Social networks have become the way people connect and communicate. Like other mediums, communicating through Twitter and Facebook has both positive and negative potential. A very sad use of Facebook recently came to my attention.
While speaking at a conference, a pastor asked if he could talk with me about a heartbreaking situation in his Church. It was a large Church and he was one of the main leaders. With a heavy heart, he told me that their founding and senior pastor left the Church and separated from his wife. He had reconnected on Facebook with a girl he knew from college and started a relationship with her.
Perhaps their Facebook conversation started casually as they shared updates on their lives. No doubt a few photos provided visual connections (more on this in a moment) and soon the conversation became intimate. Maybe he was frustrated in his marriage and began to share his feelings with his friend from the past. Soon excuses were being made to travel to the State where she lived and an illicit relationship formed.
Meanwhile back at the Church, the pastor began to show signs of stress and physical depletion. The board suggested a sabbatical since he had served for many years. He accepted. But shortly into his time away, he made his confession to the leaders and to his wife and children. He then moved away to be with his old friend, leaving his family and Church reeling in shock. Sadly, this was not the first Facebook affair I’ve heard about but it brings up an important question.
How should Pastors use networks like Facebook and Twitter?
My first recommendation is that if you’re married your spouse should have full access to your Facebook account. I recommend this for all married people not just pastors. My wife and I share one Facebook account. Beyond this, consider some Do’s and Don’ts for pastors who update and tweet:
- Announce events and teaching themes
- Link to helpful resources
- Encourage others
- Let people know a little about your life
- Share Scriptures and helpful quotes
- Ask for prayer for yourself and others
- Limit your time on networks
- Post anything that you would fear being read at Church
- Engage ongoing conversations with the opposite sex
- Fish for affirmation or support
- Post ambiguous or manipulative statements
- Vent about Church matters or members
- Become combative or defensive
- Embarrass your family with comments or photos
Facebook allows us to reconnect with friends from the past and to see their family pictures without being asked to watch a slide show of their latest vacation! My wife especially likes to see pictures of the children of old friends. Facebook has allowed many people to feel connected in ways unheard of not long ago. In a mobile society, this has been a blessing.
On the darker side, Facebook can easily become a private world of careless conversations—especially for people in difficult marriages. And Facebook photos often play a role in the darker side. Since Jesus taught that the eye is a gate to sin (Matthew 5:28-29), we should be careful about subtle dangers in photo viewing.
Young girls, in particular, enjoy posting their photos. Their self-portraits often number in the hundreds! When I was young I could only get a girl’s picture if she “liked” me and wanted to “go out” with me. Young men can now access endless pictures of girls that would never like them or go out with them. Some photos are fun and harmless; others are edgy and seductive. Do young girls realize the potential dangers in this? Would they be disgusted by Facebook stalkers pouring lustfully over their pictures? Are they too gullible to think this would happen? Or, do they find a subtle form of satisfaction in the possibility of guys enjoying their pictures?
Sometimes Facebook photos seem like self-portrait on steroids! It’s so easy to post hundreds of pictures of yourself! Why wouldn’t people want to see you in every possible pose? We must not allow Facebook photos to become an outlet for self-absorption.
I have no interest in projecting motives on anyone but merely offering these concerns for reflection between you and God (or, if you’re under your parents, between you, your parents and God).
A social media prayer
Before using social media, offer this prayer: “May the words of my mouth (or my fingers on the keys) and the meditation of my heart (or the photos I post) be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).
Questions for deeper reflection:
1. Do you check Facebook in the morning before checking in with God?
2. Are you disappointed when people don’t respond to your posts?
3. Do you waste too much time on Facebook?
4. Do you use Facebook to avoid real life contact?
5. Do you use Facebook for intimate conversation with the opposite sex under the guise of counseling?
6. Do you use Facebook to complain about life or people?
7. Are you always truthful and loving in the things you post?
See also: Facebook: Stop and think about it