12 February 2013

Give Up Your Telephone for Lent

Posted in Social Media, Tagged with digital ministry generations lent social media spirituality

phoneGive up your telephone for Lent.

It sounds crazy, doesn't it? I mean, how will people reach you if they need help, want to share good news, or need pastoral care?

It would be crazy to give up your phone for Lent.

And yet, we quite easily, and in some cases flippantly, talk about giving Facebook and other social networks for Lent like its no big deal. 

This reflects a profound misunderstanding of the role social networking now plays our lives and ministry.

When we talk about giving up Facebook for Lent we usually mean that social media are simply a form of entertainment, that they are ancillary to our "real lives." When we place them in the category of giving up meat, coffee, chocolate, we insinuate that Facebook is a guilty pleasure that we are probably be better off without, but usually don't have the willpower to give up.

However, digital social networks have become an integrated and, for many, an essential, part of life, relationships, ministry, and, yes, faith. Just as much as any phone.

Digitally-Integrated Faith

Consider: many ministry leaders use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Texting to connect with parishioners and people beyond their congregations on a weekly basis. Social networks are avenues they intentionally offer to people to connect with them. Giving up social media would both cut off those avenues of connection, funneling people to the phone or email (non-social means of communication), and cut off the flow of inspiration, care, and formation ministers offer through these social media. 

"Giving up social media for Lent" is not a neutral position, it is a net loss for ministry and the communication of the Gospel—ironically at a time of the year when that communication is heightened in our church observances in extra worship services and study groups.

We should be more present in social media during Lent, not less.

Further, the generational dynamics here are fascinating. Tell older generations to give up their phone and they balk. Tell younger generations to give up the phone and they would just shrug. They wouldn't find the title of this blog post provocative, because they make vastly fewer phone calls, using texts instead. Telling a younger to give up social media for Lent is like telling an older to give up their phone.

Take Something On

Rather than give up social media for Lent, follow that wise Lenten maxim: "don't just give something up, take something on."

For most people, that usually winds up being some kind of additional devotional practice. Extend and share that Lenten practice onto your digital social networks. Or, make social media your Lenten devotion: leave supportive comments, offer prayers and blessings when needed or asked for. Pray for the people in your Newsfeed and Twitter stream. Share meaningful quotes, pictures, or videos. If you are worried about your relationships becoming too digitized, set up face-to-face meetings—incarnational moments—as a way of connecting digital and face-to-face relationships.

Rather than using Lent as a way of turning way from social media, use this season to be more intentional about building relationships, cultivating community, and sharing your faith in a way that is authentic and recognizes our digitally-integrated lives, ministries, and faith.

How are you using social media in your Lenten practice?

photo credit: Nate Steiner

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