Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Why Our New Bishops Need to Master Social Media


I wrote this a couple of months ago, but thought it needed to be revisited as we prepare to elect new bishops. Shouldn't those who lead us use all the ways available to connect with us?

It’s that season again. The United Methodist Church is passionately preparing for General Conference where we will debate just about everything over fourteen days and in the end nobody will be happy but we will move forward. Then, before the dust settles, many of us will head to jurisdictional conferences whose primary function is to elect women and men to the office of the episcopacy. They will become our bishops. These leaders will be charged with setting the course of our annual conferences across the connection and keeping us accountable to our “critical drivers,” whichever ones are still in tact after General Conference. As an alternate to the jurisdictional conference I will, most likely, sit on the sidelines and hope to get called in but as a good Methodist I do have some ideas of what our newest class of bishops should be able to do and how they lead. For the next few months I will post these as my personal insights and invite yours. The first one is that I believe that our new bishops (and any church leader actually) should master social media, at least at some level.

I know, this is not a deep theological truth I’m expecting them to affirm, or a controversial issue that becomes a litmus test to their episcopacy, but it is a highly practical matter of how our leaders communicate and connect those of us “in the trenches.” Social media is not a fad, its not something that will just “go away” by ignoring it. Some social scientist actually believe that its influence may rival the printing press for its ability to shape and mold the hearts and minds of people, and it does it with unbelievable speed and often with a complete lack of accuracy. There are three reasons our new bishops need to be proficient in social media, because social media is about contact, content, and connection.

Social media is about contact. Gone are the days when we expect our leaders to be aloof and “professionally distant.” We want transparency in our leadership. Approachability is one of the traits people have told me over and over again they expect of their new bishop.  Effective use of social media allows for appropriate levels of contact and the sharing of insights and ideas that would have been formally reserved for the “inner circle.” It also allows for the reception by the leader of insights, ideas, and of course, criticism from the grass roots participant that would have been silenced by the bureaucracy in years past. We speak much about “flattening” our organization; social media is the ultimate organization “flattener” because it allows contact.

Social media is also about content. We complain and lament “misinformation” that is spread so quickly through Facebook, Twitter, and email. Mastering social media will allow our Episcopal leaders to actually enter into the conversations at the biggest and broadest level. They will be able to disseminate and correct information before a firestorm of falsehood erupts into an inferno. They will also be able to recommend books, articles, and resources that support the direction that God is calling them to lead their annual conference (or local church for the local leader) and engage in meaningful interaction around those texts and ideas. Additionally social media provides the leader with a platform to correct error and exercise the teaching office. So many times I have heard people say that our bishops have abandoned their teaching office, largely due to the overwhelming load of administration we have placed upon them. Now, with the help of social media, they can recapture the power of the teaching office, even if it is only a few ideas at a time.

Finally, social media is about connection. The people called Methodist claim to be a “connectional church” when in practice we may actually be a competitive church. Social media has the ability for a synergy of ideas to occur and the connection of people with similar struggles and triumphs to enter into conversation and make vital connections that will enable them to more fully serve God. It can provide our bishops with a place where they can give affirmation, provide direction, and stay connected with the churches, pastors, and people in the farthest part of their annual conference. In the end, that is what we want from our bishops, to know that they care about the smallest church struggling to serve Christ faithfully, as well as the largest church with its broad array of ministries. Social media can connect our bishops to both churches, and may even connect them to each other so they can create some synergy for the Kingdome.

I believe that our new bishops (and our existing ones as well) should be willing to climb the steep learning curve and master social media. Social media is the platform not only for the emerging generations, but largely for the existing ones as the fastest growing numbers of users are between 45-65 years of age. It is not longer an option, but a necessity for them so they can maintain contact, generate powerful discipling content, and keep connection with us in the local church. So, go ahead, sign up for Facebook, open that Twitter account, and show us that you are ready to learn. I remain:

Consumed by the Call,
Marty

PS Here is a video that speaks to the importance and impact of social media!

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