Is the Holy Spirit at work on twitter? According to a recent Time magazine article, it might be.
Time recently highlighted a congregation in Michigan that has hosted about a dozen “Twitter Sundays”, complete with increased bandwidth in the church sanctuary and training sessions for those new to the medium. John Voelz, a pastor at Westwinds Community Church, developed the idea while trying to think of ways to make church “not suck.” Voelz is one of a growing number of pastors who have found ways to integrate twitter and other new technologies into their weekly worship services:
“In Seattle, Mars Hill churchgoers regularly tweet throughout the service. In New York City, Trinity Church marked Good Friday by tweeting the Passion play, detailing the stages of Jesus’ crucifixion in short bursts. At Next Level Church, outside Charlotte, N.C., it’s not only O.K. to fuse social-networking technology with prayer; it’s desirable.”
Twitter, it’s argued, strengthens community ties and offers church goers a new way to express what they are thinking and feeling during the Sunday morning service. Some tweet questions to the pastor as he preaches. Others tweet sermon notes, and still others tweet real-time comments on the service. These tweets are broadcasted via video projector in the church for all to see.
In other words, twitter allows people to begin silently “fellowshipping” with other believers before the Sunday morning coffee hour even starts.
But is this really fellowship? No, not really. That’s the problem.
The writer of Hebrews told his readers, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25) He meant that literally. No matter how advanced communication methods become, there will never be an adequate substitute for face-to-face interaction, and there will never be a replacement for real-life fellowship.
We have souls, and we crave interaction with other souls, but we also have bodies. When we communicate through technology, we functionally disembody ourselves. There’s a great difference, for example, between talking to your mother on the phone and talking to her in person. When you can communicate with someone unseen without even using your voice, you separate yourself even further. Misunderstandings become more commonplace and relationship building more difficult. Instead of bringing us closer to those around us, technologies like twitter actually tend to separate us – and it’s hard to teach people about the glories of the incarnation while dis-incarnating yourself online.
Communication has always been a key part of Christianity, and the Church should certainly learn to make use of new methods. The modern Evangelical church would not exist in its current form if the printing press had never been invented, and today’s technology may become similarly useful for the Church, but not if we don’t keep our eyes open.
So should you tweet during church? No, unless perhaps you are trying to help someone far away (say, in the mission field) feel marginally included. When you are in church, you should be in church, and you risk being less than fully present if you’re busy with your iPhone. Concentrate instead on worshipping the Lord with your body and your soul – your community will thrive when all eyes are on Him.
Rachel Motte is a Christian blogger, editor, and commentator on political and cultural issues. She blogs at www.evangelicaloutpost.com.