The following is excerpted from Spiritual Safety in the Facebook Age, which is available from Way of Life Literature -
The church should help oversee young people who want to do right. It can’t help rebels in this way, except for preaching and prayer, but for those young people who love the Lord and are wise and want help to stay safe, the church should be intimately involved in their lives. God’s Word commands this.
“Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Colossians 1:28).
Our church is starting a phone accountability program for those who want this help.
Many people are waking up to the moral danger of the smartphone age and are taking steps to protect themselves and their families. Jesse Weinberger, who teaches internet safety to thousands of parents and teachers each year, says,
“As parents raising 21st century digital citizens, it is critical that we become educated in order to understand the reality of where our children live, who they interact with, and who they become once they enter the digital sphere. ... The entire landscape of parenting has changed; some for the better, much for the worse. AD era (After Digital) parenting holds all of the same issues from the BD (Before Digital) era, plus a full slate of new ones. ... The constantly changing landscape of digital risks demands constant parental engagement” (The Boogeyman Exists, And He’s in Your Child’s Back Pocket).
Many families are making “Family Phone Agreements.” A sample is as follows (from Smartphone Sanity):
- Parents have full access to any phone at anytime.
- No sneaky apps designed to hide or keep secrets.
- Calls from parents are answered or responded to in a certain time period we decide.
- GPS location services are on for our family.
- No pornography and no sexting.
- No dating or ‘hook-up” apps.
- We will not use our phones to bully or gossip.
- No abusing or inappropriate language communicated through this device.
- Handle phones legally (not while driving, etc.).
- Respect the parameters of the family data plan.
- Be wise.
If unbelievers and evangelical and denominational Christians are taking such steps, how much more should Bible-believing fundamentalists and Baptists!
Spiritually mature men who understand the technology are assigned to oversee the phones of other men who want to sign up for the program. Each participant is assigned to one of the overseers. The overseer has all passwords and has complete access to the phones, laptops, etc. He can ask to see the devices any time.
Church members sign up on a freewill basis. Without a personal and strong desire to live a holy life in God’s will, no accountability program will work.
One of the benefits of this program is that it keeps the issue of Internet danger before the church, and keeps the church informed and communicating about this.
An accountability ministry is a “one another” ministry
The Christian life is not a solitary life lived for self. It is a family life lived with others and for others. I am my brother’s keeper!
“admonish one another” (Ro. 15:14)
“by love serve one another” (Ga. 5:13)
“bear ye one another’s burdens” (Ga. 6:2)
“forbearing one another, and forgiving one another” (Col. 3:13)
“teaching and admonishing one another” (Col. 3:16)
“edify one another” (1 Th. 5:11)
“consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works” (Heb. 10:24)
“exhort one another” (Heb. 3:13; 10:25)
We spent many weeks preparing for this by teaching in the weekly men’s meeting on surrender, holy living, seeking God’s will, being transformed by the renewing of the mind by God’s Word, controlling the emotions, and the importance of separation from evil, all with a strong application to Internet dangers. Some of the studies we taught are in the course Spiritual Safety in the Facebook Age, www.wayoflife.org.
Another thing we emphasized is the blessing of God’s will. See, for example, Ps. 16:11; 37:4, 10; Joh. 10:10; 1 Ti. 6:17; Jas. 1:17. A holy life as a pilgrim believer is a blessing-filled life. Within the protective boundaries of God’s will are massive blessings. There is liberty to do anything that is good, and that is a very long list.
The program must be explained carefully to the church and discussed and fine-tuned according to the feedback. Emphasize that the purpose is for protection, not control. The adult participants must not be treated like children or like they are in a prison. The overseers of the accountability program are not prison guards, they are friends in Christ.
Overseers are selected on the basis of how many members sign up for oversight. Ideally, an overseer should not be responsible for more than three or four people so that he can give proper attention to this.
The overseers should be chosen and assigned with wisdom. They must be spiritually mature and wise enough to shepherd the individuals under their care, and they must know enough about technology to be an effectual overseer. They must know how to check for new apps, browser histories, etc.
They must have knowledge of protection tools such as AppLock (an Android app that can be used to control select apps), web browser filters (e.g. CleanInternet), Covenant Eyes, and parental control software (e.g., Qustodio, Norton Online Family, Family Shield OpenDNS, Family Pro Shield).
The major spiritual qualifications of an overseer in this program are found in Romans 15:14. Here we see two things that are necessary for the effectual function of admonishing others. First, there must be goodness, which refers to a good Christian character and testimony. Second, there must be knowledge, which refers to knowledge of God’s Word and God’s will. If an individual lacks goodness, lacks a good testimony, he can’t effectively admonish others because they won’t take him seriously. If he lacks Bible knowledge he will not have the wisdom to admonish in a right way.
