There are plenty who lament the impact social media has had on our lives and relationships. The ripples are real[i]: the dilution of relationships, envy, and loss of time are all undeniable side-effects.
In reaction, more than a few of my friends have unplugged. I know several of my pastor friends who intentionally sideline social media from their lives. They might have accounts, but for the most part, they lie dormant. They have chosen to protect themselves from the negative impact of social media on their lives by isolating themselves form it. I understand the decision, and, in terms of personal emotional health, I think it’s actually a wise choice.
I’m unwilling to give up social media, though.
It’s not because I’m addicted (although maybe I am) or that I want to use it in order to build a platform (I’m pretty squeamish about the word "platform").
It’s because social media is an indispensable part of my pastoral leadership. I don’t think I could minister as effectively if I was disconnected.
I began full time pastoral ministry eleven years ago, the year before the first iPhone was introduced to the market. On my first day in the office, I was given a photo directory, and it was nearly always near me. I would flip through the pages, trying to learn names and praying for the congregation.
When I arrived at New Life two plus years ago, I started pastoral ministry afresh with roughly 1,000 households who call New Life home to try to begin to learn. Like most churches, we no longer have a photo directory. But there is Facebook. Before I even arrived, most of the staff and search team had friended me.
Facebook is invaluable for me as a pastor in learning our congregation. I scribble names and brief reminders of people I meet every week in my bulletin and then plug that into Evernote, but without a photo and without a connected story, it is a significant challenge to remember names.
And beyond just the names, one of the benefits of social media is the ability to fast track a relationship and provide snap shots that are likely unavailable to you otherwise. There have been more than a handful of those who have been brought up for leadership positions who we have steered clear of because of snap shots into their lives that would have been invisible to us outside of social media. Conversely, there have been those who have quickly earned my respect and whose leadership track has been expedited because of the snap shots of their lives on social media.
To be clear, I understand that social media only allows us to see self-selected moments, but even those moments are valuable for a leader.
Furthermore, social media is an invaluable tool in allowing leaders to provide more proactive discipleship and care. I’ve had conversations with congregants about concerns I have that were initiated by Facebook posts, and I’ve been able to care for congregants in moments of crisis because of information they shared on social media. Moreover, it has allowed me to continue pastoral relationships with those who have moved or those whom I’ve moved away from.
It also allows the ability to connect into the lives of those outside of the congregation as well. It has been a great tool for us in our neighborhood in connecting more deeply with our neighbors. For that reason, I think social media is an important part of living missionally for most of us.
I’ve had at least two situations where I’ve had to create some boundaries when congregants took advantage of social media access. And it is absolutely true that social media has an insatiable appetite for our attention. We need to be careful we don’t let social media consume us. I’m on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. However, I have largely pulled off of Twitter as I find that not many in our congregation are engaged there, and it’s a temptation for me to be focused more on platform than relationships in that context.
The threat of social media on our souls is real. We need to protect our hearts. As I type now, I have no social media open in my browser tabs (and I love my tabs!), and my phone is outside my reach. I try to batch my social media use just as I do the rest of my work. But social media is a helpful tool for my ministry as a pastor. While there are temptations in my own soul with social media (for me, the hours after the weekend’s services can be dangerous if I hope for responses on social media!), I believe that the opportunities as a leader are far too great to withdraw.
What are your thoughts about how to navigate the use of social media as a leader?
Photo credit: Freestocks/Unsplash