Think before you tweet (or post to Facebook)

I started a Facebook account years ago to keep track of what my teenage children were up to. Years have passed since then, so I think enough time has passed that, if my grown children read this, I’m safe in making that confession. It didn’t take long before my Facebook account took on a life of its own; I reconnected with extended family; old high school and college friends friended me; and lots of folks in churches that I’ve served connected with me. I established a Twitter account to follow people. If you have a Twitter account, what I’ve just said makes sense to you; if not, it sounds like I’m a stalker! In the Twitter world, you can follow people of influence (pastors, writers, newsmakers, athletes, etc.). You follow people, and in turn people can follow you and read what you post. I have set up my Twitter account so that my tweets automatically post to my Facebook wall.

Basically, I post to Twitter and Facebook for two reasons: to connect and to influence. I love the ease with which these two mediums allow me to interact with family and friends. I get to see pictures they have taken and learn what’s happening in their life, and they get to see what’s happening in my life. The other reason I use Twitter and Facebook is to (hopefully) be a positive influence for Jesus and His Kingdom.

With any communication—especially one with such great reach and impact—wisdom and discernment are essential. Ecclesiastes 5:2 says, “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven, you are on earth so let your words be few.”

When is comes to using Facebook and Twitter, here are some basic guidelines for pastors:

1. Don’t vent your personal/professional frustrations on Facebook or Twitter.
All of us have certain family members, parishioners, or friends that get under our skin from time to time. There are Biblical ways of dealing with conflict (see Matthew 18) that have nothing whatsoever to do with venting on Facebook or Twitter. When it comes to conflict, deal with it face-to-face. Don’t use social media to vent about it even using an indirect post; and don’t email the person to address it.

2. Don’t post about politics.
I never ever want to lose the privilege of talking to people about Jesus, so I almost never post anything about politics and elections. It’s not that I’m apolitical; I’m actually conservative in my political views. But if I talk about my politics, I have immediately lost an entire audience of folks that have a different view. Nothing divides people like politics and nothing will limit your ability to influence for kingdom like filling your Facebook wall with political posts. You say, “But Jeff, you said you wanted to influence. Why not influence politically?” Because all the politics and all the Democrats and Republicans together can’t change the world, let alone a human heart…only Jesus can do that, and I want to speak about Him.

3. Be careful about your sports posts.
Along the same line as politics, we need to be really careful about what we post in the world of sports. For example, I am a diehard Pittsburgh Steelers fan living outside Indianapolis in the middle of Colts country. When the Colts win, I try my best to be happy for the many folks I know who are Colts fans. When the Colts lose (and they lost a lot last year), I would never post glib comments about the team’s struggles. Last year, I went to Lucas Oil Stadium to see the Steelers pull out a win over the Colts. I posted about being there; but I posted nothing derogatory about the Colts. If you want to maximize your influence for Christ, it pays to use wisdom when posting things about local sports teams. One pastor told me that he made a big mistake early in his pastorate by not adopting his church’s favorite baseball team. He was a fan of a rival team and let it be known that he didn’t care for his church’s home team. As much as I love Pittsburgh sports teams, I am not going to preach about them and lose the opportunity to preach about Jesus. At the end of the day, I’m a follower of Jesus Christ, not a sports team.

4. Be careful with posts, likes, and direct messages sent to the opposite sex
One of my boundaries is to not regularly interact with any member of the opposite sex on social media. The key word is “regularly”. I don’t regularly interact with any individual of the opposite sex on Facebook or Twitter. Occasionally, I will hit the like button on something a gal has posted on Facebook; rarely will I post a comment on a gal’s wall. Why? As a guy, as a pastor, as a husband, and a father, I have lots of reasons to have healthy boundaries with women. More and more, Facebook is fast becoming a way for people unhappy in their marriage to connect. Facebook is great; but use it carefully. It would be all too easy for a husband who is struggling in his marriage to be tempted when an old flame suddenly begins to communicate with him. By the way, beware when someone of the opposite sex comments on nearly everything you post on Facebook; that’s a big, BIG red flag.

5. Be careful when posting about your family.
Pastors’ families live in a fishbowl already; be very careful when posting things that deal with your spouse or children. I very rarely post pictures of my wife and children; it has nothing to do with whether they are photogenic (they are), but it has everything to do with keeping my home and even family vacations “safe” places where my family doesn’t have to worry about me posting stuff all time. When I do post something that includes my wife and/or children, I get their permission.

As a pastor, social media has incredible power for good. Use it to connect with folks in your church. They can get to know you as pastor in ways they can’t in the larger setting of Sunday. Use social media to influence for Christ. Post about your faith. Post links to thought provoking articles and Scripture. Challenge people to think through a spiritual lens. But above all use wisdom.