Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Exchanging Life for What?

Written by: on March 21, 2019

I had a pretty good idea what this week’s book was going to be about by its obvious title, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a focused life in a noisy world by Cal Newport, but I had no idea how much it would resonate with me and my core values. Newport is pretty clear what he means by digital minimalism by saying “it applies the belief that less can be more to our relationship with digital tools.”[1] I couldn’t agree more that our world needs much less of an obsession with our digital screens. In fact, in the middle of reading this book I had to put it down so I could adjust the notification settings on my iPhone. I was shocked to read that “a first adopter who picked up an iPhone in 2007 for the music features would be less enthusiastic if told that within a decade he could expect to compulsively check the device eighty-five times a day—a “feature” we now know Steve Jobs never considered as he prepared his famous keynote.”[2] We had no idea that our little iPod – turned iPhone would turn in to what it is today and that the average person would be staring at it or other screens for over 11 hours a day.[3]


I think the most profound part of the book was found in the introduction. Newport states, “I’ve become convinced that what you need instead is a full-fledged philosophy of technology use, rooted in your deep values, that provides clear answers to the questions of what tools you should use and how you should use them and, equally important, enables you to confidently ignore everything else.”[4] I would just go a little farther and add that we all need to develop an overall philosophy of life based on our values, beliefs and goals. This is what resonated with me and connected with my story. Although I did not develop a philosophy for the sake of my technology use, what I did in 2000, based on my core values and goals, changed the course of my life forever. At the time I was working full time (50-60 hrs/week) as an Associate Pastor at a local church that was growing exponentially every year and had gone from 150 to around 700 in regular attendance. My wife just opened her private counseling practice, we had a 1 and 2-year-old at home and we were having to hire a nanny to come in a couple days a week. A couple months into this arrangement we looked at each other and were reminded of one of our core values, for us to be the ones raising our own kids. But there was a problem, I was working more than full-time at the church and my wife’s client load was increasing, and we both had a desire to provide for the family and parent our kids. We had no other models around us doing this “Peer Marriage” arrangement until Jenn’s sister introduced us to the book, Equal to the Task by Ruth Haley Barton, and a couple in the Bay area living this model. After talking to these perfect strangers for over an hour and a half, we finally had validation and help to create this life according to our values.


My next step was to approach the church and ask to reduce my hours to part-time so I could be home with the kids while my wife worked. As scary as this was, since I was the primary provider, I had no idea the can of worms I opened with the senior pastor and the church board by my request to go part-time. After 7 months of deliberation (yes it says 7 MONTHS!), the church board came back with an answer to my request. If I hadn’t invested my blood, sweat and tears into the church for the past 8 years I probably wouldn’t have waited around, but I wasn’t quick to leave. The chairperson of the board finally met with me to tell me that the Associate Pastor position was only a full-time position and if I really wanted to only work part-time, the only position they could offer me was a non-pastoral hourly office administrative position with no benefits. Sadly, I actually considered taking it, until my wife slapped my self-respect back in my head and reminded me that I was an ordained minister with a master’s degree and over 10 years of full-time church ministry experience. So I ended up declining their “offer”, even though I had no plan B. Thankfully I had my MSW and was able to get hired at a local counseling agency and work construction with a friend of mine on the side. This was incredibly terrifying but my wife and I were committed to living out our family values and trusted that God would take care of us. He very much did, and eventually I joined my wife in the private counseling practice and we never missed a bill or mortgage payment. The reason I shared our life-changing journey was that it resonated with what the author quoted from Henry David Thoreau, describing his ‘new economics’: “The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.”[5]


It feels like we did one of the most difficult things in our lives so that we would not look back and regret the life we exchanged for what we really wanted. This decision to quit my job at the church to come home and be with my kids is one of the best decisions I have ever made, and my only regret is that I didn’t do it 2 years earlier. It was a blessing in the immediate and the long run, even though I received many sideways glances from other moms when I would show-up at play dates with the kids or became the PTO President at the kids’ elementary school. Newport’s book was a wonderful reminder of what is most important in a balanced life, and why we need to constantly be evaluating what we need to ignore so we can live according to our values. Just like I made a radical decision to work less for the sake of my kids and family, I am deciding to minimize my screen time in favor of more quality interpersonal relationships


            [1] Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism, Penguin Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, xv.

            [2] Ibid., 6.

            [3] https://www.marketwatch.com/story/people-are-spending-most-of-their-waking-hours-staring-at-screens-2018-08-01

            [4] Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism, Penguin Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, xiv.

            [5] Ibid., 39.

About the Author

Jake Dean-Hill

Currently a Marriage & Family Therapist in private practice. Ordained minister with 10 years of prior full-time church ministry experience and currently volunteering with a local church plant. Also working with companies as a Corporate Leadership Coach.

13 responses to “Exchanging Life for What?”

