This research was done through two qualitative research methods: sample surveys and semi-structured interviews. The targeted population of this research consisted of twenty pastors (fourteen males and six females) randomly and purposively selected from the pool of church pastors with experience in the use of social media (especially WhatsApp Messenger) in the Ibadan metropolis. WhatsApp Messenger was selected due to its popularity amongst church pastors in the targeted population as established in a study done by this researcher recently (see Afolaranmi, 2020b). Against that backdrop that WhatsApp Messenger was used to purposively sample pastors that were interviewed, all the respondents are using the instant messaging app. As revealed by Afolaranmi (2020b), most of the respondents have Facebook accounts. Many of the respondents are just migrating to Telegram Messenger. Even before the recent ban on Twitter in Nigeria on June 4, 2021, many of the interviewed pastors did not have Twitter accounts. Zoom video communications platform is another social media platform that pastors are now using in their ministries.
Pastoral Care and Social Media
From this study, very few of the pastors interviewed especially those above the age of sixty are not favourably disposed to the use of the Internet in general and social media in particular. Most of the pastors have summoned the courage of using the Internet in general and social media in particular. In responding to questions posed to many of these pastors, they mixed up their use of phone calls and sending of text messages with the use of social media. This mixed-up is explicable to this researcher since bulk text messages (web-based SMS or text messages through the Internet) was part of what he used for a case study in earlier research among some of the Baptist pastors in the Ibadan metropolis over a decade ago (see Afolaranmi, 2009a). Nevertheless, some of these pastors disclosed that using phone calls and sending text messages have been a stepping stone for them to start using social media especially instant messaging apps like WhatsApp Messenger and Telegram Messenger.
At any rate, if the pastors did not want to use the Internet and social media before in their ministries before, the advent of COVID-19 and its resultant lockdown of public places and physical distancing forced most of them to start exploring the use of the Internet in general and social media in particular in their pastoral care and ministries as revealed in a study by this writer (see Afolaranmi, 2020b). In this latter study, many of the pastors gave reasons for starting to explore the use of the Internet in general and social media in particular in their pastoral care and ministries.
As revealed in the earlier study, many pastors that have been indifferent to the possibility of using the Internet in general and social media in particular in their pastoral care and ministries were forced to explore the technological tools during the COVID-19 lockdown of public places including church buildings in the year 2020 (Afolaranmi, 2020b). As the “pandemic is a setback for sustainable development everywhere” (Sachs, et al, 2021), and the post-COVID-19 era has introduced what some scholars termed the “new normal” (see Iglesias-Sanchez, et al, 2021), pastors have to look for means of reaching out to their church members in the “new normal” world. Social media is readily available to do this. Social media has indeed made many things easy. Some of the pastors admitted that if not because of social media, it might not be easy to care for people especially during the COVID-19 luck down.
Undoubtedly, the Internet in general and social media, in particular, are transforming the world and the means of communication in the world, some of the interviewed pastors were of the opinion that any pastor that is not knowledgeable of social media in this technology-driven age is incomplete by some means in his/her miniseries. To these pastors, things are not done the same way they were been done a decade ago. It is noteworthy that social media that is now popular was not popular to this extent over a decade ago when this researcher first did research on how pastors can make use of the Internet in their ministries. Hence, he did not include social media among the aspects of the Internet that he based his research on then (Afolaranmi, 2009a). Pastors should, therefore, consciously learn how to use the Internet and social media. Nonetheless, as Rome is not built in a day, pastors should not wait till when they are well versed in using the Internet or social media before starting using it. Practice, constant practice, makes perfect. If pastors start practicing using social media, they will be becoming more versed in using it, and as time goes on, they will be well experienced in using social media. Interestingly, social media and other aspects of the Internet are so exciting that if one creates interest and time for them, one would be surprised about the progress one would be making in understanding using them.
It was disclosed that social media makes communication easier as they break the barrier of distance no matter where people are. The world has become a global village where people anywhere can be reached at a click of a computer or a mobile phone that is Internet-enabled. Against the backdrop that everyone (even among the church members) cannot be met physically, using social media will go a long way because one can use social media in the comfort of one’s office, home, or anywhere. Many pastors interviewed cited many instances when they have used social media in pastoral care, especially with married couples in conflict, when they (the pastors) could not readily meet the conflicting parties because of distance.