The individual who joins the program promises not to hide anything and to avoid visiting wrong sites or looking at wrong things. He agrees to obey God’s command to set no wicked thing before his eyes (Ps. 101:3), to have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness (Eph. 5:11), and to avoid evil communications (1 Co. 15:33).
He agrees that the overseer will have access to all areas of his phone, tablet, laptop, etc.
He agrees not to delete the history of Internet use, such as browsing history. He agrees not to use browsers such as Tor or Epic or SRWare Iron that do not leave a history and agrees not to use private modes in browsers (such as Chrome’s incognito mode) that do not leave a history. (These are unofficially called “porn modes.”) He agrees not to use secret IDs to log in to YouTube, etc., that are kept from his overseer. There should be no deleting of photos and videos and music except when they were received as unwelcome intrusions, such as sent by someone via text or WhatsApp. In other words, the deletions should not be for the purpose of hiding sin. When using the YouTube app, he/she will log in so that a history is maintained.
The participants should be categorized by age and situation and treated accordingly. For example, married people cannot be treated the same as single ones. Married people should have more privacy. For example, married people’s communication with their spouses should be strictly private, but single people should not have intimate communication with members of the opposite sex other than close relatives. In fact, every person in the program must be treated as an individual.
The overseer starts by meeting with each individual under his care to develop a plan for how he is going to supervise that individual. The overseer must be firm and protecting but not overly forceful. If he forces the individual to do something against his will, it won’t work, because there are endless ways to get around supervision. From beginning to end, the program must be free will. In general, the overseer talks with the individual to find out how he is currently using his phone and other devices, in what legitimate and good ways, and tries to work out a plan so that the individual can use his devices for good but not for sin. Following are some of the things that should be done in the first meeting:
- At the very beginning, the individual must agree to keep everything open, to have no secrets on his devices, to not delete things in order to hide wrongdoing, to allow the overseer to check his phone at any time, and to communicate with the overseer to seek help if he is experiencing problems.
- Find out all of the ways the individual currently uses his phone and/or other devices.
- Ask if the individual has experienced any special temptations pertaining to the use of his devices.
- Thoroughly examine the individual’s phone and other devices. First check overall usage for last ten days. (On an iPhone, screen time can be checked easily by going to Settings >> Battery >> “Last 10 Days.”) Then look at every app and find out its function and how the individual uses it.
- Decide on a plan: What apps will be kept? How will they be used? Will something like Covenant Eyes be installed? Will a browser filter be installed? Some individuals should have no use of a web browser, for example, while others should have access to it. The overseer can recommend using the aforementioned protection tools for controlling and filtering.
- Pray together about the program and ask God’s help.
The main thing is to treat each participant as an individual and have good communication and rapport with that individual. The individual’s age, spiritual maturity, and background must be taken into consideration. If an individual has had problems with pornography in the past, for example, he should desire and should be given closer supervision.
The overseer commits to be mindful of the men under his care, to pray for them, and to be observant of them. He will meet each individual under his care at various times (irregular and unexpected, ideally) and do the following things: inquire about the individual’s situation and how he is doing with the Lord; look to see what apps are installed; check overall smartphone use (Settings >> Battery >> “Last 10 Days); check histories (browsers, YouTube, photos, calls, etc.); perhaps look at photos and videos (this depends on each individual’s situation, as we have discussed); and pray with the individual. The overseer doesn’t read the individual’s private communication (e.g., email, SMS, WhatsApp), but he does try to get an idea with whom the individual is communicating. The overseer must allow the individual to explain any particular aspect of his devices and Internet use that might be questionable and not be hasty to condemn.
The overseers give reports to the church leaders so they can be informed about what is happening.
We cannot emphasize enough the importance of the right attitude on the part of the church leaders and the overseers of this program. If the participants feel that they are being treated with true Christian love, kindness, patience, mercy, and wisdom, if they feel that the overseers are truly wanting to help and protect them and not to dominate them, they will benefit from the program and will want to continue to participate in it. Otherwise, it will be a short-lived thing.
“And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).
“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1-2).
The author of the previously cited Family Phone Agreement observes, “This agreement is a WIP, a work in progress. It will need to be adjusted as time goes on.”
Feedback and Adjustment
For this type of program to work, there must be good feedback and adjustment. It can’t be set up and forgotten.
Each church in each place and time is different, and a program like this must be well adapted to the church’s particular situation.
What devices are being used? What are the most popular apps, Internet sites, social media, etc., in that place? What are the main ways that young people in that place are using technology? Are the men happy with the program? Do they want to continue? Do they have suggestions for improvement?
Plus the technology is constantly changing and God’s people must be aware of what is happening and be in control of the technology rather than allowing the technology to control them.
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