Face to face

In an attempt to serve my generation by the will of God (Acts 13.36), I make a careful but concerted effort (believe it or not) to employ technology - including social media - wisely and well. I was recently struck by Al Mohler's statement that "if you don't engage social media in a responsible and credible way, for anyone under 29, you don't exist." I am inclined to think that a slight overstatement, or at least not a necessary truth, but I would not deny the principle behind it. Even though the church which I serve contains a wide range in terms of the use of the technology, my use of it can serve a purpose.

One of the tools that I have found most useful in this regard is my smartphone. In a day and age in which pastors are not naturally confined to a particular town or village in which everyone or everything within his sphere lies within walking distance, it enables me to make efficient and profitable use of my time when travelling, making calls and sending texts for encouragement, information, and so on. Also, being able to send out an email to the whole church, or to particular groups within it, makes certain communications easier and more efficient. Making quick arrangements by text can be a boon. A few words over the phone can be a great means of maintaining pastoral contact and lifting up a fainting heart. Skype can be a blessing in keeping in more personal contact with distant friends. Against my native instinct and inclination, for I am by no means an early adopter, and the contrarian in me likes to avoid whatever seems popular, I have even become a full-orbed TwitFace, joining the ranks both of Twitter and Facebook (where, though still very much a learner, in a spirit of enterprise, I naturally invite you to join me). I know that several of the church members follow this and my other blog (to which, if inclined, you can also subscribe), and some do the facey-twittery thing, but a lot of these labours fall outside the local church.

But the reach of Twitter and Facebook and such tools is often fairly indiscriminate. Admittedly, the targeted communications of personal messages, texts, emails and calls are no bad ways of doing some of the slightly more intimate business of pastoral ministry. However, no under-shepherd should ever forget the pastoral instincts of the Apostle John. Admittedly, John did not have quite the range of communication options available to him that we did, but - and here is, I think, a necessary truth - he recognised the relative value of written, more distant communications and of spoken, more immediate communications:
"Having many things to write to you, I did not wish to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, that our joy may be full" (2Jn 12).

"I had many things to write, but I do not wish to write to you with pen and ink; but I hope to see you shortly, and we shall speak face to face" (3Jn 13-14).
This is what gives the lie to those who think that they are above personal visits and face to face conversations, the men who will be there for you when you are ready for the bodybag but not before. If the Apostle John, commissioned by Christ to have a foundational responsibility in and overarching oversight for his infant church, can have a heart to look men in the eye and speak into their ear, an awareness of the value of face to face communication, and a readiness to invest not just in a written message but in a journey for the purpose of enhancing the joy of the saints, then so can you.

Let us never underestimate the blessing of speaking face to face. To be sure, there is an escalating scale - there are times when a brief email or text will do, when it is merely a matter of data to be passed on, when a generic statement (for which, if necessary, read aimless platitude) or unfocused update (for which, if necessary, read narcissistic reference) is sufficient, even more than enough. There are occasions when - since you cannot be present in person - you try to develop all the possible dynamics of personal interaction by means of something like a video-call. However, there are times when these things are not sufficient, when the pastor needs to look into the eyes of the sheep, needs to pour words of healing, advice, encouragement, or rebuke into their ears, needs to deal with someone face to face, times when the presence of the person adds all the warmth and nuance to the communication that the absence of that person will undermine, sometimes fatally. It is one of the reasons why Christ longs to be with his church bodily, and the church longs to be with Christ.

We still hear a fair amount about incarnational ministry. Unfortunately, it too often refers to choosing the right T-shirt, identifying the right body piercing, listening to the right music, and so on. It too rarely refers to a readiness to put down your phone, pod, pad or whatever else you might be using, and give your undistracted attention as a physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual presence to the person or people who need it. That is what a pastor does.