Have you ever thought of using Facebook in your spiritual life?
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Most of us use social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, to keep up with friends, family, celebrities, and even the people we knew in high school. We can also use them to keep up with our spiritual lives.
The Rev. R. Scott Miller, a United Methodist pastor in Ohio and the founder of TeKnowPreach—an online community that helps pastors and churches use technology to enhance their ministries—shares some ideas about how we can use social media to grow spiritually, and to share the story of our faith journeys when we post.
Rev. R. Scott Miller
- TeKnowPreach - Miller's online community "where technology and ministry reach out together."
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This episode posted on April 2016.
Joe: I’m joined today in the studio by the Reverend R. Scott Miller, the Associate Pastor of Gaines United Methodist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. Reverend Miller has served in youth ministry and Christian education for more than 20 years in New Jersey, Texas, Pennsylvania and Ohio. He’s written curriculum and he’s created new worship services and so much more. Welcome, Scott.
Scott: Nice to see you, Joe.
J: But in addition to the impressive résumé Scott and I have been friends for....
S: ...over 20 years.
J: Yeah, I looked it up the other day. I think it’s since ’92.
J: You came to New Jersey in ’92 and you were the youth pastor of my home church. So we kind of got to know each other.
S: Your mom was the secretary and office administrator.
J: I was long gone, but I quickly popped in and we used to go to lunch together. You introduced me to a lot of cool music that I didn’t know before. So we had a lot of fun doing those things.
So, as we catch up today, tell me a little bit about your appointment to Gaines United Methodist Church there at Cincinnati, and plans you have going forward.
S: Well, I had been at a church for 13 years in the suburbs of Cincinnati doing youth ministry and program ministry. But the church was making some changes. A very, very dear friend of mine was pastor at Gaines United Methodist Church. They were making changes. They were a family-based church that realized they needed to be reaching out to the community and wanted to make some drastic changes.
So, in 2013 the crazy idea came for me to go and serve part-time at my church and part-time at the church at Gaines. Now the unique part about all of that is that Gaines is a historically black United Methodist Church.
It’s in a community that is very diversely mixed. But the church was primarily African-American with a few white folks scattered in every once in a while.
They wanted to.... they already had a mid-week meal/devotional going on that was hit or miss. They wanted to create a contemporary worship on Sunday morning, which is unique in itself because we... in the white church we learned contemporary worship from the African American churches.
What they wanted to do was create a service that was brief—if you’re familiar with the African American church you’ll understand exactly what I’m talking about—the service was created to be an hour to an hour and 15 minutes long, to have a contemporary feel with a nod to tradition. And I had no idea what I was doing.
I’ve created many worship services, but not in that context. We were intentional about creating a band that was multi-cultural. We were intentional about creating music that had a nod every which way.
It has grown the church along with the mid-week service—what’s become a mid-week service and meal. So we’ve increased worship from 140 in worship a week to 235 last year.
J: Wow! So, things are going well.
J: As long as I’ve known you you’ve been a tech guy. I remember asking you questions back when I got my first computer, I think, and when I had my.... I know when I got my first tablet I talked to you about how to use it for worship. Now you’re using those abilities in a new way with this blog/Facebook page, this community you’ve built called ‘TeKnowPreach.’ And you’re gonna find it at Facebook.com/TeKnowPreach. We will post that on our page at UMC.org/podcasts so people can find out about that. But tell me about TeKnowPreach. Tell me about what’s happening there.
S: The tagline with TeKnowPreach is, “Where technology and ministry reach out together.” When I first started it was more about technology. And where I’ve changed and where I’m at in ministry it kinda changed what I was doing. I went from being the youth pastor and technology guy, to really realizing that my heart is in pastoral ministry. In fact, that transition has even becoming for me being a deacon in the United Methodist Church to transitioning to elders orders in my ordination which is very unique.
So, what I wanted to do is recreate this TeKnowPreach idea into helping to try to marry technology and the church along with not just for pastors, for lay people, and give opportunities.
We do a daily meme that is based on a theologian for a month. Theologian or writer. I should clarify that a little bit. We do that so that it’s something to look at, think about, and pass on.
During Lent we’re doing a 40-day study where every day there... the scripture is posted. And it’s been shared a lot. And it’s a great way to .... That’s just.... What I’m doing is giving examples of how to do it, how to marry technology and church.
