Monday, December 29, 2008

Social Networking and Ministry

Relationships...what are they? We talk about relationships all the time. Sometimes it is a boyfriend or girlfriend, sometimes we are talking about friendship or various other relationships. In my conversation with some youth pastors and a youth ministry seminary professor about social networking and youth ministry dealt specifically with this issue. They were convinced that social networking (myspace, facebook, or others) is keeping students from being able to have "real relationships". This obviously begs the question, what is a real relationship?

It is important to point out again that there are different kinds of relationships. Certainly a marriage can not be maintained in a healthy way exclusively over one of these social networks, but what about a friendship, a business relationship, or some other kind of relationship? defines a relationship this way, " a connection, association, or involvement." Based on this definition it certainly seems possible to have a relationship over some kind of social network. I don't know how having a relationship over a social network would be any different than using email, or some other form of electronic communication. You can certainly connect, have an association, or be involved in some way. Another question could be asked, what makes a relationship real?

From a logical standpoint this question is redundant. Any relationship is by definition a "real" relationship. In Scripture we see various examples of relationships we see marriages (we actually get a pretty in depth look at what those relationships are to be like), friendships, dating, boss employee, etc... There are many qualities that are good and Godly in a relationship like honesty, loyalty, faithfulness, love, accountability, etc... As I sit here and think about all of the good qualities that describe a good relationship and social networking I must ask this question, does social networking limit or distinguish any of these qualities? I think the answer is no! Some forms of real relationships can be initiated and maintained via social networking.

Marriage relationships of course require physical intimacy so to argue that a marriage could be maintained via social networking would be ridiculous. A friendship or even the relationship between business partners, mentor and mentee or other forms of relationships can certainly be maintained via social networking. There are still other questions that need to be asked. Does social networking limit a person's (especially students) ability to interact socially when face to face? Are people different online? How do these networks impact how we do ministry? Should we be fighting involvement in these networks or should we be using them? What would Jesus do? That last question might seem a little weird, but it is probably more significant than you might think. I will address these questions in upcoming posts.

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