7 Ways Pastors Can Overcome Conflict in Social Media

social media conflictRecently, a pastor expressed a in a comment  his concerns about social media:

As a Pastor, social media is very dangerous for me in the sense that what I post, somebody will inevitably be offended (even if there is nothing clearly offensive in the matter). I find it challenging to post anything on Facebook without somebody managing to shoot me down or get upset. Relational engagement through social media, in my experience, tends to lead to people being able to tear another down in a safe way. Suddenly, it becomes much more confusing about the depth and significance of social media. When engaged in conversation through comments and the like, we often end up with people saying thing that would be “socially unacceptable” face to face. Suddenly, we begin wishing that people were hitting “Like” instead of adding a “Comment”

It saddens me to hear this, and unfortunately there are probably a lot of pastors who feel this way.

Is this how God wants the church to be? Where people don’t want to share what God is teaching them and doing them in their lives for fear of offending someone or starting an arguement? No, of course not.

The bible tells us…

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. -Hebrews 3:13

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching. -Hebrews 10:25

The hard truth is that if the people in your church think it’s OK tear others down online you probably have not only an ettiqute problem but also a heart problem.

But remember, pastors, you were not called to lead perfect people. You were called to shepherd people through the sanctification process, and help unruly heathens become like Jesus. This is an opportunity to do just that.  So, here are…

7 Steps to Developing a Healthy Online Culture

1) Set the ground rules up front.

If you’re setting up community space online like a blog, Facebook page, or discussion group, post the rules where they’re easy to find. Let people know that the space is being created to foster open discussion of ideas, and that personal insults, name-calling and mean-spirited arguments will not be tolerated. Posts or comments that go against these community standards will be removed and people may be banned.

2) Start with a series of posts about love.

Take a group of critical, argumentative people and teach them good manners and they may stop saying nasty things, but they will continue to think them. Jesus didn’t live to show us out to be courteous, he lived to show us how to love. He came to change hearts not just behavior, and that should be our focus as well.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered” This applies both online and offline.

3) Continue with a series of posts about online etiquete.

I frequently hear people say that people will say things online they would never say to someone face-to-face. I’ll be honest that I don’t get this. But I suppose people need to be reminded to think before they post:

  • Would you say this to their face?
  • Would you want it reprinted in the newspaper?
  • Would you want your mother to see that?
  • What would Jesus Do? (Cliche perhaps, but  seriously, could you see Jesus posting that?)

4) Set a positive tone.

Pastor, people will generally follow your lead when it comes to tone and attitude. If you are argumentative or condescending toward those who don’t agree with you on something, others will be too. If you give people the benefit of the doubt, ask clarifying questions, treat people with respect and agree to disagree most other people will as well.

5) Give serious thought to what you post.

I could write a whole post (or 2) on this. Oh wait, I already did. ;) See 18 Ways Pastors Can Ruin their Reputation on Facebook  and 8 Things Pastors SHOULD Do on Facebook.

6) Have a thick skin.

No matter how wise you are about the way you use social media, some people are going to get offended, some will question your judgement, and some will disagree. It’s OK. God loves you. That is enough. You don’t need everyone to like you or agree with you. You don’t need to prove yourself or get in the last word.

7) Address offenses privately.

If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. -Matthew 18:15

This is just as true online as offline. If someone behaves inappropriately online, don’t call them out or correct them publicly. Send them a private message. And when you do, try to do it as a brother in Christ not as imperial ruler of the online universe. You might say something like, “Hey John, I saw your comment on the article the Hellenistic Period. To me it sounds a bit harsh and could be perceived as condescending. That’s not what you intended is it? Perhaps you’d like to delete that comment and repost your thoughts in a kinder tone.”

Discussion

  • Pastors, are you hesitant to use social media because you’re concerned it will lead to arguments and offended parishioners or do you know some pastors who are?
  • Do you think it’s the pastor’s responsibility to create a culture in the church he leads where ideas can be discussed without fear and people can disagree without being disagreeable? Why or why not?
  • What have you done (or what are you doing) to create that kind of culture at your church?

Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of OurChurch.Com, elder of CypressMeadows.org, husband, father of 3, blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @PaulSteinbrueck and add him to your circles at Google+ as +Paul Steinbrueck.

13 Responses to “7 Ways Pastors Can Overcome Conflict in Social Media”

  1. Wow. This really puts a lot of things into perspective. I'm struggling through the whole "Have Thick Skin" part. I'm fairly sensitive at times (and am fully aware of it) and tend to be a people pleaser. Yet it's God I need to be pleasing, not people. What a challenge.

    I really appreciate this blog Paul. It's put a lot of things into perspective for me, so thank you. I'll be reading it over a few times the next few days as I consider my new approach to social media. Thank you!!

    • PaulSteinbrueck Aug 13, 2012 at 6:14 am

      Hey Terry, you're welcome. Glad to hear you found it helpful. After you've had a chance to think things through, I'd love to hear more about what you decide to do differently. And down the road I'd love to hear any stories you might have of how your new approach made a difference.

      • Hey Paul, wanted to give a quick update. I've started using Facebook more frequently to connect with people in my church and community. Mostly taking the approach of posting things that are positive and encouraging. Soon I will be putting a disclaimer under my profile that any debates or arguments are subject to be removed. Outside of that, I've been focusing very specifically on two different things.

