Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Going Where the People Are

So, the other day, at the close of a pastor's meeting, one of my colleagues turned to me and said, "You're on Facebook a lot."

He said it as it if was a bad thing.

I'll admit, I had a little knee-jerk defensiveness.  Was he saying that that fact that I was on Facebook "a lot" showed that I was a "bad pastor", or at least, did not have my priorities straight?  Was his comment a veiled criticism or just an observation?

A fair number of my colleagues are also on Facebook.  Some share and post and comment several times a day.  Others have a Facebook account but rarely check in.  Most are somewhere in the middle.

When I was in seminary, there was no such thing as Facebook.  In fact, if you had said the words, "social media", you would have gotten a blank stare.   It's not in the constellation of pastoral skills that we learn and grow adept at.  I had a class in Pastoral Care and Counseling.  I had a class in Mission (although not one in Evangelism, actually).  So if I'm spending time at the nursing home or at the hospital, or even visiting people in their homes or at their workplaces, that's a legitimate use of time.  If you are studying in your office, or leading a Bible study or (better yet) training a group of Bible study leaders, that's a good use of time.  And if you are creating and sending and answering emails, I suppose that's a legitimate use of time.

But Facebook?  Twitter?

A recent article in my denomination's monthly magazine, The Lutheran, had an article regarding the importance of visiting members in their homes.  It was a good article (though the tone was a little scolding, I thought).  I believe that we have neglected the art of visiting with people, in their homes and where they work.  In the church-as-business model of the late twentieth century, we have sometimes neglected the church-as-relationship model of, well, every century.  We need to be out there where the people gather.

But here's the thing:

one of the places that people gather these days is called Facebook.

So, yes, I'm on Facebook, sometimes actually not very much, but sometimes a lot.  On Facebook, I found out that the mother of one of my former confirmation students was seriously ill.  On Facebook, I read the obituary that one of my parish members wrote for her dad.   One man informed me of his father's move to hospice care via Facebook message.  Young adults have set appointments with me in the same way.   I check it out, just like I might walk up and down my block, look out for neighbors when I am in the grocery store, or look for local stories when i read the newspaper.

Once in awhile, I've found Facebook a provocative conversation-starter.  A great theological, missional conversation got started with the question, "What would you do for love?"  Another time I asked friends to share the story of their names (I was musing over a sermon on the Name of Jesus.)  I got 43 comments, and (may I say?) learned some wonderful stories.  I was amazed by what people shared with me.

Pastors share ideas, and wisdom with one another over social media.  It has become a sort of over-the-fence news source.  And of course, it's not just a place to listen to others, but to share:  ideas, quotes, pictures, songs.

Facebook is one of the places people gather, so sometimes I will be there, and even sometimes a lot.  But it does have its limitations as well.  So here are a few caveats:

1.  Some people assume that if they have posted a concern on Facebook, everyone has seen it.  If you have more than a few friends, they haven't.

2.  Some things ARE better left unsaid on Facebook.

3.  Facebook is not a substitute for face to face time with people.  It broadens my world, but it doesn't necessarily deepen it.  To do that, I need to do more than press like, comment or share.  I need to look someone in the eyes, stand shoulder to shoulder, spend time, get tired, disagree, be forgiven, fail, succeed.

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