I post or should I not?" I ask myself this when I'm thinking of posting a
particularly snarky religion-related Facebook status update that would
entertain my old seminary friends, go over my high school friends' heads and
unsettle some members of my congregation.

use Facebook daily in my work, but it wasn't designed as a ministry tool. As
the new movie The Social Network
shows, Mark Zuckerberg developed Facebook on a college campus with the social
networks of college students in mind. Now, as a pastor with 866 Facebook
"friends," I struggle with my mixed-up social networks.

I post a vacation picture or two, church members will post comments on them.
This is lovely and thoughtful of them, but it's also a reminder that even when
I'm on vacation I have a congregation waiting for me back home. (There are larger concerns about vacation posts as well.)

they began looking for a call to a church, many of my seminary classmates
combed their Facebook accounts and deleted photos, changed favorite quotes and
blanked out political affiliations so that pastor-seeking congregations would
not prejudge for or against them by their online identities. I even have
several pastor friends who maintain two Facebook profiles, one personal and one

ministry is a public calling, and in our social-media age this calling extends
to online identities and relationships. I laud the possibilities social media
presents and urge the church to use the tools for the kingdom. But just as
church-owned houses offer particular challenges to a pastor and family when
members drop in unannounced to fill the fridge with makings for the women's
tea, Facebook offers the challenge of unclear and ever-changing boundaries.
(For the record, Presbyterian Women of Hallock, Minnesota, this is not
something I fret over but just an example.)

becoming a pastor, I've adopted some different Facebook practices:

  • Though
    I am Facebook friends with several church youth, I only post to their public
    walls rather than sending private messages. (I do use the message function for
    messages to multiple youth and their parents.)
  • I
    rarely put up status messages; it's too difficult to write something with so
    many different audiences in mind.
  • My
    interactions on Facebook tend to be affirming and broad-minded rather than
    combative or controversial.
  • Whatever
    my privacy settings, I always assume that anything on Facebook could be read by
    anyone at any time.

I'm a huge fan of social
media, and Facebook sets the standard, at least for now. But it can be abused,
and it brings with it unintended consequences, especially for those in public

How do you approach
Facebook for public ministry and personal use? What challenges do you encounter
with social media? What are your Facebook best practices? 

Adam J. Copeland

Adam J. Copeland is director of the Center for Stewardship Leaders at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. His blog is part of the CCblogs network.

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