24/7 access means new ground rules for young adult ministry
Smart phones, texting and social media allow us to reach someone, or to be reached, at any time of day or night.
Those in ministry with youth and young adults have always had to set boundaries, but having connectivity at our fingertips 24/7 blurs those lines and makes it easier for potentially inappropriate situations to occur.
The Rev. Joseph McBrayer, Wesley Fellowship director at Emory University in Atlanta, shared the ground rules he set with his students. He said he only crosses them for a pastoral or ministry emergency:
Honor the Sabbath. "I have made it a part of our ministry culture," McBrayer said, "that Fridays are my day of rest and time to be at home with family. I do break that sometimes to meet with students or staff on pastoral emergencies or sensitive timeline items. They know that they can text me on 'off time' if they have to or need to make a decision on something happening over the weekend in our ministry or if they need prayers or guidance."
ZZZs before LOLs. McBrayer tells students "that I'm an old man (30!) and that I go to bed early — like around 10 p.m. They know not to text me later than that generally. Likewise, I don't text them after 10 p.m. or before 8 a.m. Every now and then, I'll have a student call or text late night or early morning, and it is usually a pastoral/life emergency." The biggest thing for McBrayer is keeping professional and appropriate boundaries by not texting students late at night or early in the morning. "Same with Twitter," he continued. "I'll send a Facebook message or an email instead. It lets them know I care about them but without it running into 'late-night texting' problems so prevalent in our young adult culture."
Weekends. McBrayer thinks about and prays for and with students during the week and on weekends, but tends to be more communicative with students during the week. "If I know a student has a big event on a weekend or I can be of some direct encouragement for them," he explained, "I'll send them a text saying I'm thinking about them. Weekends can be lonelier spaces for college students and young adults as the working/studying hours are different."
Break time. Holidays and end-of-term breaks are especially difficult times for students, McBrayer said, because their nuclear community/college family is separated, and their rhythms are different or unsettled. "That combined with new places (internships or study-abroad locations) and even reunions with family dysfunction or 'hometown problems,' he added, can be very challenging to students. "I use Google hangouts and Skype to keep in touch over breaks and also with alumni who are finding their place in the world as graduates."
Joey Butler is editor of young adult content at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.
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