Sunday, October 14, 2012

Wilderness Vs. Social Media (Outdoor Leadership)

"I attended a youth conference last year where writers, speakers and youth workers gathered to sell books, give seminars and share thoughts on youth ministry. Like a trade-show of ideas, the three-day event highlighted ways to connect with young people and probe their need for Christ. Social Media was a hot topic, and it reminded me of why so many of us believe wilderness leadership is the healthy sandwich that our Cheetos youth culture is starving for.

Social media got a lot of attention at this conference. For many, the link between young people and data plans, smart phones and Facebook has come rather naturally—for others, they have no clue how social media can enhance youth ministry at all. It’s no surprise that ministry experts across the board are wondering about the limitations of social media. That is because social media never replace our design for personal relationships.


Keeping up with trends in youth ministry is nothing new. Youth leaders of yesterday have had to learn to become the youth leaders of tomorrow. We’ve come a long way from Zach Morris’ cell phone, yet one thing that hasn’t changed is the ever-important ability to relate to young people in a face-to-face setting.

Even though trends often come from looking forward to the next thing that could work, often they come from looking back to what has proven successful in the past.

Our society is becoming increasingly impersonal. Grocery shoppers can scan their own groceries, bypassing the small-talk that often comes after, “paper or plastic?” From online banking to online classes, the things we did in groups just ten years ago are more often done in our PJ’s, from the privacy of our own home. And yes, alone.

Certainly, there a place for your smartphone in your ministry tool box, but the ministry model that we see from the apostle Paul, Priscilla and Aquila and Jesus too, is personal and relational. In Christian Outdoor Leadership, Ashley Denton examines the role of relationships in Jesus’ ministry. Denton writes

Like a cohort of students that studies together for a period of time, Jesus’ relationships with his disciples went far beyond the classroom. They all did life together. Our lives are oriented around relationships, but how healthy are those relationships? Today we can hide behind an iphone or put the best face on our identity through Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter. I am afraid our society might start enjoying texting more than talking at some point.

When you are traveling through the wilderness for days at a time on an adventure with a bunch of friends, you quickly get re-calibrated to the true lasting impact of real relationships, with real people, in real time. We need to rediscover ways to extract young people from the dull world of counterfeit relationships caused by the overuse of social media. If you resonate with that, then one way I would suggest to begin applying the healing balm of relational community to your group, is to take them out into the wilderness for a few days. Regular time enjoying adventure and fellowship with friends in the wilderness is a needed reminder of how much social media lacks the salt we need to experience truly savory relationships.

At this youth conference I attended last year, I remember a humorous moment. One speaker struggled painfully to connect her computer to the overhead projector to do a seminar on learning to relate to young people when the age gap had, well, widened. The profound thing about her seminar was that her words of wisdom encouraged, simple, time-tested skills of learning how to delve deep into the lives of young people—a much needed skill in this era of 140 character tweets and status updates.

Making an impact may mean going back to square one—buying a kid lunch and relating to them face-to-face. After all, “meet u 4 lunch im buying” are 25 characters that are guaranteed to pick up some followers. Facebook is a great tool, but face time will never become outdated."

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