Just a few years ago all most pastors had to worry about was making sure they had a clean shirt on when they ran to the store on a Saturday. Everyone has a social life, but life could remain as open or as private as wanted. Boundaries were pretty easy to determine.

Not anymore.

If anyone (whether they are a pastor or not) chooses to live life online (with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other services) they put themselves out in the open much more than in the good old days.  Boundaries now exist in the grey area of life; controlled by requests, filters and private accounts.

Last week we had a comment about those in professional ministry interacting with other people online.

Isaac said this…

What are your thoughts on having separate social media accounts for yourself as a pastor, versus private ones for family and close friends. Do you find you need to create boundaries on social media, or do you feel comfortable letting anyone in your churches into that sphere of your life as well?

Isaac asked some great questions and brought up a point many people in ministry ask. What behavior is appropriate for people in ministry and how do we decide what our boundaries are? Many times this question stops people in ministry from ever interacting online. I am of the opinion we absolutely MUST be engaged in social media in many different ways. So consider this post to be a primer, an introduction of sorts. For many of my readers it might come across as extremely elementary. If it doesn’t, I hope you take this information to heart as you think about what it means to not just live, but to pastor online.

Let me share with you the why and how of being a social pastor.

Why Pastors Must Be Social:

1. It is a practice of incarnational ministry.
You might not be a fan of the internet, but if you want to reach people and impact them in the 21st century, you need to be engaged online. Would you live in the neighborhood of your church but refuse to shop and eat around your house? I hope not. The people currently in your pews and in your neighborhood are online. We bring the presence of Christ everywhere with us…even on the Facebook. This is the space I choose to answer much of Isaac’s comment. I am pretty free and open online. I have a few filters set up, but they affect possibly 2% of my friend base online.

2. It gives you a great communication platform.
Have you ever wanted to tell your congregation about what is coming on Sunday? The best place to do it is online. There are tons of ways to do it; sermon previews, video updates and sharing scripture. It is the simplest way I know to keep people talking after Sunday.

3. The separation of life is real.Much of Isaac’s concern was with boundaries. This is an issue for some people. I have yet to come to the place where I need to set these up, but I realize the situation is very real for some people. I know some denominations even have cease and desist policies for when a pastor moves churches (I won’t comment on this just yet). I think when pastors openly share their lives online, the good and the not so good, it helps people to realize they are real people. They have a favorite football team, the grill on propane are charcoal and their kids do stupid stuff as well. They have crappy seasons of life and get their car wrecked too. They know what it is like to have a hot water heater drop out 3 hours before a big meeting (it will ALWAYS happen on a Sunday). One of the biggest assets of living openly online for clergy is to show people they are real and have everyday problems.

How to be social.

1. Know where to go.
If you aren’t currently on social media, ask your congregation what social media platforms they use the most. I would imagine they would tell you it’s Facebook. Rich Birch wrote a fantastic post on why Facebook is the social network every pastor needs to be on. I would agree with the exception of one role. Youth Pastors need to be using Instagram or other more youth oriented mediums.

2. Come up with a plan.
You can start interacting really easily. If you want to be intentional about it…you need a plan. It can be as simple as “I am going to talk about church and interact with members” or as elaborate as “My whole network is my parish” and you turn into a regular internet pastor. This is the place where you can set up some boundaries. I have different ways I use every network. I share alot on Twitter, interact and share on Facebook and give a backstage look at the life of a pastor on Instagram. I have a written list of how I use these services and occasionally remind myself of my decisions.

3. Start conversations.
You will get out of social media what you get into it. Give as much as you ask. Share other great things you have read, congratulate people on joys in life, let others know you are praying for them when they need it and simply live life among everyone else around you online.

This is only the beginning of the conversation. I hope this begins a great discussion.

Related Posts:
3 Reasons Pastors Should Be Curators of Content.