By Daniel Darling
“… And he’s a pastor!”
I hear this phrase almost every week about a pastor’s online activity—namely, their treatment toward another human being through harsh speech. It’s almost as if we get behind a keyboard or touchscreen and forget our calling as heralds of God’s Word, shepherds of God’s people.
Today there are many ways for pastors to disqualify—or at least embarrass—themselves, but few are as easy and fatal as social media. One friend of mine remarked recently that before looking for a church, Christians should check a pastor’s social media feed. That’s good advice.
Pastors—particularly when we have that label in our social media bio—can make or break the opinion of seekers or cynics when it comes to representing Christ well in our interactions. And a pastor who displays a critical spirit or ill will toward those not in their tribe can quickly discourage other believers on Twitter.
So what are some critical mistakes pastors can make on social media? Here are six of the most common ones we should avoid.
1. Pretending to be a conservative news pundit
You might be conservative in your politics. And though we might use our platforms to speak out on important issues, we can send the wrong message if every single tweet or Facebook post is talking points from right-wing media.
What’s more, pastors sometimes ape the tone of some of the most partisan commentators in ways that communicate a lack of Christian kindness and civility. Speak out, but remember, you’re a pastor, not a pundit.
2. Pretending to be a liberal news pundit
OK, maybe you’re the pastor who’s determined not to be a right-leaning news pundit. Good. But being the anti-conservative critic of everything conservative is a bad look as well.
It’s important to speak out on issues and be prophetic against troubling issues among evangelicals. But doing this nonstop online and doing it in a condescending way can alienate the people we’re called to serve.
So be wise. Be prophetic. But again: Remember you’re a shepherd and not a pundit.
3. Being a troll
I’m distressed by the number of pastors online who are just constantly dogging other Christians, writing up half-truths and leveling accusations against well-known Christians.
We need discernment and public polemics against false teaching, but there’s a difference between a winsome, tearful rebuke and engaging in the kind of behavior Paul tells Timothy is disqualifying for Christian leaders: “not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome” (1 Timothy 3:3).
4. Endorsing questionable teachings or teachers
I want to be careful here, because some who fit the previous category would consider anyone who doesn’t agree with them to be a false teacher. And yet there are heretical teachings and unbiblical ideas pastors shouldn’t only avoid endorsing, but should warn their people against.
We often forget that when we’re online, we’re still in public. People are reading, listening, and watching. What we give our full-throated endorsement to can often lead folks to confusion.
We need to be wise and practice discernment.
5. Being a jerk
I don’t really know a kinder way to say this, but pastors who act like jerks online are putting their ministry at risk. What’s more, they’re dishonoring the name of Christ in doing so. Pastors who act like jerks online are opening up a window into what kind of leader they might be and are potentially turning off those who might be interested in visiting their church.
And it’s not enough to chalk it up to “He’s a bit over the top on social.” It’s good and right for pastors to engage on social media, to speak out on important issues, and to share scriptural truths.
But pastors should do this with the same care they would if they were speaking to a public gathering of their own congregation. James 3 reminds us of the sober responsibility of Bible teachers and the weight of our words. They can either bring life or bring death.
6. Passing on misleading or incomplete information
I’m amazed at how often pastors will post or share articles that are often misleading, especially if they confirm biases. James 1:19 says we should be “slow to speak,” and Philippians 4:8 says we should pursue the truth.
It would be better to hold off on that post and wait to make sure we’ve got the story right before we post something that may advance a narrative that isn’t true. If we’re tasked with handling the truth of the Word of God, we shouldn’t be flippant about distinguishing between what’s true and what’s fake news online.
Remember, pastor: Before they come to your church, they might come to your timeline. We must steward our words well. But before we can do that, we must ask the Lord to search our hearts.
DANIEL DARLING (@dandarling) is vice president of communications for NRB, and teaching and discipleship pastor at Green Hill Church in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. He is the author of several books, including A Way with Words.