Monthly Archives: February 2015

Using social media while pastoring

all the devices

Pastoring using all of the devices. There is a super modern fax machine just off screen.

I first started using Facebook while I was a youth director. It was a wonderful way to keep up with what my students were up to. I could learn about the joys and sorrows of their lives and dispense advice like, “You probably shouldn’t post pictures of you chugging a handle of vodka where everyone can see it. Also, you probably shouldn’t be chugging a handle of vodka. Let’s talk.” I knew when break-ups happened, who had events coming up, and could organize and disseminate information in an easy to use platform. Then it became a great way to keep up with the friends I have all over the country, sharing our joys and sorrows and keeping up on one another’s lives. Now everyone seems to be on it, at least everyone my age and older (younger folk are moving away from it because everyone else is doing it). Over the past few years, I have watched as colleagues embrace social media, using it for support and important conversations, as well as to communicate with congregations, do education and even find ways to worship on-line. So many things that are happening on social media (and the internet) are enhancing how we care for and communicate with our congregations and the church at large.

There is, however, a dark side to the ways in which clergy use social media (as for all who use it). Where social media can join people together, it can also tear them apart. Where it can be a wonderful place for people to ask questions and hold meaningful conversations, there are too many incidents where conversations turn into attacks or one-upmanship. As much as social media can be used to care for people, it can also be used in ways that are wholly inappropriate. Some of this is a difference between being more of a social media native and someone who is still learning the technology, some of it is a result of people being lonely/frustrated/depressed, and some of it is bad manners getting worse over social media. I would like to offer some thoughts using social media as clergy (though I suspect most of this is applicable to everyone), based on what I have seen and what I have studied (I have done social media strategy for some non-profits and spent a fair amount of time studying it just because).

This may not all be correct, they are just my thoughts. But I hope these thoughts are useful and/or encourage more intentional use of social media platforms. It’s all ministry.

1) Don’t put anything on the internet you wouldn’t put on a billboard — or your church sign

This is advice I have given to my students for years. Even in “private” groups/pages, nothing is really private. Someone in the group can grab a screenshot of what you wrote and place it somewhere totally public, someone can get let in your group who isn’t your intended audience, etc. Social media is really, really helpful for us to figure out how to deal with situations in our congregations, for sure. But be careful. Be kind. Be loving. If what you want to ask about isn’t something you want put in the local newspaper, don’t put it on the internet. Ask friends and colleagues what you should do on the phone or in a clergy group. If you don’t have that kind of support locally, find some or find a way to create some. Create a group of other clergy who are way away from others — offline. I have seen conversations in clergy groups that are horribly insulting to congregants and to other clergy. If you really feel you will get the best advice on an online page, be as careful and as grace-filled as possible. Think about what would happen if someone from your congregation called you out on what you wrote — would you be able to talk about it? Would they be able to see that the post had grace in it?

2) Vent as little as possible

We all need to vent. Being a pastor is hard. We face really hard situations and decisions, it is our job to work with really broken people, situations and systems. Venting on social media feels good. We get support, validation, and sometimes helpful suggestions. However, venting on social media can actually be really harmful to our state of mind. Recently on an Invisibilia podcast, they talked to a researcher who said that initially, venting on social media can feel really good. But that leads us to vent more because we are receiving positive affirmation for our venting. Then we vent more and start looking for things about which we can vent. Venting on social media can actually increase our general anger and lead us to become angrier people. Again, vent to friends and family and if you don’t have that where you are, find ways to make that happen. Create a support network so you don’t fall into a trap of anger feeding more anger.

3) Check yourself before you wreck yourself (or someone else).

Ask yourself, “Am I being graceful? Is this loving?” or if you feel like you need to lay the truth smack down on someone, ask if that person is in the place to hear your words or if you have the social capital/ authority to be a messenger of truth.

