Just like a drive-through at a fast food chain or quick airtime purchase, religious ministries are available in realtime. Faith leaders are not confined to their own mosques, synagogues, temples or Jesus Domes anymore. Author of Tweet If You ♥ Jesus: Practicing Church in the Digital Reformation, Elizabeth Drescher, talks about a new phenomenon she calls “Ministers-on-the-go”.
Not even the 14th and current Dalai Lama wants to be left out. On 23 February 2010, he finally joined Twitter; three and a half years after the micro-blogging site was established. He had no choice but to join the site with a verified account after there had been a fake Dalai Lama fooling Twitterers for more than a year. Ever since then, he has accumulated more than 4 million followers…but has followed none. After all who out there is holy enough to be followed by “His Holiness”?
Social media provides an opportunity to reach those who might avoid boring, hour-long church sermons. However, aren’t those long hour sermons at church part of the authenticity and sacredness of having to wait patiently for the main point in the message? Isn’t listening to those church sermons part of the unique experience of being at church? Social media might pose a danger to church-going tradition and turn church into a McDonald culture where quantity is valued over patience and quality. The fact that we do not even know who is posting behind the screens and what they are doing makes it shady.
Even Lama’s latest Facebook post inspires followers to be patient.
“The practice of patience guards us against losing our presence of mind. It enables us to remain undisturbed, even when the situation is really difficult. It gives us a certain amount of inner peace, which allows us some self-control, so that we can choose to respond to situations in an appropriate and compassionate manner, rather than being driven by our disturbing emotions.”
“His Holiness”, as he is known by fellow Buddhists and admirers, uses his Twitter, as well as his Facebook accounts to update his followers on his whereabouts and inspire them with regular messages based on his three core values: “the promotion of basic human values; the fostering of inter-religious harmony; and the welfare of the Tibetan people.”
Reviews of social media pages of “His Holiness” and others like Christian evangelist and author Joyce Meyer, show that their social media feeds are not so much about their own personal lives but about the religions and ministries they represent.Meyer's latest post promotes uniqueness:
“Don't compare yourself to other people. God anoints us all in different ways.”
It is no wonder they are followed by those who either believe in their religions or not. Lama’s post about patience is relevant to all whether Buddhists or not. Meyer’s message about accepting ourselves for who we are is a kind of message one would also get in a Life Orientation book or a counselling centre. Even though their values are inspired by their religions, they manage to draw in many followers because of their universally applicable messages.
Meyer’s Facebook page, Joyce Meyer Ministries, is a regular on AllFacebook.com’s top pages either as one of the most commented pages, most liked posts or most shared. There is so much user engagement on her page that, even with just over 2 million followers, she is usually in the top 10 pages on Facebook statistics.
Meyer’s Facebook followers such as Ramukosi Thanzi, Pfunzo Mudau and “Bullz” Justin Musetsho agree that pastors on the go are important because some people convert and those who are too busy to open the bible get a chance to be reminded of what it says through short posts. Ramukosi however says:
“Sometimes pastors use media to get attention on themselves rather than the word of God”
Social media, with its effectiveness in spreading religion and forming spiritual online communities, is such a powerful tool that not even Pope Benedict could ignore. Even though the Pope himself does not have an official Facebook page, he acknowledged its importance early in 2012 at a Catholic Church’s World Day of Communications. The Pope said at the meeting:
“In concise phrases, often no longer than a verse from the Bible, profound thoughts can be communicated.”
It is important however that faith leaders learn to balance speed with authenticity before faith ministries turn completely into a McDonald culture.
1. Are social media changing religion?: http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/2010-06-21-column21_ST_N.htm
2. Watch: Social Media and Religion: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dWNp37j4Nk
3. The Religion of Social Networking and Technology Demi-Gods: http://www.dailydealmedia.com/642the-religion-of-social-networking-and-technology-demi-gods/
4. God and Facebook: Is social networking changing religion?: http://www.religionlink.com/tip_110125.php
5. The Dalai Lama Officially Joins Twitter: http://mashable.com/2010/02/22/dalai-lama-twitter/#