Social media can be a powerful ministry tool, but it can be a double-edged sword, just like our tongues. In 3 Simple Rules of Social Media, Eric Seiberling reminds us of John Wesley’s recommendations for Christians seeking to live a faithful life: Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God.
These are particularly relevant in the parallel world of social media, a world that takes every twiddle of our thumbs and makes them public and everlasting. The potential for encouragement, affirmation, and getting the word out is great, but social media also gives all who hold leadership positions in the church – pastors, volunteer workers, small group leaders –an open mic and little guidance for how it should be used.
Here are a few practical implications from Wesley’s recommendations to keep in mind before clicking Post. These may be good to personally ruminate on, and/or become part of how staff and lay-leaders are trained as emissaries of the church's mission.
Reflect on your relationship with social media: How does it help you stay in love with God? How does it hinder you? How can you use it to further the Kingdom?
Be an encouraging presence in an online world that can often feel anxiety-inducing and negative.
Remember that your audience is much wider than those involved in the post or conversation, and context is often missing for those who read what you post. Kendall Corner writes: “Think of your web space less like your living room and more like your front yard.” Assume that anything on Facebook could be read by anyone at anytime.
Your church’s social media presence should be separate from your own. If you’re managing both, keep in mind which “hat” you’re wearing when you think about what to post, and where.
That said, your personal online presence still represents your church to those encountering you in social media. Tailor your online self to reflect what you would like people to think of your church. (This is true for lead pastors as well as anyone in a position of leadership or influence in the church.)
Ask the questions: Is this post winsome? Does it show Christ’s love, or is it to make myself look good? Could it do harm to the reputation of Christ, the church, or another person? Could it leave others feeling excluded?
Liking a post means endorsing it, and it attaches your name to it for those who are your online friends or followers. Before you Like a post or article, make sure its content is something you would be comfortable saying yourself on a Sunday morning, or saying to anyone who could see it online.
Social media is a two-way street: people will be eager to hear from you, see your family pictures, etc., but you should also focus on affirming others by leaving encouraging messages and Likes on their family pictures and posts. This builds a real connection between you and those who choose to be connected with you online.
Stay above-board and beyond reproach in your interactions with others and keep things public (rather than private messages) as much as possible. Stay away from private messaging conversations with people of the opposite sex or youth to avoid situations that appear compromising or imply untoward intentions.
When in doubt, ask the opinion of someone you trust to vet the content of your post before you press Post.
You will never regret taking the high road — and sometimes that means saying nothing at all.