|Shepherding and Social Media|
|By Ted Cunningham|
Bill Rogers is a retired pastor in our congregation who has faithfully served us as an elder for many years. He's a mentor I love and respect deeply. We kid each other often about the differences between ministry today and fifty years ago. Most of his early sermons are lost forever, but mine stick around to haunt me digitally until Jesus returns. Bill's pastorate didn't include the internet or mobile devices. Mine takes into regular account the effects of social media on the mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual well-being of our congregation.
The internet changed everything. I'll admit some of the changes were beneficial, but others have had a negative impact. Social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram do have the potential to hurt your family and damage your reputation. Caution is advisable when posting pictures and thoughts online. Everything you say and do is repeatable, shareable, and re-tweetable. Even a joke can backfire and harm your children and friendships. We all need to guard our online presence and our homes from temptation.
Social media can also keep us connected longer than we need to be. This takes a toll on our health. People don't come home from work anymore and unplug. Instead, we surf the web late into the night. And when we're constantly linked to others, it's virtually impossible to experience true solitude. The constant bombardment of information decreases empathy and drains us emotionally.
Social media can also increase the temptation to sin. Spouses are at risk of connecting with old boyfriends or girlfriends and potentially destroying their marriages. Temptations of this kind show up frequently in our counseling sessions. A spouse posts a comment seeking validation for a feeling, and next thing you know there's a private message from someone who starts flirting. Song of Songs 2:15 says, "Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom." Social media is a little fox that with a little feeding becomes a big predator. Temptation is not sin, so catch it early, and do something about it before you sin.
Proverbs 2:11 tells us, "Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you." The definition of discretion is "behaving or speaking in such a way as to avoid causing offense or revealing private information." You don't have to be online long to see that many people don't use discretion when interacting with others or sharing personal information.
As you consider these facts and minister to the fatigue that social media creates for many in your congregation, don't forget about your own use of the internet. When you go home, let your house be the place where you disconnect from the world and the daily grind. Limit your personal social media usage. Surfing Facebook or Twitter keeps you connected physically, relationally, and emotionally to friends, work, and responsibilities. This, in turn, has the potential to wear you down. So guard your online activity, and in the process you will guard your soul.