Yesterday, I spoke to a group at the Presbytery of Tampa Bay on some of the positive uses of social media in doing the ministry of the church. It was a good conversation because many of the people I spoke to, and really many of you who are reading this post, don’t have to be convinced of its usefulness. It gives those of us in ministry positions the ability to influence our congregations and beyond with the good news of Jesus even when they are not sitting in a worship service, Bible study, or committee meeting on our churches’ properties. While we are constantly bombarded with images of violence, sex, the crudest jokes, and the most inane self-involved rhetoric social networks give Christians the chance to shine the light of the gospel into unique spheres of influence on a daily basis.
We have the ability to put in the thoughts and words of Scripture, the hope and mercy of Christ, the encouragement and guidance of the Holy Spirit in front of people – thousands upon thousands of people – every single day! What a gift!
Unfortunately, some fear that the connectional relationships fostered in these online communities might replace the physical community of believers. They fear the increasing screen-centric attitude of our culture – where people are more comfortable typing on a virtual keyboard than they are having face-to-face interactions… I would offer one anecdotal example to the contrary. I have recently taken a call at a strong and vibrant church with a deep tradition of building relationships across generations. It is a large, multi-faceted congregation with activity happening on a daily basis – there is not a day on the calendar in which the doors are closed. In that context, it can be difficult to get to know so many new people beyond the mere Sunday morning ritual of handshakes and coffee… Enter Facebook. Because people have sought me out in the virtual community of Facebook and choose to share their lives in some limited capacity to their online friends, when I see these folks I know something of what’s going on in their lives. I know if they have been to the doctor, or if their son is being deployed, or if they have had a wonderful week, so when I approach them on a Sunday I have already been praying for them. I’m able to be a more connected pastor, not merely online but face-to-face.
From a ministry perspective, virtual social communities should not replace physical ones, they should enhance them.
Innovation can always bring about opportunities for an increased faith if used appropriately. When Johannes Gutenberg invented the moveable type printing press in the 15th century, this technological revolution helped usher in the proliferation of Bibles across Europe during the Reformation. It was a game-changer that ultimately helped put the spiritual guidance of Scripture into the hands of the common people and ideas like daily Bible study and devotion accessible to more than just the educated clergy.
Innovation is not without peril as well. The same invention that made Bibles and religious treatises broadly available became too an instrument of propaganda, pornography, and all manner of evil. The question to followers of Jesus is, will we let the potential peril keep us from our calling? Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:22b-23
… I have become all things to all people so that all means I might win some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I might share with them in its blessing.
That’s our calling – to view no instrument as too crude that it might not be used for spreading the good news of Jesus and being an influencer for him.