Category Archives: Social Media

Tech Detox or Generation Gap?

The August 8, 2011 of the Christian Century had an article about young people, church camp, and technology called “Tech Detox.”  The article largely bemoaned teenager hyperconnectivity and expounded on the importance of praying cell phones and gadgets out of the hands of young people while at camp so that they can meet God.

I’ve read several articles in recent months which seem to complain or give advice about the need to disconnect in order to experience God, reconnect spiritually, etc.  The more of these articles I read the less I believe that this is really about toxic technology and the more I am convinced that this is actually about a generation gap.

We all know what a generation gap is.  As each new generation is born, grows up, and comes into adulthood there are generational differences that due to changing culture, technology, life experience, and circumstances that cause misunderstanding and mischaracterization of younger generations by older generations and older generations by the younger.   One of the areas it seems to me that is misunderstood is in the area of technology.

Because people are living longer we find that we have not just one or two generations living together in our society but as many as five generation.  My Grandfather was a rural mail carrier who began his work with a horse and buggy and retired delivering mail in a jeep.  Baby Boomers and Tweeners like myself and many Millenials remember times with much less technology before email, before the internet, and yes before VCRs, and DVDs.

Changing technology is a facet of the larger subject of “change.”  Different people adapt to change at different rates, some are slow to change, and some out right oppose any change to the lifestyle they are comfortable with.  So when it comes to the use of technology by our teens there are some things we have to recognize and adapt to:

1. Change is inevitable.  The way people live today is a far different than it was in my Grandfather’s day and also different than the society my parents grew up in.  So why should we expect that our children would live and interact the way we do?

2. The purpose of church is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  It isn’t to make young people experience church, camp, or life they way we do or did.

3. If we insist that young people experience God the way we did following our own culturally bound ways of doing things we are just as likely not to reach them at all, and not to make disciples of them.

So what does this mean?  Does it mean we never tell young people not to use their cell phone in a church venue.  No I don’t believe it does.  But I do believe at all costs we must stop treating and talking about changing technology and change in general as if change is “toxic.”

When it comes to camp I don’t care if young people are making wood carvings and shooting arrows or sitting in a room playing video games.  What I do care about is that we give them a contextually relevant message about the love and grace of Jesus  Christ and God’s love for each of us.  When we go onto the mission field we seek to meet people where they are with their own culture, their own language, and in their own context.  We don’t expect them to dress like we do, talk like we do, or have a culture like ours.  We better be doing the same thing with those around us here in the US as well if we ever hope to share the gospel message with them.

How can we speak about the transforming power of Jesus Christ if we are sharing the not so subtle message that change is bad?  My reading of the gospels gives me the impression that Jesus was never about us staying the same.  In fact Jesus was about radical change, radical hospitality, radical commitment, and transformative life changing world shaking grace and love.  If anything is toxic it is stagnation.

So lets stop singing that old song “What’s the Matter with Kids Today” and instead let younger people share with us the changing technology they love and we can share with them the transforming and changing gospel that we can all love together!

Social Media, Communication, and Ministry

Social media is a hot topic now in ministry communication circles. As Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of media have grown more and more people use them to communicate every day.

Many of the young people I know in there teens and twenties use Facebook rather than email as their main source of communication. I believe my daughter looks at email as “old people mail” and confesses to only checking her email account occasionally not even having her smart phone set up to check her inbox.

As communication is changing the church is all over the place in its use of social media. Some churches are jumping right in with Facebook pages and invitations to worship and events. Some churches are using twitter regularly to communicate. And there is certainly no shortage of pastors who have blogs where sermons are shared, theology is discussed, and current denominational changes are speculated on.

In the early days of internet communications the first church related system I was involved in was Ecunet. Ecunet started out with what looks like now to be nearly stone age technology. But the strength of Ecunet was the diversity of people who created “meetings” and had conversations from a multi-church and ecumenical perspective.

But over time new forms of communication came on the scene first with listservs, the yahoo groups and Google groups, and now Social Media.

The upcoming Iowa Annual Conference website is advertising that reports about conference will be sent out via twitter using the #IAUMC11 hash tag to help people follow the events of each day.

Last year I attended my very first Annual Conference. I was sitting in the visitor section so I followed twitter discussions about legislation from several posters around the room. It was one of the first times I really realized just how powerful twitter could be as an instantaneous collaboration tool.

But with the diversity of social media options what seems to have gotten lost for me in the shuffle is the sense of community I found in Ecunet. Ecunet has attempted to morph over the years from its first rudimentary communication platforms and now is found on Google groups. But with the traffic of the net already moving towards the instant communication platforms of Facebook and twitter discussion groups in a stand alone network don’t stand out. If a community like Ecunet is to prosper it is going to have to move into the social media world taking even greater risks to reach a wider audience.

It is true that Social Media as and new communication forms have been criticized a great deal. I see a lot of articles about how to unplug. I see critique (primarily from those who are Boomers or older) of text messaging as a means of communication claiming that people “just don’t talk anymore.” And then I see the bemused faces of young adults who are part of the plugged in culture who see the signs of a generation gap in these criticisms or just the usual fear of that which is new and different.

But while there are a few truths in these negative comments, I see young people actually talking more to each other, with more people, in a larger geographical and social framework than I would have ever dreamed possible.

The world is getting smaller and smaller as we all are on the verge of being able to communicate with people from across the entire world. The church can choose to ignore these changes or we can choose to use these opportunities for communication as one of the many tools in our repertoire to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the world.

A lot of people are pessimistic about the future. I believe that is one of the reasons people like Harold Camping with his dooms day predictions gets so much press. But the truth be told, Christians should be excited about the future. We should be the first to move in new directions and with new technology rather than the last. Why? Because we worship a God who is about creation, change, transformation, and grace. We do not serve a static entity embracing the past. No, we know a God who works today and in the future that we might be made perfect in Christ’s love.

So even as the Methodist circuit riders used the best means spreading the gospel that was available in their time. We need to strike out into the new landscape that technology has placed before us.

(You can find me on Facebook and on twitter @timbonney)