Last week I went to the Digital Kickstart day hosted by Premier Radio http://www.premier.org.uk.
This was an excellent day and had plenty to make anybody think.
One of the topics mentioned in passing was “Pastoral Care by Facebook”. Is this possible? Is this desirable?
Some will say there is no substitute for face to face Pastoral Care, but it has always been the case that people have had to make do with what they have.
In the First Century, Paul couldn’t be face to face with Timothy, so he showed his pastoral care by writing letters, which are now part of the New Testament. Even then, people complained that he wasn’t much use face to face (2 Corinthians 10:1 http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2%20cor%2010:1&version=NIVUK)
In the last century Pastoral Care could come by telephone. The Samaritans http://www.samaritans.org/ are now online, but they can still be called at any time.
I remember one time coming home from London to Sheffield on my birthday. Nobody at work knew it was my birthday, and my parents were away and arriving the next day. My grandmother rang me when I was at home, and even she didn’t mention it! I was feeling pretty low that nobody had remembered, but then she rang back and said “Isn’t it your birthday today? I forgot to say”. I was very happy to receive Pastoral Care by telephone that day.
Email allows people to keep in touch, and now there is Facebook.
For good or ill, there is a “disinhibition” factor online, which means people are prepared to be far less guarded than they normally would be, perhaps because a screen seems anonymous. They are ready to engage at a personal level and speak that which is on their heart.
Sometimes that means that they are ruder than they would ever be face to face. Sometimes, however, it means they are ready to be more vulnerable.
Furthermore, they are available. I do visiting, and I also do Pastoral Care on a Sunday morning or evening. However, people can be out, and Sunday can be busy. In a small town, I bump into people all the time, but I don’t always get to hear when people are in need, at the time they are in need.
Facebook is entirely immediate, and people can communicate there and then. If I’m not available, the message is waiting for me next time I have a look. In recent weeks I’ve “heard” from someone from my church in Liverpool, from two people who have moved away from Hexham, from Trinity church members, and from local people. I’ve been able to respond instantly without them having to wait for a visit.
I think if St Paul had the use of telephone, email or Facebook when he was in Rome(?) and Timothy was in Ephesus, he would have used them to offer Pastoral Care and advice.
We can lament the fact that people spend a lot of time online, or we can go where they are and get on with it – that’s what Jarrid Wilson advocates http://jarridwilson.com/social-netchurch/. Not everybody can read, but that didn’t stop Paul writing to his churches and to Timothy. Not everybody is on facebook, but those who are need care too.
I think it’s another string to the bow. What do you think?
PS I think the very best way to build relationship, is to take a long car journey, and chat not face to face but side by side….. http://www.drpaulwhite.com/how-to-build-relationships-with-men-side-by-side/