Being an online prophet.

Hello… It’s me.

Where are you?

“Learn the lesson that, if you are to do the work of a prophet, what you need is not a sceptre but a hoe.”

— Bernard of Clairvaux

What follows was written a good few years ago, but as my first post of this new blog, I hope it gives some idea as to why this site exists, and why I bother to put things on t’internet at all.

Social media has many uses and offers many ways of using our voices. It’s interesting thinking about churches and Christian organisations I follow on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Some read pretty much like a newsletter, telling me of events or campaigns, and perhaps asking for prayers for particular ministries. Others add actual prayers or liturgy, while relatively few link to resources I might find useful and things I might be tempted to interact with. Even fewer regularly promote things going on in their wider community outside church activities, ministries, theology and news of interest only to those already involved in the Church. As someone who’s long been involved in online ministry (as well as being active in ministry in the flesh, I hasten to add), I’ve been grappling with this: how does this look from the outside, and am I missing a trick here?

So… what’s a prophet?

The work of a prophet involves calling people to God. I think there is a challenge here for anyone who is seeking to have an effective online ministry. Not everyone is called to the work of a prophet, but I am not entirely convinced that I see much of this kind of ministry being done by individual churches online , and not in a way which engages people. I may be wrong! Do tell me in comments if I’ve overlooked what you are doing – I’d love to promote it, be encouraged by it and celebrate it. However, at the risk of re-inventing this particular wheel, here are my thoughts on how to meet this challenge of calling people to God through how we use social media. To use Bernard of Clairvaux’s words, this means relying less on appearing regal and authoritative (wielding a royal sceptre) and more on actually working alongside people, sharing their lives, concerns and needs and preparing the earth for sowing by hoeing. The resurrected Christ was mistaken for a gardener, so I rather like this image of Jesus offering to equip me with a hoe rather than a sceptre. This also chimes with Jesus’s example of washing his disciples’ feet and telling them to do the same.

A question then: when someone sees my online ministry over time, how would they see Jesus the servant King, holding a towel to wipe his disciples’ feet, reflected in it?

This is quite a challenge, and especially tricky I think if you are representing your church or organisation via social media. How do we call people to God, how do we make the ground ready, how do we work alongside those we want proclaim Christ to? Because our online presence is technically global, I think the local impact of our worldwide-online presence can sometimes get overlooked.

Some ideas, then, tailored mainly for church groups, and mainly aimed at the impact on communities locally.

Promote other events in your community
As well as your own events and news, ReTweet and Share things not related to your church but which will serve your community. Become known as a hub of positive news about where you live and show that your church cares about what happens locally.

Encourage others locally
As well as a Share or ReTweet of other groups events and news, comment, congratulate, commiserate, encourage and engage.

Engage in the local conversations
Even if there is a contentious issue which might not be wise to get your church too closely associated with, or seen as being on one side or the other, how about posting that you are praying for all concerned? It might not always be appropriate, but it’s worth considering letting people know that you are engaging in prayer and are concerned for the people caught up in an issue.

Be part of the bigger picture
Consider whether you might become part of a local hub to promote your community and events in general. Talk to your town/parish council and other groups and, if you are the organisation with the most web traffic, find ways to use your online resources as part of a bigger local picture. Just as some rural churches have housed local post offices, shops and council leaflets, perhaps you could become the online place to come for information of all kinds. Be generous in sharing your online resources, impact and goodwill. This isn’t about hijacking other groups’ traffic or of diluting your online presence: it’s about the church being engaged fully in local life and tilling the earth alongside its neighbours.

Risk and Reward
There are pitfalls and risks in all the above. I sometimes worry that I may accidentally end up associating my church with something it would not wish to by a careless Tweet. The answer lies in not Tweeting carelessly, of course… and in prayerfully developing a strategy for how to present our church online. And here is revealed one of the secrets: it is very hard for an organisation to be a prophet. Social media by its nature lends itself better, in my experience, to people interacting than organisations. Fortunately, then, God calls people rather than organisations to do the work of prophets. In other words, bring something of yourself to the mix. Invest yourself and don’t be too afraid to do that. Take risks prayerfully and you’ll find that when your Church comes to prophetically call your community to the Lord, the ground is tilled and ready to receive God’s Word. And perhaps your community will hear.

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