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Social Media and the Pastor

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Archives / 2013 / November

 

 

Social Media and the Pastor

Marty Thurber

Marty Thurber serves as a pastor in Lincoln, Nebraska, United States

 

The social media landscape has varied shades. How do you find your voice and what does it sound like? What does social media do to your ministry and church?

Both voice and vocation are rooted in the Latin word vocare, “to call, or invoke.” Our voices are the things that are called out of us in the midst of our work. They are the underlying whys of our passions.

By looking at what you are fervent about, you will find your voice. It is there in your passions, actions, and conversations. Great leaders are well aware of their voices and how to project them. Pastors learn how to use their words and voices well and seek listen­ers for their voices wherever they can. Social media offers a studio for your voice, producing and calling forth your creative efforts and enlarging your audience. Which pastors do not want to reach more people with their passion for Christ and His Word?

Social media amplifies your voice with new and often surprising audi­ences. How do you find your voice in social media? What network should you be a part of—Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and so on? Why should you take the time and effort to use these forms of media?

The potential of social media is the opportunity to have your voice reach out and touch people farther away than you thought possible. People near or far will have a chance to hear you. The possibilities for expanding the range of your voice through social media are worth exploring for that reason alone.

A caution is in order: social media is no substitute for personal ministry in your local parish. How do you keep social media from diminishing your local ministry? Will you have to find a balance between social media ministry and personal ministry, or can the two ministries become united and work well together? Can it actually enhance your local ministry, making you more effective as a shepherd to those in your immediate care? The answer is Yes, it can. Let us talk about how that can happen.

Social media ministry

When the telephone first came on the scene, people did not know what to say when it rang or how to answer it. They would pick it up and wait for someone to talk. The shift from hearing someone that was very near to you to someone who could be many miles away was something of a miracle. It put you in touch as it were. The telephone became a tool of encouragement and collaboration, among others things. Yet, it still lacks some of the close personal connection that being in the same room offers. I remember a friend of mine buying an 800 phone number just so his daughter could call home for free from college. He was so grateful for the 800 number and the access it provided for his family, but it did not replace his daughter’s presence at home.

Social media today can share a voice and visual and is convenient. It is inviting, useful, and creative in our relationships, having the power to enhance our existing relationships and the encouragement to create new friends and new collaborators. In fact, it excels in this.

Radio and television became our primary delivery systems for all kinds of information, much of which was arguably useless or momentary. Then computers set the stage for the Internet. Today, the Internet has created a portal into the lives of those we collaborate with and is just beginning to show its collective potential.

However, it is impersonal and dis­tant. But the tool and gadget lovers of today often ignore that argument and plow right into using their smartphones and laptops in order to talk, laugh, illustrate, choreograph, and just simply live their lives. The Internet and, more specifically, social media are not one-dimensional voices over the airwaves. They truly are tools that aid in reaching out and touching others, hopefully for the better.

As the Internet and social media continue to blend with our lives, we need to figure out how to make the most of the journey as shepherds, for ourselves and our flock.

The rules of engagement

Connect. Look for ways to connect with people, open new doors, share a message, and influence a group. Build people and institutions through your posts. On Facebook, this is done by finding people who will follow you. Twitter is a little different. You can fol­low anyone on Twitter, but they do not need to accept you as a friend. This makes Facebook more personal. You know more of your friends there face-to-face. That is why Facebook is more valuable at first for making connections. Whatever social media site you use, post positively and intentionally to improve and encourage others.

Remember the friendship between Jonathan and David? Their souls were knit together. Knitting yourself to others is the main value in social media. Your purpose is to build and strengthen kingdom relationships. Remember that, and you will prove to be a wise voice to your friends and readers.

Maintain confidence. Social media is revealing, sometimes shockingly so. We see people in new ways. You know when they are going to the hospital. You know when they are feeling blue, and when they are feeling great. Not everyone is on social media and not everyone who is on social media is so revealing, but many are. Sometimes they talk about a bar they go to and you are shocked, or they curse out a police officer for giving them a ticket. Sometimes you wonder if they are really members of your church.

After you calm down a bit, you begin to see another side to your members. It might not be pretty, but it is a chance to minister to them. Do not run over to their houses and tell them what you saw on Facebook, and do not use social media to judge them or correct them in public. The fact that they allowed you to be their online friend brings a certain judgment factor to the relationship. They know you are watching. How will you respond to what you see? A loving and patient response is needed, if a response is needed at all.

Remember that many folks are more transparent online than they are in person, so do not judge them or you will quickly lose your right to minister to them. Promote good living, Christlike living, and the message will get through eventually. Jesus is the way.

