A Pastor’s Reflections: Social Media and your Congregation
I feel like a dinosaur because I can remember when the internet was really lame and when e-mail was a novelty. When I was a child I actually used 8-track tapes. If you don’t know what that is, Google it! Anyway, one of the things that has come about with the internet is social media, things like Twitter and the Facebooks (yes, I know that it’s really called Facebook). It used to be that people talked with their friends on the phone and kept their deepest darkest thoughts in their journal in their nightstand. Now, people Tweet and post all sorts of things to Facebook. Personally, I have no interest in such things. Why would anyone care whether I just hit Starbucks and had a half-calf-decaf-mocah-choca-ya-ya? But just because I personally don’t care about or have interest in social media doesn’t mean that I’m totally ignorant about social media or that it has no use for the pastorate.
For reasons that still bewilder me, some people don’t seem to realize that the interweb is called the world wide web for a good reason—anyone can read what you post or tweet, unless you keep things password protected or private through your settings, though Facebook can take your pictures and use them if they want (don’t get me started on that one). People post all sorts of things on-line that, to be frank, makes me question their wisdom. How does all of this bear upon the pastor and his congregation, you ask?
I would regularly, and still do, lurk about social media websites from time to time and peer into people’s Facebook and Twitter feeds. Even though I don’t have a Twitter account or a Facebook page, I still have my ways of seeing these things! Honestly, my “lurking” was usually pretty innocent. I was looking for people in my church to see what they were up to, and from time to time, when I discovered what they were doing, I became concerned. For example, when you find pictures of one of your church members in her itsy-bitsy-tiny-weenie yellow polka-dot bikini, holding a cocktail with a bevy of other similarly clad women, and she has judged that this is a perfectly normal thing to put on the world-wide-web, to borrow a line from Jeff Foxworthy, “You just might have spiritual problems.” Or when you find pictures of one of your church members and his recent trip to Vegas with his friends and there are more bottles of alcohol in the picture than people, “You just might have spiritual problems.” In the former situation, there were significant marital problems, as the scantily clad woman was married, and the latter problem ended up in adultery and divorce, surprise, surprise. In one instance, one person decided to document his adultery and extra-marital affair on Facebook with words and pictures. To say the least, there were definitely spiritual and moral problems in this instance, not to speak of his own wife and children and their embarrassment and suffering.
So what’s the pastoral point of all of this? The point is, whatever people are willing to show others in public is sometimes but a mere fraction of what actually goes on in private. If you’re willing to show the world what you’re doing in “private” by posting it to the world-wide-web, and the pictures look morally questionable, chances are there are problems. Sure, the pictures could be misleading and there might be a good reason to show off your bikini pictures to the world because in reality, deep down inside you’ve got the heart of and morals of Mother Teresa. But as a pastor, when you encounter such things, you’d be foolish to ignore them. The same principle applies to parents, who might stumble across such things when they’re looking at the things their children say and do on the internet.
In the olden days, like 1990, if you heard of one of your church members going on a drunken bender through the “grapevine” (the old fashioned Twitter feed), you would follow-up with that person to confirm what had actually occurred. Yes, your concern would be for their reputation, but as Christians, our concern should also be for Christ’s reputation. The third commandment tells us not to take God’s name in vain (Exo. 20:7). How many Christians, people who bear the name of Christ, essentially take it in vain by their questionable conduct, which they then document and post on-line? Yes, we have our precious Christian liberty, but as Christians, we also have the responsibility to exercise it carefully. And as ministers, when we encounter members of our congregation doing questionable things, we have an obligation to follow-up and keep an eye on things.
So even if you’re not all that tech savvy, keep your digital eyes open. You just might find information on Facebook or Twitter that will alert you to big problems in the life of your church.