I admit it; I’m hooked on some of the new instant message technology. I’m never more than a few thumb-clicks away from sending a message to all my friends on my ever-present Blackberry.
Technology has certainly been embraced by church-goers for ages. Just a generation or so ago, the advent of radio and television created opportunities to reach new people and create new pulpits for both the gifted preacher and the not-so-gifted.
Social networking, including instant-messaging, Facebook and Twitter (“texts, posts and tweets”), make it even easier to be in touch with not only our friends and the people in church but send a “shout out” to just about anyone that wants to listen. As with any new technology, there are new ethical challenges that accompany its embrace.
Our words are powerful
Our words are powerful forces and while we may be reminded that Scripture says that “death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21), all too often people that are tweeting and posting forget that their texts, posts and tweets will have similar consequences.
Recently, there was the first recorded occurrence of “text rage” actually leading to the severe beating of a 15-year old Florida student after a brief flurry of text messages earlier in the day with her attacker. We don’t have to look to police reports however to see the impact of inappropriate texts, posts and tweets within the church.
Social networking is an instant way to communicate with hundreds and even thousands of people but an inappropriate comment, word or accusation, once delivered cannot be retrieved. The harm is already done. I know of an unfortunate situation that involved a young pastor who posted just too much personal information on his MySpace profile. Anything posted on these social networking sites is never private and is really never restricted to the few friends that have been granted permission. Quite often, the most outrageous and damaging information, videos and messages are forwarded and reposted and can never be recovered.
Creating healthy boundaries
All of us really need to rethink the issue of privacy and formulate some healthy boundaries when it comes to our texts, messages and tweets. Individuals need to remember that comments that you may have had in private are not to be made public and all texts, messages and tweets have to be considered public. Christians should not be “flaming” or participating in rude spamming, trash-talking and arguing on the social networking sites.
Churches and other ministries should also be especially careful about the release of confidential information and the casual misuse of copyrighted material which seems to be all too common today. Churches should also consider whether unedited “comments” are allowed by anyone replying to posts or if some supervision is required.
Social media is a creative and inexpensive tool that can be used but is very easily abused.
Ken Behr is campus pastor of LifeChurch.tv in Hendersonville, TN. www.lifechurch.tv