It is a cliché and a truth that church leaders live in glass houses. For good or for ill, people pay attention to what church leaders do and say.
We can lament or laud this fact but what we cannot do is ignore it.
This is just as true (perhaps even more so) on social media. Because we are usually not physically in public when we engage in social media, it is easy to forget that we are still, in public.
Having integrity and “being yourself” is a good thing, whether in public, in private, in social media and in real life.
However, there are different standards of behavior in different settings. There are certain conversations that take place around the family table or at a private gathering with close friends that are not appropriate at the church potluck. There are things you share with close trusted friends that you don’t talk about with the church council.
This is common sense. Unfortunately sometimes boundaries that seem clear in real life, get a little blurred on social media.
What church leaders need to understand is that when you are on social media, you need to put on your public persona, not your “kick back I’m just hanging out with my close friends” persona.
Most organizations these days have policies and guidelines about posting on social media whether you are posting privately or on behalf of the organization because they recognize that the line between private and public is not so clear and there are many stories of high profile people losing their jobs because they posted inappropriately on their personal profiles.
It is not so simple as to draw up a list of dos and don’ts. You need to know your community and your context, but understand that online, your context and community is much broader than you think.
A few things to ask yourself before you post or respond to someone:
- Would I say this in my church narthex on a Sunday morning? If not, you probably shouldn’t post it either.
- Would I respond to this person this way face to face? If not, you probably should not respond that way online.
- Can this post be perceived in a way I didn’t mean? If so, is there a way you can be clearer?
- Am I breaking confidentiality? Is this your story to tell? Would it embarrass someone?
- How does this reflect my witness on behalf of a loving and grace filled God?
Like everything else in our fallen world, social media has its dark side. I believe the good outweighs the bad and we do well by lifting up, taking advantage of and contributing to the good aspects of social media, rather than avoiding it. Let social media bring out the best side of you, to showcase how social media can be used to bring people together, to work for justice and most of all to “Show em Jesus”.
Pastor Joelle Colville-Hanson
Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA