By Dustin Hite, guest blogger
This is the sixth in an eight-week series on Youth ministry and social media.
As I sit down to write this post, I am acutely aware of the influence social media has on my life. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice when a new notification arrives on my smartphone—whether from Instagram or Facebook, Twitter or Podio, my “online self” seemingly invades every moment of my existence. And yet, even as I can admit this in a moment of candor, I’ll inevitably pause my writing long enough to ensure I haven’t missed anything important. Such are our social media lives, where we spend hours upon hours cultivating an “online self” that may or may not look like who we are in real life.
At 32 years old, I am just old enough to remember a time when my family didn’t have a computer or Internet in the home—a reality my own kids will never know. As a pastor, I see how social media is affecting various aspects of ministry. In some ways, social media represents a new horizon for ministry, where access and connection can be had in the palm of our hands. For instance, in my own congregation, it allows our youth ministry staff to connect with any one of a 100+ students in a matter of seconds. In other ways, though, it has the potential to pervert normal relationships when individuals trade deep human connection for intimacy on the cheap. In the introduction to her book Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, Sherry Turkle writes that “technology is seductive when what it offers meets our human vulnerabilities.... Our networked life allows us to hide from each other, even as we are tethered to each other.”
Even while social media allows us to connect with youth on a much broader scale and its benefits for quick communication can seem invaluable, we must continually ask ourselves how it may also be perverting our understanding of intimacy and community. Throughout our congregations, youth are finding their identity and self-worth largely by how they’re perceived on social media. Did their Instagram pic get enough “likes”? Were they invited to the “in” Facebook group? How many people follow them on Twitter? A youth in our congregation can have their whole world shattered simply by an errant comment on social media (not to mention the ease with which social media is being used for bullying).
As pastors, we must continually help our kids and parents understand how social media offers a whole range of possibilities for connecting with others—in fact, social media may be partially credited with how quickly this new generation has become more open and inclusive of diversity. But, and not to sound like a Luddite, we must also be aware of how social media can lure us into a false assumption of relationship and connection. If we are to serve the youth in our congregations faithfully, we must continue to remind them that their identity is more than the number of “likes” they get, their Klout score, or the number of people who comment on their post. Maybe the most subversive action we could teach our youth to do is to occasionally turn off their access to social media and seek out relational connections that are not mediated through an electronic device. Maybe then they’d see just how loved and connected they really are.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some notifications to attend to ...
Dustin Hite is the North Campus Pastor at Geist Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). He is a graduate of Christian Theological Seminary and Cincinnati Christian University. He is currently writing his MTS thesis.
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