“We spend so little time together on Sabbath, it doesn’t feel like enough time for me to disciple and mentor the youth I work with,” said Anna Romuald, Assistant Pastor at the Southview Adventist Church in Minneapolis and Assistant Young Adult Ministries Director for the Minnesota Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. “Using social media, I can spend quality time communicating one-on-one to help spiritually disciple them.”
From the beginning, Anna Romuald struggled to answer God’s call into ministry. As a senior in high school, she knew she wanted to study architecture and asked God to bless her well-formulated plans. So when she preached for the first time at her home church and the congregation suggested she study theology, she simply laughed it off. “I knew Jesus was calling me, but I didn’t want that,” she said. “I kind of ran away with my own ideas.”
Romuald intended to go to college, anywhere but at Union, and pursue architecture. But in the summer between high school and college, all of her plans fell through, leaving her confused and frustrated. “I thought God did want me to be an architect, and it was only when I stopped running that I heard His voice,” she explained. “I said ‘I’ve tried my way and it didn’t work, so I’ll try Yours, but I need You to clearly tell me.’ As soon as I said ‘yes’ to Union, I knew exactly what He wanted from me. He put the perfect people in my path, gave me the right opportunities and even crafted this amazing pastoring position.”
Although facing numerous challenges and much work, Romuald loves her job. “I wouldn’t do anything else,” she said. “If God asked me to do something else, it would be very difficult. I know I could have been happy on another path, but I could never have been as happy as I am now, following what He intended from the beginning.”
Primarily a youth pastor, Romuald strives to build relationships with young adults and involve them with the church. Interacting with a generation that has grown up with social media, she quickly realized the importance of connecting with the youth on their terms. “It caught them off guard at first that I was ‘tech advanced,’” she said. “I don’t think I am at all, but they thought it was so cool to have a pastor who can connect in the avenues they usually use.”
Utilizing social media, Romuald and her youth group plan events and interact all week long. “I have a video app to send video messages about upcoming events, a group app to send mass texts, Instagram and many more,” she said. The youth can update prayer requests, text one another, pray for each other and take part in our weekly challenges; we have very high participation.”
The platform created by social media has enabled the groups’ relationships and purpose to advance. “When I use it consistently, they know it’s a way to get a hold of me,” said Romuald. “So a lot of youth will call, text or Facebook, seeking help or counsel in an emergency situation. When I’m faithful in communicating with them, they’re faithful in communicating back, and I get more of a handle on what’s going on in their lives.”
But the connection doesn’t exist only on screens or via cellular devices. “Social media has only enhanced our face-to-face communications,” said Romuald. “Since we’re connected all week, when we come to that hour on Sabbath we’ve already heard what’s happening in each other’s lives and can follow up on it. We can pray more urgently or just pick up where we left off.”
The new interactions have also opened up leadership positions for youth to be involved. “They communicate with each other all week long without my participation: asking for prayer requests, giving updates on Pathfinders, sharing Bible verses, responding to questions, etc.,” said Romuald. “It’s become a platform for them to be leaders. We have several who maintain, manage and administrate some of our pages, and I only post and approve members. We actually use their technical skills and put them to work.”
In an age of swift technological development, church leaders everywhere are struggling to reconcile the communication divide between younger and older generations. “It’s as though the youth have a culture of their own, and there’s not a great bridge to the adults,” said Romuald. “There’s a distance, especially with older people who have minimal or little acceptance for social media. If they don’t accept how culture is changing, they become more standoffish and hesitant to have meaningful relationships with youth.”
With modes of communication changing, young people also find it challenging to reach out to older adults. “Email is almost passé to the kids I work with,” she said. “They feel further away because they don’t communicate through email, snail mail or telephone, perhaps because they’re untrained in how to. A big part of what I do is to be the bridge between youth and the larger congregation.”
Age by itself is no excuse for the divide. “My mom, who is active in youth ministry and Pathfinders, has had to be taught how to use social media, but she’s very accepting of it,” said Romuald. “She’s taken a stand not to be irrelevant. She’s asked the kids to teach her, and the more she learns, the stronger her relationships with them are. Accepting the progression lays a good foundation for establishing good relationships.”
When people question her on the connection between social media and the church, Romuald draws from her own journey. “Whenever God tells me to use something in a way I haven’t thought of, I try to be open,” she said. “I don’t want to limit avenues for Him to reach others, especially youth. As a church, if we continue to turn our backs on social media, we’ll lose a lot of adults. Knowing how to use it isn’t becoming the world; it’s following Christ’s example to be in the world and use its resources for Him.”
In response to the changing ministerial demands facing the church, Union College began its new Social Media Ministry major at the beginning of this school year. Incorporating elements of religion, graphic design and emerging media communication classes, the major will equip pastors and future church workers for online evangelism.
“Everywhere I go I tell people: ‘if you want to know how to use social media and ministry, check out Union,’” she said. “I’m so proud to be an alumna of a school that has explored opportunities to use these programs and see what they can offer the church. I wish I could take some of the classes.”
Romuald encourages the church to see the vast potential of using social media to spread God’s Word. “I grew up with parents devoted to Christianity who modeled the importance of communing with Christ,” she said. “Now we have tools that help us spread what we’ve been given with others, why not use them? I’m not saying there isn’t also a lot of junk, but it’s His mission field as well. It’s about time we start claiming back what He has given us, instead of handing it off to the devil.”
Joellyn Sheehy, Union College Senior International Rescue and Relief Major from the U.K.
Adapted by permission for e-TNL
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