“working on my blog,” was the first tweet (Twitter slang for an update) I typed out on the mircoblogging tool Twitter on December 9, 2007. In fact, I remember clearly where I sat in our home at that moment and what thoughts of curiosity, hesitancy, and narcissism ran through my head as I posted those simple little words. It doesn’t seem like much does it? In fact, I used only 18 of the allotted 140 characters, unsure if anything I had to say was worthwhile at all. I had two questions for myself: Who is going to read this? Who cares? In and of itself, one tweet is just that: one tweet. But in the context of all the tweets that compose my growing Twitter profile, a more complex portrait of my life began to emerge, forming a narrative that is the beginning to a relational connectivity with others online, (and most likely in person) that is easier to achieve than it was before.
We all have the privilege to sit with people on a daily basis as they share various snapshots of their life with us. In fact, some of my fondest memories of being a college ministry director involve sitting across from a student at a coffee shop as we engaged one another over a cup of coffee and conversation. Those were memorable times, but one coffee talk chat was hardly enough time to even begin to get a sense of who that student was. Instead, I needed multiple trips to the coffee shop with them. One standalone conversation was just a short chapter in the larger narrative of that student’s life. But when compiled, all the conversations began to paint a beautiful portrait of who they were and what kind of story they were living.
You might find yourself asking, “Aren’t coffee shop and daily one-on-one conversations very sacred, in person encounters? What does Twitter have to do with those conversations, or life in the ‘real world?’” That is a great question. I believe Twitter is just as much about life in the “real world” (offline) as it is about life online. What we do online often translates offline. When we share something through a tweet online we are opening up a window into our lives about who we are. This can be done just as effectively online as offline and often with more vulnerability.
I have never understood how and why some people view Twitter as only an online tool without real world offline implications. Every time I tweet I am inviting others to see my life, to engage me, and to participate fully with me. In fact, I will argue that because of Twitter we often come to know people more fully than we sometimes do in our day-to-day, week-to-week encounters at work, school, and church. Twitter is a 24/7 engagement in the lives of others that affords us the opportunity to observe people in a unique way. We may see aspects of people’s lives and personalities through Twitter that we have not seen in person.
Twitter can also serve as an indictment of who we are as people; it shines a critical light on our inability to prioritize the importance of relationships and communication with those we care about. That’s why our engagement with Twitter should be holistic. It is not just an online tool; it can translate to our offline lives. As we integrate Twitter and other new technologies into our daily lives, we have many questions. But so far I have come to view Twitter as a gift to the relationships I already have, and as a gift in its ability to help form new relationships.
If Twitter gives us an opportunity to be a witness to others’ lives and the ability to engage with them on a daily basis, then I cannot think of a better tool for pastors and those involved in ministry. When a pastor is on Twitter, a two-way relationship can develop between the pastor and the congregation as each is privy to the unfolding narrative of the lives of the other. As a result, engagement offline can develop more effectively.
I know there are many reasons we could come up with for why pastors should, or should not, be on Twitter, but let me share just six ways Twitter can be a vital tool in helping pastors and congregants engage one another:
• Relationships—Twitter is an opportunity for pastors to get to know others. Whether it is other pastors, congregants, or people in their community, Twitter enables relationships to form and develop.
• Communication—Twitter is a phenomenal tool through which pastors can strategically cast vision, communicate objectives, share trends, and express concerns. It’s a two-way communication tool that allows pastors to talk to others and listen to what others are saying.
• Frequency—Face it: unless a pastor is blogging or cruising social networks, they get one shot a week to communicate with their congregation and that’s on Sunday. Twitter allows for a more thorough engagement throughout the week.
• Sharing—Twitter presents the opportunity for pastors to share life with others. Sometimes pastors are removed from the sharing of life with others by the pastoral role, or they hide in fear of being exposed. Twitter is an opportunity for pastors to be more real, more vulnerable, and take part in a process that humanizes them, rather than idolizes them or creates cynicism about their role.
• Mobilization—What other tool can a pastor use to communicate and gather an entire congregation instantaneously?
• Support—Twitter is a great tool for the pastor to ask for help, whether it’s by asking a question of the congregation, or the sharing of a prayer request.
A little over a year after my initial tweet, I have become a grassroots evangelist for Twitter. I have seen it revolutionize the ways I communicate with people online, and I am continually astounded by the opportunities Twitter has afforded me to participate more fully with those people offline.
Now is the time for you to be a part of the conversation by joining Twitter and engaging others in the journey of life one tweet at a time. And if you are already a Twitter fanatic like me, now is the time to go offline and engage others in the journey, one conversation at a time.
After 7 years of college ministry in Los Angeles, Rhett is now practicing full-time as a Marriage and Family Therapist in Dallas, where he lives with his wife and daughter. He is also passionate about the engagement of technology/social media in various areas of ministry and therapy. You can find him online at his blog (www.rhettsmith.com) and on Twitter, of course www.twitter.com/rhetter.