In Part 1 and Part 2 of this three part series, “Facebook and Fellowship,” Mel Lacey examined the value and the idolatry of Facebook. In this concluding section, she discusses the insufficiency of Facebook to provide true, satisfying community.
Can cyber com then become a replacement medium of communication for teenagers in favour of actual physical interaction with others? With over a quarter of young people in Britain taking part in a survey for National family week stating that social networking sites are more important to them than their families and, as any parent knows it’s often hard enough to interact with teenager at the best of times, does Facebook further dislocate the social and interpersonal abilities, skills and development of a teenager and the role of the family? Teenagers are made as physical relational people by our great creator God, fashioned to enjoy unity and diversification in relationships, mirroring our Triune God. The natural place for the establishment and cultivation of relationships will always be in the physical realm, rather than the virtual world. Indeed when considering the biblical mandate of the great commission and the example of the apostles, Christians must acknowledge that the proclamation of the gospel was always accompanied by the testimony of the lives of the believers. Paul was greatly burdened by the need to share his time with, as well as share his words with, those he was nurturing in the Christian faith. Surely a challenge to even the most earnest Facebook evangelist to get out there and spend time building genuine, loving and honest relationships with their peers who without Jesus are without hope.
Online forums often prove to be a difficult place to start a debate or to disciple someone in any real depth. The impression of closeness is deceptive as paradoxically there are in fact vast chasms of distance in cyber space. Distance which prevents tone from being interpreted, intent being questioned and the subtle nuance of arguments being overlooked which can consequently expose evangelistically earnest young people to the criticisms and accusations of others. And having identified the potential dichotomy between the cyber self and the physical self it is safe to assume that the cyber self may at times choose to communicate in a more forthright or aggressive manner than the physical self would when in a face to face conversation with a friend.
So whilst it is possible to identify positive uses of Facebook in the life of a Christian teenager it is perhaps fair to say that the scope of much done for the sake of and in the name of the gospel will have limited usefulness. Rather it is in the context of close personal corporal relationships that the opportunities for evangelism and discipleship will and do arise.
Facebook illuminates the desire that young people particularly have to be engaged in community and networks, of course it God’s design for His people that they might be united in His church, as a community of His people, members of His family who are plugged into the eternal network of the saints. The greatest community of all! How wonderful it would be if teenagers were to recognise that that desire for community was given by God and that rather than worrying about what the world thinks about them they would singularly be concerned about God’s opinion. Oh that they would see that the only friendship that matters is God’s; that He is the one they really need to send a friendship request to. It is of course in elucidating these truths to their friend (whether on Facebook or not!) that the Christian teenager can join with God in His mission in His world.
We may conclude that Facebook can be both a waste of time and worthy of time. For Christian teenagers and those who teach and disciple them it’s all about helping them to approach it and indeed all of life with a biblical worldview and a great commission mindset.