Keith Anderson: Digital ministry and bearing witness to the holy
Social media gives pastors a new ability to point out the presence of God in the day-to-day of people’s lives, says the co-author of a new book on digital ministry.
September 11, 2012 | Bearing witness to people’s lives, in all the routine chaos of day-to-day living, is a holy thing, the Rev. Keith Anderson said.
And social media gives pastors and others a powerful way to point out the sacred in everyday life as never before, he said.
“One of the things I love about my job -- and the way that this plays out in digital spaces -- is that I get to name these things as holy,” Anderson said. “I get to point to how God is present in people’s lives.”
Ultimately, digital ministry isn’t different from face-to-face ministry, he said: “It calls forth the best in us and our training and the best of being in ministry.”
Anderson is pastor of Upper Dublin Lutheran Church near Philadelphia and co-author, with Elizabeth Drescher, of “Click 2 Save: The Digital Ministry Bible,” a follow-up to Drescher’s 2011 book, “Tweet If You ♥ Jesus: Practicing Church in the Digital Reformation.”
Anderson blogs on religion, new media and popular culture at pastorkeithanderson.net and writes and speaks regularly on digital ministry and the impact of digital culture on face-to-face ministry.
Prior to arriving at Upper Dublin in August, he pastored the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Woburn, Mass., for nine years.
He spoke with Faith & Leadership recently about “Click 2 Save” and digital ministry. The following is an edited transcript.
Q: How does this book differ from “Tweet If You ♥ Jesus”?
“Tweet” is a conceptual look at the role of social media in mainline denominations, and “Click 2 Save” is more a hands-on guide. It’s for people in ministry who want to know how to apply those concepts. When the first book came out, people said, “This is great, but how do I do it?” So that’s how “Click 2 Save” came about, and Elizabeth invited me to write it with her.
We feature more than 40 ministry leaders using different types of social media in their ministries. One chapter explains the various platforms -- Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Foursquare, blogging -- and explains how to get up and running, with examples of people who are actually doing it. We also explore the arts of ministry and how those translate into digital spaces.
The book is intended for any kind of ministry leader -- clergy or lay, whether in a congregation or specialized ministry or just trying to follow Jesus in their daily lives and wanting to know how digital media plays a role in that. Our intended audience is, in the largest sense, the priesthood of all believers. Often it’s people who are not in traditional ministry who are showing us the way on these things.
Q: The book uses the term “digital ministry.” What is that?
Most social media advice tends to be around marketing. It’s repackaged business advice, and that was not what Elizabeth had in mind with “Tweet” or what my experience was in the parish. Digital ministry is more of a ministry-oriented, relationship-building approach to social media.
It’s not about broadcasting or marketing. It’s about building relationships. Some of those, hopefully, will evolve into people joining your church, but it’s mostly a matter of offering grace in this digital world of Facebook and Twitter. Digital ministry is networked, relational and incarnational, so it’s developing relationships over time and pointing to how God is at work in our daily lives. And in the midst of that, we’re developing relationships online and then hopefully extending offline and then back online again.
Q: You and Elizabeth say that digital ministry is about establishing “real presence.” What does that look like in the digital world?
It looks like authentic and human presence. Often, churches and ministry leaders see these new technologies and think it’s another broadcast medium where I can tell you all about me and my church. But what people really want is to develop a relationship.
You can’t just share information about your church all the time. You want to share things about your own interests and your own life so people have ways to connect with you beyond just whether they go to your church. That gives people a window into what the life of faith actually looks like, not just in my role as a pastor, but as a father, a husband, somebody who lives in a particular community and has particular gifts and interests.
Digital ministry is about taking ministry -- the ministry that we’ve been trained to do in seminaries or divinity schools -- and extending it into digital spaces.
As Elizabeth argued in “Tweet,” social media really lends itself to the church, because these are the things we do. We share the gospel. We share grace. We build relationships. We build community. We express care and concern for people when they’re hurting.
Digital ministry isn’t different from face-to-face ministry. It calls forth the best in us and our training and the best of being in ministry.
Q: So how does it change ministry? What does it bring that’s different?
It allows us to have contact with people throughout the week. Often, you only see people on Sunday, or a couple times during the week.
But to bear witness to people’s lives as they live them is a holy thing. It often drives me to prayer.
One of the things I love about my job -- and the way that this plays out in digital spaces -- is that I get to name these things as holy. I get to point to how God is present in people’s lives.
Often, they’re so busy living their lives they don’t have time to reflect on that, so I get to do that, not just in my sermon or a pastoral care situation, but in the flow of daily life.
With social media, you can respond in real time to events that you may or may not otherwise have ever known about.
But the question I get asked most often by pastors is, “Where do I begin?”
The most important thing is to get started somewhere that makes sense for you and your ministry, and learn as you go. The important thing is just to get started.