I blog, tweet and post on Facebook daily. I also have a podcast with two other pastor friends. I regularly say things or post things that inspires, helps, encourages, challenges and sometimes offends. I am also a pastor. For some people, there is an expectation that this isn’t the work of the pastor. He should be doing something else with his time. In light of some conversations that I have had recently, I wanted to share with you why I am on social media.
First, God has granted me an audience. I don’t really talk about this publicly but between my blog, the podcast, Facebook and Twitter, several thousand people a month read, learn, engage or comment on the stuff I write or say. I have had numerous conversations with mentors, my elders and friends on what my social media presence means and what I ought to do with it. There is common consensus that this is part of my calling. It in no way keeps me from the other parts of my work. When you include all that I read, write, prep for preaching, meeting with people, leading and other pastoral work, there are many weeks when I work well over 50 hours a week (more if you ask my wife). I share this so you know that a small but significant part of my pastoral vocation is my writing. I do this and my other responsibilities.
Secondly, I engage in social media because I have something to say. I am a pastor in a time of religious and philosophical change that has not been witnessed since the reformation. I am watching the dismantling of rationality, truth, Judeo-Christian values, western civilization and the gospel itself right before my eyes. I very much feel like a watchman on the wall just trying to get the word out. I have no sense of grandiosity; I see what I see and feel compelled to keep what I see before anyone who will listen. I think you should expect from your pastor his best intellectual and biblical work on the issues of our times. If he says they are not important or he is not willing to share what he thinks then please encourage him to do so. This is no game. The well being of our culture and the eternities of countless men and women is dependent on pastors pastoring with their voice. My church and mentors have encouraged and freed me to speak. This is no small gift and I tend to steward it well.
Third, those who read what I write, engage me, respond to me, and/or argue with me are diverse in politics, ethnicity, religion and ethics. This is in part because I think it is quite unhelpful to write for and engage with only those who agree with me. I am looking for the truth and historically the truth has been found in engagement with those who think differently. More importantly, I want to model how to be kind while at the same time disagreeing. I want to show how I can be friends with people quite different than me. Some of the closest people in my life, see faith, politics and life differently than me. I think this reflects the heart of Jesus and it is a central value of my life as a Christian. I am modeling in my life how to do this; I don’t always get it right but I often do. The church and culture needs to (re)learn how to do this and I am trying as a pastor to show how.
Next, I want to model thinking. Historically, thinking has been accomplished by engaging those who see things differently than you and through conversation and dialogue arriving at a more vigorous view of the truth. Thinking publicly means that you have to risk thinking which means that occasionally you might get off track. Just in case it was a question, I am not that clever and not even close to always being right. I carry in my heart that I very well might be wrong. I have changed my mind on many things. I am not a pundit. I am a pastor-theologian-philospher. My goal in life isn’t just to tell you what is true but I want to show you how to arrive at what is true. This classical view of dialogue that I seek to do on social media can be uncomfortable and messy. This is no bad thing unless one thinks that everyone is thinking really well and I’m wasting my time, or if one thinks that a pastor should ‘stay in his lane’—Sunday mornings, funerals, and weddings. The first is impossible to believe and the second minimizes pastoral work. Only recently have pastors been relegated to an hour a week and then prescribed religious work like counseling and funerals. Just a few generations ago, pastors were the center of thinking, knowledge, philosophy, social justice (or not) and ethics for the whole community they served. Some of the most influential and important people in history since the resurrection have been pastors. This is not in spite of being pastors but because of it. I reject out of hand the reduction of the pastor’s responsibilities and so should you. Is the world or the church better spiritually, morally, or socially since the pastor has been reduced to a religious actor?
The fourth reason that I engage social media the way that I do is that I am doing my part to prophetically stand against the pastor as religious commodity. By this I mean the pastor who either by choice or outside pressure only does those things that will get the most applause from his audience. He keeps himself from anything that might hurt his image because image fills the seats and filled seats mean success. This means that a pastor has a professional self and a private self. He performs for his congregation and then is who he is with family and real friends. For the last generation of leaders, if you wanted to be successful in the United States as a pastor, this is the model you had to embrace. Like many things the church has embraced over the last 50-75 years, this is a radically new concept of a pastor. It might have filled seats but it did nothing to further the mission of Jesus.
I have little doubt that this public/private divide among pastors is a primary reason for the many public, moral falls of pastors over the last several years. When sin is hidden so that the show can go on, little things become big, church shattering things. It is also the primary reason why the epidemic of mental illness that is running rampant among church leaders can’t be talked about; it messes up the carefully crafted image. It is also one of the primary reasons that a large majority of pastors will not be pastors 5 years from now. It is a lonely, death-to-soul-kind-of-life when at church you have to put on a religious performance for the crowd. I reject this model as deadly for pastors and deadly for discipleship in the local church. I will have no part of it and we all should do our part to dismantle this way of the world that has infiltrated the church.
I am pouring my life into a local church community trying to show them the New Testament vision of church—making disciples who make disciples. I am interested in one thing: seeing a group of people who easily and with little effort do the things Jesus said to do. For this to be possible, we cannot pretend. If I am one person on Sunday, then another person on the internet and then another person at home, then what I am teaching those I lead is that this is normal and expected. It’s ok to pretend. Look, the pastor does it.
I have for the last several years made a conscious and intentional effort to be the same person in every area of life, flaws and all. Now my intention is to become more like Christ everyday and I am giving no excuse to my immaturity or sin but I am not going to hide it to impress anyone. I don’t need to. In fact, I am trying to show anyone who will listen that God deals with real people like me. If you watch my life, a fairly public one by choice, you will see a man who loves Jesus and is becoming like him more and more.
Finally, I have a sense of humor that I use for the sake of goodness that occasionally gets me in hot water. I find laughter in the ironic, the sardonic, and the absurd. It also is found in the valley of shadows. Laughter is medicine to the soul and keeps us sane as life flips upside down. Dallas Willard says that humor in the midst of the many incongruities of life is a sign of spiritual health. Well, then I am very healthy ;)!. Sometimes, it is all that I have had. But, it does stir the pot.
This is the point of humor. It is to show you something in a new better way. If you are overwhelmed, laughing at what it would look like to go nuts actually helps you stay steadfast. We need more humor and laughter in the world not less. It doesn’t always work but for many people it helps them to see and cling to what is true. If I say something that isn’t funny then I ask for grace. And if it is funny, laugh. Laughter is good for the soul.
This is why I use social media in the ways that I do. In fact, this is who I am as a pastor. I’m just trying to live out my calling and help whoever I can. This essay is probably a lot more than what you ever wanted to know about my vocational life but I do it as a way of clarity and transparency. I do it as an act of love. Many times, when we don’t know why something is the way that it is, we are forced to create our own narratives and often we are wrong; sometimes a little clarity can do more good than a thousand arguments.
You might not agree with my social media life or my pastoral life but what you see is real, earnest and thoughtful. I pray that this is a gift to you.
Thanks for reading.