We’ve got content from a friend of mine, Tony Walker, in Birmingham, Alabama who (whether he realizes it or not) is a street comedian, and is a blast to work with. I’ve known him for a couple of years now. I’ve got a young man named Nick Frederinco who’s getting ready to start writing some articles on communicating—how the church can communicate out into the world, whether it’s crisis communication or ways of communicating that are different. And it’s something not just for pastors, but for laity to make use of, because the church needs to be driven by the laity with resourcing and getting the word out.
J: The thing that strikes me is we use our computers for keeping up with a lot of things. I’m on almost every day trying to see what’s going on in the news, with the election cycle. The local news is there if something happens in town and I want to know what happened. Even to keep up with my high school friends on Facebook or whatever is going on. I use it for news and information. But sometimes we forget there’s devotional ways to use our technology. What are some of the ways that you’ve found?
S: That’s really funny because I quit doing my memes. I was doing those just on my personal page and had taken a break from it. After I’d been away from it for a year I started getting people reposting ‘cause with Facebook you get the memories and .... And so they saw them again and started reposting it. And one guy kept saying, I wish R. Scott Miller would start doing this again. And I kept seeing those popping up. I was like, I had something that I didn’t realize. And that’s why I started recreating that. And it’s amazing how something that you do for your own personal devotional takes and captures other people. And so I didn’t realize my impact until a year after I quit, and realized it was something I needed to get back into in a serious way.
J: Do you use the electronic media for your own devotional stuff?
S: You know, it’s a mixed bag. It’s a mixed bag. I do, especially because different people are posting different things.
Lately, I’ve been doing it a little bit more because in our church we’re doing a study on a book. And it’s been kind of an online Facebook conversation/Bible study. And it’s pulled in a lot of different people. And I’ve been part of that for the fact that it’s been harder for me to be in a real space time situation because of some travel and some other things going on. And I’m connected back to the community because of that.
J: Excellent. That’s a wonderful way to do that.
One of the things you talked about doing at Gaines is that you’ve created this social media presence and when we were talking earlier you were surprised, kind of, by what’s happened at Gaines ... at this community, other than the face-to-face community, this complete online community has popped up. Can you talk more about that?
S: Yeah. When I first got to Gaines Facebook was very underutilized. They had 2 pages—one which was a prayer page, which was actually more active, but actually it wasn’t a page. It was more of a group. And then they had a church page.
When I looked the church page had 40 likes and just every once in while something was posted, not real often. No different than any other church. I just took it upon myself to maybe go a different direction. So I started, first off, inviting every friend and neighbor that I knew to join, including the church community. Then my senior pastor at the time started doing the same thing. We were being very intentional about telling the story of what was going on during the week.
It would start out with a teaser about the sermon. Different posts through the week and different things coming up from different people or commentary from within the church. Then we’d come to Sunday morning and we would be videotaping at the time on tablets. Now we actually have a videographer doing a little bit better job than what I did. But we also had some folks in the church that would kind of mini-blog or micro-blog during the service.
They would be making posts all the way through. Then people would start having conversation back and back both during and after the service. It still goes.... It’s a natural piece. I don’t plan it. It depends on how the sermon is hitting. And certain folks will just start chiming in. It’s amazing conversation going on that sometimes will carry on throughout the week. But what caught us off guard and when we realized we had something, was almost a year ago to last couple of weeks.
We had a gentleman come in who I know from walking the streets of Cincinnati/Madisonville. He just hangs out. He does odd jobs. He was coming to church, and the pastor kind of bumped into him, greeting him on the way in. And out of Chris’s pocket fell out his big can of beer.
The pastor picked it up and Chris goes, “Oh, I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Pastor.” And he said, “No problem.” He said, “Well, um, Pastor, I’m just gonna stick it out here.” And he left it under one of the bushes...outside the door. Not everybody knew that he had it. Well, the pastor went and got it and he said, “Chris, keep this. you’re gonna lose it.” And he said, “Well, Pastor, I just came this morning to get a cup of coffee and to be prayed for and hear a word.”
What happened out of it was a picture of the 2 of them in the... basically 3 of ‘em—the 2 of them and the beer. Then the beer ended up being included in the sermon. We wrote a story about it. That week we had 7000 hits, and it struck us. We started looking, realizing at the time we had about 350 likes on the page. Now there’s over 500 likes on the page.
J: What do you attribute that to?
S: Telling the story. I’ve seen too much Facebook and social media used just to advertise and promote. What we did was, we changed it. I’m not gonna say the pastor, but the scripture, the passage for that week ends up being the story. And we’re telling the story throughout the week in a unique way until it comes out as a sermon. Then you still have the story continuing from the feedback of followup after the pastor’s sermon.
