Mission Essentials Five: Social Media

“There might be something more, from MySpace to Facebook and Friends Reunited enjoy all those pictures, just don’t get excited”  (© Roy Stride)

I have a confession to make.  I find social media frightening.  I sometimes can’t stand it. There; it’s out there..  I don’t know whether you agree with me, but it sometimes feels like the world of social media is akin to the Wild West.  Signing up for an account at one of the beautiful behemoths, Facebook, Instagram, twitter, Snapchat or LinkedIn can feel like entering an unkown territory, where any danger could lurk around any corner – or is it only me who thinks like that?

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Most social media companies have more members than most countries have people.  When we become part of one (or all) of them, we are effectively grafted into a new community and given a new e-identity.  Each one is different.  It may be that one feels more like home?  Maybe there’s one you only use briefly, almost like a tourist?  Maybe there’s one that you can’t stop looking at or checking?  Social media has become a brooding prevalence in our culture and it is one that none of us can ignore.  What does it mean for our churches and can we engage with it in our mission?

I cannot give an entirely depressing view of social media.  There must be some good to it?  There must be some positives.  I think some of these positives can be found in the way that churches can use social media with regard to mission.  I noticed last week that a church in South London is seeking to appoint an Online Missioner to actively ‘further parish mission through social media’ (see Church Times no 8084 for the ad).  What a fantastic idea.  I wish them well with this project.  In our churches, we see that the use of Facebook and Twitter can greatly enhance the life of the church and the community. It is a way of expanding the boundaries of our church, to include those who may not so readily come to a traditional service or event.  Social media keeps people connected and could help us be connected with new people!

Let’s explore three possible approaches to social media in our mission.  I am extending the meaning of mission here to include all of our communication and interaction with those outside of our church gatherings.

The Full Embrace  – using this approach could involve the employment of somebody to manage your church’s social media profiles.  This could be a paid or voluntary position. The full embrace of social media would entail the creation of pages or groups on Facebook, running a twitter account with regular updates, having a fresh, creative Instagram account. Are you tired or confused yet?  It is true that many people log in to social media on an hourly basis – some people log in more attentively than that; their phone or tablet becoming a chirping appendage that is always bringing them an update, a story or hashtag to follow.

There are dangers to the Full Embrace approach. Individuals can become obsessed, pre-occupied and paranoid about how their social media is – some people even forget how to walk down a street or how to eat an un-interrupted meal or how to hold an actual conversation.  We mustn’t let the church get like that.  We are not necessarily called to be a slick, corporate social media account – we are called to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus. If we can do that on social media, then perhaps the Full Embrace approach is for us, but.. if the Full Embrace would lead to social media becoming a distraction or a pointless, self-aggrandaising waste of time, then maybe it’s not.

The Tentative Side-Hug – is a more polite approach to social media.  The kind of approach which might lead to us having a presence, but not updating it very often. This approach can also come from us not fully understanding how the social media platform works.  In our experience in Warlingham, we have found that posting on the general Warlingham community pages on Facebook is much more beneficial than posting on our own pages. We can reach many more people that way.

This approach is one that many churches go with.  If we have this approach, we must always remember to keep our main information up to date and ensure we have advertised other ways for people to be in touch.  Maybe ask around in your church and see if someone is willing to look after your social media on a voluntary basis?  With this approach it wouldn’t be too onerous.  This way of engaging with social media is arguably the best way – it can lead to social media as part of our wider interaction with the community.

The Not-In-MySpace – this approach involves the snubbing of social media as a postmodern irrelevance.  Our modernist ways of communicating are fine.  We have a noticeboard, we have a weekly news sheet, we have a website; we do not need social media.  If this is you, and your church, then I applaud you for your approach.  We are free to interact with social media as much or as little as we wish – if that amounts to no interaction then that’s OK… but… it could just be that it’s worth giving it a try!

To conclude, I hope that social media has a place in the mission of your church.

St Paul says:

I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view.                       1 Corinthians 9:19-21, The Message

These words of scripture should echo in our communities.  It could be that they are relevant to how we use social media.  Whatever your current approach is, social media is something that we cannot ignore.  It is here to stay, so we ought to take the words of St Paul, and find our approach.  Perhaps we will be surprised as to where God takes us on social media.  Perhaps he will show us new ways in mission.  Perhaps social media will help us reach more people with a positive message of what God can do in their lives.

