Social, spiritual sharing

From: Social, spiritual sharing – By: Catherine Godbey

@Jesus: About to preach in Jericho. Space filling up fast. Come quick, you don’t want to be stuck in a tree, right @zacchaeus?

@Zacchaeus: @Jesus Sycamore trees have the best view for little men

If Jesus lived in the 21st century with access to social media like Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and Tumblr that reach millions of people, would he have used it?

Sure he would, local church leaders said.

“Jesus went where the people were,” said Mike Westmoreland, pastor of Madison Street Baptist Church in Athens. “The Lord expresses upon us to use whatever tool we can to connect with others.”

The world of Twitter connects 100 million users and Facebook boasts more than 500 million users. Religions are taking advantage of the highly popular social networks.

Pope Benedict XVI got hooked up earlier this year, joining the ranks of other religious leaders like Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Rabbi Shmuley, known as “America’s rabbi,” and Hinduism author and lecturer Bapa Rampuri.

With his 140-character missives of hope, love and peace, the Dalai Lama leads the ranks of religious leaders on Twitter. With 2.9 million followers, he ranks 88th on the most-followed list, more popular than Nick Cannon, Tom Hanks, Chad Ochocinco and Lindsay Lohan.

The social networks attracting artists, actors, musicians and the Dalai Lama have spread to North Alabama.

On Sunday mornings, Westmoreland preaches behind the pulpit. During the week, Westmoreland, @msbcpastormike to his Twitter followers, sends messages via cellphone and the computer.

“It helps stay connected to the church family. With prayer updates and requests, I don’t have to wait until Sunday,” he said. “I can stand in Athens Hospital and tweet, ‘Say a pray(er) for brother or sister so and so.’ “

Brandon Starnes, youth pastor at Westmeade Baptist Church in Decatur, agrees.

“Everyone is on the go; even email is a thing of the past now,” he said. “Social media is quick, and especially with Twitter people are more likely to take the time and check it. It’s not some big, lengthy page of information.”

Starnes uses Twitter and Tumblr to keep in touch with the students.

“It’s all about getting the information out to them,” he said. “If I give them a piece of paper, they will more than likely throw it away or lose it. They probably won’t even read it. They will read Twitter.”

Based on the popularity of Twitter and Facebook, in 2008, creators launched Gospelr, a Twitter-like ministry microblogging site.

“Our goal was and still is to provide online Bible study technology in the form of a Christian social network and ultimately help spread the word of God online,” the social network wrote.

While allowing pastors to connect to their congregations, the social networks also provide religious leaders the ability to reach people beyond the front doors of the church.

On Sept. 11, Ron Huffman created the blog site and Facebook page God of Chances. An electronic technician by trade, Huffman spends his days as an audio and video manufacturer and his nights updating and monitoring God of Chances.

“I felt called to create this website as a way to reach out to people who do not go to church,” he said. “Hopefully this will help them start a relationship with God and at some point maybe they will want to go to church.”

The site shares personal stories and messages.

Two weeks after Huffman activated the site, he received a comment from a woman in Cape Town, South Africa.

“In this letter she said we provided a message that she needed to hear,” Huffman said. “There is no way we would have reached her if there was no Internet. Our goal here is not to make money. It is to build God’s kingdom.”

While touting the benefits of social media, Huffman, Starnes and Westmoreland also warned of the negatives.

People must learn how to use social networking responsibly and take care not to reveal too much of themselves, Westmoreland said.

Just like social networking, radio and television also contain drawbacks, Westmoreland said.

“All of these things have some evils, but Christians were able to find a use in them to spread the glory of God,” he said.

“Religion and social media are a perfect match, Huffman said. “There is nothing wrong with traditional church; however, in society today most people are on the Internet. As long as we keep the message the same, we are sharing God’s word, just in a different way.”


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