I have a modest 347 friends on Facebook. I’m not competitive about increasing the number to the thousands that some of my connections have, nor am I condescending about those who keep their list to 25. Everybody uses social media in his or her own way–to self-promote, to keep in touch at a distance with actual people they know face-to-face, as a sort of 21st century version of the pen-pals we had in elementary school (when we were still required to write with pens), or to share ideas with others who have similar interests (hobbies, political or religious affiliations, alumni associations, etc.). I suppose most of us are a mixture of these things, and the dominant purpose may change over time.
People use Facebook (with which I am most familiar–I’ve not yet gotten into Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest) to share things they have found on the internet that amuse, delight, anger, or otherwise concern them. I do it too. Cat pictures, and happyclappysappycrappy Jesus-y ‘memes’ do find their way onto my friends’ newsfeeds via my timeline. It’s just a modern version of inviting people over to look at your vacation slides, or pass along a book or article you’d like to discuss further with a friend.
But over the last week or so, I’ve gotten disturbed with one particular way of using social media to share blog posts, research and news articles. I am increasingly wary of seeing posts like this in my newsfeed, shared by friends who are bishops, priests, seminary deans, or other manifestations of ‘church leaders’. Not that there is anything inherently wrong about sharing these things. They’re important, and yes, the church is going down the tubes for a number of reasons (only a very few of which are acknowledged in these ‘church decline/church growth’ articles). I find it upsetting that only about half the time does this lead to any serious, thoughtful discussion or debate about what is going on. And often, if I add my alternative voice, it is silenced because I am not in complete agreement with ‘what the author said’.
But there is a worse problem.
Other than the weekly sermon given by the bishop/priest/dean/whatever, there is very little indication that the church leader in question is doing his/her own serious thinking about the issue. Our leaders are not giving us adequate evidence that they are paying attention to, analyzing, or responding to the very conditions through which we have (usually) elected them–and often pay them fairly well–to lead us. They repeat the tripe about ‘competition’ (yes, more and more activities are happening on Sunday mornings, but they are not the main reason people aren’t in church), religious pluralism (which should not be a problem, if you can make a convincing case for Christianity), demographic shifts, or how people respond to advertising. The other great bogeyman is ‘secularism’ (also, not a problem if you can convincingly present Christianity as being all it is cracked up to be).
It’s rare–not unheard of, but rare–for a fruitful discussion to emerge from one of these ‘shares’. It’s even more unusual that anything is ever accomplished by taking the range of ideas from that discussion (especially those that dissent from the ‘original’ blog post) and trying something new, giving people the space to look for ways of improving the situation. And a little permission to mess up without being reprimanded for doing so.
We have leaders who don’t lead us, really. What I’m seeing is a lot of pick-and-choose of who we should follow them in following.