One of the reasons I began this social media challenge was to try and figure out how to use social media tools to minister to people. In theory I know it should work. In reality, it gets a little confusing how my Facebook pictures of puzzles, declarations of how cold it is outside and Twitter conversations between me and my office buddy constitute “ministry”. If I am encouraging pastors to hop on the social media supertrain, what, exactly, do I tell them when it comes “touching the lives of people you care about”? How do we do that?
I have come across 2 words that beautifully describe the “ministry” part of social media: Reverent Acknowledgement. Blogger Keith Anderson refers to this concept, plucked from seminary classrooms, to describe the act of “bearing witness, of beholding” the lives of people we want to bless. “The logic is that when people know they are heard, seen, and understood, they can be more open to God.”
So how does reverent acknowledgement happen in the face to face world? It might include asking people on Sunday morning about their week or their sick child or their home improvement project. It might include calling during the week to see how the job interview went or dropping a card in the mail encouraging a weary young mother. Each of these acts say that you are paying attention to the life of your friend and that you care.
While it isn’t exactly the same, there is no reason we can’t use social media to acknowledge the joys and struggles of our friends in a way that is even more timely (we dont have to wait until Sunday morning) and more focused (we don’t have to guess as to what they are worried about–it is right on their Facebook page).
The real trick is to take a technology tool that highlights one-way communication and self-messaging and turn it into a tool of acknowledgement and blessing. According to Anderson, this happens through quick Facebook “likes”, Twitter shout-outs, blog comments, or even a well-timed e-mail or wall post. It doesn’t have to take a ton of time, but from personal experience, I know I get absolutely shiny inside when I get a bunch of “likes” on my Facebook post or someone retweets what I said. In one quick push of a button, my friends tell me they are paying attention, they care about me, and they think that what I had to say was nice. The occasional friend’s comment on a blog or a Facebook post are an even clearer way of them pitching in and entering my world.
If we want to be using social media in a way that impacts people’s lives, I sincerely think we need to move beyond one-way, self-centered (or church-centered) broadcast messaging and figure out how to use the “social” part of social media to be present with the people we care about. And as lovely as reverent acknowledgement is for our family members and close friends, how much more meaningful can these little acts of kindness be for those who respect us or look up to us?
So, here is the challenge for today: commit to taking 5-10 minutes a day and read through the Facebook and Twitter posts of friends, family, people who look up to you, and people you feel particularly called to reach out to. Be free with your “like”s, quick comments, and strategic affirmations. Remember, it doesn’t have to be big. After all, a quick hug can say much more than a personalized sermon. When it comes down to it, social media doesn’t have to be a mass of random messaging and narcissistic primping. It can be a way to shine a little sunshine, a little affirmation and a little fun into people’s lives.