Part 2 in a two part series.
So a couple of days after my original post, I’m ready to take up the topic of the value of social media in ministry. Because of the Rob Bell controversy I have spent a lot of time the past few days checking out the blogosphere. With all of the commentary out there, some of it pretty harsh speaking out against Bell’s theology, most of it seems to focus on the role that social media played in how quickly things got out of control.
What I am most impressed with is the integrity of the actual bloggers who were reluctant to rush to judgment against Bell. In retrospect the firestorm seems to have been fueled by those who commented on blog posts, twittered their own commentary, and forwarded the information by linking posts and tweets.
When I ran my blog piece about Facebook, hoping to follow up with this piece on Twitter, I had no idea that I would be handed a real-life object lesson in the process. Social media outlets do disseminate information and invite commentary at a high rate of speed.
On the one hand that can be a useful tool in ministry. It can help promote events, increase communication between leaders, and keep larger congregations abreast of important information. Heaven knows that in our busy society we need all the help we can get.
But as we saw in Bell’s case it can also cause a lot of grief and heartache in the body of Christ, not the least of which was a heated debate on the doctrine of hell. Part of the blame for that may lie in the practices used to promote Bell’s book. But I think a large part of the responsibility lies with us, the Body of Christ. We have become accustomed to using social media in other contexts of our life.
We twitter our daily lives on a regular basis ~ we tell people what movie we just saw while we’re having our ice cream afterward, or where we’re vacationing with the family while we’re on the road … complete with candids from the back seat, or we post the cute shoes we just saw at Macy’s and wonder aloud if they’re worth busting the budget over.
Then almost as soon as we send these messages into cyberspace ~ we get a response! “Saw that last night … soooo good! Eat a bite of Cherry Garcia for me!” “Been there! Ohmygosh! Little Johnny puked all over the backseat on the way home. Bleh! Car smelled bad for days. Won't eat pizza anymore. =(“ “Cutest. Shoes. Ever. Buy them in every color!”
And before you know it 30 of our closest friends (or at least our 5 besties and 6 each of their closest friends) have weighed in on all three topics and we’ve been retweeted 18 times because the shoes really are cute, and it’s hilarious that our best friend said puked … really because she could have said vomited but was only allowed 140 characters. And then we reply “Ewww! That’s why I don’t let the kids eat for 6 hours before a car ride. Not worth the hassle.” In return, “So smart. Wish I had your natural instincts.”
And in that moment we realize that we have a little something special that garnered that much respect and social stimulation and we’re hooked. Fast forward to Bell on Hell and we’re already so accustomed to dashing off a comment or tweet that it’s second nature and eventually someone comes up with “What sort of God sends infants to an eternal hell?” (actual blog comment) Which totally misconstrues arguments on either side of the debate.
It’s obvious that in attempting to think through my own feelings on the use of social media in ministry I am having to wade through a lot of use and misuse of these vehicles. I’m also having to do a lot of soul searching to come to any concrete conclusions. If I were to just listen to the professional bloggers and tweeters, of course I’d make the most of every opportunity.
But you know me better than that … I always take it back to Scripture. Although Jesus doesn’t specifically address what we know as social media, we read in His word that we are not to be “conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of (our) minds” Romans 12:2. And that we ought to “Let (our) speech always be with grace …” Colossians 4:6
Is it just me, or does it always come back to personal responsibility? Whatever we choose to do with social media we, as the church, have tremendous responsibility to make sure that we are not only choosing our words carefully but that we are examining our hearts and motives before we blog, tweet, retweet, comment, or reply. A little prayer before we hit send might help a lot. Let me leave you with one last thought from Scripture, then give up a little prayer and consider how you might respond:
but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts.
For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness—
nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority.
But we proved to be gentle among you*
* New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995 (1 Th 2:4–7). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.