Here’s a thought experiment from the book, Tweet if you [Heart] Jesus: “What if those who might be seeking spiritual engagement in your community started hanging out right outside the doors of your church. Would you squander that opportunity? Wouldn’t you at least invite folks in to chat with you and with one another for a bit?” Well, that’s the exact opportunity facing the church today; did you know that “believers spend nearly a quarter of their online time—nearly seven hours a month on Face-book alone.” In this kind of world, we need examples of how to pastor digitally! Tweet if you [Heart] Jesus, casts a vision of what a digital pastor’s habits might look like.
Bruce Robison is a web-savvy pastor who takes his ministry online. He explains why he puts energy into being active online: “You know, the church used to be the center of a town or a village … a priest helped to keep people connected with each other in that community in very practical ways that went beyond the Sunday service. The priest was an active presence in the community, not someone just ‘over there,’ in that building we go to on Sunday.”
For Robison, this practically means both “blogging and being active on Facebook. … But his day-to-day engagements take a more minimalist form by way of Facebook.” Most ministries employing online social tools like Facebook to advertize or to draw people on to their online-space. In contrast, “Robison is the soul of brevity in his own posts.” He does post a few announcements or personal comments about his ministry activities, but “the real energy of Robison’s engagement on Facebook is elsewhere.” The evidence is found in the way his Facebook page is covered with updates such as: “‘Bruce commented on [someone’s] status’ or ‘Bruce wrote on [someone’s] wall.’ More than almost anyone in my Facebook world, Robison seems to take particular care not just to draw people into conversations he initiates on his Facebook page, but to visit the pages of people in his network and participate in their conversations or comment on the things they’ve seen as sufficiently interesting to post on their walls.”
Robison sees one of the greatest advantages in the way it allows him to stay connected with the college students in his church. “‘You know, lots of these kids grew up in the church. … They were active in youth group,’ says Robison. He continues, ‘Then they go off to college, and we only see them on breaks. Maybe. It used to be the case that they would often just fade away from the church. Or, maybe the church faded away from them. Now I can be more aware of what’s happening while they’re at school. And, because so many people in the congregation are also on Facebook, we can all continue to be a community for them when they are home for Christmas or over the summer. We don’t have to say much for them to know we’re still here, that they continue to be important to us.’”
The book, Tweet if you [Heart] Jesus, concludes with a worthwhile thought on why pastors need to be digitally present: “people want to be seen and known by someone whom they perceive as having meaningful spiritual insight to share in relation to their own lives.” People are “not interested in a ‘leader’ in the modern sense—someone who will influence them, however benevolently, to think or do one thing or another. They’re interested in someone who leads with compassionate welcome, someone who provides space to experience something of the divine in themselves, and who offers a word or two to encourage that search and the life practices it prompts.” Traditional ministry methods were concerned with broadcasting information and thought “in terms of billboards rather than birthday cards. We think every word we share in the digital domain has to directly inspire each and every person who might encounter it. It doesn’t. Indeed, it works so much better when it doesn’t, when we use the new medium to grow particular relationships that connect to other particular relationships.”