As I sit, enjoying my mocha latte at a local coffee house, I watch the crowds of people mingle in various associations. They are engaged in numerous conversations as they sit opposite one another and fill the atmosphere with language and laughter, enjoying the respite of a moment together.
Okay, that’s not exactly how it happened. Let’s look at it again…
As I sit, enjoying my mocha latte at a local coffee house, I watch the crowds of people sit apart from one another. Engaged in their smartphones, tablets and various other hand-held devices, these people sit opposite each other and only the sound of the café’s canned music fills the atmosphere.
We once feared that our society had grown so materialistic it would be nearly impossible to bring a person to a place of sacrificial service. Our concern has reached a new height (or a new low if you think about it) in that we now must contend with the reality that many people live a virtual life, with so little real social interaction that the idea of even losing their phone or device would be likened to an epic disaster. I watched a television commercial that showed this truth in amazing clarity. It had a host take from those sitting around a table all their devices and then he chucks them into a wood chipper. The look of panic that flashes from their eyes is quite telling. When asked, “How do you feel,” a young girl responds, “my heart hurts!” Why wouldn’t it? Her entire social life has been ground to mulch. The virtual society has grown beyond a sub-culture of our lives—it is becoming the very essence of life for many.
Consider this: Much of what passes for encouragement today is little more than the thumbs-up click of a “like” button on Facebook, a “re-tweet” on Twitter or the “plus (+)” sign on Google+. Then there is Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and host of others that have left this antiquated Neanderthal in the dust. Instead of sharing the love of Jesus, we’re told to “share (some picture or meme) if you love Jesus.” That’s it? One button and your love for Christ is on display? Evangelism is reduced to a post on a social network with no personal interaction. It seems that true connections and friendships have been abandoned for virtual ones and now the measure of man’s stature is found in how many of these virtual connections he can make.
What is a pastor to do?
I believe, as I have learned along the way, these social networks and virtual connections can be used to make real relationships that will have an impact and bring about a transformational experience to the glory of Christ. It took me a while, but as I read Paul’s words over and over, it dawned on me that I better make the best use of this new paradigm if ever I was to impact my world with the gospel.
To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
So, I want to give you three things I’ve done that have helped me use the virtual world to make real relationships that have an impact—all for the sake of the gospel.
- Never abandon real relationships for virtual ones.
This first one is paramount! Virtual relationships can build a sense of ego and pride, as those who are outside of our immediate circle can be a source of constant praise. Real relationships are far more likely to know the truth of our lives and can keep us grounded to reality. Besides this, YOU need real relationships just as much as those you connect with online.
- Build social networks that are within driving distance.
Yes… I have virtual friends in Kenya, Wales, Scotland, Finland, Australia and many other countries around the globe. Those are fun, encouraging at times and very interesting. But I’m not likely to drive to Kenya from Washington State. So I strive to build my social networks within an area of actual ministry reach.
- Network with pastors outside my community.
This is of great importance as well. I connect with pastors around the country because I cannot reach people in, say, Vermont, when I’m in Washington. So I find local pastors who will connect with me in those areas beyond my community and give them a “heads-up” when I am working with virtual friends. I am a strong believer in the need for face-to-face ministry and have recruited some fine pastors to help bring others to the Lord Jesus.
So, there you have it. These three things are just some practical steps I’ve taken to help me make real relationships in a virtual world. I’m sure that you’ve done even more and I would love to hear about your efforts. Leave a comment and let me know how you’ve bridged the gap from the virtual to the real.
All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Holy Bible.
Michael Duncan is a multi-published author, including From Vision to Victory and Shadow Remnant. He is co-host on the Alive in Christ radio network and serves as a pastor in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. He is a keynote speaker and conference presenter and can be contacted at: http://www.authormichaelduncan.com and you can follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/michaelduncanbooks.