November 9, 2009
What do tweets reveal about what pastors really value?
Social media like Facebook and Twitter have received an abundance of critique, not the least of which is that social media users are self-absorbed. But I wonder if we might turn answers on Twitter to the question “What are you doing?” or on Facebook’s status update into an opportunity for self-examination. It might even be an opportunity for Twitter and Facebook users to examine not just what they are doing but how it aligns with our mission.
I’ve spent some time observing pastors who tweet or regularly update their status on Facebook, and I’m far from convinced it’s simply self-absorption or an attempt by little people to make themselves famous. But these updates do reveal what is uppermost on the mind. But let me begin with a confession: I use these social media tools to draw folks to my blog and to the concerns I have there. In addition, on Facebook I have a good time with my “Friends” discussing sports or the news.
And I’m not alone. The idea of both Facebook and Twitter is to share with friends – real friends and not just cyberfriends – what you are doing. We all know that this can slip into silliness with tweets like: “Having a chocolate macchiato latte, double shot espresso with a raspberry scone” But we should also admit that tweets can be a valuable communication form. And another thing is clear—Twitter and Facebook are here to stay. Over time the craziness will wear off and the abilities of social media will become more clear.
Still, there are observations to make about what we see from pastor tweets. Over time I’ve noticed that many pastors tweet links to business people and leadership gurus, Seth Godin being the most common. We discover plenty of emphasis on news items, especially controversial ones. Pastors often became “green” in the recent Iranian student revolution. Pastors tweet a lot about sports. There seems to be a near obsession in pastor tweets with terms like “creativity” and “innovation,” and a corresponding neglect of our great tradition or our heritage in the Church.
Pastors tweet quotes from their reading, and inform us of what they are reading. Sunday tweets tend to be gratitude tweets. We also regularly discover who is meeting with whom (and the “whom” is always a notch above the “who”), or where someone is traveling. We hear about accomplishments but almost never any failures or disappointments, making the Twitter world largely a happy face community.
I have seen some gospel in Facebook updates – some tweets about Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection, but very few about how Israel’s story came to its goal in Jesus. Very few, in fact, about the Old Testament at all. There is some theological orientation. Even if it is hard to reduce theology to 140 characters, the limit of a normal tweet, it can be done and it has been done well. The issue is how infrequently pastors and religious leaders provide such theological orientation and how often they link us to such concerns. Oddly, there is an absence of short prayers for others or ejaculatory prayers for God’s help in a tough situation. In fact there are almost no prayers at all.
So, let me ask pastors who tweet and who update their status a few simple questions: What do your updates tell us about what you are doing? About what is uppermost on your mind? About what is most important to you? It is time to take stock. Perhaps you are like me—using social media to draw the attention and time of others to something else. But where are we leading these folks? What do our links reveal about what is most important to us? About what is uppermost on our minds?
Twitter and Facebook offer us an opportunity for self-examination. I know they have for me.