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This is a guest post by Jake Doberenz. For more info on guest posting on Christian Web Trends see Be a Guest Blogger.
Pastors, ministers, and church leaders: being on social media means that your church—and potentially the whole world—can watch you like never before.
Social media is a relatively new frontier. It provides some exciting opportunities to people and churches in this new digital age. Though with all its pros, it comes with just as many cons. Because you interact on social media mediated by a screen, there is the tendency to forget that what happens on social media has real-world consequences.
Recently, Chris Hodges, pastor of Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, Alabama has come under fire for liking memes and posts from Charlie Kirk, the president of the Turning Point USA, a conservative nonprofit organization. Kirk is controversial for his support of President Trump and his claims that white privilege is a myth.
When someone went to the media with a concern about the likes, the Birmingham Board of Education and the House Authority of Birmingham cut ties with the church. The church is no longer able to hold services at two local high schools or minister in the community’s public housing.
No matter what you think about so-called “cancel culture,” the reality is that what church leaders do online affects the real world. Social media is just as much as a ministry field as any other location.
Here are five reminders for pastors when using social media.
1. Be Careful with Humor
I follow many humor and parody accounts, most of which are Christian, some even about pastoral work. Unfortunately, humor is divided by a thin line from insensitivity, rudeness, and hate, so often humor crosses over to the other side.
There are many times when I think a meme hilariously parodies someone with an opposing political view to mine. However, I have to resist the urge to share or even to like because I know that people with those views are in my congregation and they could see the interaction. What’s funny to you might not go over well with people you shepherd.
2. Some Conversations are Better Offline
A good Facebook debate can be riveting, don’t get me wrong! But they are sometimes—maybe most of the time—better offline. Social media is text-based and even which an emoji, it’s hard to understand tone. Plus, even though social media allows time for thoughtful replies, it can devolve into a proof-texting or link-war.
If there is an issue you’d like to address or if someone has a question about something you posted, an invitation for a cup of coffee is a great way to further the conversation in a more nuanced environment. Plus, you can separate the contrarians from those who actually want a serious discussion.
3. You Don’t Need to Share Everything
If you are like me, you actually have opinions on things. Possibly lots of opinions. With the polarization of our world, there are so many things to have opinions on! Yet, we don’t need to speak to every issue.
Since Bible and theology are my training, I try to stick mostly to those subjects. Since the foreign policy or local elections are not a “gospel issue,” I typically stay away from picking a side. Like the previous point suggested, sometimes your opinion might be expressed better one-on-one to an interested party instead of being declared publicly online for all to hear (and many to misunderstand).
4. Don’t Be a Bad Witness
It shouldn’t have to be said, but don’t be mean. Avoid name-calling and jokes at other people’s expense. And be very careful with sarcasm online, especially because the untrained person can’t always tell the intention. As Paul Steinbrueck says in 7 Ways Pastors Can Overcome Conflict in Social Media, “Pastor, people will generally follow your lead when it comes to tone and attitude.”
Jesus says we are a city on a hill. We are witnesses to the world. Though 1 Peter 3:15 does say to be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” it also says to do so with “gentleness and respect.” The verse after reminds us that if our behavior is so excellent, then when people try to slander us they won’t look very credible. Christians, both in your church and outside of it, as well as non-Believers, are all watching your moves.
5. A Response Requires Wisdom
Occasionally, church members post things that are discriminatory, untrue, mean, or possibly heretical. As their pastor, you have an obligation to lead them, but that doesn’t always occur immediately online. Churches are not filled with perfect people, so there is likely a time when what they post will anger or frustrate you. Remember the wisdom in James 1:26. “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”
Sometimes you have to hold your tongue and have the conversation when you’ve cooled down. As Scripture reminds, we should point out faults individually before going public with it (Matthew 18:15). Occasionally you will need to address larger issues than the particular meme they shared. Each situation requires prayer, wisdom, and the Spirit so you can discern how to act.
Church leaders are put on pedestals in many aspects of life. Social media is no different. While we aren’t called to pretend our lives are perfect, in our interactions with whatever platform we are called to be the best witnesses of Jesus possible.
- What is the hardest part of being a pastor with social media?
- Have you ever had to apologize for something you said on social media? How did that go?
- Are there any other tips you would give ministers for using their personal social media accounts?