A while back, Verily put out an article: Three Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Post Something on Social Media
The basic three questions are these:
- Is it useful?
- Is it truthful?
- Is it fruitful?
I had shared the article with other pastors because I thought that the three questions raised in the article are good guidelines for how we can interact with parishioners and one another online. In today’s vicious political climate and in the lead up to our own General Conference, I thought these questions would be good to revisit.
On the one hand, these questions help us to utilize social media and our web presence and be truly vulnerable. But I think they are also guidelines that allow us to be real without oversharing or crossing boundaries. These questions act as a filter for whatever content we might put forth – from our feelings on a basketball game to our opinion of a candidate to our experience of worship that morning.
Verily doesn’t have a Christian background, so I find it so interesting that fruitfulness is one of the criteria they use. And the very idea of promoting ourselves as a brand seems the very definition of inauthentic. However, we do have a persona, a public perception, that we are known by – whether as pastors or as church folk or as church bodies in general. The world sees us based on what we choose to put out there via blogs, websites, tweets, and posts. So, what are we saying?
Is it useful?
“if I think someone else will benefit intellectually, emotionally, or spiritually from my post, I’ll push it out.”
I think this could also be thought of as relevance. Is this something that my community should be aware of or are they already talking about it? I’ve long used the Barthian quote about having a bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other, and I think this usefulness question asks us to make connections with the lives of people and the gospel we proclaim. And, I think it invites us to look to the secular world and see where we can find insight that is good for the people of God, too. (like the article I’m referencing!) One of my hobbies is watching television shows and I am constantly discovering questions, insights, and realities of the human dilemma that we fail to talk about as a church. So occasionally I try to blog about where I see grace or the human condition or redemption in the media we consume in the secular world. If we aren’t paying attention to the world we live and breathe in, I think our posts will fail to be useful.
Usefulness also has to do with what we are trying to accomplish with our posts. Maybe we need to ask if the church will benefit intellectually, emotionally, or spiritually from our posts. Or, are we simply trying to stir the pot? Are we trying to build up the church or does our commentary simply serve to tear it apart? The same could be asked of our national conversations and politics.
Is it truthful?
“Is what I’m broadcasting… an accurate representation of who I am personally and professionally?”
While this item does have to do with actual facts, and we shouldn’t ever promote or share things that simply aren’t true, this point for me really is about whether something accurately represents me. I post about sports and food and family and friends because it is who I am. Yes, I am a pastor, but I am also a real, normal human being, just like others are. If my online pastoral persona is all about the church or if it is all about ministry, then I am painting a false image of what it means to serve God. I don’t create space for others to live their lives AND serve God, too.
The flip side of this is that ministry is a high calling and we commit to living according to higher standards. And as a colleague noted, perhaps as pastors we give up the right to a “private” life when we take on our calling.
Or perhaps, a different way to say it is that our lives as pastors are always under the microscope of public opinion. What we do, even in our private time, reflects our profession (whether we want it to or not). I hang out with a lot of non-churched people. They are at my house every Friday night, playing board games and ping pong. Even in that little microcosm of personal life, they don’t forget that I am also a pastor.
And so, if I can’t say it in front of colleagues or in front of the church, maybe I really shouldn’t say it… or at the very least not say it online. I find it much harder to remember this when I’m at home watching a basketball game and my team is down by 35 points.
Is it fruitful?
“Will what I’m sharing create something bigger or make an impact, whether in the form of an online debate or dollars for a charity?”
My colleague, Deborah Coble Wise, noted that this definition of fruitfulness is sometimes part of the problem: “When everything because a ’cause’ or a debate… does it lose the possibility of authentic relationship?”
How we, as the church, define fruitfulness is very different from the rest of the world. Sometimes, yes, it is about numbers and getting people on our side (if our side is the Kingdom). We could ask how this post could help make disciples of Jesus Christ and how it will help to raise money for a project we are working on.
But we also define fruitfulness in a lot of un-quantifiable ways. Will this post help us transform the world? Will it bring hope to someone? Will it spark a conversation? Will it create a deeper relationship or community? Will it impact the life of a youth?