While I have fully immersed myself in the vortex that is new media, I am both pleasantly amazed and cautiously aware that our generation operates with a tremendous resource at the click of a few buttons or a swipe of a finger on a screen. This ease of access allows wider access to people’s lives and information and yet too often accompanies an absence of real presence and accountability. But within this tension there also lies a greater danger, a danger of faithfulness-as-self-promotion and, dare I say, idolatry. These are the tensions.
I have found new media to be a breath of fresh air in so many ways. I have had the opportunity to collaborate, network, and connect with other colleagues and pastors and have gleaned a lot from a broader scope of voices because of such resources. I’m also reminded that in the wake of recent natural disasters and the growing international awareness on issues of justice, new media outlets have had an incredible amount of influence globally and thus momentum in garnering and raising support for such causes. As a pastor within a local church, new media has also played an integral part of community life in the ways we communicate, are informed, plan gatherings, and keep up with congregants on a wider scale, as well as creatively re-imagining communal presence as something more than organized church functions.
In these ways, new media has certainly enhanced and made possible greater opportunities for churches and individuals to be more accessible, effective, innovative, and creative. For many parishioners, pastors, and church ministry staff, it has become a vital tool and resource for ministry life. Not only is it a day-to-day ministry tool but an arm of presence and proclamation as well—knowing that our sermons, blogs, thoughts and convictions are further reaching than we could have ever imagined without it.
This could be a great thing. It could also be a very treacherous reality to navigate, if we’re truly honest with ourselves.
How does one hold in tension an outlet that allows for a certain sense of anonymity but, at the same time, offers us a voice and presence to an audience that might be larger than we could have ever imagined? For many, new media outlets have become a space to speak and be heard in a world that is otherwise invisible or mute to us. For others, it is the very platform we needed to exclaim the nuggets of truth that we always knew resided within us—without barriers, without vetting.
In this way, what is the reflection that new media throws back at us? Who are we seeing? Who are we conveying ourselves to be? Justice-fighting superheroes? Are we the pastor with the quickest blog response to news reports? Are we the Christian intellectual where nobody understands our theological deconstructive jargon? Are we the Christian leader with the most profound quote of the day? Are we the person who tells ourselves that our online persona is authentically raw and thus over-shares life details in our attempts to be “real?”
How is our presence/persona in spaces such as new media a reflection of our true selves? Is it all really in some form or fashion a marketing attempt of the self or our institution? What are we choosing to say or not say? What image of ourselves are we conveying to the world? What are we hiding? What are we flaunting?
To be honest, over the past year or so, I have found myself struggling to continue writing new and fresh posts on my own blog
in ways that didn’t seem like a spiritual or intellectual flexing of sorts, or a self-inflating conglomeration of nonsense, or even a challenging string of thoughts about someone else’s thoughts. And as I follow and read from day to day the tweets and statuses of various friends and high-powered Christian leaders, I have also found myself asking the question, “How are these newer mediums of information and communication impacting Christian life, identity and formation?”
And at what point should new media remain merely a resource and tool versus an integral part of who we know and define ourselves to be, whether individually or communally? This is the tension. Gail Song Bantum is the Worship and Administrative Pastor of Quest Church in Seattle, Washington, one of the case studies for the New Media Project. She received her M.Div. from Duke Divinity School (’09) and currently resides in Seattle with her husband Brian and their three sons. The New Media Project is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.