From that statement alone, one can imagine both the positive and negative effects of this shift on the missionary and the effectiveness of their ministry, and indeed, there are many on both fronts. But for the sake of space and time, I'm going to look at a few areas in which I've observed this shift during my time in Greece.
Essentially, the age of the Internet has greatly transformed the methods of communication that a missionary will employ to stay in contact with their mission agency, sending church, and individual supporters. Of course, everyone is familiar with the technologies that we all use frequently such as email, Facebook and Skype, but how have these technologies affected the missionary?
Communication has become instantaneous. The distribution of news is seen to be very easy and effective both in terms of time and money. When these technologies are well harnessed, communicating prayer needs and news updates to the home base becomes incredibly simple and easily achieved compared to the days when a letter may or may not arrive from the distant frontier every six months or so. The world continues to shrink, face to face conversations are not geographically limited, and the missionary's supporters gradually become accustomed to a steady instantaneous stream of news and/or the results of their investment in God's Kingdom.
This attenuation to constant updates and instant information has dramatically increased the time that the missionary spends keeping these various individuals and agencies informed. What used to be a relatively regulated process of biannual letters has now become an almost weekly occupation of the missionary. This means that a deed, which once only represented a small amount of the missionary's time and effort amongst their ministry responsibilities, has now grown to become quite a large consumer of the worker's time.
In speaking with the pastor with whom I was working in Greece, I was surprised to learn every year, 20% of his time as a full-time missionary was spent contacting and informing supporters and his agency of his progress on the field. Obviously, this time also includes returning home to speak about the work (a convenience that was certainly not enjoyed at the founding of modern missions), but this number was still surprising in that it was the single largest percentage category considering the remaining time was divided up into: socialising, pastoral care, counselling, sermon preparation, outreaches and evangelism, and a few others.
When I asked about the reason why, he explained that as a full-time missionary worker, you have to spend 20% of your time explaining your work and convincing other people to support the work if you want to spend the other 80% actually doing the work to which you've been called. Even something as seemingly insignificant as managing one's email inbox is an activity vital to communication, but can consistently remove one – two hours a day from one's time for actual ministry.
To be honest, the effects of this instant communication phenomenon are nothing new, as similar issues relating to distraction plague the workplace, schools, university students, and really any realm trying to get work done. Ultimately these issues can be seen as distractions or as powerful tools depending on how they are managed.
My personal opinion is that missionaries should receive training in how to effectively and securely manage their online correspondence and communication in general to assure an effective use of their time expanding the kingdom, and an informed base of supporters willing to contribute to the kingdom's expansion.
Blaine Packer is studying a Bachelor of Cross-cultural Ministry at Worldview Centre for Intercultural Studies in Launceston, Tasmania.
Blaine Packer's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/blaine-packer.html