Back when I first started in a paid youth ministry position in 1998, I went to an ecumenical conference in Melbourne called “Signing” We had a panel hypothetical on youth ministry 20 years in the future. I remember making the prediction that identity and the search for meaning would still be an issue for young people, but with the added complication of an online identity vs. a real life identity. So, there are a few years left to go til the twenty year mark, but I believe it’s been an issue for some time. There are a lot of scholarly articles and research into the subject, so I’m not going to go there today.
What I didn’t think about at the time is identity online being an issue for those in ministry.
In an age where widespread self disclosure is almost the norm, all the big important bits of life are mirrored online (Hey world – here’s a photo of my firstborn son)– along with many of the somewhat boring and inconsequential (I had three types of cheese in my sandwich today- here’s a photo) I think we have somewhat lost the sense of boundaries in our online identities.
If you were a youth ministry co-ordinator (or teacher) five years ago, you may have had a pic of the family in the office and refer to them in a normal casual manner with colleagues and young people– “Fred took his first step yesterday”. But you wouldn’t put that news in your monthly newsletter or daily bulletin – you’d save the page real-estate for information on upcoming events, or to celebrate achievements of the young people in your ministry. You keep your audience in mind in your communications.
But with social media – your audience is often everyone you know. So as someone in ministry, how do I tailor my online presence?
For me it is a matter of mindfulness. I have a fairly new twitter account @karenlunney. There are a number of things I’m interested in and people I’m following. My feed includes stuff about ministry, prayer, youth and the kind of things that relate to my passions in this area. But as an individual, I’m also interested in what is going on in Bendigo, local markets and produce, and parenting and breastfeeding related issues. I’m aware that all the people who follow me are very rarely going to have the same broad range of interests, so I’ve chosen to focus my tweets and retweets in the areas of church, youth and ministry. If I find something online about a new cafe that I really like and want to share, I’ll let the others in my Mum’s group know through our Facebook page. Or even better, ring someone and go and check it out!
So, yes, I’m really me online, but I use my different online options for different “audiences.” I don’t think of it as being compartmentalised, but in exactly the same way I have a slightly different conversation at a party with someone who is really into Doctor Who (can’t wait for second half of this season…), and someone who is wanting to ask my opinions of publications of St Mary’s Press (fabulous stuff!).
Same party, same me, different conversations. Depends which party hat I’m wearing at the time.