“I was wrong. Can you forgive me?”
On many occasions over the last 3 years I have had to say these words many times to many many people for the way my use of social media has hurt/disillusioned/offended them. It has been the most difficult, but at the same time, the best 3 years of my life.
In the summer of 2009, Carrie and I were transitioning from a ministry position in Ottawa to a new one in Charlottetown. My head was in an awful place. I was hurt, confused and unclear about many things pertaining to the church, life and ministry. I had all this stuff inside of me that needed to be processed, rebuked and challenged but unfortunately I felt like there was only a select few leaders I could talk to about these things and many of them were in the same head space I was.
I had been introduced to a few cynical “Jesus” blogs that fed into a lot of poison that was seeping into my spirit. I was also introduced to a few authors who were asking many of the same questions I was, but instead of finding the answers I needed, these books instilled a “the establishment is stupid, and you need to confront everything wrong with it” attitude inside of my heart.
So, without seeking godly wisdom, without any second guessing I took to social media with many of my “new” ideas and paradigms to try to “re-imagine” “re-paint” “re-something” the church. I felt like a maverick, a rebel along with a few friends who would change the church forever.
But…6 months into posting very weird, very divisive stuff on my Twitter/ Facebook feeds and blog I started noticing that many friends, family and ministry colleagues started un-following and un-friending. Literally, the very sinful thought that came to my head was “These guys can’t handle the truth!” I quickly became the most judgmental, arrogant and divisive person in my own life. The saddest part of this was…I thought that THEY were the judgmental, arrogant and divisive ones. How ugly. How wrong I was.
It literally took God taking away ministry opportunities, fights with family and the loss of friendships to stop me. I have lost years of familial, friendship and ministry investment because I was trying to work out my struggles, arrogantly flashing my pride and my un thought through ideas on various social media outlets. I was wrong.
In the last 3 years I have had to vigourously repent to many people by directly messaging them and seeking their forgiveness. I have had to initiate many conversations with people I have disillusioned with the garbage I posted and tell them how wrong I was. It has not been easy, but by God’s grace He has seen me through all this and has shown me so many things about holiness, the church, pastoring, leadership, being a godly man, a godly husband and being a godly dad.
The reason I am even writing this is because I have noticed many of the same patterns in many younger (and sometimes older) pastors that I have the privilege of serving with. My heart wants nothing more than to help leaders avoid falling into the same traps and patterns I did. So, here are a few lessons I have learned along the way that I hope the Holy Spirit uses to lead you into godliness as you use your pastoral platform in conjunction with your social media feeds.
You’re a Pastor, Not a Blogger: There is a huge difference between being a pastor and being an amateur/professional blogger. As a pastor you have a responsibility to equip and build up the local church for both growth in Christ and missional engagement. In the end when we stand before the Lord, Christian bloggers will have to give account for what they have done, but you and I will have to give an account for not only ourselves, but also for those Christ gave us to lead. Whether you like it or not, you are called to a higher standard than the rest. In no way does this mean you have to be perfect or make it even seem like you are, but it does mean that because of your office, Christ has made you His under-sphepherd that is responsible for leading His flock. Take the pastoral call seriously, because it is a serious call. If you’re a pastor that blogs, your pastoral vocation should always take precedent over and influence your blogging.
You’re allowed to Struggle, Just Don’t Heap The Responsibility of Your Care on Your Congregation: I know that the church is God’s family. I know that we all struggle through practical living and theological issues. I know that God is constantly changing His church into the likeness of Christ through the Spirit’s sanctifying power. For you pastor, your struggles must not be hidden, they must be dealt with, but they must be dealt with carefully. Many of your younger congregation members are on your social media feeds. They watch as you post inappropriate comments about your spouse, your frustrations and the dramas going on in your life. It’s not wrong for people to see you being vulnerable, we definitely need more of that. Just remember to carefully share these things with wisdom and complete clarity. If you’re going to be transparent, do it in a way that leaves nothing to be discussed in the church foyer after Sunday morning service (gossip specifically). Believe it or not many in your congregation love you and when you “digitally dump” on them, they are burdened down with a weight they often times cannot bear.
You’re Personal Preferences Do Not Hold the Same Weight as Biblical Truth: I’m sure the people who have chosen to follow you online do appreciate and enjoy seeing your opinion about things. But in the end, many of your posts are just your opinion. Unfortunately, many young leaders post opinion pieces like they are on the same level as the Holy Scriptures. Last time I checked, the Biblical Canon is closed and if what you have to say doesn’t line up with the Biblical text, then…It really is not that important and you and I should really stop acting like it is. You may not like something, but be aware that there are people in your congregation that do. Don’t unnecessarily offend the sheep in your care with your preferences.
Protect The People You Love, Don’t Embarrass Them: I get that sometimes you’ll have a funny looking picture of your spouse on your phone/camera that is totally unflattering and hilarious. I get that telling the world the funny things your kids do or say is awesome, just please use discernment as you post all this stuff. You are one flesh with your spouse and a laugh/jab at their expense is cowardly and falls very short of God’s commands to us in marriage. Those pics and sayings from your kids are cute for a moment, but have the potential of haunting your children for the rest of their lives. Being married to a pastor and being a PK is difficult enough as it is. Protect, honour and cherish these people with all you’ve got. You might gain some “likes” and “retweets” but none of your facebook friends or twitter followers will be holding your hand when you are on your death bed. Some things are meant to be memories that only your family shares. Not everything has to go viral.
Criticizing Other Leaders is Not Your Job: It is no secret that there are certain televangelist, Christian personalities or other pastors that you and I may not like. Realistically, there are some people that don’t like you or I either. Your pastoral job description is not to spend all your time telling everyone on your facebook feed what is wrong with a certain Christian personality. I can just hear it now “What about sound doctrine?” “What about contending for the faith?” To both of these I say “Yes!” and “Amen!” But both of these are better done by addressing your particular church context or on an individual basis as people have questions. It is not your job to police the internet, it is your job however to faithfully pastor the people in your congregation. You aren’t Rick Warren or Francis Chan. When God calls you to that then type of “Big Body” ministry, we’ll talk.
Respectful Conversation is Good, Mean Spirited Arguments are Bad: Not everything you post will people agree with. That is completely ok. What is not ok is when you attack people for disagreeing with you. People will be people and have their own perspectives about things, sometimes rightly and sometimes wrongly. You have better things to do pastor then to get involved with a 102 mean spirited comment thread about a quote that has probably been taken out of a greater context from the Bible or book you’re reading. You may try to pull the “But I am pastoring people by responding.” Can I just say…that’s the dumbest thing I have ever heard. If you want to shepherd someone through something, make an appointment to counsel them face to face. You just pridefully want to be right and unfortunately that desires leaves a trail of hurt sheep behind you.
If You Have Something to Say, Don’t Say it Through a Masked Status: Some days in ministry are difficult. Things don’t always go the way you want them to, people annoy you (you annoy them sometimes btw) and sometimes you just want to explode. Expressing your frustrations about your congregation or particular congregation members through a mask profile status is the wrong way to respond to frustration. The people involved are smart enough to read between the lines. If you have something to say, make sure that first and foremost you pray about it. God can handle your frustrations. Sometimes you will need to address things with your congregation and with individual members, just don’t add any extra drama by posting something potentially divisive and hurtful in a moment of frustration. Pray and then address the issue…preferably face to face.
I hope that these lessons can help some of us be better use social media as a tool to both equip and build up the church, rather than a weapon with which we beat up the sheep Christ has entrusted us with.
As we as pastors attempt to use social media and all this new ever changing technology, let’s strive to do for God’s glory and not our own.