Pastors and Social Media (3): Be Sociable

On Monday, I posted the first part of my address to the URC Pastor’s Conference on “Blogs, Facebook, and the Flock: What is the relationship between social media and the local pastorate?” Part 1: Be Positive. Yesterday was Part 2: Be Intentional.Today is Part 3: Be Sociable. Of course, much of this is applicable to non-pastors too.

In 6 Tips for the Social Media Loudmouth, Christian social media expert, Nathan Bingham, says:

Remember, social media—by definition—is intended to be social. Social media is in many respects akin to an online dinner party or market square of ideas and dialogue. So whether you’re an organisation, business, church, ministry, or an individual, if you want to use social media well you’re going to have to be social, present, listening.

If social media is sociable, that means:

1. Make it two-way
Don’t be just a broadcaster. Follow others, comment on others, interact with others, reply to others, encourage others. Erik Qualman said: “You will attract more followers digitally in two days than you will in two months if you show interest in them versus trying to get them interested in you.”

2. Reveal
One area that requires a bit of trial and error is how much to reveal about your own personal life or church life. Some let it all hang out, while others prefer to be a “Reformed Robot,” a stoical humanoid like Dr. Spock. This is something I’ve found very hard to get right, and I’ve probably tended to err on the privacy side of things.

In face-to-face conversation, we don’t just talk theology. Rather, we usually reveal a bit about ourselves and expect others to do the same. Transparency and honesty builds relationship and trust. Ed Stetzer testifies that “on countless occasions, young pastors have thanked me for blogging and tweeting about my family and how I prioritize them. Many listen more readily to me because they feel they know me already.”

However, also consider the impact on your family. Not just baby scans, but pregnancy tests, nappy and potty pictures are now routinely shared online. In Parents, do you think before you post? Jen Wilkins suggests “imagining a 13-year-old version of them reading over your shoulder.” “Ask yourself,” she says, “Does it provide short-term gratification for you or honor long-term relationship with them?” Tell your story without compromising theirs. Same goes for your congregational details. Not everything is for everyone.

3. Add value.
As in all social situations, ask, “What can I add to people’s lives?” rather than just adding to the hub-bub and noise. Some easy options for pastors to get started in blogging are sermon summaries, sermon snippets, or sermon discussions. Or you could try a reading plan where you work through a book in an online community. You could write historical or theological articles, or you could make it more practical, evangelistic, or topical.

Even when you do find your niche, it’s a good idea to break the mold from time to time. Just as you do in ordinary conversation, mix it up by varying frequency, length, and subjects of posts, Tweets, and updates. Experiment to see what works and what doesn’t.

4. Learn from experts.
Again, as in ordinary social life, we learn from people we admire. In The Digital Leader, Erik Qualman wrote:

Determine a digital leader you admire. Spend at least 20 minutes a day watching his or her activity. Pay attention to: Who is he conversing with? What topics does she post and in what tone? Why does he post? When does she post? Where does he post and what tools or sites does he use? The best digital mentor is generally someone that is in your industry or shares similar interests—someone that you find intriguing. Learn from these mentors and practice what they are doing.

The three men I’ve learned the most from, and continue to do so, are Tim Challies, Justin Taylor, and Nathan Bingham.

5. Be accountable
We’ve all driven home from social occasions with a silent wife (or husband). “Okay,” you eventually ask, “What did I do/say wrong this time?” Similarly we need loving accountability in our social media use. In A Social Media Heart Check Tim Challies explains how you can access all your Facebook activity at a glance – what you’ve seen, people you’ve searched for, comments left, things “liked,” etc. He suggests sitting down with your wife and reviewing this regularly. And with all your social media he proposes the following questions:

  • Ask for input from family, friends, elders. What impression am I creating. Is it real, helpful?
  • Am I “present” when I am present?
  • Am I stoking controversy or making peace?
  • Am I using this as a diversion to avoid real problems, real people, real world?
  • Am I modeling and mentoring by my social media presence and practice?
  • Am I taking a regular digital Sabbath, a weekly time of unplugging, and maybe even a digital fast for longer periods to allow spiritual growth?

Be positive, be intentional, and be sociable. And you’ll be a blessing to many.

Check out

Assurance for tender-hearted souls
Some recommended resources.

How “What’s Best Next” Applies to Homemakers
I’m looking forward to Matt Perman’s book on how the Gospel and productivity interact, but here his wife applies some of it to stay-at-home moms.

Fourth of July Reflections on a Changing America
This is a superb article by Rick Phillips.

5 Ways to Deal with Difficult People
“It has been said that if you pray for patience, God will indulge you with opportunities to develop it. And so, for this reason, God puts in our path difficult people. They are the sandpaper we need to polish off our rough and sinful edges.”

When our voice is silent
Should bloggers respond to every controversial issue? Aaron Armstrong explains why his answer is “No.”

7 Concerns about How Technology Shapes Modern Life
The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Pastors and Social Media (2): Be Intentional

Yesterday I posted the first part of my address to the URC Pastor’s Conference on “Blogs, Facebook, and the Flock: What is the relationship between social media and the local pastorate?” Part 1: Be Positive. This is Part 2: Be Intentional. 

