‘Suffer the little children’

Posted Feb 07, 2012 | New Media Project

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By Jim Rice


Best practices: During February, March, and April, 2012 the New Media Project bloggers are looking intentionally at new media “best practices.” Join the conversation: What are the new media best practices in your church or organization? What are some other examples of how communities engage in new media well? Tell us in the comments below.

Every congregation wants to make sure that it’s a safe place for children and other young people. But as fundamental as that principle is, it doesn’t happen by itself—we have to be intentional about setting up the guidelines and structures that make sure that we’re nurturing and protecting the most vulnerable among us.

As we have been sadly and painfully made aware over the past few decades, abuse of children in our churches existed long before the prevalence of social media, but the ability of new media to break down barriers has added a new dimension to the work of creating “safe spaces.”

Leaders of Quest Church in Seattle grapple with these issues of boundaries and creating a protective environment for young people. (See our profile on Quest Church, “At home with new media.”) For example, Pastor Eugene Cho tells the story of a conversation among members of the church’s pastoral staff. The children’s pastor noted that people in the congregation had been randomly taking photos of church events with their phones and posting them to Facebook or the church’s website. “We can’t do that,” the youth pastor said, “because even though we might feel comfortable with it, parents of these children might not be comfortable with their photos, or even their names [being made public in this way], or us tagging them in some way. So we have to make sure that we specifically seek permission.” Pastor Cho said, “I think that’s another example of the fact that it’s not just our personal boundaries” at stake in the use of new media, but what he called “communal boundaries” as well.

In addition to protecting the privacy of children, Rev. Cho notes the new challenges that come with evolving technology, and emphasizes the importance of pastors thinking “more theologically about the impact and ramifications” of new media, especially for children. “I find myself thinking about these things very much recently,” Cho said, “particularly as I hear about more and more children struggling with the consequences of addiction to technology, with insurance companies now beginning to add addiction to technology as one of the things that they’re covering.”

While some of the issues around making sure our congregations are safe places for children haven’t changed, emerging technologies have also brought new challenges as we seek to be shepherds and guides for our young people—and all of us—in our new media world.

Some resources for congregations seeking to be a safe place for children:

Jim Rice, a research fellow for the New Media Project, is editor of Sojourners magazine in Washington, D.C.

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 newmediaproject@cts.edu.

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