Maybe you think it is not. Maybe you think it shouldn’t. Oh, but it is. The question is, “Will we choose to make the best of it?”
James 5:14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.
When we read scripture, we need to realize it is set in a context of time and place. At the time this scripture was written, to “call for the elders of the church,” usually meant physically sending someone to inform a leader of the church. As time progressed into the modern age, it meant “calling” on a telephone. Now, it’s okay to send an email to one’s pastor, Sunday school class leader, lay leader, or a church staff person. And even that is quickly being replaced.
When I worked as a pastor in a local church, it wasn’t unusual to be informed of a pastoral care issue via text. In fact, some people of my generation and younger prefer to communicate mostly via text during times of crisis. Then, I started receiving notifications via Facebook Messenger. That seemed a little strange at first; but really, it was just a contextual way of following scripture.
Let me pause to point out that I believe in the Priesthood of All Believers. It is hard to compare James’ understanding of “the elders of the church” to our modern understanding of church leadership. Elders, in the United Methodist Church, are ordained pastors, set apart to oversee the preaching of the word, the order of the church and the sacraments. However, they are not the only leaders of the church, especially when it comes to caring for the members of the church. We are all called to ministry through our common baptism, and we are all engaged in the work of caring for each other.
I remember one my first pastoral emergency calls. Someone in the congregation had been taken to the hospital with a possible heart attack. When I got there, his room was full. His Sunday school class members had heard about it before I did and had all rushed to his side. (By the way, in case you were wondering, everything turned out fine).
This concept of the Priesthood of All Believers is good news in our new technological reality. What I noticed in my last couple of years of pastoral ministry was that the way I often found out about the pastoral and prayer needs was much more public. The wide adoption of Facebook has changed everything. It very quickly became normal to hear about things first on Facebook. Sometimes they were relatively minor issues, like someone being down with the flu. Sometimes, they were major issues. It is no longer unusual to hear about a major surgery or even the death of a congregation member on Facebook.
I am not sure yet if I think this is a good thing or a bad thing. But, my opinion doesn’t matter because it is a thing. I can’t travel in time (yet), but I can only imagine that the very first time a pastor received a telephone call about a pastoral care emergency, it felt odd. After all, people used to walk to the parsonage. I know it felt strange to hear of a death via text message or learn about a major surgery via email. However, now this is all normal. Now, perhaps platforms like Facebook are becoming the new normal.
What does this mean? I am not sure. Here are some random things to think about:
- The use of Facebook to share information about prayer concerns, life crises, and health concerns calls upon the need for the Priesthood of All Believers.Pastors, especially those of larger congregations can not, likely, follow every member’s updates on Facebook. Facebook’s ever-changing methods for determining what ends up on our timelines makes it nearly impossible. Facebook may not deem someone’s update to be important enough for us to see. Hopefully, though, other members of the community will feel called to respond, act if called upon and inform church leadership when necessary.
- Sharing prayer concerns on Facebook could open a lot more people to the possibility of being cared for by the church in times of need.In the years before all this technology was normal, I often wondered what percentage of church members called upon the church in times of need. If I had to guess, I would imagine that a tiny percentage of any given congregation used a high percentage of the pastoral care resources available. In my time as a pastor in a local church, it wasn’t unusual to hear about a life-crisis long after it had passed. When I would ask why the person didn’t let anyone know, they would inform me that they didn’t want to be a bother.
- This all raises serious concerns about privacy.I mention this because it is true. However, most people are sharing their information, and therefore privacy is becoming their personal issue. Still, churches and members need to be mindful or turning around and re-sharing this information.
- We have no idea what we are doing.This is all new ground and it is changing faster than we can keep up with it.
Clearly, I don’t have this all figured out. My question is still, “How can we make the best of this?” Instead of following the technology, how can we, as the church, get ahead of it and use it to do our work as disciples of Jesus Christ?
I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.