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Youth ministry and social media: A process theology perspective

June 27, 2013
By Monica A. Coleman

This is the third in an eight-week series on Youth ministry and social media.

There are three generations living in my home: my mother, my partner and I, and our teenager and our infant. Conversations over dinner often reveal how much has changed over time. And what has not.

One evening, my mother tells my teenager that she is becoming more adept in her usage of Facebook. The teenager rolls her eyes as she says that no one uses Facebook anymore.

“But I am getting more followers on Instagram!” she declares.

“Instagram?! What about Facebook? Or Tweeter?” my mother replies.

“That’s Twitter, Grandma.”

Later the same day, the teenager tells us how some kids are selling small bags of candy and fruit to make money after school. She tells us that she suspects that the bags of food may include drugs. My mother tells her that kids have been doing that for over fifty years. (We had the requisite conversation about how we expect her to stay away from drugs.)

These two conversations are as much about ordinary life with young people as they are about the media people use to share content. Whether through a plastic bag or the trendiest Internet platform, human beings will find effective ways to transfer goods and knowledge. When the goal is to share the good news of our faith, do we emulate the example above—choosing a combination of old school and new school approaches? 

Can youth ministers keep up with the shifting seas of popular social media? Do we change from Facebook to Twitter to Tumblr to Pinterest to Instagram? Use them all? (Who has time for this?) How does one know when to change to new forms of communication? How does one know when the tried and true method of doing youth ministry will work fine? How does one minister with youth in a context where some things seem to change with the speed of light, while other things remain constant?

Process theology has always affirmed this aspect of how we live in and understand the world. Process theology describes change as a core aspect of the universe. Because what happens is a result of the past, what’s possible, and our own agency amid these factors, the future is undetermined. What will happen can vary greatly based on the ways we—and others—interact. As one who is in symbiotic relationship with us, God interacts with and responds to the ever-changing world. This changes who God is. God adapts to us and calls us in each life circumstance. Both God and the world are constantly changing.

And yet there is a part of God that does not change. God’s character and values are the same no matter what happens in the world. Even as the situation changes, the underlying principles of God’s call remain the same.

What we affirm in God is aspirational for us. We need to share a timeless message in ways that young people understand and use. We must strive to share consistent values and ideals even as the media changes. I suspect that there are core values to youth ministry that remain constant (i.e., listening to and valuing the experiences of young people as whole human beings and spending time together in activities that are not overtly religious). This not only helps us navigate the waters of youth ministry in today’s society, it also helps us to be more like God.

Monica A. Coleman, a research fellow for the New Media Project, serves as Associate Professor of Constructive Theology and African American Religions and Co-Director of the Center for Process Studies at Claremont School of Theology and Associate Professor of Religion at Claremont Graduate University in southern California.

The New Media Project is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact newmediaproject@cts.edu.


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