Friday, June 27, 2014

The pastor and social media

On this site I frequently encourage small churches and their pastors to have an Internet presence.  Basic web sites that offer an overview of the church and the times of the worship services can be had for little or no money.  For less than a couple of hundred dollars a year a small church can have a nice site that would make their church visible to those who seek a church to visit on the web.

Some pastors may be afraid to tackle a web site although they are not difficult to set up and maintain.   With or without a church web site, there is no reason that a pastor not have a presence on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and a blog. This provides the pastor with the opportunity to have a much larger ministry than his or her local parish.  This blog is read by people all over the world.  Blogs also make it possible to have good contact with members of the congregation.  Reminders can be sent about upcoming meetings.  A blog or web page can take the place of a mailed newsletter saving the church a significant amount of money each year.

At this point some will object and claim that many of their congregation doesn't use computers and is not on social media.  I hear this frequently, and while it remains true in some situations, it's probably time we quit using this excuse.  The fact is that more and more of our people are online and on social media.  Let's quit letting the handful in our churches who are not online keep us from joining the 21st century.

A couple of years ago I gave up my web page to focus more on this blog.  I found it difficult to keep both the web page and the blog fresh and current, and it is vital that the information on both are kept fresh.  I decided to concentrate on the blog.  I'm also on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+.  I use these sites to post articles I think will be interesting to my readers and to see what other people are talking about.

Like anything else we do in ministry, there are some cautions we need to know about when it comes to social media.  First, and most important, it is vitally important that we set boundaries on our use of social media.  It is reported that the number one cause of divorce in America today is Facebook as people get reconnected with people they used to know and develop inappropriate relationships with them.  Pastors and other in ministry positions must be cautious about who they "friend."  One must be careful about discussing one's personal life on a social media page intended for ministry purposes.  This can lead to a problem of dual-relationships and a host of other issues that should be avoided.

It is very easy to spend too much time on social media sites and not get the work done that we need to do.  Pastors can easily get caught in the trap of checking their Facebook page every 10-15 minutes to see what people are saying or spend hours each day sending and receiving texts.  You must set limits on how much time you'll spend on social media or a helpful tool will turn into a time-sucking monster.

We also must be careful about what we post.  As a pastor you represent your church 24/7/365.  You can argue that what you do on your personal page is your business and you can even add a disclaimer that your comments are your opinion and does not reflect your church, but many people will still associate your comments to your church.  It may not be fair, but it is reality.  Anything you post is online forever and can quickly go viral.  Numbers of people have lost their jobs because of things they posted on social media that reflected poorly upon their place of employment, and I would imagine that number would include some pastors.  Don't join their number.

A final caution I would make is that it is not becoming to Christians to engage in online battles with people with whom they disagree.  It amazes me to read some of the comments I see online made by Christian people when they are opposing something that has been posted.  I have been in a couple of discussions with people online when we have been in disagreement.  In both cases, we each kept the discussion civil, made our arguments, and avoided personal attacks.  After a couple of exchanges I responded that online was not the place for an extended discussion of our differences, and I withdrew.  At no time did either of us ever become nasty towards one another as I see happen so often in these types of discussions.  Don't do that.  It doesn't strengthen your position and it gives other readers a poor image of Christians.

Social media can be a very helpful tool for a small church leader.  Use it wisely, maintain good boundaries, and extend your ministry.

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