I was at a dinner a few months ago hosted by Midwestern Seminary in which Matt Perman spoke about his imminently helpful book, What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done (Zondervan: 2014). Perman said something that has resonated with me over the past few months and transformed the way I view what used to be one of my most onerous tasks—email.
You should know this about me: I’m an online instructor and run a copyediting business. That means nearly all of my communication happens over email or through online discussion boards. I spend very little face-to-face time with people other than my wife and church family.
All of this electronic communication had become somewhat burdensome. I saw it as nothing more than an irritating necessity that was standing in the way of getting real work done. Part of the problem, of course, was that I was checking email several times a day and allowing it to dictate my schedule. As Perman points out in his book, “If you continually handle your email in real time, right as it comes in, you will not be able to focus on other tasks” (p.269). I had already taken care of this part of the problem by reigning in my email-checking habits. Nevertheless, I still approached email grudgingly, knowing that time spent communicating with people would mean time away from research, writing, and editing.
The problem, I soon learned, was not with how I managed email, but with my inability to see that behind those emails were people. They were people who needed to be encouraged, heard, and reminded that God loves them. I scoffed when Mr. Perman first made the comment that email is an excellent way to minister to others. Email! As a ministry! But later that night, and in the coming weeks, the Lord convicted me more and more that Mr. Perman was right.
More than that, though, God showed me that my attitude toward email was sinful. In writing short, to-the-point, sometimes brusque emails, I was misrepresenting the gospel. By not seeing the people behind the emails I was essentially elevating myself above them and ignoring an opportunity to share Christ’s love with them.
I’m still not perfect at crafting emails, but now I heed Perman’s advice and take the few extra seconds to be kind, let the person know I’ve truly understood why they emailed, and to add a sentence or two encouraging them in a personal way. I don’t think anyone has come to know Christ because of this, but I do know that I’m much closer to loving my neighbor through email than I was a few months ago.
So, give it a shot. Try to see email not as a necessary evil in a digital age but as a unique opportunity to share Christ’s love with person on the other side of the computer screen. It’s worth the extra 5 or 10 seconds.