Friday, August 1, 2014

1166: A Pastoral Letter

1166. I'm not blowing my own horn, but that number has some significance in my life.  That's the number of friends I have on Facebook.  Now before you say, "That arrogant so and so..." and stop reading, let me tell you why I'm doing this.  It's not that I have that many super close friends, I'm really not that popular, but that is the number of people I have the potential to make contact with by just a few clicks of the keyboard.  That's big.  Why?  It can either do great good...or it can do great harm...and it can do good or harm en masse.

I'm a fan of social media, let me just go on record saying that now.  It's allowed me to reconnect with people I haven't seen in over 20 years.  It allows me to stay in contact with my flock.  It also allows me to invite nearly 1200 people to church every week.  That's pretty cool.  Imagine how long it would have taken to reach that number of people just 50 years ago.  It's powerful...but what is it "they" say about power?  "With great power comes great responsibility."  True, true.

So, in the style of pastoral guidance, let me offer some suggestions about social media.  I'm not the first to address this, and certainly won't be the last.  I'm also not the first to address it from a pastoral angle.   I'll also confess that I have been guilty of some of the very things I'm about to discuss, so...Lord have mercy...Christ have mercy.  Here we go.

#1  "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me."  BUMPKIS!  Words do hurt, and the wounds they cause go deep.  When something is posted on social media in the heat of the moment, whatever that moment may be, all it takes is for a few eyes to see it and it spreads like wildfire.  What does wildfire do?  It burns like hell.  Before you hit "post" stop and take a breath.  Think about who may see what you just wrote and about the collateral damage it may cause.  Then decide if it's really worth it.  99% of the time it won't be.

#2  Facebook is not the OK Corral.   It is not the place to air out your personal grievances.  Why?  A couple reasons.  One, nobody needs to know.  And two, and please don't take this wrong, but most folks really won't care.  The ones who will are already looking to start something anyhow and will be more than happy to spread your private life all over cyber creation.  So you had a fight with your girlfriend...I'm sorry it happened, but calling her a bunch of trashy names on Facebook is just going to make you look petty and childish.  Grow up, for crying out loud, and handle your differences like adults.  Face to face, and in private.  Who knows, you just might save a relationship.

#3  Save the drama for your mama.  This is just a personal observation, but I have enough drama in my life without being slammed with yours.  It's not that I don't care, really I do...I care about all of the folks on my friends list.  I care greatly about my flock as well.  When they hurt, I hurt...honest.  Here's what I've noticed, though.  There is evidently a certain type of personality, and I wish I had paid more attention in Psychology class in college, but evidently this type of personality craves the attention that is given when personal drama is poured out over cyperspace.  I wish I understood more about the inner workings of that kind of thinking.  Alas, I don't.  To reinforce the importance of #3, refer back to #1 and #2.
Don't be that type of personality.  If you're hurting, or have been hurt, please... please... please... reach out to someone, or several someones, but maybe a private message to a select group would bring better and more positive results than painting your page with negativity.

#4  TMI... Practical aspects aside, too much information is, well, just too much information. Forget about the potential criminal surfing facebook to see the vacation pics you posted 2 minutes ago from 1200 miles away, (Do the math, they can get to your house way before you can)...I don't need to see pictures of your puss filled staph wound, nor do I personally need details about your love life, what you ate for dinner, or who ticked you off in the checkout line.   While those things are important...again, refer to #1 and #2...they're important, but most of the time, also very private.  Now, you could say things like, "Well, just don't look..."  "It's my page, I'll post what I want..." or my personal favorite, "Well, if you don't like it, just unfriend me."  Easy, tiger.  Let's don't get hasty.  Some things are just better left unsaid and kept at home.  Which leads me to #5.

#5   "Just because I can post it, doesn't mean I should."  I wish I had come up with that, but I didn't.  I heard them first from a colleague from Florida.  That one really doesn't require much explanation.  You're absolutely right, it's your page and you can post whatever you want (as long as Facebook allows it) and you're also right in saying I don't have to look.  But that's not the point.  The point is, there is power in that "enter" button or that "post" icon.  Once those words are gone, they're gone.  You can delete them, but more than likely you can't do it quick enough to keep SOMEBODY from seeing it, and that somebody may be the one person who needed to see it the least.  Then the damage is done and there is little chance of undoing it.

Ok, so there's five ways social media can bring harm to someone's life.  But...It's not all bad.  Personally, I love Facebook.  I'm more careful about posting things about my personal life on there now, but if I see something that I think is funny (remember, I have a sort of warped sense of humor) I may post it.  If it offends, I apologize.  That was not my intention.  Here's the brutal truth though...and I'm doing this in the spirit of transparency...those 5 things above...I'm guilty of all of them at some point.  For those it offended, I apologize.  I think I have matured some over the last few years...ok a little...ok maybe somedays...ok...every now and then...but I'm trying.  Now I try to think about how what I'm typing will be taken and how it will affect the ones who see it.  I don't always get it right, though.

Facebook can be a great thing.  It can be fun.  It can be a great ministry tool.  It's a great way to veg out for a few minutes (just a few, though).  But every good thing, if used for the wrong reasons, can be dangerous.

So, what can we do?

Take some time to think about what you're typing.  Do you really want to say what you're saying?  I mean, really want to say what you're saying?  If not...don't.

Change your password on a regular basis to lessen the chance someone will hack your account.

Change your settings so that you personally have to see and approve any item that is posted to your page. Unless you've changed the default, probably any one of your friends can post anything to your page without your permission.  This should not be so.

Change your settings so that you can't be tagged by just anybody, also.  Nothing can start a fight quicker than you going to the grocery store, but being tagged by some blonde at a restaurant by mistake (unless your wife is blonde and y'all are at a restaurant after you go to the grocery).

Oh, and here's a thought.  Pray about it.  I know... "What??!!  Pray about a facebook post???!!!"  Why not? I'll bet you prayed over the final four.  Oh snap, Jamie, you didn't go there!

Bottom line is this.  Social media can be one of the greatest things to happen in the last 50 years, or it can be one of the worst...depending on which side you're on of who's posting what.  As a pastor, it has been one of my best tools, and one of my worst enemies.  It has helped me do ministry in a way I would have never thought possible 7 years ago, but at the same time, it has caused me more stress and sleepless nights than most things in my ministry.

So, facebook friends, I'm so glad we connected or reconnected.  I love keeping up with what's going on in your families and in your ministries.  You make me laugh.  Bonds are built.  Relationships are built.  But, relationships can also be damaged, so be careful.  Guard
your heart and your keyboard.


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