I admit, when I accepted the call to serve as a three-quarter-time pastor in a rural town of eleven hundred people, I did not anticipate that Twitter would be a valuable ministry tool.
I did not envision Twitter would serve as a resource and support; both to my mind and my soul. I did not expect Twitter would make me a better pastor. But it turns out I was just a young naive pastor in my first call. I have now seen the light and understand Twitter as a valuable tool for ministry.
First, let me briefly answer those currently thinking, "But, what the heck is Twitter after all?" Started just four years ago, Twitter is an online social-networking service that allows users to share one hundred forty character "tweets" with one another. Users choose whose tweets they see, and can easily post (or "tweet") a reply. Some people use Twitter solely on their computers, and others access it with their mobile phones.
The experience of Twitter is not unlike that at a cocktail party. Imagine standing in the middle of busy party, listening and responding to conversations taking place all around the room. You hear two folks discussing a recent article they read, and another responds with a related comment. Across the room, someone says how their day is going, which causes another to reflect on their difficulties at work. You, in the center of the room, can sit back and allow these conversations to take place without your input, or you can choose to join in. Twitter must be experienced to be truly understood, but it's sort of like a very interesting and never-ending virtual cocktail party. You find out new things every few minutes, and you share in turn.
So, have you ever been to a cocktail party with a bunch of pastors? They reflect, share resources, listen to how the Spirit is moving, and have some fun. Twitter isn't much different, it is just more powerful.
For instance, a few weeks ago, in the midst of planning training for our new elders, I wondered whether each elder should be given a copy of our denomination's constitution. In the congregation's recent past, new elders had not received a constitution; which do not come free, by the way; but I saw several benefits to gifting each elder with a copy. So, I put out a tweet: "In your congregation, do elders receive copies of the constitution as part of their training?" Within an hour, nine pastors and elders from around the nation had tweeted back telling me about their best practices.
I could have called my pastor friends in the area and asked the same question, but I saved a good deal of time with Twitter. Also, the conversation happened in public, and other Twitter users gained from it as well. Eventually, the conversation moved to discussing elder training in general, which proved helpful to many.
Pastoral ministry includes many challenges, one of which is the feeling of isolation many pastors feel, perhaps especially common for rural pastors. Twitter allows me to be connected to colleagues all over the nation and the world. I can tweet for joy on a good day, and later ask for prayers when visiting a member in the hospital. The support I receive from Twitter users is often a balm for my soul.
I often find thought-provoking articles posted by other church professionals using Twitter. If I write a newsletter article worth sharing, I'll tweet an Internet link to the article and receive helpful feedback. I have used Twitter when looking for a book recommendation for a grieving parishioner. And, through Twitter, I have grieved with others in their times of despair.
When it comes down to it, Twitter expands and deepens my view of the Church. It helps me see in practice what I know intellectually; that the Church of Christ is so much larger than my congregation. Through Twitter, I can experience this Church at work in the world.
Sure, Twitter is not a replacement for in-person pastoral care, but it is at least a new and exciting form of pastoral support. Sure, my weekly in-the-flesh text study meeting with four local pastors is probably more essential to my ministry than Twitter, but Twitter augments each day with handy pastoral tidbits that make me a much better pastor. Twitter, like anything, brings some complications. It is totally public, for one (every tweet is archived in the Library of Congress). And Twitter adds to questions of how, as followers of God incarnate, we should best function in an increasingly virtual world.
But, overall, Twitter broadens my mind and my ministry. It is a fine ministry tool that deepens my connections to God's people, and to God's Spirit that moves even in the mysterious ways of the Internet. I am grateful I moved past my initial naivety, for Twitter makes me a better pastor.