Information Overload: How Youth Ministers Got to be Information Junkies

This is the first post in a four part series on information overload loosely based on some takeaways from the book Surviving Information Overload by Kevin A. Miller (Zondervan, 2004). I recently finished reading this book, ironically, from the screen of my brand new Amazon Kindle while also in the midst of reading two other books, keeping up on the 20+ blogs I subscribe too, and staying afloat in a sea of social media.

To kick off this series, I’d like to start with one of the main reasons I picked up this book in the first place: I am a self-proclaimed information junkie. If it’s out there, and I can watch it, or read it, or listen to it, or interact with it, or learn from it, or talk to it, or … well, you get the point… chances are I am trying to do that. I walk around with not one, but two cell phones (one personal and one provided by the church) on me at all times. I subscribe to a steady stream of weblogs that I try to keep up with daily, and keep up with at  least two magazines and any number of additional websites, books, and resources. I received several different e-newsletters related to youth ministry. I live in the world of social media. And in the midst of all of that, I have to be really intentional about taking time to unplug, think, and focus on what’s really important.

This overwhelming influx of media and information in my life begs the question: How did I get here? How did I (and many other youth ministers, I’m sure) turn into the information junkie that I am?

Before we can start talking about how to handle this epidemic of information overload, we have to take a good hard look at where we are standing. What got us to this point of drowning in an ocean of information feeling like we are drinking through one of those little straws that comes attached to those tiny kids’ juice boxes?

This isn’t an exhaustive list (as usual), but a few random thoughts:

Jacks and Jills of All Trades. Youth ministry is the sort of job that requires one to have a broad base of knowledge to really succeed. I mean, really, how many other fields require knowledge in budgeting/accounting/finance, adolescent development, leading games, event planning, in-depth Bible knowledge, parenting/equipping parents, education, musical talent, administration, service learning, discipline, food preparation, recruiting volunteers, basic repair skills, sound system engineering, safety policies, video production, web site design, social media, marketing, … should I go on? It’s easy to feel overwhelmed in a profession that seems to require an ever growing set of skills and knowledge bases. It never feels like we know enough, or “have this down,” so we compensate by filling ourselves with more and more information.

Keeping up with Culture. Youth culture changes by the minute. One minute everybody is going crazy over Silly Bands (those are so 2010!), the next they’re all over the city “planking,” and then before you know it both of those are out and they’re once again going “gaga” over Gaga. By the time you think you’ve got it mastered, youth culture has probably changed three times. It almost requires a steady stream of information just to stay “relevant” to your audience.

A Media Saturated World. Let’s face it. We live in a society of information overload. People sleep with their iPhones. We’re expected to be “on call” 24/7 to family, friends, co-workers, and even students. Our Facebook “news feed” keeps us abreast on what is going on in the lives of our ever-growing “communities” and circles of “friends.” Heck, the local news starts broadcasting at 4:00am. Four o’clock AM! When on earth did that become necessary? We are bombarded everywhere we go with information–radio, tv, billboards, e-mails, advertisements, text messages, social media, voicemails, memos, junk mail, and more. It’s part of the world we live in.

These three are just a start to the list. But in order to get where we’re going, and to learn how to manage our information intake, we’ve got to start where we are.

What are the things that cause you to be overloaded with information? What is your biggest “information burden”? How do you handle the overwhelming influx of information and media? These are some of the questions that we’ll be tackling in the coming weeks as we move forward in this series.

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