So it’s a 7 or 8-day news cycle (if you want to use that) of storytelling. It’s captured some people. We’ve gotten visitors and guests to church because of it. It’s just something that really we walked into. And now we realize we’ve got an idea and it’s working.
J: I can see how a church staff could use that. So they can tell the story of the church. How could individual members of any congregation tell the story of their church?
S: In reality even though the staff initiated it, it’s lay people that drive it. It’s lay people that keep inviting their friends to like the page. They share when something special happens, they share it. My bloggers, my micro-bloggers, are just members of the church.
I have to tease a friend of mine, who is one of our members, Gina, she is.... She just took one of those spiritual gift inventories, and proclamation came out as one of the big ones. We were talking and she said, “Well, I’m not a preacher.” I said, “Yeah, you are. You preach on Facebook all the time.” She really is. She’s telling the story. She’s sharing the grace and gospel every week through her blogs, mini-blogs, posts. She writes prayers out there. It just continues the story.
J: So this is a kind of a way we can use Facebook for something other than what we normally do. Rather than putting up a picture of your meal or the kids or whatever else is going on, but to use it (I want to say) as a disciple-making tool or a sharing tool.
S: Part of it came out of my journalism background. I’ve got a minor in journalism. And it was one of those where I always thought, what’s this have to do with church?
J: The journalism?
S: Yeah. And now I realize it has a lot to do because if we’re not telling the story outside of the church what chance do we have of bringing people in?
J: I think I hear you saying is that every member of the congregation has a story to tell...
S: ...and has the opportunity to tell.
J: Right. It’s not necessarily the story of your church. It could be the story of your journey. It could be the story of...just the story of God, the story of Christ. Your spiritual experience is a story worth telling and sharing.
S: Right. And it’s led into this new Bible study we’re doing...er, book study, I should say.
J: Tell me about that.
S: We’re doing a book study on Draw the Circle: The 40 Days of... The 40 Day Prayer Challenge by Mark Batterson. In conversations with a few of us we realized that not everybody is gonna be in a group of people. They don’t have time.
This summer we attempted a book study, and I have to admit it failed miserably. Part of it was that I was the one in charge. That’s why... I’m gonna say that’s why it failed because in the midst of it we had a crisis event in the community.
We had pastoral change. I had some personal issues that came up. And I couldn’t keep up with it. It never really flew off the ground like we wanted. Well, one of our church members, James Stallworth, saw the opportunity with the study and just posted on his own Facebook page, “I’m starting this group. Who wants to come and be part of it?”
We’ve got 28 members in the group. It’s a private group, but it keeps growing. It’s every day. James takes the time besides reading the daily piece from the book, he sits down and writes his own journal.
J: A little commentary?
S: A little commentary, yeah. And instead.... it’s just basically... what he’d be writing in his journal he’s just writing it for everybody. It’s vulnerable. It’s personable and it’s relational.
We end up having anywhere from 8 to 15.... I think the largest was 15 responses back and forth in a conversation. Actually one keeps going. So I’ve lost track on that one. It keeps going and the conversation is...keeps going. You can see people’s eyes opening, even though we were not in person.
J: Is there a trick to that? I know a lot of times we’ll write posts.... I mean, I put stuff on my Facebook page and you do it on you and nobody responds. I mean, it’s crickets and you don’t know where this is going. Or, you get responses that are so off topic from what you tended... right? It gets interpreted in an odd...especially if it’s somebody else’s article. Somebody picks up something different than I picked up on, and it goes off in a direction I never expected. Is there a trick to kind of writing a post that invites.... or creating this community that you’re inviting community and not just spewing. So much of Facebook is just spewing.
S: You’re right.
J: So how do you get people to not turn this into a conversation?
S: I think the reason why this is working is is not one of the pastors. That’s one of the pieces.
J: ‘Cause the expectation of a pastor is to teach. The expectation of another member is to have a conversation.
S: Right. Exactly. Now that being said and done, Pastor Don Wilson and I are both members of that group. But we also both preface by saying we are not here as the pastors. We’re here as part of the conversation. And we’ve both been intentional about chiming in and being part of the conversation, but not leading the conversation. I think that has done the biggest drive, by us not being the drivers, but having a lay person who’s saying, “I’m gonna put myself out there. I’m putting myself out there and letting everybody just jump in with me. Let’s all jump in the pool together.”
