Community formation and social media: Embracing the awkward

Posted May 27, 2014 | New Media Project

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By Carolyn Lesmeister and Joshua Burkholder, guest bloggers


Church planting awkwardness (by Carolyn)

Josh and CarolynI do not remember junior high with fondness. My body was disproportionate to itself; my hair was recovering from the 1980s; and my mouth contained so much orthodontic work that I developed a legitimate fear of magnets.

To make matters worse, everyone else seemed to have it all figured out. They were confident, pretty, well-dressed, and could stand next to refrigerators without having panic attacks. I seemed to be the only kid in the whole school drowning in physical and social awkwardness.

Imagine my horror, then, when I encountered this article positing that the Internet is like perpetual junior high school.

I’d like to think I’ve outgrown adolescent awkwardness, but truthfully, church planting is a lot like the halls of middle school, too. All of the other leaders are brilliant, confident hipsters who know what to do and can rock skinny jeans like they aren’t the most unflattering pieces of clothing ever. I, meanwhile, am confronted by all of the questions that plagued me in junior high: Will people like me? Will they think I’m smart? Funny? Cool? Do people even use the word “cool” anymore?

Social media exacerbates all of this, because everything is so public and people on the Internet are often as cruel as the worst junior high bullies. So what’s a person to do when their ministry requires a strong social media presence?

We’re pretty new to this church planting process ourselves, but what my husband/ministry partner and I are learning through trial and error is that online—as in life—things get a lot better when you embrace your awkwardness.

In fact, it can even be endearing; people bond quickly when they realize someone else feels just as awkward and out of place as they do.

So tuck in your gym shirts and put wax on your braces, because here are some Social Media Tips for the Socially Awkward from an “expert” in the field of awkwardness, Joshua Burkholder!

Social media tips for the social awkward (by Joshua)

Surrounded by kids we think are cooler or smarter than we are, we often try to be something we aren’t. Social media brings the same temptation. The cool kids are always using a new platform or chasing some fad, tempting you to open a new account. Don’t. Instead, invest your time, energy, and creativity into what you already have, be that Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, whatever.

Inspired by a practice recommended by the Moravian Daily Texts, I’ve begun to weave spirituality into social media by paying attention to things that prompt gratitude, connection, prayer and reflection.

As I scroll through newsfeeds, I ask myself some questions:

What inspires gratitude? How can I express that? Retweet? Like? Send a private message? Give a shout-out?

What connects to pain that I’ve felt or witnessed? Could sharing about that—whether through my own words or someone else’s—help others have the courage to be more open, too?

What warrants prayer? How can I let people know I am lifting them up to God?

What can I do in the “real world” in response to what I’m seeing on the Internet? Contact a senator? Call a friend? Donate? Volunteer? Should I invite others to do the same?

This keeps me centered in God and encourages authenticity; if enough of us do it, maybe we can make the Internet a little less like junior high.

Whatever practices you find helpful, whatever clicks (or cliques) you make online, try not to worry too much about how you “measure up.” Pressure to be like the cool kids always exists, and we in the church tend to obsess over vanity metrics which leave us staring into the mirror, wishing we were someone else.

Here’s a secret: No one has it figured out; everyone is making it up as they go.

Remember, the number of followers you rack up on Twitter or the number of likes you get on Facebook will never reflect the true worth of you or your ministry. Your identity will always be more than what people see through social media; no hashtag will ever capture all of who you are. And you are the most valuable part of your social media strategy.

Carolyn Lesmeister and Joshua Burkholder are married and serve together as co-developers of Community of the Living Spirit in downtown Indianapolis. Please like us on Facebook.

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.

1 Comment

  1. 1 Lisa Marchal 31 Aug
    So pleased to know Carolyn and Joshua and watch their ministry launch. Thanks for sharing this, Carolyn!

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