This is the second in a six-week Easter season series on celebration and social media.
I believe that one of the vital roles for preaching, if not the most vital role, is to offer people hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ, which produces celebration in their lives as a natural byproduct of the gospel. I believe that it is impossible to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and the congregation, at some point, not experience the joy and freedom provided by the gospel. I believe the preaching moment is prime and instrumental in leading the congregation to times of celebration, both in the preaching moment, the worship time, and the overall congregational life. Making preachers aware of their vital role in the celebration of the congregation, I remind preachers not to preach their doubts, but to preach what they deeply believe about the saving gospel of Jesus Christ, and celebration in some form will break forth in the church. The question for today is: will celebration break forth if the gospel is received through social media?
I remember my own hesitance, resistance, and ignorance to social media in worship. I watched two young teenage girls do what I assumed to be texting to their friends in service. It was distracting to me as they consistently typed on their smartphones. I thought it was rude until someone told me that I needed to look on the Facebook page of the church. When I went to the Facebook page, I found they had posted comments about the sermon and morning worship – very positive comments at that. This began to open up my mind to social media.
The final straw that ushered me into the social media age was when I was once away from church and decided to follow the Twitter feed during the service. It was amazing that I was getting an eyewitness account of what was going on in the service. In a strange way, I was participating in worship, and I was miles away. I followed the service and sermon because the “Twits” (that is what I called the folks who were Tweeting) gave me the worship and sermon blow by blow and point by point. I was involved in worship and excitedly waiting the next Tweet. I even Tweeted back. It felt like call and response. I began to understand the power of social media to include and involve persons not in the building in worship. I happened to be at the lake following the service, and when the preacher and the Tweeter rejoiced, I rejoiced. I celebrated with the church through social media. The content of the gospel, transferred to me via smartphone, lost none of its healing power, and the natural healing power gave way to celebration in my life, and I was not even in the building.
I believe that social media can function like a new form of call and response. Call and response is the time-tested, often African-American tradition, of “if you say something, I say something back.” It is the dialogue between the preacher and the congregation in the midst of worship and preaching. The preacher makes a point, and someone in the congregation says, “That’s right, preacher.” When I was away and following the service, I would Tweet back, “That’s right.” Social media allowed me to participate and celebrate along with the gathered congregation in the building as well as with other “Twits” on line.
Initially, I was concerned that social media was distracting in preaching and worship. Admittedly, social media is not for everyone and can be distracting for some, but for others, it is a form of participation in worship that we can label as call and response. Several times since, I have listened to presentations, sermons, etc. and Tweeted the main points along with some of my commentary. I am sure there were some people who thought I was not paying attention and was being rude. I was doing call and response to the speaker and allowing people who were not in the building to have the chance to participate. I believe social media have a vital role in spreading the gospel and engendering celebration.
Frank A. Thomas is Nettie Sweeney and Hugh Th. Miller Professor of Homiletics at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, Indiana, and Director of a new initiative on preaching and worship under development with the Center for Pastoral Excellence. He has been an ordained minister and pastor for 20 years and most recently served as the Senior Pastor of Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee.
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