What Facebook can teach us about ministry

8/5/2011

By Rev. Ben Gosden

It’s become everyone’s guilty pleasure. It’s that one place you go when you don’t feel like working or paying attention and you just want to see what’s going on in the world. It’s become one of the biggest time-wasters in life and yet, it’s also become one of the first places where we share and announce life events. Relationships are no longer “official” until they are announced here. Acquaintances and friendships are not legitimized until they are “official” here. Job interviews can be ruined if too much information is exposed here. What am I talking about? The answer is Facebook.

With more than 500 million people now signed up, the social networking website, if it were a country, would be the third largest in the world, just behind China and India. Last month, “TIME Magazine” named Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, as their Person of the Year. Now we can probably have a good debate on the actual value of Facebook in the world. Many naysayers claim it feeds our narcissism, wastes our time and teaches us that superficial connections are the only ones that matter in life. This isn’t entirely untrue. In fact, much of Facebook is just that. On the other hand, it’s one example of the new reality we face of how society operates. So I’m going to go ahead and show my cards by saying that I believe Facebook to be not only of great value to our society, but also a source of inspiration for the Church and how it attempts to exist in a changing world.

TIME’s editor, Richard Stengal, wrote a great essay on the meaning behind Facebook and what it exposes about our society. Stengal argues that we live in a world where people don’t trust authority or institutions like we once did. It used to be that blind loyalty was a trademark of institutions like the Church. We went to church because our parents went to church and because their parents went to church. It doesn’t take an expert on church trends to see that such a line of thinking is about as out of date as eight-track players and typewriters. Folks no longer go to church out of some sort of “cultural obligation” or sense of loyalty.

So what does that mean for those of us who still believe in the Church? For starters, it means we have to look to places like Facebook for insight. Stengal goes on to write that, despite the great sense of doubt and mistrust of those authorities and institutions we historically turned to, Facebook shows us that there’s one place we still trust and will turn to: each other.

In our churches, we go to a lot of trouble searching for that next great program or ministry. We try to nuance what we do by putting in rock bands or catchy program names or whatever else might make us seem relevant. All the while, we miss the fundamental need people have. At the end of the day, people just want to connect with other people.

It’s through the authentic connection and community building that people will experience the love and grace of the Living God. People are hungry for the connection – not our programs. What makes people find a place in our churches boils down to how willing we (in the church) are to love and accept all people no matter what. After all, that’s how God looks at each and every one of us.

And to think, it took a Harvard dropout like Mark Zuckerberg to help show us in our 21st century language what Jesus meant when he said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

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Rev. Ben Gosden is an associate pastor at Mulberry Street United Methodist Church in Macon. He can be reached at bgosden@mulberrymethodist.org. Reprinted from Covered in the Master’s Dust (www.mastersdust.com).