How should a pastor (or any representative of the church, for that matter) act online?
A good question. One that should be and is revisited from time to time. The still-relatively-new United Methodist Publishing House venture Ministry Matters hosts a blog article that reminds us we do have a responsibility.
- Think you have a private or anonymous blog? As Mark Zuckerberg is famous for saying, the age of privacy is over. Even more scary, we have the Snowden story providing new insight, if the stories are to be believed.
- Believe that you can post anything you want on your personal social media accounts because you keep professional and personal accounts separate? You can’t. Well, you can. But is it wise? I don’t think so. While we might not always be at work (at least I hope that we’re not), we might not always be doing ministry, we are always in the public eye. What we say does matter. It matters to the people in our congregations. It matters to the people who are not yet part of our congregations. It really matters to people trolling for yet another reason to prove that their negative assumptions about the church are correct.
- How we say things matters as much as what we say. Context and subtlety are difficult, at best, in written communication. What sounds playful might be read as flippant. Direct, brief wording can come across as dismissive, arrogant, or mean. If we are to be winsome in our demeanor so as to hope people see the love of Christ in us, that axiom goes for social as well as face-to-face interaction. “I’m just sayin’” might have a place in God’s Kingdom, but its not the lead and definitely not the emphasis or default.
Now there’s some truth-telling we need to share: more winsome, consensus-building blogging, facebooking, tweeting, instagramming, and pinning will more than likely lead to less clicks, follows, friends, likes, pins, and retweets. Defining ourselves over and against another, parsing points, and making pithy comments will earn a name, clicks, ad revenue, and an inflated ego. More times than not, this form of presentation divides people.
I have some dear friends who are quite adept at the tools of social and “new” media. Many use these tools for good, thought-provoking, creativity inspiring conversations. Folk even use these platforms for evangelism (shock!, right?). Regretfully, there are way too many out there who need to grind an axe, advance a personal agenda, or have an insatiable need to be right (as in correct). I believe in the democratization of information and right of all to an opinion. But as my mother-in-law taught her children, “you don’t have to say everything you know.”
Last year at North Georgia’s Annual Conference, our Bishop encouraged those of us who enjoy extending holy conferencing online to “tweet sweet”. It was cornily funny. But he had a point. We can do better. We can be more respectful. We can leave the snark for something besides matters of faith. I’m not suggesting we need to reduce the content of our conversations online to the least common denominator but I believe we do need to craft a more conciliar tone. The thing is, I’m not exactly sure how to do it. I can commit to being more respectful, but are there other guidelines to adopt and follow?
A “first, do no harm” mindset to our online presence might create less buzz, but seeking to find consensus and create deep conversations might be the thing that actually helps the church.
What do you think?