Sunday, July 25, 2010

What Would Jesus Tweet?

Come, follow me.

In the age of Twitter, "following" someone has become as easy as the click of a button.

It wasn't so simple 2,000 years ago, when Jesus searched for his true disciples. He had no email newsletter, no Facebook page on which to post photos and updates. He didn't have a website where millions could convene virtually to download sermon podcasts or submit prayer requests.

His was a day when a teacher's shoe leather was his bandwidth, and his sphere of influence was as large as the area his feet could travel. His audience consisted of real people with skin on, seen eye to eye, not faceless Google bots or Web perusers.

In a three-year public ministry, Jesus attracted hundreds of thousands of followers, many of whom dropped everything - their careers, reputations, even their families - to become fiercely loyal vagabonds.

His bombastic message gripped hearers across geographic or socioeconomic barriers. Thousands listened to him for hours at a time, often enduring hunger and fatigue as they hung on his words. When he spoke in a house, crowds spilled into the street. When he spoke at the beach, they pressed in so tightly that a fishing boat became his pulpit.

There's probably a reason Jesus's advent came before the age before electricity and mass communication. He preferred to see, touch and hear those to whom he ministered. As far as we know, he didn't write. He passed on his message not by adding his voice to world literature, but by loving his followers and making them vessels of his message.

Still, I have to think that if Jesus were to descend today to a world where we hide behind computer screens, the same principles that made him a magnet in the real world would lead to an engaging online presence. In fact, the more I think about it, Jesus - as if we could expect less - would be the perfect Twitter user, that is, if he decided the micro-blogging service was worth his time, which is a whole separate matter.

Check out just a few of the attributes that would help him draw droves of followers:

Unique, simple message. For most of us, it's hard to squeeze a list of what we ate for lunch into a single tweet. Jesus was a master at crystallizing weighty spiritual truths in easily digestible formats, like parables. He never minced words. He was clear, direct and to the point and would have no trouble staying below 140 characters. People liked him or hated him, but they never ignored him. Getting noticed is the first step to snagging more followers.

Selflessness and relevance. Want to end up sobbing in a lonely corner of the Internet, lamenting a rash of unfollows? Go on gabbing about yourself. Twitter, like the Web in general, is a place for sharing. Followers will flee shameless self-promoters who constantly ask them to "check out" information that ultimately isn't useful. Jesus never had to beg for followers, because he was worth following in the first place. He never testified about himself unless asked, and he always reached into the heart of things. Everything he said affected the eternal destiny of those within earshot. It doesn't get more personally relevant than that.

Controversy and offline buzz. Online kingpins don't always get that way by being tech-savvy or by following everyone in sight. They do things that are worth talking about in real life. With Twitter increasingly used in conversation, these stories can multiply rapidly. With such extreme behaviors as raising the dead, healing the blind with saliva and turning over temple tables, Jesus would have no problem making the trending topics list.

Irresistible invitation. Jesus commands that we not only follow him, but that we live by the messages he gives us. He hand picked his 12 disciples and he's asking us to join the caravan.

Are you on his list?

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