A Pastor’s Reflections: Your Ministry and Social Media
In last week’s post I addressed the subject of, “Your church and social media.” As a pastor, you should be aware that the digital age is upon you and social media is a venue for observing the conduct of your church. You shouldn’t ignore Facebook and Twitter. But there is another dimension to social media, and this pertains to your own personal life and especially your ministry. Social media is a strange phenomenon, one that elicits Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde patterns. I have met some of the most quiet, shy, and reserved ministers and elders only to discover that they are a Facebook or Twitter beast. You’d never know it that on the world-wide-web this shy and demure person has an entirely different persona—he is “Mr. Extrovert” on social media and e-mail. My own personal theory is that it’s easy to be an extrovert when you don’t have to look someone in the eye, when the only thing you look at it is a keyboard, mouse, and monitor. Regardless of the reasons, I’ve found that ministers can be just as unwise about social media and e-mail as anyone else, which can be a significant problem for your ministry.
When a minister, for example, decides to go on a Facebook rant about everything that is wrong with the most recent decision at Presbytery, he opens himself up to a number of problems. Why is he willing to call out people on Facebook but not on the floor of presbytery? When a person decides to blog about scattered thoughts, some of which are less than theologically orthodox, how much wisdom is there in such conduct? Sure, most ministers wonder about heterodoxy, but to do so in the public eye on Facebook or on a blog lacks wisdom. Now some people might object and say, “Who cares? Lighten up! I mean, really. What’s wrong with venting? What’s wrong with wondering ‘out loud’ about theology?” From one vantage point, there’s nothing wrong with venting or wondering, so long as you’re careful to mind the context.
I have several close colleagues whom I trust completely—I know they are vaults when it comes to their discretion and confidentiality. I know I can vent to them or bounce theological ideas off of them when I’m trying to figure something out. I would never have such conversations in a public venue. More importantly, I would never write these things down. My parents taught me an important life-rule: Never write anything down that you don’t want someone else to read. This is especially true regarding the world-wide-web.
Churches looking for pastors now do Google searches on prospective pastoral candidates, and if they don’t, they’d be foolish not to do so. If a person or church Googled your name, what would they find? I know of several situations where a candidate for a church was taken out of consideration because of things that he wrote on his Facebook page. In other words, all of us say things in the spur of the moment, things that after further consideration we recognize were unwise or even sinful. It’s one thing to say things like this and entirely another to write them down for the world to see. Even if you write things and then later delete them, search engines can still have traces of what you wrote in their databases.
Some people might object and say, “Why can’t I be free to express myself and offer my thoughts and opinions?” And this type of objection is correct—you are free to express yourself, you are free to exercise your Christian liberty. However, churches are equally free to exercise their rights by not hiring you because of things you have written. Moreover there is the whole question of wisdom. Should you as a minister reveal your innermost thoughts on a host of subjects? Silence is often the better part of discretion. Why open yourself to criticism, judgment, or even rejection when the wiser path is to keep your questionable thoughts to yourself. Why hobble your ministry by posting questionable content on social media? I know of one pastor who took a vacation with several other families from his church and he posted pictures of his trip. There were pictures of his wife in her swimsuit, pictures of people drinking beer, and general vacation-like activity. A number of people in the church complained about the swimsuit, the beer, and even asked the question, “Why hasn’t the pastor asked me to go on vacation with his family?” A few posted pictures created a lot of questions and discontent in the church that was unnecessary, and in my judgment, unwise.
I have heard a number of experienced and even tech-savvy ministers offer other ministers and candidates for the ministry the following advice: stay off of social media.