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By Jonathan Howe

In days of yore, we followed current events through newspapers, radio, and television. In our current digital landscape, those industries look to social media for the latest information—and so do we. Social media is ubiquitous in our culture. We use it; our employers use it; our parents use it; our kids use it.

Over the past year, I’ve written a great deal about how you and your church can use social media most effectively. I’ve also shared insight into the common mistakes that are made. Today, I turn to practices to avoid altogether as well as helpful ways to keep from falling into their traps.

While these may seem to be general in nature, the application of these guidelines for pastors and church leaders can make a difference in how effectively you shepherd and minister to those under your care. The simple act of adjusting how you engage others online can dramatically alter your ministry effectiveness.

  1. Over posting. This most often manifests itself when someone comments on everything everyone else posts. They are the person who comments on all your pictures or replies to all your tweets. It’s good to be engaged with your network of friends online, but it’s also helpful to know the limits for engagement. The simple solution is to reply only when you are adding value to something that’s already been said. If you’re just agreeing, a simple like or favorite will suffice. There’s no need to comment on everything. Simply be more selective in how much you interact.
  2. Sharing bad information. Of these five items, this is the most frustrating to me. As leaders in our churches, we are seen as trusted providers of truth. By sharing false information, bad stats, or fake news, our credibility is harmed and trust in us is lost. A solution here is to always verify what you’re sharing before you share it. And, as the old adage goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  3. Humble bragging. This may be an unfamiliar term to some, but it was so prevalent online a few years back, even the New York Times devoted some ink to its rise. The humble brag usually has good intentions but often rubs readers the wrong way. An innocent tweet about “being tired after speaking at four conferences across the country this week” may be honest, but to some, it could be read as “look how important I am.” To avoid this, just consider the potential message your tweets or Facebook updates may be sending.
  4. Pastoralizing everything. This is often referred to as a “Jesus juke”—a term popularized (and possibly coined) by Jon Acuff. Turning everything you see or say online into a sermonette, Bible reference, or spiritual encouragement might seem like a good idea, but it often just comes off as forced and insincere. There are times for spiritual commentary, but when someone comments on his/her excitement over a sports team winning a game, that’s probably not the best time to quote Hebrews. Pastoral comments are most effective in pastoral moments.
  5. Polarizing politics. As this election (finally) comes to a close, I’ve heard from more than a few pastors and congregants who are relieved. This has been one of the most divisive election cycles in recent memory, and much of that division has been sown over social media. It’s good to remember there are Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and probably a few Libertarians in your pews. We could all use a little more Ephesians 4:29 online—myself included.

Do you find yourself falling into these traps? How do you guard against them online?

Jonathan Howe serves as Director of Strategic Initiatives at LifeWay Christian Resources, the host and producer of Rainer on Leadership and SBC This Week. Jonathan writes weekly at on topics ranging from social media to websites and church communications. Connect with Jonathan on Twitter at @Jonathan_Howe.

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