Digital Discipleship

I do a lot of thinking about social media. Partly, that’s just because I was there for the start of it, old enough to remember the world the way it was, and young enough to be in the first wave of early adopters. But also, it’s part of the job. I spend the bulk of my time working for the church posting and/or reading in order to post for social media. My job would not exist without it. But like Starlette McNeil in the opinion piece below from Baptist News Global, I also have some pretty serious doubts.

I live (on a good traffic day — and how many of those exist in the DC area?) about 30 minutes from church. My closest friends in the area are at least 20 minutes away. Luckily, both my wife and I have easy commutes (mine is roll-out-of-bed easy), but we have each had hour+ daily commutes in our time here. All that is just to say, job aside, I have found surprising comfort from interacting with my friends through social media. When it is physically impossible to see anyone I know well, the digital IS better than nothing. I feel so much less isolated as a stay-at-home Dad, sharing jokes and thoughts and news, than I would otherwise. So, at times, when I see articles like the one below I wonder if it isn’t just curmudgeonly fist shaking. If there are those who cannot make it to a church building to participate in our community, isn’t meeting them where they are, through any means possible, better than the alternative?

And yet…the allure of red notification number is real, and it is addictive. There are times when I am playing with my kids and the instant the inevitable boredom sets in (there are only so many times you can play peekaboo, or “talk for Elmo” before you start to go a little crazy) I reach for the phone, just to check. My real fear isn’t even that. I wonder sometimes if I am checking just a little sooner, getting bored just a little faster. Have I been living my life more and more digitally? And, to keep us on track here, how is that changing my spiritual life? Am I turning to prayer less? That is, is there less real estate in my imaginative life for God?

I don’t know the answer. But I think churches DO need to think about it carefully, just as we also cannot entirely let the world leave us behind. We have to engage in order to shape the world as it is made, as God would have us shape it: more authentically, with real connection between real people, even if they ARE miles and miles apart physically.

The questions weigh on me, because I do think that social media has and will have deeper psychological and cultural effects than anyone thought it would when this whole thing started. Whatever the answer, Starlette McNeil is certainly right that churches, somehow, must maintain themselves as zones of quiet, away from the inauthentic noise and the posturing identities, and, yes, the endless stream of IMPORTANT ARTICLES YOU MUST READ. They must remain (or become) places where you can be your actual self, in boring everyday community with other actual selves.


– Ben

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