I recently read an article, Pastors and Social Media by Jonathan Leeman that I found helpful. Leeman’s target audience is pastors, but the application is undoubtedly beyond those who are pastors.
I will summarize it in this post, but I encourage you to read the entire article for yourself.
Leeman begins by discussing five unique dynamics of social media:
- It puts a printing press into everyone’s hands.
- It promotes self-expression
- It removes pre-publication accountability
- It merges publishing with town-hall meetings, but with no accountability for the crowd.
- It cultivates comparisons, legalism, and tribalism.
Add these five dynamics together, and the big picture is this: social media offers a rival community to the local church. It’s not the only community or space that does so. Teams, friend groups, CrossFit gyms, and workplaces do the same. Yet social media is a particularly powerful rival because it’s self-selected and curated. It offers the voices of authority who tell us what we want to hear and the friends who like what we like. It caters to our natural predilections. It empowers us, giving us a platform for whatever we want. And because it shows up on our phone, it follows us to work, to the grocery store, and into bed.
One might think that Leeman would conclude that pastors should not use social media. But his conclusion is a caution, not abstinence. He says that the vast majority of pastors should “probably lower their expectations of what they can accomplish on social media” and remember that “biblically faithful week-in, week-out preaching can change the world for the members of your church.”
Before concluding the article, Leeman shared his boundaries for his use of social media. He doesn’t say that everyone should follow his rules, but he offers them as a way to think through setting personal boundaries for social media.
Leeman’s personal social media boundaries (again, I encourage you to read the article to see how he qualifies each of his boundaries):
- Stay within my areas of competence.
- Avoid controversial topics.
- Avoid moment-by-moment commentary on news events.
- Speak positively, not critically.
- Speak to edify, not promote myself.
- Review resources before retweeting.
- Always remember the members of my church might be watching.
- Resist the temptation to tweet regularly, build a presence, and form a community.
Finally, Leeman shares two things about social media that he thinks are simultaneously true:
(i) social media has wonderfully helped bring more of the nation’s attention to the abuse of women, discrimination against minorities, and other injustices;
ii) and the generally denunciatory and toxic nature of so much social media conversation has damaged the social fabric and unity of the United States and many of its churches, potentially sowing seeds for even more rancor and injustice in the future.
As stated earlier, Leeman was specifically targeting pastors in his article, but much of what he says is easily transferrable to non-pastors.
Let’s be careful and intentional with our use of social media. And let’s not let social media become a more influential community than our church.