However, social media also has the potential to consume your time, kill actual relationships with real people and divert your attention from things that matter. So, from the perspective of a pastor, how can we redeem social media? How can we manage it well, so that it doesn't manage us? While this is by no means an exhaustive list, here are four principles that I've thought through recently and have found to be helpful.
1. Get rid of notifications. One of the benefits of social media is the immediacy of it. News travels faster, and sooner, via Twitter than any other method ever known. With that said, immediacy often can translate into an unnecessary sense of urgency. If you are not careful you will find yourself thinking that you always have to be available, and always be ready with a reply. The truth is, most of what you see/reply to can wait. To make this happen, I eliminated the notification options from Facebook and Twitter. I still have both of them on my phone; I just don't get emails or notifications anymore. This helps me to respond when I have time, and not when everyone else responds to me.
2. Get away, while not getting away. I have found that having occasional periods where I get away from social media is good for my soul. Rest is always helpful, and resting from social media is no different. I want to be certain that I control my social media habits, not vice versa. Now, those who know me might be surprised to hear that because it often seems like I'm always online. This is where good social media tools come in handy. Through the benefit of software like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite I am able to schedule updates, and I regularly use this feature. I will take a day's break from social media and schedule a number of updates to post to Twitter and/or Facebook while I'm gone. This allows me consistently to update Gospel coaching information, which I think is one of the great values of social media, while personally getting away from it all. So get away, while not getting away.
3. Real people come first. By this I don't mean that people online are not real people. I do, however, think that face-to-face interaction with people will always trump every other method of communication. So, when face to face, dump the social media. No checking up on your status, looking for replies or "likes," no updating the latest bit of news, while you are conversing with others. I'll admit: I often fail at this. Social media should always be a means to enhancing and/or fostering relationships with people that are physically present around you. Don't sacrifice that, then, for the sake of your online presence.
4. Embrace the dichotomy. Classic media sources were all about "the news." They were professional, precise and rarely revealed anyone's personal lives, unless that is, the personal life was newsworthy. Social media, however, is seen by many people as exactly the opposite. They view it as narcissism run amok. It is the pinnacle of arrogance, they might say, to assume that others are interested, or should be interested, in the mundane realities of your everyday life. The truth is, however, that social media stands somewhere between the two, maintaining a unique dichotomy. It is personal, no doubt, but it's also more effective as a news vehicle than any sort of classic model. With that said, embrace both realities.
I love social media because it allows me to engage people in my church on a much more consistent basis than I ever would apart from it. I also love it because I am able to extend the pulpit throughout the week as I attempt to provide gospel coaching to the people God has given me to shepherd. However, it's also a blast because I get to share with people how amazing my wife is, how incredible my daughters are and how much fun my favorite sports teams are to root for. The truth is, this side of me might often be one that many in my church would never see. If not for this helpful medium the pastor would continue to be viewed as this unapproachable truth teller that exists in a different world than the average guy. Social media helps them to learn otherwise. It shows that I'm a bit of a mess, relying on grace like they are. That is a huge benefit in the corner of social media. So, embrace the dichotomy. Recognize it for what it is, and use it as much as possible, within that tension. You and the people you lead will be better for it.
Micah Fries is pastor of Frederick Boulevard Baptist Church in St. Joseph, Mo. This column first appeared at his website, MicahFries.com.
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