Some people have a tendency to be their worst selves online. Something about the internet, even without anonymity, brings out the anger and frustration people hold inside that they can’t express to their congregations. There are places where clergy gather on the internet and, in those spaces, I have seen some amazing conversations and watched really cool theology happen. But the same page that birthed the #usemeinstead idea has also had some pretty awful toxicity. In that same space I have seen some of the least graceful, least loving, angry, shaming behavior ever (truth be told, I do not frequent my denominations main clergy page after getting so flamed a pastor in NJ I have never met messaged me to apologize for how I was being treated. There are far too many people with a similar story). There are, it would seem, trolls in clerical collars. There is much hubris, one-upmanship and mansplaining in the places where we, in theory, would like to go for support and advice. It is to the point where there are clergy groups that have broken off because the initial group people belonged to has become too toxic and feel unsafe. We need to support each other. Our jobs are hard. Let’s not make them harder by harshing on one another. Even critique can be done in a way that is kind and loving. Use that stuff you (theoretically) learned in pastoral care, chaplaincy, or through years of actively providing pastoral care. We can, in fact, use our social media pages to learn how to talk to people with whom we vehemently disagree. We can use these spaces to engage in conversations and ask genuine questions based out of a desire to understand the other person’s point of view. It can be an amazing exercise. But if what is happening is everyone trying to prove s/he is right, no one will learn anything and everyone will walk away annoyed.

4) Do not use social media for deep pastoral care.

Social media is a jumping off point to see that someone might need pastoral care. It is not the place to provide it. Yes, you can use messenger to check in on someone. Yes, you can make comments of support under someone’s status message. But don’t use someone’s Facebook page to schedule a pastoral care appointment (yes, I have seen this done) or to try to actually provide deep pastoral care. Give a call or a text/message (I work with young adults and they don’t do calls — I have adjusted to providing pastoral care via text or messenger on occasion).

5) Be intentional about how you use social media

Think before you post. All the time. If you are friends with parishioners on Facebook, if they follow you on Twitter, Instagram, etc, think about if you want them to know these things. Are you showing your wounds or your scars? How are you presenting things to people? It is a careful dance to be real with your congregants without allowing them to see everything about you. Are you struggling with your call? Call counsel to clergy, talk to colleagues, your bishop, don’t put it on the Facebooks. This leads me to the next

6) Who are you on social media?

I know a lot of clergy who have two social media accounts — one for their personal life and one for their professional life. I am not a huge fan of this approach (see #1). As pastors, we should be behaving that way no matter what online and off. If you don’t want to be friends with your congregants, create a policy about that and maintain your church FB page with updates you want people to know. It also seems like a lot of energy to me — curating two different Facebook accounts shaping them to two different aspects of who you are/what you want to show people. Social media platforms are excellent evangelism tools and whatever you do online can and should be you representing yourself as not only a Christian, but a Christian leader. By no means am I saying you must have a sparkly clean image on social media — the Lord knows I don’t. Show your brokenness and humanity, be real, be approachable, be YOU. Just remember to be intentional, and that whatever we do, wherever we are, we are public representatives of the church and of Christ. Whether is it under your Pastor Awesome Person profile or your regular Awesome Just me Person profile. You know that moment when you flip off a driver or lose your temper in public then realize you are wearing your collar and get all weird/embarrassed? That x 1000. Everyone online knows we are pastors. Remember that.

In light of some of the things I have seen clergy do/say on Facebook, I think that a lot of us are lonely, stressed out and depressed. If your primary interaction with people is online, this is a problem. If you are posting all the time, you might be lonely. I know this is really, really easy for me to say as a clergy person living in a rather large city, but it is imperative that we take care of ourselves offline, in real life. It is important we have people we can physically talk with about the stresses of ministry and life in general. I have never lived in rural anywhere, so I genuinely have no idea how to do this and admit that I have no idea how hard it is.

Some of these things might hit you as way off base. That’s fine. What I am hoping is that we will all think more about our words online and how we use social media to further Christ’s commission to us as Christians and leaders. Is our online behavior furthering Christ’s mission in the world? Is it loving? Is it kind? Are we remembering that we are not called to judge? Is there humility (she writes as she advises others on how to use social media)?

If you are interested in learning more about social media in churches, check out Keith Anderson & Elizabeth Drescher’s excellent book Click 2 Save, follow them on social media, and check out the work of the New Media Project at Christian Theological Seminary.

Did I get something wrong? Forget something? Do you have other words of wisdom? Share in the comments 🙂

Who are our heroes?

A few weeks ago, I went to see Selma with my students. It is an amazing movie. Beautifully shot, well acted, excellent writing… It’s the kind of movie that, when you walk out, you are just quiet for a while, letting it all sink in. It was, at times, very difficult to watch. Selma is a reminder of how far we have come and how far we have to go, and an examination of the power of love in the struggle for justice.  This powerful film could bring about a time of soul-searching for an American. We have an ugly history when it comes to race relations, and there is still much work to be done.

