Tom Arthur: The foursquare gospel

Jesus didn’t hang out in the office.

No, I’m not talking about Aimee Semple McPherson. I’m talking about foursquare.com, where I was last seen at the Capital Area District Library as the mayor. Yes, I am the mayor of the local library. I proudly sport my Bookworm “badge” right alongside my Local and Greasy Spoon badges.

For those of you who are lost, foursquare is an app I use on my phone to “check in” to various places I go (thanks to the GPS in your phone that works with the app to pinpoint exactly where you are), post that check-in to facebook, and let my “friends” know where I’m working or playing. When you check in to a place so many times you get a badge. And if you check in to a place more often than others, you become the mayor. I am mayor of three places (my old UMC church where I’m the only person who has ever checked in), the MSU Wesley Foundation (come on college students, catch up!), and the local library. I was the mayor of our church office until my communications assistant caught on and stole it from me (while I was on a mission trip to Nicaragua!).

So what does foursquare have to do with pastoral leadership? Good question. I really wasn’t sure until I started. I began using foursquare because of a commitment I made to get out of the office and work more in the community. I now only spend about one day in the office each week. The rest of the time I’m hanging out in coffee houses, restaurants, on Michigan State University’s campus, or in the local library (did I mention I’m mayor of the library?). I’m doing this because I don’t read much in the Gospels about Jesus hanging out in the office. But living out this commitment brought on a particular problem: how do people know where I am if I’m rarely in the office and if they want to stop in and talk? My first thought was to simply post this info to facebook as a status update. But then I found foursquare which does the whole thing in a lot smoother package.

Have I answered the question about pastoral leadership yet? No? Ok, here we go. I’ve now accumulated somewhat of a history of where I spend my time in the community (133 check-ins). Each of those check-ins is given a category. I’ve checked into nine different religious centers, five different airports, five different medical centers, five different cafes and four different coffee shops. Darn-it! Religious centers still rank at the top of my list! In fact, the place I check in the most is still Sycamore Creek Church Office (and I’m not even the mayor there anymore!). Didn’t I make a commitment to spend more time in the community than in the office?

This whole foursquare thing, which began as a simple and practical answer to a problem I was having, has turned into a kind of Wesleyan journal that holds me accountable to my own commitments. Who decided to use foursquare anyway?

So maybe I’m OK with my communications assistant stealing the mayorship of the office from me. I don’t want to be spending much time there anyway.

But did I mention I’m the mayor of the local library?

Tom Arthur is pastor of Sycamore Creek United Methodist Church in Lansing, Michigan.