustrated because a good conversation needs to be able to take tangents and that is hard with 10 people chiming in. It is also frustrating to be ignored or patted on the head electronically.

    There is a place for both synchronous and asynchronous. How is that for straddling the fence?

    What is the church to do? What it has always been charged with. Making disciples and teaching them to live like Jesus would want them to live. We all have lot to learn.

    Enjoyed your comments. Feel your pain.

    Grace and peace.

  4. says

    @Xan, your comment is very insightful. Perhaps a better question to ask myself is how can I make it easier to be vulnerable? What can I do as a pastor to give permission to people to be vulnerable?

    @Pumice, Yes, a blog is asynchronous conversation. That’s not a bad thing. What I’m writing about is choosing to use asynchronous channels instead of talking face-to-face or on the phone. There are certain topics that texting is fine, and some that need to be done in person.

    Thanks for your comments, glad to have a fellow sufferer! :-)

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