Myspace and Ministry
Myspace.com is a website host that allows anyone with an email address to create their own “space” on the World Wide Web. This space generally contains information, pictures, music, writings, and commentary that reflect them as a person. As technology improves daily the limits of this space grow smaller and smaller. There are a few things that happen on Myspace that only make sense in the blogging (a web log or diary) and personal website world. One of the goals to having a myspace is to actually obtain and retain “friends.” Friends are those that you have allowed to connect to your site. You could be connected by similar interest, actual friends with them in the physical world, and/or meet randomly on the internet. These friends could be in your suburban neighborhood two doors down or all the way across the globe in Sydney, Australia. Wherever there is an internet connection myspace can happen. Another unique thing about this type of website is the virtual community that it provides. John can “poke” Stewart just to let him know he thought about him. The art of Poking is simply sending through the myspace server a message with no content to alert the other that a friend thought of them. They can message one another, request another as a friend or the most common: comment on the other’s space. This is where virtual community is in its prime. Allison will go to her friend Leigh’s myspace and leave a comment with whatever content she desires. Of course the obligation is then for Leigh to comment back on Allison’s. There the community continues with others seeing your comments and joining the conversation. Okay, breathe! Writing about myspace is much more complex than actually participating in its world. With a click here and there you become a pro and have all new connections with a broader world.
How is this affecting Adolescent Culture?
If your adolescent hasn’t already begun using myspace just give them some time and they will either enter its world or ask to enter. This virtual community is quickly taking the place of the gossip sessions in the hallway. Teenagers in school are more likely to make an appointment to comment to someone’s myspace, than just tell them the dish on the spot. Exaggeration? Maybe, but the truth is that students are using their free time to connect through myspace, facebook, AIM, or other internet connecting spots. A plus for the adolescent culture is that they are less afraid to be real in their virtual community, therefore, being more willing to share the private areas of life. In a conversation with a teen in my youth group I can only dig so deep before he will begin to shut down. I can ask good questions get close to the heart of the matter, then I must pull back lighten the mood, to not run him off. Also, I can listen to her as she tells of heartache and disappointment, but no matter, I am at the mercy of their personal limits with verbal information. When I go to their myspace and scroll through their commentary, read their blogs, or see their profile picture I move miles beyond our talk in the sense of information I retrieve. They are more willing to tell, “Dead Space” what they really feel and can leave the notion behind that anyone is reading.
However, the pure sense of community is being changed and the issue of security is at an all time high. When I sit and ask questions or listen as they talk, there will be no replacement for the relational ministry I have through my own presence. I don’t think we can say for sure yet whether this virtual community is damaging our sense of community. However, we can say that the face of community is changing. The art of looking someone in the eye and saying something extremely difficult or important is being lost. We use the speediest way to send news, confront situations, and simply chat. Adolescents are still spending enormous chunks of time hanging out and celebrating life together. They are still engaged in extra-curricular activities through their schools, cities, and churches. They are even remaining attached to their families and sense of family time. Quantity is not what is lost as much as quality. Two students will sit in a classroom together and forgo talking for instant messaging. Our ways of communicating are expanding and adolescents are typically living on the edge of our technology. One of the benefits in this changing of community is how American teenagers are able to have connections with people all over the country and world. It is amazing what adolescents can do today that they couldn’t do five years ago.
The most difficult change in the culture is a sense of security. In these post Columbine, 9/11 days our students still face issues of security. In some ways their physical world is much more dangerous than a virtual one. There was once a day when you locked your diary up and still hid it from your pesky brother. There was a day when you considered foolish and ignorant putting any personal information on the world wide web. Today, however, adolescents think less about security especially as it applies to their virtual presence.
Fears of Parents
What I have heard in my youth ministry career from parents is that there is much confusion and fear about myspace. This is not a huge surprise. The greatest fear amongst parents regarding myspace is the issue of security. Parents are not always aware of whom their child is talking to or who is talking to their child. This provides more territory for a parent to cover to parent wisely and more questions that will need answering. Adolescents may think less about security, but everyone can be assured their parents are taking the issue very seriously. Of course with anything on the internet the issue of security becomes more and more tedious and problematic.
Another fear that parents are realizing is the breakdown of communication between the families. Not that myspace is the sole cause for this phenomenon, but it is not leading to traditional family community. The fear is that there will be a day soon when all the members of the family will come to the dinner table with their laptops and not say a word, but talk virtually with all members, of course while they talk to the rest of the world. Since myspace is a piece of internet communication that is non-traditional there are fears from parents that there will be an even greater chasm between parent-child relationships.
With everything there is good and bad. Myspace has its good too! It can be an awesome tool for ministry. When there are adolescents involved every day with non-Christians around the globe through myspace there are unlimited opportunities for ministry and the spread of the gospel. There are things that we can take from a technology that adolescents will use anyway and make it to be glory for God. Myspace is used by the secular world to promote concerts, TV shows, political propaganda and more. Christian teenagers could use myspace to promote social justice, spiritual formation, mission opportunities, and God’s glory. In a recent camp I attended we were given the task to creatively find a way to help our assigned country in the issues they were having. The students in my group decided to create a myspace that would create interest in Venezuela in order to change the president’s mind about allowing American missionaries into the country. This is a radical, but useful way to use myspace for ministry.
Also Christians have the right and the responsibility to reclaim things for God. Our church has reclaimed a site on myspace for ministry. Instead of worrying over silly quizzes or random comments we have provided a place that while kids are surfing through myspace they can stop at ours and have a devotional thought for the week and comment. Not to mention that this myspace becomes one of their friends and more responsibility is tacked onto how they represent themselves in the virtual world. What the world created for communication of any kind, Christians especially adolescent Christians can reclaim for God’s glory.
Whether your opinion of myspace is positive or negative we cannot escape the fact that it is present and highly used. We can, however, take what is being widely used and steer it into a glorifying direction and reclaim it for ministry. This may be a challenge for us who grew up talking face-to-face and writing with paper and pen, but it can be done and we can help it happen. This thing called myspace can be a tool for His glory!
Michael Mercer is married to the love of his life, Leah. He has served as the youth and family minister for the Highland Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas, since 2000.
Oct. 1, 2006