Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

11/3 2015

Ministry and Social Media: 5 tools, 5 minutes each

increasing reach for ministry through social mediaChances are that as a pastor you wish you had time to increase your presence on social media. You know that’s where conversations are taking place these days—and not just the kids from your youth group. You wish you had a dedicated volunteer or staff person to focus exclusively on things like blogging or Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, not to mention Vine, Snapchat, and Instagram.

But, chances are you don’t.

Even if you do have someone working on your social media presence, you may feel like there’s more you could be doing to increase your reach, more ways to connect with new people. Regardless, there’s always the one recurring problem.

Time.

It takes so much time to write a thoughtful, helpful, and insightful blog. Not to mention trying to be clever or pithy while staying theologically faithful. Then you have to post it, and ideally promote it. There’s no time!

So, with that in mind, here are five things you can do in less than five minutes to increase your social media presence. Don’t aim for all of them. Pick one. Then, just see what happens.

  1. Blog – Post your sermons / lesson notes.

For many people, the hardest part of blogging is the writing. Buy you’re already doing that! Take those lessons, notes, outlines, or manuscripts, and make them public.

If you don’t have a blog, it is very easy to start one for free with any number of websites. Try wordpress.com or blogger.com. The initial setup will take a little bit of time, but after that, you should be able to cut and paste your existing sermons or lesson notes in just a few minutes. Do that once a week, and all of a sudden you’ll be able to direct people to your material regardless of where they are!

  1. Twitter – Tweet a short prayer every day.

Do you do daily devotions? Have an active prayer life? Twitter restricts your tweets to 140 characters—not words, but characters. How hard would it be to write a prayer of 140 characters as part of your morning devotions? If you don’t have a Twitter account, it’s very easy to set up.

  1. YouTube – Record your lessons or sermons.

This one is more like five minutes a week. I’ve talked about this before here. You put an unbelievable amount of time into your sermons or lessons. Chances are someone in the room has a smartphone; if not, voice recorders are relatively inexpensive (seriously check Amazon; they’re like $50).

Record the lesson, and put it on YouTube. You already did the hours of preparation. Why not extend its usefulness?

  1. Facebook – Include a recap.

I’m surprised at how few ministries do this. Obviously Facebook is a great spot for pictures, prayers, insights, and announcements. But what if you don’t have time to snap photos of everything? What if you missed the upcoming events beforehand?

Try taking five minutes each morning to recap the previous day’s events.

Instead of just telling people what’s coming, tell us how it went. Mention the book that the Bible study is reading and what they thought about it. Tell people how the youth trip went. If you don’t have pictures of everything, that’s fine. Some days are slower than others, but an occasional recap will go a long way to show folks what’s happening in your church and encourage them to join you for a future event.

  1. The multiplier.

Here’s the trick that tends to be daunting to people. Even just using these four platforms seems like a lot of work. After all, five minutes apiece, times four, times five days a week puts you at 100 minutes.

But it’s actually not that tough to do all four of these platforms.

When you update the blog or upload a video, link to it from Facebook or Twitter. Big brands do this all the time. In fact, you may well have found this blog from the Seminary’s tweet or post. Announcing an update takes seconds, and can give you presence across multiple channels.

Using these five tips can help your ministry enhance its social media reach in five minutes a day. Pick one platform and try it—you’ll be surprised at how easily you can work it into your daily schedule!

The Rev. Derek Davenport ’05/’17 now serves as director of the Miller Summer Youth Institute at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and digital marketing analyst. Derek is also a PTS alumnus of the Master of Divinity (MDiv) Program after which he served at a church in Orlando, Fla., for five years. Besides working with youth ministry leaders, he serves as a guest preacher in Western Pennsylvania, researches church symbolism on his website, and tweets at @DerekRDavenport.

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10/28 2015

Prayer in the Community

thank-you-prayerAll the preparation of an M.Div./MSW equips you for ministry in the community. Ministry and particularly prayer in the community are, at times, difficult. Often we spend more of our time in preparation for community prayer worrying about who we will offend, instead of praying to the God who unites us.

In all Christian mainline denominations communal prayer is a regular part of our worship. Some communities might offer prayers of repentance and confession, others offer prayers of the people (or supplication), and others say the Lord ’s Prayer each and every week. We are taught in church that praying together, in community, is important. Depending upon denomination, culture, or area of the country, praying together can last three minutes or one hour. Regardless, that joining together, uniting our voices, listening for God together, is critical to the life of the church and to our own personal life in Christ.

