By Mark Dance
There are two unhealthy responses to social media that pastors should steer clear of: addiction and avoidance. Let’s take a moment to review the consequences of these negative responses before we consider the better path of social media stewardship.
Social Media Avoidance
Pastors should go wherever their people are, and most of your people are online. They’re there almost every day—the old and the young, the sheep and the goats, the friendly and the not so friendly.
Pastors who aspire to connect with all of the generations represented in their church and community will seek them out on their own digital turfs between Sundays. One big challenge to doing this, however, is that your people are not all using the same social media platform. For this reason, it’s a good idea to stay modestly engaged on more than one channel.
You’re not going to take your people away from technology, so meet them where they are instead of where you want them to be.
I began reluctantly engaging my people on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram soon after those platforms became established. Gen Zs are using YouTube and Snapchat, so this is territory I need to explore more.
Social Media Addiction
Since social media can be either our ally or our enemy, it’s hard to diagnose addictions. Too many pastors and church leaders lose their way in a dark hole of pornography, gambling, or simply living a social media shadow life. Technology can do a lot for us, but it can also do a lot to us.
Digital dependence happens when our smartphones become weapons of mass distraction, disconnection, and destruction. Social media addiction affects our mental and spiritual health, which eventually will impact those within our spheres of influence.
South Korea, Singapore, and China are working to address internet addiction. China was surprisingly the first to label it as a clinical disorder in 2008, saying it was a top threat to their teenagers (IAD – Internet Addiction Disorder).
By now, you may be wondering whether you’re a slave or a steward of social media, so here are some self-diagnosing questions to help:
- How many hours per week do you currently spend online?
- Are you easily baited into a social media quarrel?
- Have others complained about your internet use?
- How close is your online identity to your real-life identity?
- Does social media strengthen or inhibit your relationships?
Social Media Stewardship
Most pastors see social media as a natural extension of their life and ministry. Since people naturally want to connect with their pastor(s), they’ll follow or friend them online, which is an excellent opportunity to shepherd and disciple more people.
Although social media ministry doesn’t replace life-on-life ministry, it does allow us to supplement and broaden it.
Here are some of the practical ways I’ve seen people practice social media stewardship well:
1. Set time limits.
Experts suggest taking a break every 90 minutes. Losing track of time can easily lead to losing track of relationships and other priorities. Be careful not to confuse sharing a screen with sharing a life.
2. Limit notifications.
Unlike computers, our brains have been designed to do one thing at a time, so I suggest you set your notifications to the mere minimum—calls and texts. If you have an Apple Watch, I suggest you throw it into the nearest body of water.
3. Silence your phone.
When you’re talking to someone in person, put your phone on airplane mode, in your pocket, or at the very least, lay it face down. Social media stewards learn to disconnect online to reconnect with those offline.
4. Ask for help.
There’s a difference between setting boundaries and reinforcing them. Asking for help may be as simple as sharing your goals and boundaries with an accountability partner or spouse.
You may want to consider getting help in a clinic or church where people can help you to identify your addiction triggers: boredom, loneliness, sin, self esteem, anger, and fear.
Social media stewardship isn’t practicing perfectionism, but neither is it giving into stubborn avoidance or the stronghold of addiction.