Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Difference Between Church and Facebook

I am rapidly becoming a Facebook junkie and I've discovered I have a lot of company. Pastors are popping up all over Facebook. It has become an alternative outlet for ministry, not to mention a great way to advertise books, cd's and - Duh! - blogs. What a natural and fun way to keep up with all kinds of people, especially celebrities we would not otherwise be able to meet, much less talk to.
People seem more inclined to talk with one another on Facebook than any other medium I've witnessed thus far. They are more open about themselves, more willing to reveal details and certainly more willing to talk to total strangers - not always a good thing.
From a pastor's point of view, this quality of openness on Facebook has had a fascinating consequence. I find that people are more willing to be themselves before the whole world on Facebook than they are willing to be before a handful of people in church. I suppose this quality has always been with us. Church is the one place where we really want to put out the best impression for general consumption. We tend to conduct ourselves according to what we think people expect of us. So when someone asks, "How do you do?" we wouldn't really tell him how we are doing, and we don't really expect someone to tell us. It's all a formality, you understand. Not that we are purposefully trying to be deceptive; we are just putting out our public selves for all to see, the same public self that most often goes on display at work or in class.
Facebook is another matter. For some reason, people take off the mask when they sit down to the keyboard. I've learned a lot more about people from watching them on Facebook than I ever learned about them in church. I learn their real likes and dislikes, their tastes in music, clothes, politics and the world in general. I learn their language - the kind they would not dare use in church. I learn who their real friends are, and who they are not; who they love, and who wishes they had someone to love, or to love them.
What fascinates me the most is that people who wouldn't tell a soul these things in church don't mind telling the whole world on the internet. Now, everybody knows. The pastor knows. God knows - not that He needed Facebook, anyway.
All this raises a question in my mind: Why would anyone be one way in the privacy of church and another way before the whole blooming world on Facebook? And as long as we're not keeping secrets, what's the point of behaving one way in church (where only a few people can read us) and another way on the internet, where everybody can see us?
Maybe the answer is just too obvious. After all, if the life I'm living on Facebook is not one I can live in church, why am I living it on Facebook in the first place? Maybe the answer is that I already know this. And maybe, just maybe, I know better but I don't want those people in church to find out. Maybe I can keep my "public" life propped up in church while my real life goes on in the rest of the world. And maybe the people in church won't find out. Maybe they don't read Facebook. Just maybe.

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