Some interviewed pastors advised their colleagues to be proactive, and not only reactive, in their pastoral care approach to the use of social media. This will make the continuous innovations in this digital age not meet the pastors uninformed and unprepared. If pastors imbibe the culture of exploring how to use social media in their ministries, they would be surprised what they would be discovering many things even before unforeseen challenges of life like the COVID-19 pandemic come.
Younger pastors are discovering that the youth and teenagers prefer to interact more with their pastors on social media than any other means. In order to be in the world of this younger generation that is moving from citizenship to “netizenship” (Amodu, 2017), and in order to retain the youth and teenagers in the church, pastors have to be in their world by being on social media. It has to be noted that technological tools, especially the Internet, do not only offer pastors a variation of media with which to communicate the Good News but have brought a “new culture.” Babin and Zukowski (2002) referred to this new culture as “new territory or frontier” and “new marketplace of public information and communication” called “cyberspace”. It is “a new culture with a new language, a new psychology, and new technologies for communication and information.”
It is the argument of some pastors that using social media in pastoral care should not rule out face-to-face communication and other tested traditional ways of interacting with people. They rather recommended social media as a complementary or supplementary way of interaction with people in the course of pastoral care. One complementary or supplementary role of social media is follow up as some of the pastors interviewed opined that social media can be used for follow up on what has been discussed or done physically.
Many pastors are sceptical about the use of social media because of many identified abuses and disadvantages of the use of social media like cybercrimes, cyber-bullying (or cyber harassment), the rise of fake news, online hate speech, cyber fraud, online gambling, pornography, “sexting”, Internet addiction, online abuse and the like. Nonetheless, in spite of these abuses and disadvantages, it is better if pastors can focus on the advantages, rather than the disadvantages and abuses, of the use of social media and make good use of the digital means of communication. This optimistic opinion has been expressed earlier by this researcher after highlighting some of the challenges of the use of the Internet for the Gospel and Christian ministries (see Afolaranmi, 2009b).
As argued by many pastors, the use of social media among pastors would depend on the context that such pastors find themselves and the calibre of people they are ministering to. This will make the pastors study their environment and adapt to it accordingly in applying social media in their pastoral care.
Challenges of Social Media in Pastoral Care
Despite many opportunities that social media provides for pastoral care, it poses many challenges to pastors, especially in the Ibadan metropolis and in many other parts of Nigeria. A separate paper was written out of the study that this researcher carried out during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020 (see Afolaranmi, 2020d). However, some of the pastors interviewed in the latest study identified some other challenges as depicted in Figure 1 below.
There are many challenges as identified by many of the pastors that pastors, as well as church members, are facing in Nigeria. Some of them are: irregular electricity supply; Internet access; Internet network failure and/or interruption; personal interest of pastors and church members in the use of social media; Internet-illiteracy or semi-literacy (or what this researcher refer to as “e-illiteracy” or “e-semi-literacy”); the economic situation of the country; low standard of living among the average Nigerians; the spread of fake and unverified (or unauthorised) news; Internet addiction; cyber bullying; Internet fraud or cybercrime; fear of scandal and blackmail; the issue of privacy or confidentiality; time consuming; time management; time differences in the different parts of the world; the attitude of the Nigerian government towards the use of social media; and grammatical/auto fill challenges. This list is not conclusive. There are other challenges that pastors are facing, or may likely face, as they are attempting to use social media in pastoral care to promote sustainable development in society.
It is evident from the findings of this study that pastors have many benefits if they can be using social media in pastoral care to promote sustainable development, not only in their local churches alone but also in the society at large. However, it is also discovered that there are many challenges for pastors, especially in Nigeria that desire to use social media in pastoral care. Therefore, these recommendations are made:
- Pastors as well as other people in the society should change their negative mindsets about the Internet and social media. They should consciously explore modern technologies and discover their beauty in this technology-driven age.
- Pastors should be trained formally or informally on how to use social media in pastoral care. This will turn them from “e-illiterate or “e-semi-literate” people to “e-literate” people. The older generation of pastors should not be left out in this training as they also can meaningfully contribute through the use of social media in pastoral care.