J: It just strikes me as having this conversation that...and being the Methodist nerd that I am, that it has this quality of the very earliest parts of the Methodist movement when John Wesley put these classes and bands and societies together. There were leaders, but the leader was a participant. It wasn’t a clergy person.
J: So this is kind of a 21st century electronic model of something that’s 300 years old.
S: The funny thing of it is, my friend James grew up in a Baptist background. He’s new to Wesleyan theology, and he’s dead on. He’s dead on in style. He’s dead on in the way he’s doing it. If John Wesley was around today this is one of the formats we would have.
S: I have not doubt.
J: Do you think that a closed group helps?
S: Yes. In fact, one of the very earliest posts one of the persons started being...really exposing herself. She went, “I hope this is a closed post, or a closed group.” James was quick to respond, “Yes, it is.” And we needed to. We knew we needed to. But we do keep inviting friends and people that we think that could be part of the conversation.
J: Well, it does control the spammers and it controls the trollers that are gonna say something nasty.
S: Correct. And here’s the part that just blows me away. More than half of the group is not members of the church.
J: That’s the part that gets my attention.
J: That this is not just another way of getting church people in the conversation. This is a way of getting those outside of the church, at least your local church, involved in the conversation.
S: Right. And most of them, the way I’m reading the commentary, have gone and bought the book. They’re bought into the study as much as anybody within the church. We’ve got over a hundred.... No, we’ve got probably closer to 150 people in small groups right now, when you add this group, because as a church we want to be on one page. It helps when it’s a smaller church and you know, everybody’s really tight. But it’s also a smaller church that’s growing. They’re wanting to grow together.
J: I imagine there’s limits to digital community.
S: There is, but I want to say that in my first.... my first response there is. But so many people have smart phones. And I work in a community... my walking community around the church is not the wealthiest community at all. It’s an inner city urban.... I call it an urban suburb. It’s not quite downtown Cincinnati. It’s right on the edges. But even folks that don’t have a lot of money have a smart phone and they’re tied into Facebook because they want to know what’s going on. They’re nosy.
J: Can I ask you, though? Do you get a sense of age of the people.... ‘cause a lot of times we assume social media is young people. Right? This is what we would use with our youth group. But my sense is that Facebook is not a youth group tool anymore.
S: No, it’s not.
J: Who is coming into this Facebook community. What are the ages of the people?
S: My favorite person is a woman in our church. And I’m not gonna guess her age. She’s gonna give me all sorts of grief later on.
J: We don’t have to tell her. We’ll just keep it quiet here.
S: She’s proud of her age. And for me not saying it. But she is Facebook crazy in a good way. She digs into my posts. She’ll give me grief if she thinks I’m a little off. She doesn’t get out much. She is home. In fact, because of Facebook I found her a dog, which is the craziest story, because somebody in the community had to get rid of their dog. She saw it, fell in love with the pictures and adopted this dog.
That is her outreach. Her ministry is Facebook. She may not get to church.
J: How is she using the Facebook in ministry?
S: Affirming. She goes and affirms people. If you do a post, if it has something to do with spirituality or not, you can be guaranteed, if you’re a friend of hers, she will not just read it, if it catches her eyes, she’ll make a comment. And they’re great comments and they’re encouraging.
I’ve had really, really cruddy days. And she has posted something on my page that has gotten me moving. That’s her ministry. She is doing ministry out of her house through Facebook, through social media.
J: We’re not talking about 12 and 15-year-olds. We’re talking.... 55 plus, 65 plus....
S: My grouping, if I could figure out the ages in the Facebook community (which we’re over 500 at Gaines) it’s between 40 and 90.
J: I just find that.... We make these assumptions sometimes that just don’t play out in the real world.
I have a question about micro-blogging. I go to conferences.... In fact, we had a learning thing here recently and people were tweeting about what was happening. Right? And so even though the leader saw it ‘cause he was tagged in it, and so it popped up on his feed that he had been mentioned. And so he actually could respond to that.
But that requires us taking our phones and our tablets out in church. You’re a preacher. If I take my phone out while you’re preaching, are you okay with that?
S: Yeah, I am now. When I was starting out and when all these smart phones were going.... I was preaching at a youth and young adult service. So I always wondered, okay, what video game were they playing while I’m preaching.
Now I’m seeing a whole different level. I’m seeing.... Yeah, they are...they’re surfing Facebook. There are some people, when I see ‘em out. But more often than not, when I see somebody typing and I realize, hey, they just blogged. They just did a post.
