If you stereotype Pastors who were teenagers in the 90s, you can identify us by our bald heads, goatees, and love of comic books in the superhero genre. So when we start having deep thoughts (if you can call them that), we are often making these pop cultural connections between a current observation and a character in our beloved comics. Recently, thanks to a streaming service that I’m not going to name (but I am sure you can guess), featured a character known as The Watcher on one of their comic shows. These characters are known to be observing and compiling knowledge on all aspects of the universe without interacting. They watched and quietly made conclusions about what they witnessed. Now, if you are unsure who they are, feel free to google their description and have fun learning about their role in the Marvel universe.
So here is where the Youth Pastor brain makes a connection:
Recently, as I observe the junior high and early high school students entering the social media landscape, I realize they are not interacting with the content they are viewing. They are becoming less likely to hit the “like” button or “hearts” (depending on their social platform), comment on a post, or even follow people. You might be thinking I identify as “The Watcher.” However, I would argue it is not me; but the next generation who seem to have parallels with this character.
In discussing the why, I learned a few things that honestly shocked me. First, they want to stay anonymous because they fear if others even suspect their curiosity or interest in an issue that might not be accepted in “woke” or conservative culture, they may lose their community.
Second, they fear being attacked if they express their opinion or question something that might go against the accepted narrative of an issue in their community. What opened my eyes is that as they see posts of various worldviews or statements against Christianity, they are watching how the current adults are responding. To my surprise, they are reading the comments, viewing the posts, and coming to their conclusions from these avenues. These conclusions are leaving them questioning if there is an authentic representation from the Christian community.
So, those who interact online and are seasoned Christians may need to be more considerate and thoughtful about our posts, memes, and our comment responses. Are we speaking the truth in love as stated in Ephesians 4, or are we just trying to one-up the competition, or are we keeping silent as not to “rock the boat” and thus violating 2 Timothy 4 by becoming unready “in Season and out of season”?
I stopped interacting online because I saw no win in it. I recognized that I’d never change the person with who I was debating, so I stopped interacting. I failed to realize that the win was not in changing the person who posted but was in the influence I could have with the “watcher” who was viewing the conversation unfold. We must do better to speak the truth in love, especially online because they are watching.
Joe Valenzuela is the Executive Pastor at New Life Community Church in Scottsdale, Arizona