Mission Essentials Four: Prayer

I remember listening to a great talk by Dick Dowsett on prayer.  It would’ve been around 1997 ish in the big top at Skegness for Word Alive (part of Spring Harvest).  His talk was rooted in Ephesians 1 and I can still picture Dick bouncing on his heels as he exhorted us to make prayer an attitude.  This re-vitalised my view of prayer.  As a young Christian, I had a view of prayer as an activity.  I return to this message often and find it to be comforting and challenging, depending on what kind of day I am having.

Yes,  I engage in prayer as an activity, but I find it most helpful to see prayer as an orientation or an attitude.  The depth of prayer is found in my heart first, then in my words. The richness of prayer is given an outward vesture in my words and actions.  Am I a person of prayer? How does prayer play a part in my spiritual life?  And how can it form an essential part of our mission as churches?

131349989_1a79dcc0b9How easy is it for us to bluster on in mission without prayer?  We have the good idea, get the meetings going and find all the practical details are in place.  Are we guilty sometimes of forgetting to pray?  How should we pray for our mission?

Let’s take a look at Paul’s words in Ephesians 1, and see if they resonate with us today.  We will hopefully draw out some principles for churches and praying for mission and maybe also some ideas for us as individuals regarding prayer.

Why should we pray for mission?  

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints..  (Ephesians 1:15, ESV)

In the first part of this letter, Paul sets out the basis of the faith of the early church.  He writes of the ‘riches of his grace’, ‘redemption through his blood’ and being ‘sealed with the promised Holy Spirit’ – it is clear that Paul has been deeply affected by what God has done for him. It is for this reason that he then prays for the church in Ephesus.  God has done something amazing for him, through Jesus, and he wants this to spread throughout the region.  So… he prays.  That appears to be his starting point.  Everything Paul writes to, and does, in Ephesus is rooted and founded in prayer.  Maybe this tells us something. We should begin mission with prayer.  Our mission should find its origin in prayer.

How should we pray for mission?

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers..                     Ephesians 1:16, ESV

There are two simple things in this verse.  First, the fact that Paul never ceases in prayer. Secondly, he prays for the people he is writing to.  The people of Ephesus were learning about faith, but Paul tells them he is praying for them.  He is thinking of them.  His heart and mind are turned towards them, because of what God has done for him.  How do we do on these two aspects of our church’s life and mission? Are we ceaseless in prayer?  Or is it all to easy for things to stop us?  Are we guilty of ‘just getting on with it’ without realising that the whole activity of mission ought to be soaked in prayer.  Perhaps as churches, we could mutually encourage each other to let prayer be part of our mission – at the beginning, in the middle and at the end.

The second half of verse 16 guides us to pray for our communities.  If we are holding an event and expecting guests – let’s pray for them.  If we are not sure how many people are going to engage with something that we are doing – let’s pray that people will come.  Let us turn our thinking, planning or worrying about mission into prayer.  Pray for opportunities, pray for growth, pray for the people that we meet.

Prayer could become an attitude in our churches, not just an activity.  With this attitude before us, it could be that opportunities for mission become greater, it could also be that more people catch the vision and become involved in mission.

Eight simple tips on prayer and mission

  1. Find the pray-ers in your church!  – some people epecially love praying and will do it beautifully dutifully.  Find them and ask them to pray.  Praying is a gift and some people have it in greater measure than others.
  2. Get people to sign up to pray for events whilst they are going on – some people may not be able to help with Alpha or Messy Church, but they can pray!
  3. Write a special prayer for mission and growth – share it with your church leaders and encourage it to be put in your news sheet or included in your weekly intercessory prayer.
  4. Set up a monthly prayer group or meeting, specifically to pray for your community – so not praying just for churchy things, but for everything and everyone in your community.
  5. Start every planning meeting or conversation with a prayer – wherever it might be.
  6. Ask people you meet whether you can pray for them
  7. Pray for growth in church and in the daily office (if that’s your thing)
  8. Keep a prayer journal for the church – what did we pray for?  Encourage people to write down their prayers at home.
  9. When you walk in your community; pray – offer the community to God.