My spiritual director is on Facebook. This means a great deal to me.
My spiritual director is Margaret Benefiel
, a professor at Andover-Newton Theological School in Boston, author of several books on spirituality and leadership, and one of the digital ministry practitioners appearing in my forthcoming book with Elizabeth Drescher
, Click2Save: The Digital Ministry Bible
Margaret doesn't spend all that much time on Facebook. As she shared with us, "I can connect in basic, meaningful ways—‘liking’ something on someone’s profile or saying ‘Happy Birthday’—in about fifteen minutes in the morning or over a couple five minute breaks in my day. I’ve made a choice to be present, but it’s not an obsession."
With her likes and comments on Facebook and mentions and retweets on her new Twitter account
, Margaret practices a wonderful form of "reverent acknowledgment."
Reverent acknowledgement is a phrase I first learned in Clinical Pastoral Education to describe a technique of pastoral care in which we are present to people in our care. It is a way of bearing witness, of beholding—their lives, their joys, and their struggles. The logic is that when people know they are heard, seen, and understood, they can be more open to God. In this regard, it is very much like spiritual direction.
Ministry leaders put a high value on this kind of ministry presence and yet oftentimes dismiss the importance of this presence in digital spaces. Margaret's wonderfully graceful example is a reminder of the importance of having ministers of all kinds present and engaged online.
I love that my spiritual director is on Facebook because she knows what is happening in my life between our monthly sessions. When we meet I am freed to focus less on the what
of life and more on the how
, and, most importantly, Who
. It also reminds me that we live in the same world. She doesn't exist on some ethereal plane from which she descends once a month to meet me in the mess of my life. We both inhabit the spiritual and the temporal and do our best to hold them together. We live real lives. We are both learning. We both journey. The list of our common Facebook friends reminds me of our many points of connection—that we are part of a broader community.
As ministry leaders, our presence in digital social media can offer these same kinds of graces to people in our care.
When people we respect, whose opinion we value, and who serve as our spiritual guides reverently acknowledge our lives, this is a holy and powerful thing.
Each 'like,' comment, and shout-out—just like a quick call, a short note, or well-timed arm around the shoulder—carries a special meaning when they come from what one of my colleagues calls the "God-people" in our lives.
As ministry leaders know, relationships—both personal and pastoral—are made and nurtured through thousands of little things over time. Today those little things include ‘like’ buttons and 140-character prayers. Keith Anderson is the pastor of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Woburn, Massachusetts and co-author with Elizabeth Drescher of the forthcoming book Click2Save: The Digital Ministry Bible (Morehouse 2012). He writes about social media, spirituality, and church at his blog pastorkeithanderson.net. 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 email@example.com.