Ligonier’s social media guru, Nathan Bingham, says that the most important question we must ask ourselves with social media is “Why?” (see The Best Social Media Tip I can Give You)

Why do I want to do social media? What’s my motive and aim? Is it for myself? is it for the church? Is it for unbelievers? Is it to evangelize unbelievers? Is it to disciple my flock? Is it to draw attention to resources? Is it to serve the wider Christian community?

Once you answer the “Why?” question it becomes a lot easier to answer other questions like:

  • How? What practical steps do we take to accomplish this?
  • Who? Will this be done by the pastor, a volunteer, or paid staff? Will we need to train someone?
  • Where? What platform will we use – Twitter? Facebook, Blogs? etc. Which medium is best for edification of the church? For reaching unbelievers? For gathering and promoting Christian resources? etc.
  • When? How much time should be spent on this?

Nathan illustrates the connection between “Why?” and these other questions by describing three churches that answered the why question differently and hence approached the how and who questions differently. What follows is a summary, but you can read more detail at his own post.

Church One – Information
Their goal for social media is “to target existing members of their church and supplement, if not replace, the bulk of their weekly bulletin.”

If that’s they “why” the “how” is quite easy. The pastor or a volunteer spends an hour or more a week scheduling this information and encouraging the congregation to check in.

Church Two – Edification
Their goal is “to target the wider body of Christ as well as existing members of their church. They want to build up and encourage Christians in the digital realm—sharing edifying sermons, challenging quotes, and links to resources that are helpful to the wider body.”

The “how” needs more thought and time to gather the content, to post it, to respond to interaction, etc.

Church Three – Connection
Their goal is “to reach out to those who live locally and are not a part of the body of Christ. In addition to providing a gospel saturated response to today’s issues and asking the difficult questions when appropriate, they’ll be introducing themselves to a community who may not of otherwise known of their existence.”

This is the most demanding choice in terms of time and thought. You need to be listening, following local trends, etc., and clear guidelines given to staff/volunteers as to what and how to engage with the public on behalf of the church.

As you’ll never be able to do all kinds of social media well (blogging, Google +, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.), you will need to choose which one to focus on – again determined by the answer to “Why?” As my main aims when I started using social media was to practice writing and communication for the education and edification of my students, 90% of my social media time has been spent on blogging – reading blogs and writing posts. Twitter gets about 9% of my social media time as it’s a good place for gathering links to good resources, and the other 1% is not much more than posting links to my blog articles on Facebook and Google+. Facebook has some good links to good resources, but I don’t usually have the time to wade through the daily trivia to get to the gold. I can do that more efficiently on Twitter.

How much time?
And that raises the “When?” question. How much time should we spend on social media each day? You should pray about this, discuss it with your wife, and, if you are a pastor, probably consult your elders too. Explain your motives and aims and ask for guidance. I probably spend an average of 90 minutes each day on social media, and most of that is in my downtime in the evening. About half of that time is spent reading others’ blogs and Tweets and the other half is spent on writing blogs and linking to good articles. Although I call this my “hobby” and I do it in “downtime” there is of course much personal edification, education, and training going on also as I’m exposed to multiple thinkers and doers in Christian ministry.

As I used to spend at least an hour every evening reading the daily newspaper, usually The Times, I view this as a much better use of time for myself and for the Kingdom.

What time of the Day?
A second “When” question is “When in the day will you do this?” The three biggest mistakes you can make are:

  • To do this first thing in the morning. This diverts your attention and runs down your brain fuel before your main ministry work.
  • To do it during what should be family time. If you’re doing social media when you should be with your wife and family, you’ve prioritized the wrong community.
  • To do it non-stop throughout the day. Students, and ministers too, are discovering that non-stop social media habits make deep and long study increasingly difficult as the multi-tasking brain keeps demanding the short-term buzz of adrenaline that’s squirted into the body with every “Like,” “Retweet,” and “Comment.”

In The Digital LeaderErik Qualman, says “multitasking is junk food for the brain” and explains the self-harm that results:

A study at The British Institute of Psychiatry showed that checking your email while performing another creative task decreases your IQ in the moment by 10 points. This decrease is the equivalent of the effects from not sleeping for 36 hours—and exhibits more than twice the impact of smoking marijuana.

And if you are posting non-stop Instagrams of your latest exotic coffee, don’t be surprised if hard-working people in your congregation begin to resent this and think that this is all you are doing!

Be Intentional
Unless you are intentional, social media can devour your days and ultimately your ministry. Keep asking yourself “Why?” and so much else will fall into the right place and proportion.

Check out

A Digital Bill of Rights
A crowd-sourced document in response to the Edward Snowden revelations. Looks pretty reasonable to me.

C.J. Mahaney withdraws from 2014 T4G
Right decision.

Free eBook: What’s so great about the doctrines of grace?
Ligonier are offering Rick Phillips’ book for free during July.

Preaching Christ and Commending Virtue
Kyle Worley: “It is both possible and necessary to preach Christand commend virtue. Truly, there is no Christian virtue without Christ, and, there is no true Gospel impact upon a life without the blossoming of Christian virtue.”