Do not be critical. Avoid complaining, grousing, sarcasm, hidden innuendo, critiquing, and other messages that could be misinterpreted as judgmental and critical. This is huge, and it is not natural. Many have found the Internet to be a place to air out their complaints and show how they really feel. Again, do not do it. It will harden your voice, branding you as critical, and you may never recover from that.

There are places for critiquing and challenging conversations, but your social media output is not the place. If you are a full-time blogger for a maga­zine or a world-class prophet, maybe you can and should be known as a voice calling others out of the wilderness. But chances are, you are not. You are leading people through the wilderness. Act like it in your social media usage, and you will have a much better influence in your flock and beyond.

Social media is not self-help media. It is not there to fix people. People do not want to be fixed; they want to be discovered. Social media tempts you to correct others because others are so quick to share their opinions. It is far better to let people keep their opinions, even if they fly in the face of public opinion or scriptural guidance, than it is to correct them every time they come up with an unreasonable idea.

Avoid politics, but share your faith. Both can be controversial subjects, but only one is the responsibility of the pas­tor. You are certainly welcome to have an interest in politics, even to be engaged with the politics of your local com­munity. But even a few political posts will overshadow your pastoral posts on faith. Allowing yourself to be thought of as a political leader will also cut you off from a certain online audience. In fact, having friends who post a lot of political material can cause you to be branded in the same way. You might want to turn off some of their posts if that is the case. You do not have to drop them as friends, but you can prevent their posts from showing up on your Facebook time line. Avoid political posting, and post like a pastor who loves people of all political persuasions.

Point others in the direction of help­ful material; talk less about yourself and more about Jesus. Do not gush over Jesus; let Scripture speak for itself. Offer a good quote from Scripture or something you are reading.

Learn to take criticism without giving it back. In fact, be prepared for what you think is unreasonable criticism. Remember, we judge other people by their actions but wish others would judge us by our intentions. If you learn how to take virtual criticism well, others will learn from it and often become very supportive.

Move from self-promoter to reporter, producer, and pastor. Your posts are like cards, get-well wishes, care packages, and sometimes life rafts for someone who is about to go under. Take care with your posts and communications and make them about Christ and other people instead of yourself. You can talk about yourself and your family from time to time, but be sure to focus on others more.

The pastor can make use of these technological tools in order to carry out his or her work, which is to shepherd, feed, and heal the flock. A brief reminder of this is found in Psalm 23, where the shepherd cares about several things. The sheep have to know the shepherd’s voice and be close enough to hear him; he has to care about their meals, water supply, security, and health as well as their eternal futures. Combine these shepherding responsibilities with your social media, and you will discover the prescription for right living that a shepherd personifies and uses to lead his or her flock in new and exciting ways.

Real ministry ideas using social media

Start with Facebook. After you are comfortable with Facebook, check out YouTube, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest. Facebook has the edge right now in terms of users. The various net­works are like gold, silver, and diamond mines, each providing a different trea­sure to mine and refine.

Here are some brief descriptions of what I have seen happening while using social media.

  • Virtual prayer meeting. Wherever you are, take the time to pray for your members in general and post the prayers to your church’s Facebook page. You can do this at the same time each week while praying over the past week’s prayer requests.
  • Private prayer requests. Use Facebook messaging to pass prayer requests to your prayer team. Pray for the requests.
  • Counseling. Short messages on Facebook lead to opportunities to offer counsel and encouragement.
  • Use the Facebook Like button as much as you can. Liking is a form of online smiling, and we know how much a smile is worth.
  • Use Facebook and Twitter for good communication. Each has built-in tools to enhance your personal and church communication.
  • Use Facebook for discipleship. Share Bible studies, doctrinal statements, and other documents related to growing in Christ.
  • Link to discipleship resources. There are many good resources for growth in Christ. Be selective about them and learn to link to them.
  • Write your own discipleship resources, Bible studies, even a series of videos. Share them on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.
  • Use photos and comments to strengthen your members’ relationships. Videos and photos are very important in social media. Take advantage of your smart­phone’s camera. It probably takes good photos and excellent videos.
  • Promote events. Facebook has a built-in calendar for events. Use it with your church’s Facebook page and Web site.
  • Promote various resources. Find resources on the Internet; link and promote them.

Conclusion

These ideas are already working in churches. They might take some getting used to for those of us who were born without smartphones in our hands, but they are more than flat-screen ideas. They bring a new dimension and context to spreading the voice of Jesus into homes and hearts that would not be possible oth­erwise. Jesus loved to see well-fed people and lots of them. Use social media well to feed those who hunger and thirst.

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