THE GOOD NEWS: According to Forbes, it seems as if the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which ruled social networking over summer, had generated more than $100 million in donations by Labor Day. This is amazing considering that the same charity had, throughout all of 2013, generated just a mere $2.5 million.
BUT: Many probably know that the funds supported research regarding ALS (and, in some cases specific institutions that are not using stem cells for their research.) Yet, how freely has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis ever tripped off of our tongues? Were we able to knowledgably identify ALS as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Can we discuss that it is a motor neuron disease, the most common among them, and it affects the ability to control motor functions ranging from swallowing to muscle spasms. Most often, it is a death sentence with people’s abilities slowly diminishing until their demise three to five years after its onset.
Of course, very little of that was communicated while ice water was being tossed over one’s head while the video ran.
And, this is the challenge of Slacktivism. The term was suggested by Fred Clark and Dwight Ozard who were attempting to explain the positive ways young people were making changes in the world, juxtaposed against the idea that most teenagers at the time were lazy and unconcerned with working towards a greater good. Research has suggested that those offering a “Like” on a facebook page or producing the ice bucket video – public acts – are less likely to engage in deeper, more costly forms of engagement later on. Those who offer support more privately, without seeking public fanfare, will be more likely to engage in the future.
YET, ON THE OTHER HAND: Everyone who tossed an ice bucket over their head, everyone they challenged, and everyone who was a part of the avalanche of generosity… They all made a difference. It was a start.
Ritu Sharma, CEO of Social Media for Nonprofits, challenges us is to, instead of criticizing this enormously successful moment in social fundraising, we should be criticizing the lack of creativity and lack of engagement in ourselves to seek this sort of engagement. Instead of nitpicking, we should be looking for opportunities to encourage the small acts of kindness that have the potential to become sweeping waves of generosity.
Seth Godin highlights there are notable accomplishments here. The message is out and it is viral, being spread from peer-to-peer. Further, it has normalized charitable behavior… In these skeptical and cynical times, we are still called to care about and for one another.
AND WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN FOR US?
THE GOOD NEWS: When a young person shows up… what a great moment. When they participate in a retreat or a youth conference or a mission trip… awesome. We add them all to our “numbers” report (which we philosophically reject but often have done little to correct) that gets the adult community feel better about our programmatic success.
BUT: Is their engagement deeper? Is their faith consequential to their lives? Do they presume that occasional participation satisfies maintaining a relationship with the Lord while allowing them to live life on their own terms? Dietrich Bonheoffer referred to this as “cheap grace.”
Discipleship is something much more. In Evangelii Gaudium (112,) Pope Francis insists
In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients. The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized. Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love. Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are “disciples” and “missionaries”, but rather that we are always “missionary disciples.”
We should be looking for opportunities to encourage the small acts of faithfulness that have the potential to become sweeping waves of discipleship.
YET, ON THE OTHER HAND: Those who show up have taken a step along the journey. Unless we chart out a course of action for them; unless we set up apprenticeship for them, then we have left ourselves wide-open to criticism for lack of creativity and lack of engagement, ourselves
- Whatever we do, it is a starting point for engagement into community… no matter the level of participation. All starting points must, therefore, be points where anybody has their fullest and best opportunity to start well.
- However, we can no longer make our program a series of starting points. Duffy Robbins refers to this as Tarzan Christianity, swinging from experience to experience. What is the plan for follow-up of what were described above as private experiences? That follow up MUST involve more that the primary youth contact as we must engage parents, sponsors, and other trusted adults into this work (Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization!)
- Apprentices are going to need mentors – those who are willing not only to live their faith but to model and share with others what a faith-filled lifestyle can be.
- What are the markers of deepened faith that we seek in young people from the experience as well as the follow-up? Are we opened enough to the Spirit to recognize those markers that are beyond our imaginations?
If we are able to transform our youth ministry efforts to address these concerns, it might certainly have a similar effect to pouring an ice cold bucket of water on the church… waking us up, alerting us to our shared responsibilities, and, with a viral enthusiasm, challenging others to do the same.