J: So if I want to do that. If I want to go to my church.... You and I are not connected that way. So if I wanted to go to my church and do that, should I ask the pastor about that (do you think?) and just kind of let him know? Or just take my phone out and go for it?
S: You know, that depends on the pastor. In reality you’re gonna do it anyway. People do it. They get curious. They want to see what’s going on around them even in church. And we are so.... We multi-task so much, you know, we’re in an ADD society where sometimes people listen better when they’re doing something else.
So, I don’t have a problem with that. I have a problem when the phones go off ringing or the text noises go off. But in my church, which is a micro version of all this, I see it being very edifying and very uplifting because I see the results of it.
J: Right. So it’s worth doing.
S: I think so. It brings people into conversation. You know something’s going on in a church when you’re seeing active posts.
S: In fact, we had one family come back to church because they kept saying they wanted to know what was going on.
J: That’s awesome.
S: So it’s changed their perspective of what they thought was a stodgier church, realizing it’s anything but.
J: Back to my Wesleyan stuff again. We’ve been talking about the acts of piety, in the language that we use in The United Methodist Church, meaning those devotional things, you know. We can use Facebook for Bible reading and for hearing those quotes and doing that kind of stuff, the kind of cerebral, internal stuff.
Can we move over to the other side where we’re doing those acts of mercy? Or how can the social media, the technology, help us in that way?
S: We had a perfect example of that in my community. In June, we had a police officer killed within blocks of the church. It was right in the week of the clergy moving and our pastor was getting ready to move. New pastor was getting ready to come. The current pastor at the time, Pastor Curnell Graham, actually went on the scene while I was doing crisis communication from the church.
We decided that we can’t sit still. So, we sent out a post that we’re meeting at 5 o’clock to have a time of prayer and a time of feedback about what was going on. We had 25, 26 people show up. Some of them were from other churches ... other Methodist churches in the community, which just warmed my heart to know end, because they were concerned about their sister United Methodist Church that was in the middle of this.
The next step was about.... I’m gonna say 3 weeks later we had what we called a concert of prayer. We lined.... Our intention was to line that street for at least a block. We ended up covering 2 blocks. We had between 250 and 350 people show up. We posted it on Facebook. It got reposted. It got picked up by the press. We had people show up because they saw the posts that were on Facebook, and wanted to come and pray for the community of Madisonville and what was going to pray for healing. And it just blew my mind. It helped me realize how powerful our social media was.
J: I’ve seen this. I was not in a situation quite so dire as that.
And I would suggest to people, follow your local foodbank… I know there’s some communities.... When I lived in Colorado Springs there was a...I think they called it one-minute missions, which was not that you did missions in a minute, but that in one minute it was time to go. So they were just gonna do the media. We’re gonna do something, do you want to come along and join us?
Follow your police department, follow your fire department, whatever’s around. They will often alert you to ways that you can serve the community.
So it’s just another way of doing that. I mean, the prayer was a fantastic way to get those things together. But I think there’s just a lot of opportunity. Unfortunately, that’s mostly news. You’re just getting the news. Then you go and do it.
But you also talked about your friend who’s a little bit older, who is doing...serving people in a very real, concrete way through social media, with an encouraging word or whatever that is, that she’s serving, not being served.
This is fun stuff. I think you and I could do this for a really long time. But our time is getting short. So, any final thoughts that you want to encourage us to get involved in social media or how we can use social media to further our spiritual development?
S: We just need to tell the story. We need to make use of it, not as information, but as storytelling, because when you tell the story then people want to be actively in the story and be actively part of the story, not just be spectators.
J: It’s no fluke that Jesus was the master storyteller because it involves us, it hooks us and draws us in. And you have a story to tell. Right? Every one of us has a story to tell.
S: We all have a story and that’s why it’s not just the pastors. It’s the laity.
J: Because you’re the expert in your own story. You may not be the Bible expert. You may not be the theological expert. But you’re the expert of your own story and the way God has worked in your life. And so that’s something worth sharing. That’s something to tell other people about.
J: Well, thanks Scott. I’m really glad that we did this today.
I’ve been talking with Reverend R. Scott Miller. I want you to check out his Facebook page at TeKnowPreach. And again, we’ll put that link on UMC.org/podcast where you’ll find a page for this podcast, a great picture of Scott. And we’ll get you hooked up with those resources and some other resources as well where you can find places to get connected in your devotional life on Facebook and in other places.
So thanks for being with us today.
My name is Joe Iovino with United Methodist Communications. Peace.