Whilst away at Greenbelt two issues that raised their heads were the issue of sabbath and its role in my life, and also social networking and worship. I went to a good discussion between four prominent Christian tweeters including @vickybeeching and @drbexl, and just today I was involved in a debate on Twitter, ironically enough, started up by @vickybeeching, on the role of Twitter and social networking in church, and whether it’s appropriate or not to Tweet in church.
I think the issue of social networking and how we engage and use this tool in our worship, as it becomes an increasingly big part of our daily lives, is one that desperately needs addressing and discussion. As ever, I don’t think any of us has a final answer, it’s a discussion that will go on for years to come with good arguments on every side.
To me it opens out bigger questions – what do we mean by church? What do we mean when we use the word worship? How do we see God – and how would Jesus use Twitter? These are all very important questions, which we need to be reflecting, and pondering on, which aren’t all going to get answered in a short blog post here. But it’s important to engage with the discussion and be part of it, it’s one of those balancing acts of faith, and we need to be participating in it, not standing on the sidelines, so here’s a little look from my own perspective and a few thoughts.
The traditional response – and my instinctive one – was that out of reverence for God, we should be turning off mobile phones and social networking during services. That’s a rule I’ve had for myself for a long time, because I know that I can get easily distracted from services and ultimately from God, and interacting with people in my church, through social networking, and it always seemed disrespectful to those who were contributing to the service to be social networking during a service, and dishonouring to God.
But one thing these discussions have made clear to me is that Tweeting during services – as long as it’s part of engaging with the service and sharing that with others – is actually a big deal to some people, and part of the way they worship.
That was a new thing to me, and something I only began to experience first hand at Greenbelt, when I found myself Tweeting quotes from Rob Bell and Brian McClaren made during the weekend which impacted me and which I wanted to instinctively share with others. Even Tweeting during communion – something I considered sacrosanct and beyond tweeting – has actually been expressed through Twitter, and people are finding that an important part of their expression of worship.
There is a part of me that really riles at this. Communion, to me, has always been between us and God, and there are times which are meant to be just be between me and God and without any interaction from and with anywhere else, and that whilst Twitter has a huge role to play in spreading our stories and testimonies of what God is doing and sharing that with others, that there are some things which really need to remain between ourselves and God, and communion, our most sacred and Holy sacrament, should have been one of them.
For me, I know that whenever I share in communion I want that to be done in community, but ultimately what goes on between me & God there is between us, and something no one else gets an eye in to.
The thing I and we all need to get our heads around though, is that Tweeting can be Holy. It can be set apart, used for good, used to share what God is doing and share blessing. There is a redeemed side to Twitter and social networking, we just need to look beyond traditional boundaries and accept the world is changing & we need to be evolving with it.
I have always argued the church of Jesus Christ needs to be one that is continually evolving and adapting, ahead of the times & trends, not behind them. Setting the agenda, not following it, and redeeming resources like Twitter and using them for the best good. The recent rioting in London saw both the best and worst of social networking – how it can be used almost simultaneously for the worst evil, but also the greatest good.
Our job then, as Jesus followers, surely needs to be engaging with social networking and being creative, trying to get the most good out of it, using it to communicate age-old truths in new ways, and to stir and organise people into action, and maybe even with communion, we can find a way of sharing the ancient rituals of our faith and our experiences through social networking.
That means, practically, not turning phones off during services, but rather churches using social media during sermons and worship leaders during worship sets, and members of the congregation sharing in this and sharing it with followers. Obviously it’s important that we get that balance – and don’t use social media in a way that distracts us from the services and from what God is doing, but in a way which engages us with that service and what God is doing, in a way we can share and bless others with – that certainly is an amazing blessing to be able to share and a very positive use for social networking.
Jesus said that the most important commandments were to love God with all our heart, soul, mind & strength, and love our neighbour as ourselves, and we should be looking to this guiding principle whenever and wherever we go, and that includes social networking
On basic level, that involves thinking about what it means to love God with all you heart soul mind & strength and love your neighbour on social networking, and do that.
To me, that’s about a few basic boundaries/values/ethics:
- Replying to messages or replies to your posts on social networking.
- Following those who follow you, unless your personal safety is impinged
- Respecting others views even if you disagree with them
- Promoting tweets or posts of those you follow when appropriate
- Being honest with people but always showing them care & respect
- Don’t get into a twitter discussion when you’re in face to face meeting with a friend – show respect to both & make space for them both
- Take a sabbath from social networking on a regular basis
That last one is particularly significant for me. I think social networking is tied in with the topic of the rhythms of our lives, and sabbath in particular. Rob Bell once said that “imagine something you couldn’t go a day without, and start there” when talking about sabbath – and I know that getting through a day without tweeting or going on Facebook, especially on my phone, would be very difficult for me – therefore it’s something I know that as part of my sabbath I’m going to need to lay down. I would say that anyone who has social networking as a regular part of their lives needs to make space in their lives where they lay it down, surrender it to God and just allow the world to go on without them, allow twitter to go on without them. Otherwise no matter what excuses we make, we are just making an idol out of social networking, and that’s not good.
We should be able to have lives without social networking. I remember growing up without even the internet, yet alone social networking, and it is possible to have a life and engage with others – and God – without it. It’s actually important, if we’re to have a Christ-centered attitude to life and social networking, that it isn’t an idol or god. We need to embrace social networking and make the most of it, but we must be equally willing to lay it down – it’s not god, and it never will be. Like anything, when used well it can help shape us in our faith and engage with God and others, but when abused it can become an idol and take the place of God. It’s vitally important we keep the balance right.
This is a big moment in history, and how we use social networking and define the rules for it as Christ-followers could lay the boundaries for appropriate use of it in future by Christians and even the world at large.
We must not ignore social networking, but fully engage with and embrace it, whilst also holding it very loosely, and remembering it is God, not twitter, that we worship.
What boundaries would define as appropriate for Christians and social networking?
Should we be using Twitter in church and worship, and if so how? If not, why not?
How would Jesus have used Twitter, if at all? If not, why not?
Do you have proper boundaries on your social networking, including a sabbath? If not, is it something you would consider?