A few days ago, at an elaborate worship service in Chicago, the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton was installed as the Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. She is not on Twitter.
That fact -- that the new ELCA Presiding Bishop does not tweet -- may strike most people as inconsequential (or even a blessing), but during her installation, and in a subsequent #ChSocM Twitter group chat, many made a compelling argument why Bishop Eaton should join. Add me to that list.
The back-and-forth began when Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, Senior Religion Editor at The Huffington Post tweeted the following:
— Paul B. Raushenbush (@raushenbush) October 5, 2013
Raushenbush, and others, also noted that if the number of followers of the Twitter accounts from the ELCA, PCUSA, and every mainline denomination's highest leaders are added together, they come up about two million followers short of Joel Osteen.
In a quick search of the prominent mainline church leaders I know via Twitter, Bruce Reyes-Chow, former Moderator of the PC(USA) leads with 7,600 followers and 38,000 tweets to his name. (Or, if the author Diana Butler Bass counts -- and she probably should -- 9,500 people follow her digital wisdom.)
But, I don't think Bishop Eaton should join Twitter to collect followers, or compete with Joel Osteen or Rick Warren for pithiness (though Eaton's wit would be a blessing on Twitter, for sure!).
Instead, I hope Bishop Eaton joins Twitter so she can lead us in following Jesus, online and in all the world.
5 Reasons for Faith Leaders to Join Twitter
1) Your voice needs to be heard. In a world longing for ethical values and holy public conversations -- not to mention, the "good news" -- we need your voice of reason. We need your vision of peace. We need your informed scripture commentary and faithful discernment. Finally, we need to be prodded by your holy discontent.
2) You need to listen. I've never led a denomination, so I'm admittedly nervous about using this word "need" again, but, in humility, this I know: the best leaders hear their constituents, know our concerns, and are with us in the good times and the bad. Twitter allows instant "peripheral awareness," the ability to help leaders understand our world--or our church -- through short, sweet, heartfelt, and sometimes very powerful tweets.
3) Pray and be prayed for. St. Paul instructed the Thessalonians to "pray without ceasing." Twitter makes that possible. Whether it's movements like Keith Anderson's (Praying the Woburn Manhunt), or simply asking, "For what should we pray?" Twitter gives people the ability to connect beyond anything that Paul could imagine. If you need prayer, ask and Twitter delivers. If you wonder about what, or for whom to pray, Twitter delivers.
4) Engagement. Twitter and other social media give us the ability to engage with leaders and followers of all stripes. Ultimately, it's not about numbers of followers, but the quality of engagement, connections, relationships, and the building up of the body of Christ. Twitter allows leaders and organizations to get their message out and engage with their audience in ways traditional print media -- or sermons, for that matter -- simply cannot offer.
5) The Spirit is Working Online. Raushenbush tweeted this week that there is "disdain for social media in the mainline church leadership," and he finds such an attitude "foolhardy and perilous." Indeed, such an attitude doesn't serve my vision for the church, but further, it may not even be faithful. The Holy Spirit works online! The Spirit has internet access. If we believe this, the question then becomes how we join in God's work already happening online. How we catch up and learn from the Spirit's ancient power to surprise anew?
An earlier version of this post was published at A Wee Blether