Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Musings about Facebook and Twitter

A friend of mine pointed me to a free ebook by Chris Forbes entitled, "Facebook for Pastors." (Free download available from this link) Produced by an organization called Hearts and Hands International, they even have a Facebook page for pastors. When I checked today, there are more than 6000 members in this group. In the book, the author argues that there are 6 compelling benefits for pastors to be on the Facebook platform. They are:
  1. It allows 'one to be accessible to others;'
  2. Consistent with 'Kingdom-focus;'
  3. Demonstrates we are 'human;'
  4. Gives others a chance to look at one's 'heart and passions;'
  5. 'Encourages learning, sharing and discussion;'
  6. Provides 'another door into your local church;'

Some Positives
  • The book is easy to read, with lots of practical advice;
  • It highlights lots of potential that people tend to miss;
  • It demonstrates a willingness to engage the world;
  • It's free of course.
Overall, the ebook is encouraging Christian pastors to be engaged using new medium such as Twitter and Facebook. It is essentially a promotional stint, that lists the strong advantages of being on Facebook. The main point of the book is that pastors need to be CONNECTED, be updated to the potential of using technology in modern ministry.

Primer on Christ & Culture
Let me use the terminology of Richard Niebuhr's Christ and Culture's 5 categories on the various possible relationships between the Church and modern culture, it will resemble "Christ OF Culture." For those of us unfamiliar with Niebuhr's classic book, the 5 categories comprising essentially 2 extreme positions and 3 moderate ones. (Fellow readers who are familiar with the book can skip this section)
  1. Extreme #1 - Christ AGAINST Culture
    This position argues that the Church is constantly in conflict with prevailing culture, which is considered worldly. There is no room for co-existence. This is a no-compromise position.
  2. Extreme #2 - Christ OF Culture
    This position can be called a liberal position, where Christians identify so closely with the world, that there is no tension between the Church and the modern culture. The problem is that people finds it hard to distinguish the church from the world. This is the accommodating position.
  3. Moderate #1 - Christ ABOVE Culture
    Since all is under God, there is no need for conflict, and neither is there a need for the church to militate against the world.
  4. Moderate #2 - Christ in PARADOX with Culture
    This view is the most 'dualistic' position of all. It pits the reality of grace (Christ) with the reality of sin contrasting them as a paradox of reality. The main conflict is not between Christian people vs all others, but God vs all human race.
  5. Moderate #3 - Christ TRANSFORMING Culture
    This view is also called the conversionists view, an optimistic perspective of the Church being able to transform the world. This is Richard Niebuhr's personal belief.
I feel that Facebook for Pastors lean too much toward Extreme #2, which is the accommodating part. Contrary to views that things like technological medium is neutral, I feel that they are not. Principalities and powers can never be neutral. Placed under the hands of a sinful person, the dangers can be amplified.

Some Negatives
In all fairness, while one can speak about the advantages of using Facebook for ministry, a wise discerning pastor will need to look into the potential pitfalls of such involvement. This is where I will contribute some of my personal critical observations.
  1. We can be 'accessible to others' in ways beyond Facebook. However, what about the limits of accessibility? Many pastors are already very busy people. While it is good to be easily contactable online, OFFLINE communications should not be compromised. If more online work leads to less face to face meetings, is it necessarily a good thing? I think not.
  2. Consistent with kingdom focus? We cannot be too sure about this. What do you mean by kingdom-focus? Is opening a Facebook account a step toward 'kingdom-focused?' This is very unconvincing for me. A Christian does not need Facebook accounts just to be kingdom focused. Like tools like a sword, it cuts both ways. I've known people who are practically addicted to Facebook. In fact, people have been sacked or ostracized for posting 'inappropriate' information on the platform. Who decides what is truth in this environment? Is it another medium for people to simply state their own views and boast about their right to their own opinion? Too heady stuff sometimes.
  3. Humanness? Again, there are more than one way to prove that we are human. Not a strong reason.
  4. Sharing 'heart and passions?' Again it can cut the other way as well. It is important for pastors to have time out for themselves, rather than to showcase themselves to unknown strangers on the Internet. What if people misunderstand one's heart and passions? Will that lead the pastor down the rabbit's hole of clarification-reclarification all the time?
  5. Encourages learning, sharing and discussion? A moderator is still needed. Otherwise, it can be reduced to a we-agree-to-disagree standoff. Fruitful communications and discussions are best done on a trusting environment. Facebook is more of a mixture of both, and can be confusing to the uninitiated. Training and discernment is needed. Not for the faint-hearted.
  6. Another door into local church? Perhaps, this is the strongest reason mentioned so far. I tend to agree most with this point.
Firstly, like most mediums, we need to recognize that the medium can also be the message. This medium of social-networking is still relatively new, and we need more level-headed thinkers to fish out the implications on a longer term basis, and not blindly accepting all its benefits without considering the consequences. Secondly, I feel that we already have lots of technology. It is not the increased use of technology but the rising level of wise discernment that is critical to the thinking Christian. Anything can be used for good as well as evil. Thirdly, the starting point for entry into Facebook is never on the basis of the benefits. It is too shallow a reason. One needs to examine and understand one's purpose and intent of participating in Facebook. Otherwise, the danger of becoming distracted from one's calling or even worse, getting addicted is real. Fourthly, while more technology is good, more wisdom in the use of technology is even better. Sometimes, the best use of technology is simply to know when NOT to use it.

Fifthly, no one should drive until he has taken his highway code and passed his driving tests. In the case of Facebook, the ease of getting connected can be potentially beneficial as well as damaging. For people who lacked the training and the discernment needed, it can be downright unhelpful. How do you know how much information to put in or take out?

Sixth, be aware of the limits. I find Rick Osbourne's article about the Ten commandments for Christians on Facebook and Twitter rather helpful and serves as a good reminder for all especially for beginners and people who are pro-social-networking.

Finally, let me close with a note about the relationship between the Church and culture. Let me borrow an insight from Lesslie Newbigin.
"It is often said that the failure of Western churches is of the first kind; irrelevance, failure to make contact. I want to suggest, on the contrary, that it is a failure of the second kind, that the Christian churches of the West have been so co-opted into our culture that we have lost the power to challenge it." (Lesslie Newbigin, Signs Amid the Rubble)
This sums up my position. While getting into Facebook can be helpful, we need to learn to see it as a secondary (even tertiary) level of importance. The chief responsibility of a Christian is to respond to God's prompting in the heart. In order for the heart to resonate with the Spirit, the heart needs first to be quiet and attentive to God. Like Augustine, one cannot find rest except in God alone. Only when we are restful in God, can we bring the world to approach this rest. I doubt social-networking can help us do that.

Asking pastors to get into Facebook cannot be driven from a WORK-FOR-GOD mentality (which puts self on the driving seat). Instead, it has to be led from a WORK-WITH-GOD (letting God lead).


No comments:

Latest Posts