        1) I'm posting things that are very "me" (mostly funny things that are positive, not offensive) while always being mindful of how they'll be interpreted.
        2) Creating posts that are positive, challenging, and encouraging, while not being too "churchy". I'm already noticing a difference. Here's how:

        I'm finding that people are much more relaxed, enjoyable, and extremely positive as a whole when commenting and interacting. They seem to be behaving differently with me (in a good way) in person! It's allowed me to feel a lot more relaxed and less two-faced (ok, I wasn't being two-faced but I got that sensation that I had to hide myself). Sure, I don't openly post what movies I watch, what music I listen to, or what things interest me because *somebody* will have a problem, but I'm being real. In return, it's been easier to connect with other teens, chat with adults and parents, and I'm noticing I'm being perceived differently in the short little bit. Hope to fill you in even more in the coming weeks. Your blog is having an impact. Thank you Paul!

        • PaulSteinbrueck Aug 14, 2012 at 11:50 am

          That's awesome, Terry. Glad to hear you made some intentional challenges in the way you engage others in social media, and I'm really excited to hear about the way others have responded. I think and hope that as you continue to develop good repore online, you'll be able to be more and more open including sharing an occasional post about a movie or music, occasionally challenging people a little more spiritually. As you do that, you'll find other people more willing to be open with you about what's really going on with them.

          Keep up the good work! I look forward to hear more!

          • Slowly integrating more and more things into my FB connections. So far, so good. Actually, there have been more and more laughs, light-heartedness, and healthy connections being built. People ARE being consistently more open. It's hard not for me to want to run away and hide at points, and I'm still pretty guarded in some ways, but I'm also being as encouraging as possible. Probably… being "transparent, but not crystal clear"… or at least a step or two back from that.

            Progress! Huge progress! The rapport is being built and connections are growing. I hope and pray it continues as it has been!

          • PaulSteinbrueck Aug 23, 2012 at 12:23 pm

            Awesome Terry! I love, love, love hearing your updates! :)

            Do you have any stories you can share where you've been able to minister to someone or perhaps seen spiritual growth in someone because of the connection you've made on social media? For example, maybe someone has seen you engaging in a friendly way with people and as a result felt safe enough to send you a private message asking you to pray about or help them with something they're struggling with? Or maybe because of something you wrote or posted, someone posted a comment saying they were going to study the bible more, serve in some new way, share their faith with someone or something along those lines?

            If not, no problem. Eventually I'd like to do another blog post (with your permission) to tell the story of your progress in social media. And I think what would really hit home with many pastors would be to see tangible steps forward in people's journey of faith.

          • Well, I've specifically found with one teen, it's built some great bridges there. Someone who I've been going for coffee with on and off, but because of Social Media we've been able to maintain a strong relationship. He recently got dumped by his girlfriend, which is extremely challenging for a teen (or anyone, really). Most people were telling him to just get over it because "there are more fish in the sea". Because of Social Media, I was able to spend quite a bit of time helping him, not on the premise of a "Youth Pastor", but as a true "friend" through Facebook.

            He's doing much better now. The grieving of the relationship is passing. I guess if I look into what happened, I realize that through Social Media, I transcended "That Youth Pastor" and became "My Friend" to this guy. I think that's real ministry there. If these things can happen (and continue to), then I've decided that I should continue with what I've learned so far in approaching this stuff and using it for relationship and ministry. When you move beyond "opinions" and move into "relationship" by using Social Media as a tool, a lot of things are possible.

            I would have no problem with you doing a blog post about my story of progress. I'd love it, to be honest. It's been a real journey for me. Sometimes I honestly want to turn tail and run, but with the relationships I've been building that have gone beyond seeing me for coffee once a month to "I can talk to him online, message him, and he's there for me as a true friend", I refuse to flee. Nothing is worth these precious relationships. Suddenly, it all doesn't feel like I'm doing ministry as work. Instead, I realize that I've built a lot of friendships and can talk on deeper levels more easily. It's amazing. Truly, amazing.

          • PaulSteinbrueck Aug 23, 2012 at 1:18 pm

            That's neat Terry. Thanks for sharing that. I'll write something up using the comments you've left here and give you the opportunity to review it and request changes before its published.

          • Was going to tweet you, but this has more characters.

            As my boss has been away, I've been playing around with some social media (using some information from a few articles on this site). Our reach has risen from 20 to 124 as of the last post. Using it to link into Sundays. To try to foster conversation (people are getting more comfortable). Even using my own personal Facebook to develop a positive atmosphere that encourages others to be careful with what they post, and to post for the purpose of conversation.

            This has led to some great conversations, some mild conflicts that were *healthy*, and has given me a lot of hope in what I'm able to use social media for. There are quite a few people that believe Facebook is the spawn of the devil but like anything, it's how it's used.

            I can drive a car and hurt others with it, or I can drive responsibly and be a healthy contributor to those driving on the roads and highways. Either way, I'm responsible for my actions and what that brings across to others. No, it doesn't come across right all the time. Yes, I make mistakes. In a sense, it's easier for me to respond with an apology and a proper interpretation online than it is for me to try to explain to a person driving another car that I'm genuinely sorry.

            So things are looking good, and they're on the up and up! Thanks for everything Paul!

          • PaulSteinbrueck Aug 2, 2013 at 9:36 am

            Awesome Terry! It's great to hear of your ongoing engagement with people through social media. And I agree with you that social media is a tool that can be used for good or evil just like any other tool like a car, or a website or hand-written letters.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 7 Ways Pastors Can Overcome Conflict in Social Media - Aug 9, 2012

    [...] Reading: 7 Ways Pastors Can Overcome Conflict in Social Media Posted in Uncategorized Food for Thought on the Bible, Hell and Universalism from one of the [...]

  2. » 7 Ways Pastors Can Overcome Conflict in Social Media | Christian … - Aug 9, 2012

    [...] 7 Ways Pastors Can Overcome Conflict in Social Media | Christian … Go to this article [...]