There are a lot of good arguments for why pastors should use Facebook and Twitter. (Check out this article about that, for example.) And there are some helpful suggestions out there about how pastors can engage online in safe and effective ways. (Check out this article about that.) But I've noticed an interesting trend in social media among my friends and colleagues who are pastors - many of them are attempting to silo their work-related "friends" from their "real" friends by creating separate personal and professional social media accounts. I'm wondering what you think about this. Have you tried to do this? Have you decided not to do this? Why or why not?
I'm going to show my hand and tell you that, to me, this not only seems unhealthy - it's impossible.
When I was graduating from seminary, the second most unhelpful piece of advice I received was "don't make friends with parishioners." The idea was that you were supposed to keep up a professional distance from the members of your congregation in order to...what? I'm not sure. Avoid congregational infighting over who gets to be friends with the pastor? Maybe if we were all in 5th grade. Keep secret the idea that you're a real person who maybe swears once in awhile, has a beer after church on Sunday afternoon, and sometimes wonders whether all this God-stuff is even real? See above comment about 5th grade.
The idea that you can't be real with members of your congregation makes sense in a modern, industrial world where pastors are "professionals" responsible for bringing in butts and bucks and maintaining the institution by providing high-quality services for pay. But in this emerging future, pastors will be more like co-creators and fellow travelers on a spiritual journey.
Being real is, like, the number one job qualification today - not something to be avoided at all cost.
Does it take maturity to be friends with people in your congregation? Yes. But if you're not mature enough to manage it, maybe you should think about another line of work. Will it demand maturity from people in your congregation? Yes. But few things are as gross about church life than the patronizing tendency of pastors to treat their parishioners like children. Are there dangers? Yes. The main danger is that you will be a different person because of the relationships you develop. If you let people see you - really see you - and give them permission to call you out when you're being stupid, scared, or self-centered - you'll be transformed by the experience. Of course, you'll also be a better pastor. And you'll help create a culture where everybody is expected and encouraged to grow spiritually, emotionally, and every which way.
You might actually end up with a church that is doing what matters.
But, really, the thing I find most interesting about the trend toward trying to silo off your personal life from your professional life as a pastor is that anybody thinks this is even possible. Unless you decide to go off the grid completely - which means shut down all of your social media sites, never comment on an online article or blog post, never post a photograph anywhere online, never send an email (which can be easily forwarded), etc. - your life is basically an open book. Heck, even if you do decide you're not going to hang out online, there are enough public records online these days that people can find out all kinds of stuff about you without you even knowing it. These days, whether you want it to be this way or not, transparency is the name of the game.
In other words, you're going to be more and more "real" to people whether you want to be or not.
The question isn't, "How can I hide who I really am from people?" The question is:
"Who am I? And who do I want to be? And how can I live my whole life - personally and professionally - with integrity? How can I be really and truly ME wherever I go, whomever I'm with, in every single situation?"
To be honest, I think this is going to be a very good thing for the church. And I think it'll be good for pastors, too, and their families - many of whom have been drowning in loneliness for years.
But that's just my opinion. What do you think?
P.S. I'd be glad to be your Facebook friend! http://www.facebook.com/kfryer1
P.P.S. The #1 piece of unhelpful advice I got when I graduated from seminary...will be the topic of a future post! :)