Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Facebook Anxiety and Twitter Insecurity: A Caution to Youth Pastors

Facebook can make a youth pastor feel inadequate.

Twitter can cause youth workers to feel as though we are never doing enough.

Social media can help us connect with youth in ways that reinvent and open new avenues for pastoral care. But it also can sink us into deep inferiority complexes laced with anxiety and uncertainty about the quality, creativity, or popularity of our ministry programs and activities.

Many vocations caution their employees about spending too much company time on-line. Some block social networking sites from their employee's computers. My job actually requires me to spend significant time tweeting, friending, blogging, and texting in efforts to connect with youth, families, and other members of our church and local community. And while I am a huge fan of these sites, I also find them overwhelming.

Each day I scroll through my newsfeeds and am bombarded by a variety of posts and tweets accompanied with related photos, videos, links, invites, and comments made about past, present, and upcoming activities. As someone who works in the church, I often experience sensory overload in regards to what is going on in churches all over the country.

Youth pastors post about retreats, community outreach, curriculum content, events, attendance figures, presence at Friday night football games, partnerships, coffehouse gatherings, clever video creations, and a whole lot more.

And I am one of these very youth pastors.

Yet each time I encounter a post or tweet from a colleague it becomes easy to get defensive, competitive, envious, or anxious about the quality and effectiveness of "my" ministry.

Should I be doing more? Should I try that? They are lying, there wasn't 80 youth there! Make sure I post a pic next time I am out with students so all the world knows I am a good, fun, and relational youth pastor.

I find that social media significantly enhances youth ministry and relationships with youth. Social media can also lead a youth pastor to serve trend and the increasing need for peer approval and facebook likes versus the One who called them into their particular youth ministry and ecclesial context.

Youth ministry then becomes a competive virus that saps the life out of youth pastors. When youth ministries become overly consumed with social media they can also cause youth pastors, youth leaders, and the youth in these witnesses to the kingdom to crumble under the weight of an insanely competitve and pressure-soaked culture. We must be cautious not to feed into a culture that thrives on quests to impress and myths of achievement. Instead, offer good news that God's love is for us regardless of the number of followers, friends, or retweets.

When I was in high school and middle school, I remember the intense awkwardness and constant awareness of my appearance, posture, rhetoric, and (in)ability to fit in with the "it" crowd. Insecurity was certainly at an all-time high. And that was before social media. I cannnot imagine what it would be like to live as an adolescent within this technological age.

Or can I?

While I will continue to use social media and other on-line mediums for ministry and community formation, I must remember that I serve not to impress anyone. Each of us have been called to our context, vision, program, and people by the One who made us in the imago Dei and invited us to follow as Jesus' disciples. There is no other identity that can trump.

It's about time I start hearing my own preaching. Especially as I scroll through my newsfeeds.


Related Articles

Is Facebook Killing Our Souls? by Shane Hipps

Facebook Envy by Brianna DeWitt

Why Social Media Is Good for Us by Caleb Gardner

Why Do We Even Talk Anymore (a post I made that was featured in Conspire Magazine on-line