*Editor’s Note: This is an update of a blog that was first released in 2014. Given the ever-expanding world of social media, the Church & Culture Team felt that it was an important topic to update.
We all know the two biggest rules for social media: 1) don’t put anything dumb out there for the world to see, and 2) leverage it as much as you can to your advantage.
But if you are part of a ministry team, whether staff or volunteer, there’s more to add to the mix that isn’t being talked about very much. Here’s five bits of advice that will hopefully serve:
1. Don’t post anything that could potentially undermine your reputation or the church’s reputation for Christ-like character.
I know this goes without saying. But it’s stunning how many people feel there is a disconnect between what they post, what people will see, and who they say they are.
At Meck, this tends to play itself out with younger staff or volunteers who, usually innocently, tend to mimic culture’s values about what is and is not appropriate. For example, a link to a popular video which is, in truth, inappropriate. Or favoriting a website that, while popular, often features sketchy content.
At other times, we have Meckers who have biblical “freedoms” in certain areas but are not discrete in terms of making them known. Yes, usually this has to do with drinking. You may feel free to imbibe, but posting pictures flaunting it in social settings that are not carefully contextualized is not only unwise, but can be misconstrued as abusing the freedom.
The point is that when you post something, you are putting it out for public consumption.
Make sure it won’t cause indigestion.
2. Don’t post anything that would potentially undermine the maturity and gravitas accompanying your leadership role.
Let’s state the obvious: people will Google you, search you, find you on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook…and then make an evaluation. Does your online presence support your volunteer or leadership role, or undermine it? Does it breed confidence in you as someone who is wise and mature?
I talked to one of our younger leaders a year or so back about his Facebook page. I had no idea what he had there, as I am not on Facebook (I’m a Twitter guy), but asked him whether or not it aided his ability to lead people older than him, or hindered it. He went back and was shocked at how many middle school postings there were on his Facebook page. Yes, he was in his twenties, and there were still postings from his middle school years. He just hadn’t cleaned it up in years.
The point is simple: have everything about your social media presence support your position in the church. This is particularly important if you are a young leader, as you may still have a “college-y” feel to your online presence that makes you seem juvenile to older adults you are attempting to lead.
3. Don’t retweet from, or link to, any person or source you are not absolutely 100% willing to endorse.
If you retweet something, you are endorsing it. You might say, “No, I’m not! I just liked the saying!” Sorry. That’s not the way it works. If you retweet someone, your followers may be inclined to follow that person, and then they will receive an endless supply of future tweets. Do you want to lift that person, that church or that ministry up? If not, no matter how much you may like that particular tweet, don’t risk infecting others. The same is true to things you link to.
Bottom line: if you cannot 100% sign off on someone’s theology, practices, ministry, lifestyle, etc., then DO NOT retweet them or link to them in any way that may convey your tacit endorsement.
4. Don’t overdo it.
There are some people who seem to live on Facebook and Twitter – or for it. This is problematic on three fronts: first, for the average busy person it sends the message that you have a lot of time on your hands. Translation: you’re not working very hard. That undermines your leadership.
A second concern is that if you overdo it, you set yourself up for mistakes. This is particularly true for Twitter, as it invites instantaneous communication. But that’s not always wise. You can say things you regret, or say things that prove to be untrue or premature. You can also react emotionally in ways that are inappropriate. As Scripture reminds us, “Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.” (Proverbs 10:19, NLT)
The final concern is that if you overdo it, you will lose people’s attention. People who tweet every 10 minutes fail to realize that their followers aren’t reading them every ten minutes. Nor do they want to. I’ve had countless conversations with people who say they stopped following someone because they tweeted too much – and ninety-percent of what they tweeted was insipid.
5. Play Well with Others
Finally, play well with others. One of the great allures of social media is, well, that it’s social! But when do you engage? When do you stop? When do you block?
Here are a few guidelines I’ve found helpful:
*Be the aroma of Christ in whatever you post. Period. Be gracious, and give people’s motivations and “tone” the benefit of the doubt. Soften anything you say that might be misconstrued with appropriate emoji.
*There are many times you will be “baited” to respond and engage in controversy or argument. I wouldn’t rise to the vast majority of these efforts (particularly if you smell a troll). And certainly not through something like Twitter, which is wholly inadequate for robust engagement of most issues. Sometimes the best thing is to link to a solid blog or site that presents your view, and then be done. Yes, even if it means letting them have the last word.
*Move from social media to social interaction. Meaning, don’t hesitate to say, “This really isn’t the format for this. But I will be happy to chat with you on the phone or meet you for coffee.” I know, you can’t always do this, but there have been many back-and-forth’s I’ve seen played out that I wish someone had been mature enough to inject this into the mix.
*Don’t block people just because they disagree with you, or offer an alternative viewpoint. I’ve only blocked a handful over the years, and it was always for one of two reasons: 1) they were profane, or 2) their agenda was clearly antagonism for its own sake (translation, they were trolls of one kind or another).
*Along with grace, exercise humility. Some things should not really be retweeted, like when someone says something particularly kind about you. “Favorite” it, of course, as a way of saying “Thanks,” but don’t retweet. Make sense? There is a thin line between using social media to make appropriate announcements, celebrate milestones, and further your ministry – and using it to make a poster of yourself to the world.
Oh, and don’t forget: 1) don’t put anything dumb out there for the world to see, and 2) leverage it as much as you can to your advantage.
James Emery White
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.