Facebook! Can you even remember a time when Facebook was not a word in common usage? I think it may even qualify as a Scrabble word! Being slightly tech savvy and attempting to include every available technological advancement to my advantage in youth ministry, I have had a youth ministry presence on Facebook since the beginning of my youth ministry journey. I recently read an article that made me scratch my head. It was written and posted by a nationally recognized youth ministers network and was titled “5 risks of using Facebook to connect with students.” I read it and thought “Really?” At first I was intrigued to see what they had to say but by the end I thought that was a little silly. Here are the 5 points that they listed.
1: Boundaries become fuzzy: They stated that Facebook, due to the feeling of privacy you get behind a computer screen, can cause you to get a little friendly and “cheeky” with students when you might not normally be like that. Okay if by “cheeky” you mean flirty then I’m great that was exposed on the public forum of Facebook! You have no business in youth ministry. I will admit that you can become more of a friend then a mentor because of the general nature of Facebook; however some youth ministers strive to become a friend and a trusted confidant with their students.
2: Connecting becomes private: Yes I agree with the author in that, direct messages are private and not out there for everyone to see. However there is this thing called a screen shot and this thing called a printer. Print off the messages. I have a rule that if a student direct messages me then I reply by posting on their wall to keep the conversation public. If it is something they want to discuss in private then I ask for either their parents or the senior pastor to be involved in the conversation. The same argument could be used for text messages, email, and even good ole snail mail. The main thing is to keep good records!
3: Guessing becomes knowing: This was the most ridiculous of the arguments. The author states that instead of “guessing” which of our students are living the Christian life, we know what they struggles and sins are. Hello? Is that not the point of youth ministry? I want to know my students struggles so that I can counsel and help them! If I know I have a student dealing with a porn addiction I can custom tailor my counseling to that student. As a youth minister if you are naïve enough to think you have perfect church angels in your youth ministry you need to find another ministry calling, maybe children’s ministry though may problems faced by teens in my generation are being faced by children as young as ten now.
4: Private becomes public: The author states our sins come out in the open when we post a like of a show that has a lot of sexual content or post a YouTube video with cuss words in it and this could get us in trouble. Well duh! If you think your students and their parents are not checking you out on Facebook you better wake up! They are checking you out to make sure you are living what you teach. I heard a story of a female youth ministry volunteer who posed for a picture in some very risqué, next to nothing, clothing with a cigar and a bottle of whiskey in her hand. She was dismissed from the youth ministry. I agree! If you think that Facebook picture is not viewed by everyone in your church think again. Facebook is almost like the ultimate accountability software.
5: Personal becomes work-related: This one I will agree with whole heartedly. When you do put yourself out there for a Facebook ministry, the once personal area of your life on Facebook with your real friends will now be work-related.
I believe that the pros of having a youth ministry Facebook presence outweigh the risks. Most of these risks are just related to youth ministry. Youth ministers must hold and be held accountable, if it be on Facebook or just in their general youth ministry. With every technological advancement in youth ministry there will be those who use the same sad arguments. I’m sure when email was first being used in youth ministry to youth ministers to connect with their students these same arguments were made. So in closing my friends hold yourself accountable, keep immaculate records of your conversations, and don’t shy away from using Facebook to greatly benefit your knowledge of youth culture and aide in communicating with your students. Until next time, just keep swimming!