I wish all of America would see this movie and be stirred into contemplation about racism, activism, and the power of love in making change. To date, Selma has made $48 million , and is currently being shown in only 566 theaters, down from a little over 800. People are not watching it on a grand scale. I imagine it is hard to watch, but moreover I imagine that people do not want to be challenged to think about race in spite of it being so very necessary RIGHT NOW to think about and talk about. But I wish more people would take the risk to be disturbed and inspired by this film.

When I was walking out of Selma, deep in thought about Dr. King’s calling out of white church leaders for their silence while black folk were being killed just for being black, I noticed another movie on multiple screens at the theater: American Sniper. American Sniper is the story of a sniper, American soldier Chris Kyle, in war and his struggles to readjust to life at home. By all accounts, it is also an excellent movie. Good acting, writing, directing. I haven’t seen it. I can’t stomach war movies. I cry and cry about man’s inhumanity to man, how we end up in war, our inability to see the other as a human being (which is necessary in war, I get it, but I don’t have to like it). I thought about going to see it so I could write this post, as I know it is dodgy to write about something I haven’t seen, but I am pretty sure I would be curled up in a ball for days on end if I did. But this isn’t about the movie, so much, as the idea of the movies, and what we value as a people.

american-sniper_612x380_1American Sniper, a movie about war, warriors, and facing violence with violence, a movie that from what I read in comments and chat rooms, leaves one with quite the strong Go America! spirit, has made over $300 million at the box office. It is still being shown in over 3,000 theaters.

And I am disturbed. Not that people want to go see what is, by all accounts, a good action flick/drama, but that so many more people would rather watch a movie about continuing war than working for peace. I am disturbed that Chris Kyle, a war sniper, can be so much bigger a hero than Dr. Martin Luther King, a man who shrewdly led a peaceful movement to grant freedom and equality to black Americans. I am disturbed that we would rather watch something that makes us tread deeper into blind and unbridled nationalism than something that leads us to examine the darker parts of American history so that we might work for a brighter future.

Who are our heroes? What is important to us as a nation? War or peace? Loving action or violent action? What kind of Christianity do we claim?

Chris Kyle was a Christian. He embraced the kind of black and white good vs. bad Christianity that seems to be everywhere today. He believed that the people he killed were evil, that Jesus would be okay with his kills. He, himself, felt like killing was no big deal. It didn’t trouble him to take a life. He believed that he was fighting evil individuals.

selmaDr. King and those who worked with him were (largely) Christian. Dr. King believed in using love to fight hate, he believed that inside every one of those racists who hurled epithets at his brothers and sisters, there was a shred of humanity, a little bit of God. He tried to appeal to a person’s better nature, to call that little bit of God out so it could take over a person and banish hate. He believed in evil, for sure, but not without a spark of hope.

We, it appears, would rather buy into the American Sniper view of the world. Everyone else is the enemy, violence wins, God would be cool with us killing. We prefer a world in which there are three kinds of people, “wolves, sheep and sheepdogs,” instead of the complex reality that there is a little of each in everyone, that we are all simultaneously sinner and saint. We would rather our heroes be strong warriors who go to battle with guns, kick ass and take names, shoot first, ask questions later, etc. than men and women who fight hate with love and patiently endure beatings without fighting back so they can reach an ultimate goal. We would rather soak in nationalistic fervor than take time to reflect on the darker parts of our history and ask question about who we are and how we can change. We would rather have black and white than gray (and we would rather a terrible movie about an abusive relationship than Selma as well, but don’t get me started on that one).

Is this who we want to be?

Moreover, for those of us who are Christians, is this who we are called to be? Those of us who follow a man who said to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, is this who we were created to be? Our Savior and our scripture again and again command us to love above all else. Not to love until we feel threatened, then to shoot. Not to kill the evil (because God takes care of that).

I know this isn’t good foreign policy. I know war leaves little room for gray. But I also know that the revolutions that have lasted the longest and led to the most change, have been peaceful revolutions. I know that killing upon killing leads to more killing. And I know that God in Christ asks us to go against the grain and to love unto death.

And, ultimately, it’s he who is my hero and it is he who I will follow to my grave.