Social Notworking

Successful spiritual leadership requires sacred time and solitude. Social media is a challenge to that ideal.

by Scott Hagan

I am a digital immigrant. Born in 1962, vocational (paid) ministry did not begin for me until 1983. I started in ministry as a junior high youth pastor at a large San Jose area church. The structure for success was simple. Spend an hour with the Lord first thing every morning. Maintain office hours. Sit behind an organized desk. Be on time to staff meetings.

Monumental to the task was keeping my Day-Timer current.

To be successful, I had to generate, collaborate, and communicate my ideas with staff as well as make and honor future appointments and commitments by first writing them down on a calendar. And all of this was supposed to happen during office hours that began at 9 and ended at 5.

If your church was big enough, a secretary sat at the front desk and took calls. She then wrote down the information on tiny slips of paper and handed them to you each time you passed by her desk.

If you did respond after hours, you did so because you had an exceptional disposition that allowed for extended availability.

But that was the exception.

I have spent the previous 25 years of my life assimilating all sorts of new technological advancements. Well, actually about five. In no specific order they were the automatic garage door opener, the microwave, the auto-reverse car cassette player, and the television remote control. And, of course, the big one: the electric car window. Beyond that, there was not much new that required mental orientation. Little did I know, however, that the fax machine and the cordless phone were right around the corner.

Then somewhere near the halfway point of my leadership life, I found myself deported to a new land of digital demands where ideas and commitments have no correlation to office hours and where leaders shifted from settlers back to explorers. Instead of office hours, the leader simply started traveling each new day until the energy ran out or he or she could no longer concentrate. Then after a brief cat nap the exploration continued with collaborating, generating, and connecting.

As long as you can concentrate, the clock becomes irrelevant.

We now live a leadership life without filters. Even with old structures of secretaries and office hours, the advent of 24-hour-a-day digital accessibility has created a hazy flustered world in which most leaders have no idea if and when they caught up with whatever it was they were chasing.

Successful spiritual leadership requires sacred time and solitude. Social media is a challenge to that ideal.

When Christ was ministering to His flock, He was in charge of His time and had agents of support within His apostolic crew that ran interference and helped carry the load. Christ had the luxury of no social media, no demands from e-mail, and no intrusive phone calls. People carried His word the old fashioned way through story and reflection.

Pastors spend most of their energy focused on understanding the Word of God and its implications for everyday people in everyday life. The ministerial challenge is to translate the Word into workable solutions for life. In the modern church, ministers make these solutions real through their astuteness and storytelling capacity. When shared, the passion in which they give the message brings the congregation to clarity and orchestrates a sense of connection with the Word and the minister. As the deliverer of the message, congregants often place pastors on pedestals.

Being a minister requires relational connections — sharing and orchestrating personal experiences related to Christ’s Word — but it does not guarantee a relationship, a personal friendship for all of those who perceive it as a reality. Friendships are born from common experiences that are invested in deeply by the participants; friendships are reciprocal and equitable. Friends engage in relationship because of the personal benefits relationships generate. Ministers cannot make meaningful friendships with every congregant. That is not their role; they are responsible to bring the Word to their congregation in a manner for others to hear and in a way that encourages relationships that are made in Christ.

A Pentecostal pastor’s desire to be available 24/7 has inherent pitfalls in the modern social-media age. Ministers must manage their time to ensure they professionally balance their ministerial relationships and do not feed superiority or personal burnout.

A Pentecostal pastor must respond to the need for transparency and genuineness while expressing boundaries that allow for family, sacred time for study and reflection, and a small group of friends chosen because of their ability to contribute to the quality of the life of the pastor.

The pastoral emphasis must help believers develop the character traits congruent with Christ’s life in the congregation, and not to become a caricature of a minister driven by a false sense of kinship so easily promoted through social media connections.

No man can manage the levels of information that flow among us without a plan for discernment of meaning and for action. Effective communicators and leaders manage information to enhance their understanding and improve decision making. Information does not improve the quality of our lives unless we can use it and apply it within the context of work, family, and community. Information feeds knowledge and builds the infrastructures necessary for wisdom.

The demands from social media encourage relational connections, but they do not necessarily generate true relationships that invest in another’s success. The pressure of too many connections thwarts the level and the quality of our helping relationships. Sadly, many individuals forecast the relationships established through social media as being viable, when, in fact, those connections are superficial and lack reciprocal affiliation.

For pastors, social media relationships are troublesome and lack the boundaries necessary to do pastoral work because there is no way to confirm information and have dialogue. It has become the venue for drive-by connections — sharing information without checking for understanding, giving feedback, and coming to shared understanding and agreements. A better system needs to emerge to reframe how pastors tend to their congregations.

For example, pastors could do a blog and send it to their Facebook connections rather than attempting to answer all individual e-mails or requests. Regular meetings with people who share common needs would be encouraged; these thematically organized meetings for a 4-6 week period would have a goal that the group continues under peer leadership. Pastors can then move on to other congregational concerns. Individual relationships in a pastor’s life should feed needs, strengthen skill sets, support personal growth, and contribute to the quality of family and community life.

Fearful of invisibility, modern pastors often see solitude as a contradiction to the need for social media connectedness. We need a massive deliverance from this mindset before it’s too late. True leadership cannot be digital; it must be actual, based on kinship and human interactions. Huge numbers of Friends and Followers have become the new TV rating that defines personal success and influence. We have seen the fallout of isolated and lonely leaders who mistakenly interpreted large TV ratings as meaning.

I hope we do not make the same error with social media. Social media is a phenomenal way to advertise, encourage, and even teach. It’s a part, but never the sum total. It will never replace the true genius of God’s kingdom: “Follow me as I follow Christ.”