  1. Mike says:

    I know you much better after reading your transparent life happens story from P-Reacher to PTO-President-Therapist. Thanks so much for sharing. Newport felt like a secular self-help book for a digital diet and detox plan for the socially addictive. I image you meet a lot of clients who, in addition to their other challenges, have many digital dependencies.
    While Newport focuses mostly on the bad side of the digital age, I believe there are many good benefits, including advancing the Gospel, that suggest a balanced intake rather than a detox and diet.
    Stand firm my friend and keep your armor on.

    • Thanks Mike for your kind comments. Yes I meet quite a few clients who struggle with addictions related to digital media, and most of them don’t even realize it. I agree, Newport did not mention the fact that digital tools can be very helpful in various applications, although most people are way out of balance. I did appreciate the fact that he encouraged a declutter instead of a detox, which suggests more of a lifestyle change instead of a crash diet.
      Standing firm and keeping the armor on!

  2. Trisha Welstad says:

    Jake, Thanks for sharing about your own journey and choices based on values. I know as a parent of two kids nearly the same age as your were at the time, this makes me stop and think. I have wrestled with the amount of things I am doing and my own values in raising our kids. As you may read in my blog this week, practicing presence is my new Lenten practice which is informing my own philosophy. I am hoping to streamline over time, which is in part why I am in this program, but sometimes like you, it takes months or even years to do.

    Also, how is your notification change working out for you? Have you picked up your phone less?

    • Thanks Trisha, it was definitely a long journey for us getting to the family model that worked best for us and it was not easy. This is a great thing to wrestle with and trying to find the balance between parenting and pursuing your calling is a worthwhile struggle, and I wish you all the best in the streamlining process. I love the idea of practicing presence, which makes the most of the time we spend with ourselves and those we love. We would be happy to talk with you guys more about our journey and encourage you in any way we can.

      I definitely didn’t realize how many notifications were going off on my phone for stuff I didn’t even care about but ended up getting distracted with. The distractions have been less but I have a long way to go before I would be considered a digital minimalist. Blessings to you and your fam.

  3. Kyle Chalko says:

    Jake, that was awesome to read more about your story. So cool to see how God honored and blessed you and that the non-traditional career transition was a huge blessing for you.

    Thoreau is a beast man. YOu’re right, if we really weighed all the phone does for us against how many times we would be impulsive about it, Im sure we would change.

    I too just adjusted the notifactions settings on my phone.

    • Thanks Kyle, it was one of the hardest things I have ever done but definitely one of the most rewarding. This book made me think and evaluate how much I am benefiting from technology and how much it is running my life more than me taking charge according to my values. I had never read Walden, but it sounds like he was ahead of his time in how he evaluated the value of living life. Glad to hear you adjusted your settings as well. Blessings my friend.

  4. Jason Turbeville says:

    I really enjoyed your journey, thanks so much for sharing. One of the things I love about your story is how you connected it with Thoreau’s quote. My time with my family is worth so much more than any satisfaction I could get from a job, moving from a large church to a small church allowed me a similar path. It has all been worth it.


    • Thanks Jason, so glad to hear that you made the worthwhile sacrifice for your family as well. Like I said, my only regret is that I didn’t do it earlier. Life is too short to not live according to our values, your family is lucky to have a husband and father who has done just that. Blessings to you and your fam.

  5. Jean Ollis says:

    Hi Jake! Your journey is inspiring and God has provided faithfully. Your children, marriage and this kingdom have benefited as a result. Just when we think we know the plans, there’s a fork in the road. Here’s to the next fork…:)

    • Thanks Jean, yes we are blessed and I’m grateful God has provided for us to take the risk we did for the sake of our family values. You are so right, we can make all the plans in the world, but God has our master plan all worked out. Even though change is hard for me, I am learning how to live out my life verse…Prov. 3:5-6. Blessings friend!

  6. Dan Kreiss says:


    Fantastic personal story. There are not enough people, even Christians, who have the guts to live out their values in that way. My wife and I had to make similar decisions and I wouldn’t change a thing. When we do premarital counseling I strongly encourage the couple to consider what they hope to happen if and when children come along. If they get caught up in the materialism trap before children it is very difficult to extricate themselves from it afterward. It is also telling that the church you were working for did not have the foresight to see that you were making a healthy decision and that they had an opportunity to ‘change the model’. This is why the Church is often an unhealthy place to be employed.

    This week’s book, however, suggests that current newlyweds have even more to manage that we did with the additional pressure added by our incessant connection. How do you counsel your clients to step back and rekindle genuine relationships?

  7. Greg says:

    I agree Jake to what most have said. Living out our faith and core values means more from someone like you willing to jump off the cliff into the unknown. That had to be scary and frustrating to not have a fellowship see the value of what you were asking for. i know you have talked about that this journey was a blessing. What a great model for your kids. Thanks for your commitment to your marriage and your family in spite of what the world values.

  8. Jake,

    I am so grateful I read your blog and can comment. You have made some phenomenal choices, and it’s great to see the outcomes. Sometimes we have to make that scary, unrealistic choice and take a leap of faith, and in time, when we look back, we see that it was beautifully coordinated by God.

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