Ministers can be appalling correspondents. Experience has taught me that as a rule of thumb at least 25% of ministers fail to answer their emails. Recently I e-mailed 68 ministers with an invitation to lunch six weeks from them. Three weeks later, having received only 26 replies, I sent out a further email reminding them of my invitation. Most then replied – but 16 never got round to it. Or, to give another example, every other month I email a small group ministers reminding them of a ministers fellowship meeting I host: of the twelve, four will always turn up; two will do their best to turn up, but if not, they will normally send an email of apology; of the other four, one will turn up every other year, while the other three never turn up and never acknowledge my email!
To be fair it is not just ministers. Ordinary church members can be just as bad. I regularly send out emails to my home group leaders, for instance, but for the most part I get no response. True, many of these emails do not necessitate a response: for the most part the emails convey information about material we hope to use or they may give news of people who need our prayers. Yet it would be nice to get an occasional ‘thank you’. Where, I say to myself, has common courtesy gone?
This was the context in which the leaders of the church devised a communications code of practice. Here we stated:
All emails of which you are a main recipient should be acknowledged promptly (as soon as practicable), even if it is to be actioned at a later date.
All emails to which you have been copied in to do not require a response and are for your information only.
This has revolutionised the way in which the ministers and deacons and other church workers respond to emails. For the most part everybody responds promptly – even if it is just to say ‘thank-you’.
Emails are, of course, a modern phenomenon. But I did wonder whether the Scriptures might have something to say about a prompt reply.
My mind went to the Book of Proverbs, which has a lot to say about those who put off to tomorrow, if not the day after tomorrow, the things that need to be done now. Such behaviour is termed laziness: “A farmer who is too lazy to plough his fields at the right time will have nothing to harvest” (20.4); “Never get a lazy man to do something for you; he will be as irritating as vinegar on your teeth or smoke in your eyes” (10.26). The NIV translation of Prov 15.23 is instructive: “A man finds joy in giving an apt reply – and how good is a timely word” – unfortunately this reads very differently in other translations!
I also thought of the Apostle Paul, who was attacked by a group within the church at Corinth who questioned his integrity – ‘You are a “yes” and “no” man who cannot be trusted’. Paul replied: “We are proud that our conscience assures us that our lives in this world, and especially our relations with you, have been ruled by God-given frankness and sincerity (2 Cor 1.12). The overall thrust that Christian ministers need to be trustworthy has perhaps some relevance.
Or what about the words of David found at the end of 2 Samuel: “I will not offer to the Lord my God sacrifices that have cost me nothing” (2 Sam 24.24)? True this is perhaps more eisgesis (‘a reading in’) rather than exegesis (‘a reading out’), but nonetheless the challenge which I derive from this passage is that God deserves the very best. And part of that very best is answering emails promptly! Certainly this accords well with the words of Jesus to one of his would-be followers: “No procrastination…. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day” (Luke 9.62) – true, this translation found in The Message is a paraphrase, but Eugene Peterson does hit the nail on the head!
What do you think?