[Episcopal News Service – Albuquerque, New Mexico] The Diocese of the Rio Grande invited me here to do a workshop on social media at their just concluded 60th convention. I showed up prepared to do that and a sermon about the power of social media broke out.
I started with a prayer for church communicators created by my friend the Rev. Jan Nunley.
“God who wrote your words:
on tablets of stone with fingers of fire.
God who gave your word:
the chief cornerstone with hands of flesh.
Help us who write:
with fingers of flesh through sparks of fire
to break open hearts of stone.”
We’re all communicators of the gospel but social media raises our presence—and influence—to extraordinary new levels. We can reach more people throughout the world in less time than ever before in human history. Social media has proven power that we would do well to use. Consider this: If Twitter can help bring down governments, it can help us build up the Kingdom of God.
My gospel lesson whenever I talk about church communications is from Matthew 5:14-16, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
For me our charge doesn’t get much clearer than that. We must let people know when we welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, visit the sick and dying. We must tell people why we do these things and that it is what happens when the Kingdom of God comes very near them. Social media allows us to communicate all this and more in real time.
Of course there are always folks who point out the shortcomings of social media and say, “I don’t want to know what someone had for breakfast,” or “I don’t care where someone is right now.” But in one of my workshops an attendee talked about one congregation where members were encouraged to post on their mobile devices how they were at the church. That’s certainly one way of witnessing to the gospel.
As God would have it, the workshops were on the feast day of St. Luke. It also was the day Newsweek magazine announced it would end its print publication by year’s end. Talk about a blessed “Godincidence.” Newsweek’s announcement begged the question about print publications vs. electronic. I think we have to do both. We have church members who are not online but are longtime members who need to be kept informed.
And just as Luke, Mark, Matthew, and John used the tools then available to share the gospel, so must we, 20 centuries later .
It has long been clear to me that communications is a ministry. I’ve long believed there should be a budget line for communications in every parish and every diocese with professionally trained paid or volunteer staff folk recognized as ministers of communication.
When it comes to social media, I’m not an expert by any means, but I’ve become a fan. I’ve come to see how digital technology and social media tools Facebook and Twitter allow us to share the gospel and our liturgy to more than those who worship in church buildings.
Each one of us can let our light shine. We now live in a time when we can shine that light farther than ever. What’s stopping us?
— The Rev. Dan Webster is canon for evangelism and ministry development in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. He serves on General Convention’s Standing Commission on Communications and Information Technology. He tweets @RevWeb.