Every pastor and teacher wants to be able to get through to their audience. A lot of work goes into preparation and presentation. To present a message and declare it to be the word of God for a specific people at a specific time and in a specific situation takes confidence in hearing from God and putting all of the pieces together in just the right way.
Some pastors have it easy. The congregation hangs on their every word and their people pledge ever to walk the path their leader shines before them. I don’t know if that is normal, but it doesn’t seem to be. Instead pastors agonize over the message, hoping to reach someone with the power of the Word of God for their lives.
What a great day when the connection finally clicks. Not a cultish type of following, but a simple desire to hear the direction of God through His anointed messenger. You finally have their attention. They truly desire to learn from you and follow your example.
Having earned such a place in their lives there is something we pastors have to keep in mind. We have reached a position of influence. How careful are we to protect that influence as we control what we put in front of those who are looking to us to lead?
Don’t Get Caught in the Trap
Pastors are people, too. I know. It doesn’t sound right. Either we believe that pastors are super-people who aren’t fazed by the normal world because they aren’t really a part of it, or we think so little of the calling that we don’t give their lives a second thought.
Over the past few weeks I have found myself dumb-founded by what pastors and Christian leaders put out for the world to see. Like it does to so many, social media calls out for pastors to put every tidbit of their lives online. Where are you? Who are you with? Did you “check in” at that restaurant or movie theater? Have a review of the newest action film you want to share with the world?
Pastors, leaders, allow me to let you in on a secret. Some things should not be shared over the internet. Wow; another life-changer there. But the truth is, not everything that goes through your head should pass through your Facebook or Twitter account.
I understand that we have this belief that if it pops in our head we have to say it. We get that from all of the time we spend in the pulpit. We take it as inspiration from the Holy Spirit. As we share God’s message to His people we allow those random thoughts to run out of our mouth in hopes that it will speak to someone.
But social media has taught us that we have to share with the world every time we get a funny idea, a good one-liner or a song stuck in our head. What happens when we give in to those urges without restraint? Shouldn’t we be filtering those ideas through the Bible, or at least what it means for the name of Jesus Christ and those looking to us learn what following Him looks like?
Two examples stick out to me. They are real life examples, taken from people that I admire for their contributions as pastors and leaders.
The first one seemed like an innocent joke. A pastor was dropping a colleague off at an airport. Both have a great sense of humor, are extremely creative, and love God with all of their hearts. One of them saw a sculpted, smiling Buddha and decided to take a selfie with him and post on Facebook. It was just a harmless picture meant to lighten someone’s day. This pastor wasn’t bowing down or praying to the statue. There weren’t any chants or incense. What harm could there be in this “cute” image?
Yet I was mortified. Here was a respected pastor and leader. Everyone who knows this person, and many do, knows they are a pastor. Every person who follows that pastor on Facebook considers them to be a godly, spiritual role model. And now they all think posing with a Buddha is cute and harmless, even though, really, it is an idol.
But did that go through anyone’s head? Even once? Did that pastor stop and think, “What will people think about this?” Who was there to say, “Dude, that’s an idol. Probably not a good idea.” All of those filters were off, and yet I can’t be the only one who had those red lights blaring in the back of my head when I saw the picture. If ever I needed a “Dislike” button of Facebook, that was the day.
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I bumped into the second one just this morning. (I sometimes write a week or two in advance, so you won’t find it if you go looking for it.) I was going to post an image to Instagram of a Scripture as I do from time to time. When I opened the app on my phone I was distracted by another post by someone else.
The poster was a well-known pastor but has shifted gears to work in technology and other ways of connecting Christians. He’s a gifted speaker, an author, and a social media machine with thousands of followers. I respect him a lot, but I can’t follow him anymore.
What made me unfollow this Christian leader? He posted an image of the song he was listening to. It had a catchy title. But the album art had something on it that should’ve made this leader think twice about his post. It was an explicit content warning label. I mean, here is a guy who is followed by Christians, many of them in an age group where convictions and standards are up for grabs, and he posts an album that has explicit content in it.
Do you understand the kind of conversations that starts? “But, Dad. This guy posted that he’s listening to the album, and he used to be a pastor. Why can’t I listen to it?” Who would want to be responsible for making that conversation happen? So, disappointed and frustrated, I unfollowed this leader.
It’s Always On
Do you know why this is important to me? I stand for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I strive, labor and agonize over leading people to knowing Jesus Christ and glorifying God with the whole of their lives. I’m still considered young and inexperienced. I minister in a small church in a shrinking community in the middle of nowhere. Influence does not come easy for me. So when I finally get to the place that people are paying attention, I have to make sure that everything they see and hear points to God.
It’s a lesson I have learned the hard way. Those times I have failed at this in the past break my heart often. If what I’m doing leads people away from the life, hope and power of God, I have to answer for that one day.
James made it plain when he wrote:
Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly. (James 3:1 NLT)
And don’t forget Jesus’ own warning:
“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.” (Mark 9:42 NKJV)
Pastors and leaders, stop and think before you post. We tell it to people all the time. The internet is not a journal; it is an open book. It comes back to haunt you. Be careful what you put online for the world to see.
If you can’t help yourself, let me offer you this advice. Separate your personal life from your professional life online. I do this by having a personal Facebook account for people I know and a Facebook “Page” for ministry and blogging. My Twitter and Google+ accounts are strictly for ministry.
Once you get it engaged, the Influence Switch is always on. You can’t turn it off any more than Paris Hilton or Angelina Jolie can. People are looking to you know what it is like to be a Christian in a non-Christian world, to be light in darkness and to be the salt of the earth. The cliché says, “Someone is always watching.” So think twice before you post. You don’t want to have to answer for it later.