Friday, February 11, 2011

Social Media and Youth Ministry

Yesterday on Youth Worker Journal's website there was an article discussing youth ministry and social media.  (Whole article here:  I found this article interesting for the fact that, being the true fence sitter that I am, I agree and disagree with all four of the interviewees.  So here's my take for the 3 of you who follow and might read.  Well, it's really for me to organize my thoughts for my ministry.  I am really only going to talk about two of the four, but that's not important anyway.

The first person, and I really like what this guy says, but we're not seeing things eye to eye, is:  Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University.  Dr. Bauerlein prohibits his students from using the internet for research.  I get it, we need to know how to use the library, journals, etc....  His take is that social media cripples social interactions.  Well, it does.  He speaks about how communicating is not just words, but tone, inflection, body language, all of it.  He's right.  There is so much that can be lost in candid conversation when it is posted through tweets, wall up-dates, texts, and blogs.  How many of us have said something in jest in an e-mail or wall update and it really, really backfired.  Meaning was misconstrued.  Communicating accurately failed.  I think, that in the end, his take was that technology isolates us and cripples our social interactions.  Once again, he's right, there's all kinds of research studies that prove his point.  

Now, for the other guy I liked from the article, his name is Adam McLane.  He is now Youth Specialties' technology guy' and he spends his days immersed in the digital world, helping youth workers find community there.  As you may be able to guess, he is a fan of technology.  His take for youth ministry is that utilizing tech and social media is the current "getting in the trenches" form of ministry, meeting them where they are.  There's not much more for me to comment on him, so I'm going to move to my blending and my $0.02.

Youth ministry should incorporate both schools of thought.  I remember when my sister and I were teenagers, we communicated via phone.  That's it.  Phone, and usually there was a cord attached to it too.  This form of communication was effective, while not seeing a person, tone and inflection were not lost through the phone.  This kind of conversation did not lend itself to the openness that Facebook can provide.  Let me digress for a second.  I have Facebook, my youth group has a group page, most of my folks have a profile.  All of my group texts.  All e-mail, but many of them rarely.  You get the picture.  If I post something on my profile, or on the group page, it invites others to join the conversation, even if it is a "like."  I can jump online and see what someone posted about their Friday night and can comment.  The last time I was a youth pastor, this wasn't so.  Adolescents are more selective about what is shared vocally than electronically.  Therefore, I feel like I can get to know someone more personal this way.  I think I just heard some of your minds coming to a screeching halt.  Yep, I can get to know some of my youth more personally through facebook, but that does not say I have a deeper spiritual relationship with them.  This is the point where the kill switch on the phone, computer, ipad, whatever gets flipped.

Communicating "in the trenches" per se, is not relationship building, and for a meaningful youth ministry for youth, relationships are essential.  Therefore, meetings, small groups, church, concerts, lock-ins, retreats, and mission trips become the life blood of turning the knowing of "stuff" about people via electronic communications into meaningful relationships.  Communicating in the trenches gets the information out to the youth in the way they will see it, read it, hear it, and respond to it.

I guess all of this is to say that social media has slowly become a way of life for a lot of us.  We keep up with old friends, we miscommunicate through written word and have to make a phone call to fix it, we stay on top of our friends' lives outside of school/work.  We communicate with it, yet it doesn't build relationships as real life interactions do.  So, embrace the technology.  Ministry can function without it, relationship can be built without it, but embracing today's technological culture appropriately can definitely be used in ministry. 

Also used appropriately, social media is a way for us to be "in the world and not of it."  

"Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever." 1 John 2.15-17

"Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God's will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect." Romans 12.2 NLT

1 comment:

  1. Oh...touchy subject. I didn't read the whole article...(time constraints called 3 yr old and 20 mo old.) However, this is something I believe can touch us personally, not just the ministry. I agree perfectly with Bauerlin's very first statement. "One condition of a healthy spiritual life is solitude. That's where prayer and contemplation happen. In a world in which one is surrounded by input and feedback with screens popping up everywhere, spiritual life wanes. You can't fit prayer into a multitasking habit." Just yesterday I found a note written by yours truly...I found it folded up, tucked away, and forgotten on an old grocery list. It said, "Busy vs. Rest. We find pride in our busyness. We find God in rest and meditation." To me, Baurerlin summed up what I had to say much better.

    I think you hit the nail on the head in that it takes a balance. Ministry, in whatever form, can be done without the instant communication and technology. However, if used appropriately, the technology can be a benefit, especially to some of our youth.

    I just hate that in the broader sense these young folks have lost their ability to communicate outside the confines of a keyboard or touchpad. I love to see kids that can look me in the eye, speak up, and speak clearly when they communicate with me. This as opposed to never taking their fingers off their phone and often never making eye contact. It makes me feel as if their is hope for our future when I see those who can communicate.

    (You'll be finding out what I think about the art of social networking later.)