10 for 20: Help us Build Gospel Centered Churches for Scotland’s Poorest
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Counsel to a young church planter on marriage
Don Carson answers a question about what should happen when one partner in a couple living together gets married: “What should be said to these couples where one of the pair gets converted, and the other, so far, does not. Should the advice be to get married? Or is that encouraging people to be unequally yoked?”

Pastors and Social Media (1): Be Positive

Last week I had the privilege of addressing the URC Pastor’s Conference on “Blogs, Facebook, and the Flock: What is the relationship between social media and the local pastorate?” Here’s the first part of that address.

“If the leader is not leading in the digital world, his leadership is, by definition, limited to those who also ignore or neglect that world, and that population is shrinking every minute. The clock is ticking…, if you are not present on the Internet, you simply do not exist, as far as anyone under 30 is concerned.” So writes Al Mohler, confirming the importance of social media for pastors.

Social media and the local pastorate
“Social media” means I’m not speaking about church websites, which are generally static shop windows without the social, interactive, relational component of social media.

“Local pastorate” also limits the subject. My task is to provide guidance for local pastors especially as they interact with their local church and local community. Although God may open a much wider door of usefulness via blogs, etc., it’s important that local pastors do not aim for that and, even when given such opportunity, do not make that wider audience the priority at the expense of ministering to their own flock.

Take a positive approach

Don’t be a digital dooms-dayer. Yes we must be aware of the dangers in social media, and, as pastors, we must alert and protect our sheep. But if we only or largely communicate condemnation and warning about social media, etc., then most people, especially young people, will just turn off. As Al Mohler said:

The digital world did not exist a generation ago, and now it is a fundamental fact of life. The world spawned by the personal computer, the Internet, social media, and the smart phone now constitutes the greatest arena of public discussion and debate the world has ever known.

“It’s a fundamental fact of life.” That means, if you want to be where people are, then you need to be in social media. But it shouldn’t be done holding your nose and wishing you were alive 100 years ago. Consider some of the spiritual benefits of social media.

Evangelism Benefits
The opportunities to connect and communicate there for the advance and benefit of the Gospel are unparalleled. Social media is carrying the Gospel into China and North Korea, into schools and universities, into the public square and our local communities.

Personal Benefits
There are personal benefits too, as I recently highlighted in How technology made me a better Christian. The digital revolution has increased our theological knowledge, our cultural engagement, our ministry reach, our evangelism, our apologetics, and our love for one another.

Community Benefits
Social media is often blamed for undermining social contact. However, for many people, social media has helped build community, especially for people who are perhaps more timid and nervous, or socially isolated. In The Blessings of the New Media, Ed Stetzer:

I do not believe that virtual community and real community are enemies. I see them more as friends, the former as a help to the latter….While social media cannot replace real-life interpersonal relationships, they can assist in building real community by connecting people in ways that allow them to share both the big and small things of life. Web services such as Facebook allow people who might see one another only during church on Sunday, or midweek in smaller community groups, to continue to share aspects of life they would not otherwise. This allows friends to look into the parts of life we share and respond with encouragement or exhortation.

Heart Problems
Although  social media has undoubtedly been used of the devil to damage souls, it’s important to remember that the problem is not so much social media but our hearts (Matthew 15:17-19). Technology journalist and social media addict, Paul Miller, was recently paid by Verge  magazine to spend a year offline. Initially he found that many of his bad habits were suddenly broken. However, by the end of the year, he said:

I’d learned how to make a new style of wrong choices off the internet. I abandoned my positive offline habits, and discovered new offline vices. Instead of taking boredom and lack of stimulation and turning them into learning and creativity, I turned toward passive consumption and social retreat…

A year in, I don’t ride my bike so much. My frisbee gathers dust. Most weeks I don’t go out with people even once. My favorite place is the couch. I prop my feet up on the coffee table, play a video game, and listen to an audiobook….

Make a positive contribution

So, I’m saying take a positive approach to social media. But also, make a positive contribution. The average person complains 15-30 times per day, with a ratio of 1 to 6 in terms  of encouragement to criticism. Research has demonstrated that the ideal positive to negative ratio in a relationship, in a church, or on a team is 6 to 1, the reverse of most people’s experience! In The Digital Leader, social media guru, Erik Qualman, warns what will happen if our social media presence is largely critical or negative:

We don’t want a trail littered with complaints and negative comments…If you habitually complain you will either a) have your followers leave you since people like to follow individuals that inspire hope, or b) have a legion of chronic complainers. Neither of these resulting scenarios will benefit you and you will cease being an effective digital leader.

Therefore, make Philippians 4:8 the general banner of all your social media work.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the most important question you can ask when using social media.

Check out

Pastors need your care
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When Christians fire Christians
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Mothering through depression and chronic illness
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Pastoral Bullies
Sam Storms with 23 ways pastors might domineer their flocks. (HT: Matt Perman)

Ligonier welcome Dr. Steve Nichols as their new teaching fellow
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Hobby Lobby wins major victory
Let’s not ignore the good news, even when we’re in the midst of so much discouragement.