One of the best things about the month of March was my phone call with Doug Bursch, who blogs at Fairly Spiritual. He’s a pastor and former radio talk show host with a heart for people whether on line or in real life. As we’ve both discovered, there actually isn’t a real difference between people on line and off. Our conversation ended up focusing on four topics that touch on what we try to do on-line, and how this has developed into a ministry.
The phone call turned into an outline, and the outline turned into a question and answer format for Doug and me. We each answered the questions without reading the other person’s responses first, but you can see how they dovetail one into the other. Today we present part one of the conversation here, and on Wednesday the second half will post at Doug’s place.
I hope you enjoy reading this as much as we enjoyed talking about it.
What is your philosophy of ministry for social media?
Doug: I first entered into the world of social media because I had a radio show and everything I read said that if you have a radio show, you’re also supposed to have a Facebook page and a Twitter account. With those rather lame reasons, I jumped into the strange world of social media interaction. At first, I used the formats as a way to promote stuff I produced or wrote, but over time I realized the unique opportunities, capabilities and challenges of each format. As I’ve navigated the social media waters, I’ve become increasingly convinced that my online presence should be first and foremost authentic and extremely personal. Since I am a Christian and a pastor, my authentic expressions include a fair amount of talk about Jesus and all things Jesus related. I do this because I think about Jesus pretty much every day of my life. However, along with thinking about Jesus, I do a lot of other mental wandering. Consequently, my social media presence includes those wanderings as well.
I believe my ministry presence online should be authentic and personal. I try as best I can to speak specifically about people and treat people in a way that I would want to be treated. In other words, I try to write about people, even celebrities, as if they would be reading what I write about them. I never want to dehumanize people for the sake of online content. Ultimately, I want to treat them the same way I would treat someone walking into the church I pastor on a Sunday morning. I obviously do not always achieve this goal, but it is my genuine conviction to treat people in a way that values their humanity.
I also try to make things personal in that I don’t want to be phony. I want to regularly express my weakness, faults and failings. I want my Twitter feed or Facebook posts to include expressions of personal failings and genuine repentance. I don’t want my communication to be perpetually other-centered. I find feeds that are constantly focused on the sins of others to be frequently pharisaical, bitter and for lack of a better word… “boring.” Along with being honest and personal, I want my communication to be reconciling. I believe Christians are called to communicate truth for the purpose of bringing people into the truth. I take no joy in winning an argument or proving the other side wrong. Instead, I try to communicate for the purpose of helping people come to a better understanding of the truth. Consequently, I try to make sure that my communication is motivated by genuine love for those I disagree with. I believe that truth without love is no longer truth and love without truth is no longer love. Truth and love must both be equally valued and contended for in our communication. These are some of the values that motivate my social media ministry convictions.
Tim: First, I want to honor God. I hope to do that by encouraging others. It’s a way to gather together with people, most of whom I will never meet face to face this side of eternity. Whether it is in a group-like setting on a blog or Facebook post, or more one on one through messaging and Twitter, there is still an opportunity to encourage. I look at passages like Hebrews 10:24-25 and 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 and see the importance and the blessing in this type of gathering.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25.)
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5.)
The Hebrews passage tells us not only not to give up on others, but to increasingly encourage each other every day. In 2 Corinthians, the word comfort is similar to the notion of coming alongside people. These passages inform my philosophy of ministry whether on line or in real life. And even if I don’t meet the on line people here on earth, I will be with them in eternal fellowship. That is a gathering I count as most important in building relationships now.
How has your social media philosophy of ministry facilitated meaningful interactions and relationships?
Tim: The blogs I enjoy most are the ones where the bloggers respond to the comments, interacting with their readers. I try to do that on my blog as well as on Facebook and Twitter. Some of that has led to deeper connections. Doug and I message together and have started phone conversations (don’t change your number Doug, ‘cause I’ll track you down). Messaging is one way I’ve seen people get more candid about what is going on in their lives, saying things they would never bring up in a public setting: asking for advice, venting about something on line that they know I’ve seen too; wanting just to run something by another person they feel safe talking to. I’ve been able to meet face to face with some I first interacted with on line as well, and these friendships have grown further up and further in when it comes to fellowship in Jesus.
Doug: Social media has allowed me to interact with many people I simply would never have met without these marvelous platforms. Through blogs, Twitter and Facebook (I have no idea how to Pinterest) I have been introduced to segments of the church that I barely knew existed or truly didn’t understand. I love the fact that I have online friends who are extreme religious conservatives and extreme religious progressives. Some of my friends are pastors and church leaders from around the world, while others have been hurt by the church and want little or nothing to do with organized religion. Through social media, I have been able to really listen to individuals who have experienced the worst and the best the church has to offer. I’ve also gotten to deeply connect with like-Spirited people such as Tim Fall. These are people who I may share a similar theology with but I definitely share a similar heart.
Come back on Wednesday for a link to the second part of this conversation where we’ll reveal some of our own social media disasters and ways you can avoid committing the same mistakes we did. Or just go straight to Doug’s blog on Wednesday. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook, too.