When I began in youth ministry, I was taught to “go where the kids are”. So I did. I would take lunches onto campus. Hang out at their sporting events. Go to violin concerts (that one hurt). I would even (and still do) have a makeshift office at a fast food restaurant near a High School in hopes of bumping into students. The change in times and technology has not changed the philosophy. Nothing replaces the fruit that is seen in developing relationships with young men and women and pointing them to Christ. They have now gone to cell phones and the Internet…and we need to follow. We see Paul, in Acts 17 spending time in Athens. Learning the culture, caring for the people, and communicating the hope of a God who was yet unknown to them. He took the time to become like them without sacrificing his own relationship with God. Paul didn’t expect the non-believing community to come to him. Christ commands us in Matthew 28 to, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…”. The question then changes from “can we” to “how can we” participate in the Facebook world of teens? These global communities aren’t places to go anymore; they are now something to do in a place they already are. It is a non-option for Youth Leaders. All that said that, I am going to speak against myself for a moment.
- Everything you type or text is able to be saved and can be resent to other people without your consent.
- Any good speech class will tell you that 95% of all communication has nothing to do with the words that are said or written, and it has much more to do with voice inflection, body language, and actual human interaction (none of which is accomplished over most of these modern means of communication)
- You MUST continue to be over cautious with the interaction that you have with students of both genders. Much of what is communicated can be misinterpreted.
So then it comes down to understanding the tool that you are using:
- Educate Yourself-The number of text messages sent in a year is not in the millions, but in the billions. There are over 250 million Facebook members and that stat is as of two years ago. The danger comes in realizing that each person who signs up for your page also has a group of friends and can’t screen the friends of the friends. It is kind of like “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”. The material on your page and pages of your approved students is ok, but their friends may not have the same standards you do. So others may be exposed to people that they wouldn’t have met if it hadn’t been for your page. You can’t control your students, but you can protect yourself, the people you approve, and the words you type on your computer and on your cell phone. If anything, you now are able to have influence over more students from the comfort of your own home. Just know who you are talking to, and realize that some of them may not be anyone you have ever met.
- Educate Your Students-Remind them that the Internet is a good TOOL, not a way of life. It can very quickly replace actual relationships and will become the driving force in their life. As a participant of this world, you can become anyone you want, and conveniently leave out anything you don’t want people to know about you. God created us to share life together (Acts 2:42-47), and an IM (Instant Messaging) life is not the equivalent. Use it to connect with people and then take the relationships to a face-to-face level.
- Set up times you are available on line and on your cell– I know many people who have someone on their youth staff be available every Tuesday and Thursday between the hours of 4-8 PM on cell phone/e-mail/Internet communities and the students will get a fairly quick response. An unexpected advantage to this communication is that some students will feel much more comfortable sharing in this type of a context. It isn’t necessarily right, but it does allow us to connect with different types of students who do want opinions or prayers but may not be ready for the actual human contact of a Youth Leader.
This global movement is more than a fad and should be looked at as an opportunity to approach with caution. It is one more avenue into the lives of students that may be closed to the gospel. We must use it effectively and safely. Never controlling us or damaging our ministry, but continuing the reason we got into ministry in the first place. To see people come to a saving knowledge of the Creator of the Universe. You can like that on Facebook any day!