Thirty years ago when I was preparing for ministry, personal computers were available, expensive, and rare. It would be ten years or more before most of us would even hear of the Internet, and social media would have referred to a political reporter’s cocktail hour in Washington, D.C. Even with cable television, radio, newspapers and magazines, the world was amazingly dark to us. Compared to the current day, we had little access to information.
Today we have virtually unlimited access to information, and, we have vast access to more people around the world than ever before. With the Internet and social media, we can create groups and communities as well as organizations and movements. Some can become instant celebrities, or even instant failures.
A common complaint in our culture revolves around people who are around others, but who have their eyes glued to their phone. Three or four people sitting in a restaurant together, all staring at their iPhones, texting or scrolling feverishly. We are sometimes furthest from those in the closest proximity to us, attempting to get closer to those across town or across the country. As Yoda would say, “Ironic, it is.”
Young pastors today run the risk of spending more virtual time with people than face time. Yeah, and I don’t mean FaceTime. We have members of our church all over our town, yet we spend more time trying to connect with them on social media than we do just driving over to their homes or workplaces just to say hi.
Don’t hear what I’m not saying. I think we should be involved with social media. For most pastors, I think we should be even more involved with social media, and at a smarter level. Social media is the “telephone” of the new century. The pastors and ministries who ignore social media do so to their own loss.
Having said that, we cannot forget to visit with real people in their natural habitats – their homes and workplaces. Nothing will ever replace a hug or a handshake, or looking into someone’s eyes to encourage or console them. Personal interaction will always trump social media. It cannot replace it, but it will always trump it.
In addition to social media, the Internet also provides a perceived, but not always real, level of success. Because we may have enough “friends, likes, connections, views, or downloads” we think we are successful. Some young pastors dream of becoming the next ministry superstar, eagerly sought after for the next conference or online webcast or interview. Because of the reach we can achieve online, the danger of not being satisfied with the people in the pews is real.
Again, don’t hear what I’m not saying. I think we should use any and all means to extend our ministry and influence for the Kingdom of God and the Gospel of Jesus. I also think that we need to love the ones we’re with, the real, living and breathing people in our pews. (I know, many of us don’t have pews…) We shouldn’t be spending more time building our online presence than we spend with real people – loving and ministering to them. Nothing will replace the personal word or personal touch.
So, how are you doing, young pastor? Are you online more than you’re actually with your people? Do your church members get only digital or virtual touches from you, and never the personal touch? While most of us spend a lot of time creating and managing virtual realities than can touch real people, let’s not forget to thoughtfully and carefully love the ones we’re with.
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