- Church members should also be trained how to use social media so that they will be on the same page with their pastors as the pastors determine to explore social media in pastoral care.
- Pastors should be strategic and proactive, and not only reactive, in their approach to the use of social media. This will not let the continuous innovations in this digital age from meeting them uninformed and unprepared. The proactiveness of the pastors can even make them to join the league of discoverers of other innovations in the use of technological tools, not only in their pastoral ministries but also in the society at large.
- Pastors should involve volunteers or full-time staff members that are trained experts in information and communication technologies (ICTs) to help the pastors handle some areas that are too technical in their use of social media in pastoral care. Pastors can also engage social media managers that will help them manage their activities and ministries online. However, pastors should endeavour to be knowledgeable in some of these areas so that some secret information in pastoral care will not be inadvertently disclosed to a third party.
- Pastors should facilitate the teaching and enlightenment of their church members on how to use social media. Pastors may organize seminars, workshops, and training for their church members by inviting trained professionals in information and communication technologies (ICTs) to handle the enlightenments. Such enlightenments will be of great help to the pastors as well as they also will learn new things in the training. Such training will also make many members that are “e-illiterate or “e-semi-literate” people become “e-literate” people.
- Pastors should get good technological tools (like computer desktops and laptops, mobile phones, iPads, tablets) to explore the Internet and social media. Technological tools are evolving almost every day. Pastors should invest in acquiring these up-to-date tools and explore them in the use of social media.
- Pastors should be very careful in the ways they are using social media. The carefulness has to do with many things. One of those things is what pastors post on social media. Pastors are representatives of God in society. Pastors should not be carriers of fake and unverified information. What they post on social media must be true and edifying information.
- Another area of carefulness in the use of social media is the ability to keep secret and confidential issues. Pastors should not betray the confidence of their church members through social media. This is related to what is discussed above. Pastors should know the kinds of features of social media that they should use in divulging any information.
- Pastors should be mindful of using the auto-fill or suggested word feature in mobile phones, computers and other devices. This is necessary in order not to allow this auto-fill or suggested word feature to misrepresent their views as the auto-fill or suggested words may mean a different thing from what the pastors have in mind.
- As representatives of God among people, pastors should be sensitive to the leadership of the Holy Spirit in what kind of social media they will use, and how they will use the social media in pastoral care.
- As the global COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant lockdown and physical or social distancing have changed the ways many things are been done in the world in the last two years, pastors should think of alternative ways of doing things to meet up with the changing world. Social media is one of the suitable ways that can be explored in these possible alternative ways.
- The government should do its possible best to address the menace of erratic power supply by changing of old tools with new tested and of high quality ones. There should be proper and sufficient repairs of electrical power apparatuses. There should be stringent and instant action by anti-corruption agencies to curtail the problem of corruption and plundering of funds meant for power sector reform. The government should provide enabling environment in exploring other means of power generation like solar and nuclear power plants, training and re-training of staff of energy companies, prompt payment of salary and entitlement of staff of energy companies, formulation of policies and making of support systems for effective monitoring and regulation of energy companies by the concerned governmental agencies with proper follow-up. There should also be the provision of sufficient transformers to localities where such are needed to guard against congestion.
- The government and Internet service providers should make Internet access available and cheaper for people. This will encourage more people to have access to the Internet. Internet service providers should upgrade their services and make the Internet work more seamlessly.
- The government (especially the Nigerian government) should provide an enabling environment for the free use of social media by the populace. The recent total ban on Twitter in Nigeria and various attempts by the Nigerian government to regulate the use of social media are not encouraging the use of social media. Freedom of expression as entrenched in the Nigerian constitution should be upheld.
A New Theory of Pastoral Care through Social Media for Sustainable Development
Based on the findings of this research, this researcher is postulating a new theory he terms "Afolaranmi's Theory of Pastoral Care through Social Media for Sustainable Development." This theory is proving that pastorally caring for people through conscious use of social media will significantly promote sustainable development of the society. Figure 2 below gives a pictorial representation of the theory. However, other researchers can delve more into the relationship between the three themes – pastoral care, social media, and sustainable development – to substantiate or disprove this new promulgated theory.