Volume 18 Issue 12
Suppose a bus came to town and secretly, without authority, loaded up a good number of your children and young people and carried them away to some unknown destination. Undoubtedly the parents in your congregation would be alarmed and out of their minds with fear. Inconsolable. Filled with panic. As a pastor, how would you feel to know that someone had taken captive children you had known from birth, dedicated, baptized, taught, loved, sheltered, hugged, prayed for, counseled, stood behind at campmeeting altars, shared in their dreams? They are the ones you protected from false teaching and bad relationships. Perhaps you walked with some of them through their parents’ divorce and then by default became their substitute father or mother. But what if you learned the perpetrator was a doctor, a schoolteacher, a neighboring pastor, a preacher, an evangelist, or someone you knew? Would he be any less a culprit? Any less a kidnapper? Would the parents sigh in relief and return to their routines? Would you as a pastor think it was no big deal?
You may think that this is mere rhetorical speculation, but in many ways our new plugged-in culture creates this scenario every day. It plays itself out in homes and congregations around the country and involves thousands of young people. Some of the perpetrators act with intentional, calculated strategy. They are au courant and they execute their plan with razor sharp skill. Others on the search for cool blindly follow along and are unintentionally falling into a realm of ethical depravity. Take it seriously.
I run the risk of being misunderstood. Being of a certain age, it can be dangerous to discuss the dilemmas inherent in the new without being accused of merely criticizing modern methodology. But the battle here is not as simple as the old message versus method debate. I feel driven to call to the attention of all Godly ministers and parents something that presents a real danger to our congregations and families. Obviously, there is no physical bus pulling up under the church canopy to steal our young people. The virtual bus of which I speak is the pervasive and intoxicating force of social networking by way of the Internet and mobile communication, the power of which has literally locked onto the minds and spirits of people worldwide.
I am not referring to the legitimate use of these modern media phenomena. In fact such avenues provide a nearly costless, useful and fun way to communicate. But there looms another issue that demands careful attention, especially from parents and those responsible for the wellbeing of children. This concern is the use of these amazing, world changing, game defining technologies by some who wish to capture and influence those who do not rightfully belong to them – our children.
History is full of times and places when something—-call it a spirit if you wish—sweeps a particular society. This something is drawn, as into a vacuum, into societies that have lost their way and have harkened to the voice of deceitful leaders and philosophies (Kupelian, The Marketing of Evil).
We all know that Kupelian is right, there is something. There is a spirit, an evil spirit that has attached itself to the soul of this generation. It is not enough to say it’s satanic. It is, but that does not help us understand the means, devices and constructs Satan is using to accomplish the deconstruction of morality and Truth. The Internet has proved a great tool in the endtime battle, but also a great weapon. Of course it will not defeat the church, but we must be prepared to confront and overthrow its negative influences.
The title of a book by Jean M. Twenge describes what we are up against. It is Generation Me: Why Todays Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled–And More Miserable Than Ever Before. She discusses many factors contributing to the misery of the generation that has it all. One factor in particular is critical in understanding where the battle lies. Twenge describes it as the make-your-own-religion factor and introduces it by referencing Jeffery Arnetts book entitled Emerging Adulthood. Arnett describes the belief systems of young people as highly individualized. To illustrate his point he quotes interviewee Melissa, Everybody has their own idea of God and what God is. You have your own personal beliefs of how you feel about it and what’s acceptable for you and what’s right for you personally. Twenge goes further, many young people abandon organized religion because of, you guessed it, the restrictive rules it often imposes.
This, I believe is the demon that drives the bus. It’s not necessarily selfishness; I find this generation extremely unselfish, but rather a selfness. A meaness that is turning into an obsession. This obsession with one’s self creates an atmosphere of disrespect for authority, morals and ethical behavior, all of which are viewed as interfering with ones fulfillment of self-desires. This behavior is indicated in II Timothy 3:1-13 and the Apostle Paul’s warning cannot be taken lightly. The proverbial perfect storm is created when the love of self is exploited by those who are willing to provide the drug of false doctrine, false hope, or anything that offers temporal fulfillment without discipline, maturity or consecration. This generation wants its own religion, its own interpretation of reality, and its own fantasies. And as the social scientist Twenge suggests, they do not seek your approval. And, I might add, they don’t necessarily seek the Bibles approval either.
