Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, has a good understanding of one of the roles of pastors. Leaders of local congregations bring people together for a higher cause. In a recent address he said, “Think about it. A church doesn’t just come together. It has a pastor who cares for the well-being of their congregation, makes sure they have food and shelter. Leaders set the culture, inspire us, give us a safety net, and look out for us.”

Whether or not we pastors succeed at those lofty goals, Zuckerberg has gotten to the heart of what we do — we seek to build community. However, he also notes the decline in communities in recent years that has resulted in a weakening of the social fabric and more distance between individuals, and he thinks he knows the solution: forming new groups on Facebook or joining ones that are already there. He calls for new social leaders to fill the role that pastors have traditionally filled.

Maybe he’s right. I don’t know. Perhaps in our busy culture, with people with mutual interests spread out all over the globe, Facebook is the best way to bring people together. He cites two positive examples, a support group for women and a group for locksmiths. Women (or men) who need support and encouragement could certainly benefit from knowing there are others who face the same issues and locksmiths must have a lot to talk about, although what that would be is beyond me.

However, when it comes to the ultimate issues of life — to whom will we give ultimate allegiance, on what basis will we live our lives, what motivates us to act for anything beyond self-interest — I have to believe that social media have built-in limitations. Talk is cheap, and writing about any subject requires only a certain level of effort.

As Christians we affirm that Jesus showed us the way to live and how to relate to God. He got to the heart of the matter of life. He taught, certainly, but mainly he lived a life on view to all humanity. And in the greatest act of community building ever witnessed, he died for humanity. I believe he gave his Church the mission of living similar lives. I’m not talking about the “lives” we present to the virtual world. Only the most naive among us think that Facebook profiles represent our genuine selves. Everyone curates their life by selecting what others see on their social media pages.

But to live in community — to share joys and sorrows, to admit limitations and confess sins, to care genuinely for one another — requires being in each other’s presence, physical, not virtual. I’ve received a lot of affirmation and encouragement through correspondence of one kind or another, but none of it has felt as genuine or efficacious as a smile or hug delivered in person.

For all your other interests in life, if Facebook helps, by all means use it. But for the building of genuine community, especially for building up the body of Christ, the family of faith, I’m sticking with the messy, wonderful, heart-wrenching, love-affirming life of the church. God’s church, our church, Parkway Church.