Even “good” screen time can impact our faith
You do it nine hours a day – and you probably don’t even realize it.
According to a 2018 study from Nielsen Media Research, the typical American adult spends nine hours a day interacting screens — not counting the hours they rack up at school and work. In other words, Americans devote almost every free moment to their TVs, tablets and phones. If we’re not sleeping, driving or working we’re probably staring at a screen.
But is this a problem? It can be, especially for followers of Jesus.
Christians have tended to judge screen use in moral terms. As long as we avoid “bad stuff” (sex, violence, foul language, etc.) and stick with wholesome content, we’re doing OK, the thinking goes.
But even “good” screen content can have a negative impact our faith. Here are seven ways excessive screen time can weaken our connection with God:
Seven ways screen time can displace faith time
- Screens have become the objects of our worship. Anything that commands our attention nine hours a day can be accurately described as an idol. Christians now spend the vast majority of their free time interacting with screens. Not God. Not people. Screens are the true object of our worship.
- Screen time is displacing spiritual disciplines. Take prayer for example. In the pre-iPhone era, I used to spend idle moments communing with God. Now, if I have a few minutes standing in line or waiting at the baggage carousel I tend to reach for my phone. Instead of turning my heart toward Christ or praying for people I meet, I find myself scrolling social media or playing Candy Crush.
We stare at them nine hours a day. Screens can rightly be described as the object of our worship.
- Screen time is shortening our attention spans. The human brain is built to seek novelty. Our screens are novelty machines – presenting us with a never-ceasing stream of new images to look at. Over time our brains get used to rapid-fire visuals. Tasks that lack visual novelty or require concentration (such as prayer or Bible reading) feel unpleasant. They simply cannot compete with the pleasure of web surfing, TV watching or video gaming.
- We miss opportunities to fulfill our mission in life. If our noses are buried in our screens, we pay less attention to the world around us. Time that could be spent fulfilling our God-given mission is instead devoted to watching reruns or blasting imaginary on-screen foes.
With our noses buried in our screens we pay less attention to the world around us.
- Screens tempt us. 1 John 2:16 says, “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.” No single verse better describes what screens do to us. They inflame our lusts with an endless gallery of sensual images (desires of the flesh), objects and lifestyles to covet (desires of the eyes), and people to look down upon (the pride of life).
- Screens are anxiety and fear producing machines. Bad news attracts more attention than good news. The producers of screen content know this, so they highlight content designed to make us anxious and alarmed. The more we consume these stories, the more we come to believe the world is falling apart. Instead of moving forward in faith, we retreat into fear. But the Bible is clear: God has not given us a spirit of fear. The most frequently repeated command in all of scripture is fear not.
- Screen content stokes interpersonal conflict. Romans 12:18 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Yet the internet is tearing us apart—dividing us into warring tribes, even within the church. When Christians take to social media to defend their values, they often do so with such vitriol and contempt that they come across as self-righteous jerks.
A single, 30-minute sermon can’t compete with the 60+ hours we spend glued to our screens each week.
Your screens are discipling you – far more effectively than your church is. Whereas the average churchgoer might watch a single, 30-minute sermon every seven days, the typical social media user spends more than 1,000 minutes on social platforms each week.
Your spiritual life is being displaced by your screen life, and you probably don’t even realize it. Every day, hundreds of former believers join the ranks of the religious “nones” because of something they saw on their screens. The gospel isn’t outdated, it’s being overwhelmed.
If we are going to be salt and light to a dying world, we must be fully present in that world. It’s time to fix our eyes not on Fox News or Facebook, but on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.