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Should Missionaries Use Facebook and Twitter?

Should Missionaries Use Facebook and Twitter?

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Published by Karl Dahlfred
In this article, I want to take a look at both the advantages and the dangers of using Facebook & Twitter to help missionaries think about whether these social media are something that would be worthwhile to invest some time in or not
In this article, I want to take a look at both the advantages and the dangers of using Facebook & Twitter to help missionaries think about whether these social media are something that would be worthwhile to invest some time in or not

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Published by: Karl Dahlfred on Aug 05, 2010
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Should Missionaries Use Facebook and Twitter?
Karl DahlfredWith the increasing popularity of social media such asFacebook and Twitter, there are lots of advantages formissionaries to use these media for both local ministry,and ministry with supporters in the home country. Ihave been using Facebook for about two years now,and Twitter for one year. There is lots to like but it is acontinual challenge to make them work for me as aministry tool and not turn into an entertaining distraction.I speak as one who uses both Facebook and Twitter and is continuing to think throughhow best to use them. Facebook and Twitter are not used in exactly the same way, anddepending upon what you want to accomplish, you might choose one over the other. Ingeneral, Facebook is good for connecting people that you actually know, whereasTwitter is good for connecting with people who share common interests. SorenGordhamer
ʼ
s article, “When Do You Use Facebook vs. Twitter?” gives a more detailedbreakdown of why you
ʼ
d choose to use one over the other. However, for the purposesof this post, I am going to lump Facebook and Twitter because there are a lot ofcommonalities between them.There is lots of talk about social media being revolutionary but I am not here to tell youthat if you aren
ʼ
t using social media, then you should be. If doing stuff on the computeris a real chore for you, or if you really don
ʼ
t like writing, then Facebook and Twitter mightbe more of an annoying burden then a blessing. Also, if you are a missionary workingamong a semi-literate people who may not even have telephones, or living out in the jungle someplace with extremely limited or slow Internet access, then you may want toskip the social media revolution for the time being. Facebook and Twitter can be usefulministry tools but they won
ʼ
t necessarily be helpful to everyone in every situation.In this post I want to take a look at both the advantages and the dangers of usingFacebook & Twitter to help missionaries think about whether these social media aresomething that would be worthwhile to invest some time in or not. But before we get tothe advantages of using Facebook and Twitter, let
ʼ
s talk about the...
DANGERS1. Time Consumption
Once you log on to Facebook and Twitter, there is so much to look at that it is reallyeasy to waste a massive amount of time reading and commenting on everyone
ʼ
supdates, looking at their photos, and discussing current events. It
ʼ
s not that any ofthose are bad in and of themselves, but it is easy for social media to eat up the time thatwould really be better spent elsewhere.
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2. Distraction
It is easy to get addicted to checking your email often, but with Facebook and Twitterthe addiction potential is even worse. There is almost always something new andinteresting to read or look at every time you open up Facebook or Twitter. And if youhave some kind of notifier installed in your browser, on your desktop, or on yourhandheld device (mobile phone, iPod, etc.), then you keep getting little messages andbeeps saying “Hey! Look at me! I am much more interesting than whatever you areworking on right now.” I couldn
ʼ
t deal with it anymore so I deleted the social media add-ons from my browser and took the Facebook and Twitter applications off of our iPodtouch (which is connected via a wireless network at our home). So far, I am happierand more focused without these unnecessary add-ons.
3. Escapism
When family life or ministry is stressful, it is way too easy to check out via Facebook orTwitter. When I have trouble thinking about how best to put my sermon together orhave some unpleasant but necessary task that I should do, it is way too easy to “just”check Facebook or Twitter quickly to see if there is anything new. And lo and behold,there is almost always something more interesting to look at, and it is never very quick.My own weakness is to read missions or theology articles that I find on Twitter or to getinvolved in a theological debate on Facebook that doesn
ʼ
t always have much directrelevance to my local ministry. Some of that is fine and can be helpful, but too much isescapism and exhibits a lack of self-control.For the missionary living abroad, there is the added temptation to “go home” viaFacebook when language, culture, or ministry are difficult. When you have a “what-on-earth-are-these-people-thinking” moment, it is very easy to escape home via Facebookand “spend time” with people who understand you much better. While stayingconnected with family and friends from home via Facebook is a good thing, doing it toomuch can be a way of avoiding the hard work of learning to love and understand thepeople around you. It is more important to be invested local and incarnationally, and tounderstand the issues that people are talking about locally than to stay current onsports, politics, and church issues from “back home”. I am not saying that missionariesshould stick their head in the sand about what is happening in their home country, butrather we need to ask ourselves, “How much do I REALLY need to know about thisissue? How important is this? Is knowing about this, and engaging my mind and heartin this issue going to aid or distract from the ministry that I am called here to do?”4.
Assuming that “Everybody” Uses It
There are lots of people using Facebook and an increasing number of people usingTwitter, so it can be easy to assume that everybody is on it, or if they are not, then theyshould be. Most of the missionaries whom I know, and most our family, friends, andsupporters from the U.S. are on Facebook. However, here in Thailand there is only asmall minority of Thai people who use email, Facebook, or Twitter. Most of them arestudents or more wealthy and well-educated.
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The majority of Thai people whom I meet on a regular basis don
ʼ
t do email, Facebook,or Twitter. They know about the Internet and many have used it at some point but theyare not “connected” and many probably care less whether someplace they go has wifior not. This is not a value judgment, but merely a statement of fact. To “connect” withthem, I need to go visit them or give them a call on the telephone (if they have one).There are a handful of Thai whom I keep in touch with via email or Facebook, butwhether or not I have an “online presence” makes very little difference to the majority ofpeople whom I am here to minister to. And face-to-face or on the telephone is usuallybetter for real communication anyhow.Despite all of the above dangers that need to be watched out for, I have found a lot ofadvantages to using Facebook and Twitter as part of ministry as a missionary.
ADVANTAGES
1.
Staying Connected with Supporters
A regular prayer letter is probably still the most important way for missionaries to stay incontact with supporters but a few shorts updates per week on Facebook can givepeople a greater sense of being connected with you and your ministry. At the very least,a Facebook update from a missionary is a reminder to people that you still exist and arenot just “out there somewhere” in missions land, inaccessible except by machete andLand Rover.It is easy to give just one or two sentence nuggets of info in a Facebook update to letpeople know what ministry activity is happening that day, to share a prayer request, orto tell people something that you praise God for. Bits of info about the local culture,language, or religion of the place where you are living can be a simple educational toolto help people understand more about what your life and ministry looks like. If you postBible verses, testimonies, or links to articles on missions or theology, this can be a wayto minister to those who are praying for you, giving back to them something of benefit inappreciation for their partnership with you in your ministry on the mission field. Whetherregular Facebook updates really help people to pray more remains to be determined. Iwould optimistically like to think that it does.If you don
ʼ
t like the idea of logging on regularly to post little updates, you can evenschedule them in advance with a free application like HootSuite. In one sitting, you canwrite updates for an entire week or month, selecting when you want them to appear.Spacing them out increases the likelihood that they will be read and not just skippedover as people drink from the fire hose of information that comes at them on thecomputer everyday.2.
Build New Connections for Ministry
Missionaries on home assignment (furlough) can meet a lot of people while speaking atvarious churches and other Christian groups but it is very difficult to follow-up on most ofthe relationships started at one-time meetings. However, via Facebook or Twitter you
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