Consider again the global explosion of social networking on the Internet. Literally hundreds of millions of people around the world are visiting social networking sites each month and many are doing so on a daily basis. It would appear that social networking is not a fad but rather an activity that is being woven into the very fabric of the global Internet, said Bob Ivins, executive vice president of international Markets (comScore.com). MySpace receives more page views than any other Web site in the world more than 1.3 billion a day. It is the third most visited website in the United States only behind Yahoo! and Google… and the fifth most visited website in the world. It grows by 250,000 new users per day. (Heather Mansfield, owner of DIOSA | Communications).
Social networking sites are the Internet’s most phenomenal and unparalleled success story. It is global. It is absorbing. It is hypnotic. It is mesmerizing. It is addictive. It has created a complete subculture world. It is changing the way our society communicates. It is revolutionizing our youth groups whether it is acknowledged or not and it is not all good. The me generation, and many of their parents, have found a tool that exploits selfness, the spirit of the age, and thereby makes them easy prey. Satan has used social networking media to the best of his ability and many of the results are painfully obvious. It has shattered marriages, entrapped children into relationships with predators, and is destroying the ability of our young people to develop even the most basic of manners and social skills. However, the arsenal of this device includes some more subtle weaponry. Consciously or unconsciously, some are using the virtual bus to further not just the Gospel but their own ambition.
What some may not understand is that aside from all the wonderful, popular, and innocent uses of social networking, these mediums provide an avenue of access into ones family by outsiders. Further it provides access to your church membership and even more dramatically access to your impressionable youth. Frighteningly, the individuals of the self-gratifying me generation are sitting ducks for exploitation.
This is not about individuals who are stopping by a blog or Web page to view content, or buy products. Social network sites are being used to recruit and build connections with individual people and often the creators of these connections have agendas. Anyone may start a network. That person, or entity, then becomes the central figure. Others then request or are requested to join, then their friends join, and then the friends of the friends join, and so forth. Groups can involve hundreds, even thousands of members. They communicate, they link-up, they establish goals, they recruit, and often they raise funds. Networks can be virtual churches, support groups, teaching groups, opinion groups, and political groups. Individuals involved can post pictures, biographical information, even their schedules. Leaders of these networks often refer to themselves as pastors, mentors, or coaches as they field questions and try to deal with confessions, hurts, anger, doubt, spiritual uncertainty, and even intimate feelings of the group’s members. It is all the rage in church planting, no need for bricks and mortar.
I hear pastors lament that although they’re preaching and pouring out their hearts as never before they feel as if they are not getting through. Arguably, there may be many reasons for this perception, but we should not ignore the impact of the electronic social networking mostly among young people. Once everyone’s connected so to speak it opens opportunities to communicate beyond just the Internet. The social connections are one thing, and can be innocent interaction, but when the lines of authority are crossed the floodgates come open and the battle becomes spiritual. Often through the advancing forms of communication the youth are being reeducated and retrained in spiritual matters without the trainers ever considering the ethical implications of the pastoral and parental relationships.
It can even take place during church in the middle of the sermon. Communication machines light up and text messages are launched like scud missiles from across the room or from two thousand miles away. The sermon may be debunked, faulted, mocked, rated as uncool, old fashioned, not relative, and non-progressive at the very moment it’s being preached. The ravens snatch the seed out of the soil almost before it hits the ground. More often than not the perpetrators of these unethical assaults are by those who profess advanced understanding. They coolly and boldly state that their ministries rival the Apostle Peter or Paul. They attempt to disenfranchise young ministers from their pastors and parents. They pretend to be Apostolic, but whine about holiness as bondage, portray any fixed points of doctrine as being a hindrance to revival, and emphasize social issues over soul issues.
I want to make it clear that this is not about the technology, or the use of Internet as a tool for spreading the Gospel. But the fox has been given easy access to the hen house and we had better reinforce a few nails. It is unfortunate that some build networks of young people, invite them into their leadership teams, think tanks, and financial support systems while ignoring the fact they have shepherds and parents. Sadly, we see the development of self-appointed prophets and virtual pals who when confronted cleverly state, Oh, they are just my friends. Friends do not pull minds and lives inside a virtual world apart from discipleship, leadership, or parental guidance. Such activity is unethical. That’s the point. However cool it may appear it needs to stop. Pastors, be aware.