Mr. Wesley instructed his pastors to preach with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. If he were giving instructions to the women and men delivering the Gospel message today he would only have them use one hand, because that is all we need to work a smartphone. It also leaves the other hand open for the caffeinated beverage of our choice. How do we as influencers of the lives of youth teach and live our lives on and off our screens that guides them to a closer walk with Christ and making wise choices with technology? To find the answer to this question we need to look to three general rules Mr. Wesley gave his early followers:
Do no harm.
Stay close to God’s heart.
Ten words formed by 33 letters that when practiced properly can change the tangible world and the virtual world.
Do no harm. When this rule is practiced it simply means that a we will pay attention to our words, actions, and silence in order that none of these things will harm anyone in any way. It can simply mean “don’t hit people” to a child but to a youth using social media can mean, “Before I post, text, Snap, blog or vlog this gif, Meme, picture, idea or quote I will consider if it shows God’s love?” Another way of putting this can be found in the Movie “Wonder” when we are taught the mantra, “When given the choice to be right or kind, choose kind.”
This practice is not easy. We can easily pass it off by saying that it requires too much time and attention to the details of our fast-paced on line lives. But consider this, if we think it cannot be done then it cannot be done but if we believe it can be done with help from God and the community we live in it can be done. Another thing keeping us from making this type of change in our social media life is we are afraid of the consequences. “What will my life look like or what will my online community think of me if I begin to practice this ‘do no harm’ lifestyle?” We will begin to look a lot more like Jesus and I thought that was our goal in all things anyway.
This rule is best explained by living in a way that we extend hospitality and goodness to all we meet in the tangible word and online. 3 John 11 says, “Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God.” This is a specific call the Christ followers of that time and to our time in the tangible world and the virtual world. If what your students are about to post does not involve one of the fruit of the Spirit found Galatians 5:22-23 ( But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law) then it might not need to be posted or shared online. This verse provides a great formula/proof to make sure an online communication fits the nature of a disciple: Self-Control = Love + Joy + Peace + Patience + Kindness + Goodness + Faithfulness + Gentleness. By living out this formula we put others first in all ways and model the nature true community online.
Practicing this rule online also comes with its hardships. Giving up the stance of having to be right and putting others needs first presents many obstacles when perceived by the world’s eyes. What if I get rejected by my friends by showing grace online to someone they deem unworthy. This is a chance you take but it is well worth the taking. Finally what if we are perceived as having a weak faith and no one looks out for me online. In our youth ministries we are good at cultivating community in the tangible world at church and school. Our next frontier is cultivating these communities in the online world of social media and other forms of online communication.
Stay Close to God’s Heart
The final instruction of Mr. Wesley is far easier said than done. Staying close to God’s heart is the practice of daily habits that keep us in close orbit of God so that they affect how we live offline and online. The best example I have heard of teaching this point is to have youth take their pulse on their wrist or neck and then read them the story of the Last Supper told in John 13. John is “reclining” on Jesus’ chest and can hear the very heartbeat of the Savior of the universe. Our own heartbeat echoes HIS. How can we get it to be the same as His.
The practice of this rule is a clash of cultures but is one worth clashing over. We have to teach our youth, leaders, and congregations that Bible Apps, Devotional Apps, and Online Discipleship tools hold that same value as holding a physical book. While there needs to be monitoring, reading the Bible on your phone in youth group or small group has to be seen as an accepted practice. Also smartphones should be allowed at youth group so that youth can send pictures out of the great time they are having to friends who do not come and post what they leaders say in times of devotion or small group. This type of digital evangelism is a great way to reach out to youth who are members and are not attending and to the youth that follow that youth who might not have a church.