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Time and Information Technology in Ministry
Reliable Information Technology equipment and IT support are critical to using people's time, and the organization’s money, wisely in any ministry.

Time is an extremely valuable resource, especially for Christian organizations – it's really tough to find people with the right skills, available time, and above all, servants' hearts devoted to the Lord Jesus. This is as true for volunteers (youth leaders, musicians, evangelists etc.) as it is for those in paid full-time ministry. Because this resource is so valuable, it's important that they have the right tools to optimize their time. Although it might not be obvious, time is much harder to find than money.

… precious ministry time is wasted and frustration builds due to ongoing IT problems.

In today's organizations Information Technology equipment and IT support are critical to using people's time wisely. Time and again we've seen Christian and other charities making do with computers that are underpowered, or wheezing their last breath, without warranty, and with older, unsupported or out-of-mainstream software. In fact we see this sometimes with small businesses as well. Typically the only IT help these organizations receive is from volunteers, or free-lance consultants who "love tinkering" but don't have the professional skills and experience to do a truly excellent job. Because they aren't working within any kind of a process or system, everything is reactive and ad-hoc, without continuity, so the environment tends to deteriorate rather than progress towards a planned goal. Volunteers (and many free-lancers) often have a day job and so they aren't available when needed, or for as long as needed, leading to delays of hours or days followed by a band-aid solution.

The net result is that precious ministry time is wasted and frustration builds due to ongoing IT problems. The unrecognized assumption is that staff time (or volunteer time) isn't worth much! As that attitude pervades an organization it leads to overwork, discouragement and burnout. This is one of the reasons small businesses, and ministries so often fail – the owner or leader acts like his or her time is worthless and burns out.

Usually the minimalist approach to IT, whether in business or ministry is motivated by the thinking "we have no money" or "we don't have enough money to do everything we want to do, so we must make do with the minimum possible in this or that area (such as IT)." But the strategic-thinking leader recognizes that to achieve a planned goal, an investment of time and money is always needed. If the goal isn't going to pay back that investment, it isn't a worthy goal, and if the time or the money needed to "do it right" can't be found, it isn't a feasible goal.

Of course for Christians the payback isn't always financial, but it still needs to be real, and if it's God's goal rather than ours, it is His responsibility to provide both the "input" in money and people from His unlimited resources and the "output" in Christ-transformed lives. Of course, IT spending needs to be right-sized without compromising reliability and functionality. We wouldn't suggest a $20,000 multiprocessor server for a five-person organization, nor a $70,000/year full-time engineer to support it, but we will always recommend current-vintage equipment covered by an appropriate on-site manufacturer service plan, and supported by professionals who spend their full time working within an IT service "system". The ministry that would rather make do with older equipment that the original owner has decided no longer meets an acceptable standard, and with ad-hoc, volunteer support because "we can't afford" to go the professional route is actually stating that "God can't afford" to do it right, as well as undervaluing their own ministry time.

Having talked about organizations, what about the would-be computer support volunteers? Often they are motivated by a well-meaning desire to "do something for Christ". Our usual advice in that case is to relax and get close to Jesus – to develop an intense personal relationship with Him through lots of time spent in the Word, in prayer, and in fellowship with other believers. The Holy Spirit will then be freed to flow naturally through them in evangelism, in different kinds of serving, and in other gifts.

Often the gifts God wants to develop in us aren't the ones that we use in the workplace. In my case God is stretching and developing me through a role with The Alpha Course that requires a very different focus than my daily work as a technologist and as manager of a technology business. But for someone who believes their ministry calling is truly to IT support, we often suggest they consider a role with a mature organization – perhaps an established missionary society like Mission Aviation Fellowship, or Wycliffe JAARS – that can provide a context and a process within which to work. Good, strategic planning and faith that, as Hudson Taylor said "God's work done in God's way will not lack God's supply" will multiply the value of what an individual can do alone.

Norman Henderson is President of The IT Department, Inc, a Christian business-as-ministry based in Ottawa that provides managed services in Information Technology and Telecommunications for about 2,000 members of Christian and secular organizations across Canada.

Originally published on the website, The IT Department, November, 2007.

Used with permission of the author. Copyright © 2007




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