Like most all our podcast guests this season on the Women in Youth Ministry Podcast, Bethany’s story of innovation started with a problem.
During the pandemic, Bethany was doing check-in calls with her students’ families and heard a story from a mom that changed the course of her ministry. The mom said that her child had been racked with anxiety about going to hell, feeling filled with shame for not being the right kind of Christian, about how she wasn’t adequately saved. This was surprising to Bethany, she worked in a mainline protestant context that didn’t use that kind of language, and it wasn’t even particularly common in the area of the country where she served.
“Where did she hear that? Who told her that?” Bethany asked, and to her surprise, the mom responded,
TikTok, the social media platform most famous for dance crazes, lip-syncing, and funny clips is also full of evangelists of every variety, using extreme language to capture the eye of their audience, all in 15 seconds or less.
Bethany was bothered by seeing only certain understandings of faith, and particularly understandings that seemed to rely heavily on shame and guilt, on the platform, and decided to make some videos herself, covering what she calls “a simple gospel message”
The unconditional love of God. The freedom offered in Jesus. The belonging experienced in the Spirit. In short: love, love, and more love, offered freely to everyone.
And it struck a chord. Bethany wound up dedicating a few hours a week to creating TikTok content, sharing her message of unconditional love to the people who find her feed, offering hits of love and acceptance to be absorbed while people are brushing their teeth, waiting for a bus, laying awake at night. Bethany considers herself a missionary to TikTok. She was on the platform for more than a year before she posted her first video, in her words, “learning the language, being part of the culture, understanding it fully, and then speaking the gospel in the middle of it.”
Bethany’s first video, explaining the unconditional love of God, has more than two million views, and she has almost 300,000 followers on the platform. She has truly found a space where God’s good news, the world’s need, and her unique gifts have come crashing into one another. Hallelujah.
Bethany has challenged not only our understandings of how to reach people but where to point them once you do. Bethany originally tried to point people on her channels toward physical churches that were in line with the values that so many of her followers shared on LGBT+ inclusion, women in leadership, and more, and near wherever they happened to be but struggled to always find good fits. There were also people in her following that didn’t feel safe in any church spaces due to their histories, but who still yearned for a community that spoke the Good News of God into their lives. So, Bethany addressed her next problem and built a digital community. The community, called the Tapestry, serves to not only create a real space of belonging for those who don’t feel like there is a church near them that is safe for them, but also to model what fully digital communities of faith could look like.
She explains that she and every other digital pastor she knows feels like they’re “building the plane while it’s in the air” and is engaged in conversations around ethics, boundaries, work-life balance, and more in the digital space. But if Bethany’s story so far is any testament, she’ll solve those problems too, just give her a chance… and maybe a good ring light.