It allows us to remember that faith is not mine or yours, but a gift of God in Jesus Christ. Faith is not something that I choose, but over and over again God chooses me. I have learned that most about praying in the community by being a parent. When our son was born six years ago, we knew we wanted to pray as a family, but had no idea how. We started by praying before meals and at bedtime. The desire of my husband and I was that our son, even at age 1, would be an active part of praying, not passively wondering what mommy and daddy were doing. So we pray by saying thank you. Our prayers are simply thank you God for . . . and we list the people we saw that day, the things we did, what we ate, and at the end of each prayer we say, “thank you for ___” and our son fills in the blank. As soon as he could talk, he started filling in this blank. Some days he is most thankful for trucks, snow, Skylanders, Legos, Grandma or Grandpa, or candy! We never know what he will say. But what we all do know is that we have something to be thankful for.

Ministry and prayer in the community reflects this time of prayer in my family. When I go to write prayers for worship or offer a prayer at a gathering I start and end with thanksgiving. The great God of all has given us the opportunity to be in conversation, what more can I say than THANK YOU?

So the next time you are wondering what in the world to say during a community prayer, say Thank You. The next time you are frustrated by prayers happening in your church or you lose track of what the preacher is praying about, say Thank You. The next time you are rolling your eyes at the idea of having to pray communally again, just say Thank You. And listen for what God says back.

The Rev. Erin Davenport is a 2005 alumna of the MDiv program. Through the Seminary’s joint degree program, she also earned her MSW from the University of Pittsburgh. A former chaplain, she now resides in Pittsburgh and serves as the Seminary’s director of the Miller Summer Youth Institute

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10/2 2015

When Relationships Harm: How the Church Can Help

pastoral counseling relationshipsIntimate partner violence (also called “domestic violence” or “relationship violence”) is a subject about which many of us in the church know very little. Even if we do know something about it, we often feel uncomfortable discussing it. That may be because we believe that it doesn’t happen to people we know. Unfortunately, that simply isn’t so. A report released in 2011 found that more than 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men in the U.S. have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by a partner in their lifetime. Clearly, this is not something that just happens to “other people”; it’s happening right now in our faith communities, to people we know, and that means we need to spend some time thinking about this and about how we want to respond.

But, what can churches really do about this problem? Most of us are not professionally trained in this area, so how can we help? Here are a few suggestions for ways I think the church can respond to and maybe even help prevent intimate partner violence:

  1. Know our limits Most clergy and other congregational leaders are not trained professionals in the area of intimate partner violence. This means that when it comes to providing direct assistance, we will often need to refer to other agencies in our community who do have this expertise. Each congregation can be prepared for this by maintaining a resource list that includes various options for help (emergency shelters, financial assistance, care and counseling services, etc.). Even better, church leaders can develop relationships with these agencies so that when we have to refer, we have a personal contact who can help the person make the transition between caring communities.
  2. Acknowledge our responsibility Although most congregations are not fully equipped to deal directly with domestic violence, it is important for us to think about what responsibility we do have in these situations. We may not be able to offer certain kinds of help, but we can offer pastoral and spiritual care and the support of the religious community. No survivor of abuse or violence should feel they have to choose between the help of secular agencies and the support of their faith community. They need both in order to seek healing for themselves and their families.
  3. Think more carefully about our language and our theology How we talk about theological themes like love, marriage, suffering, and redemption within the church may help to lay the groundwork for healthier relationships, or it may perpetuate destructive patterns between partners. If we choose to, we can paint a different picture of the way relationships should be. We can communicate to those in our faith community the norms that we uphold as God’s expectations for us in intimate relationships: equality, honesty, accountability, and mutual respect. We can say very clearly, from the pulpit and all throughout our communities, that God doesn’t want anyone to suffer needlessly, and that abuse or violence in any form is contrary to the loving relationships that God longs to create among human beings. We can also teach that forgiveness within human relationships does not mean relieving someone of responsibility for his or her actions. This might remind us all that we don’t have to excuse abuse or violence in the name of forgiveness. Instead, we can hold up a vision of healthy relationships as being free from all forms of violence and coercion, while still holding out hope that transformation is possible.

In some ways, I think this last point might be the most important, because domestic violence doesn’t begin with violent actions. Instead, it has its origins in the attitudes of people who have come to believe that it is acceptable for one person in a relationship to exercise power over another. In our religious communities, our children and young people are watching us to find models of what adult relationships should be. If we can offer them healthier, more loving, and more respectful ways of understanding relationships in light of the practices and language of our faith traditions, we will be giving them an enormous gift. And in doing so, we may even be helping to prevent relationship violence from happening in the first place.

The Rev. Dr. Leanna K. Fuller is assistant professor of pastoral care at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and teaches in the MDiv Program. Her ministry experience includes serving as associate pastor of Oakland Christian Church in Suffolk, Va., where she coordinated youth ministry and Christian education programming. She writes regularly on pastoral care and counseling, pastoral theology, and congregational conflict.

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