Facebook, that wily, time sucking minx, has been a part of our lives for some time now. You lot, hearing this letter will no doubt have at most a slavish, worshipful relationship with the book, and at least an opinion about its being a blight in which you have no interest in partaking. If you are the latter, please ignore what follows. If however you are a minister of some kind who uses Facebook, it’s likely you can be placed in one of four categories.
The minister that hates it but got a profile because several people kept saying you should and now whenever it’s mentioned you murmur something about not being “up to all that internet jazz” and render your token interaction with the platform near useless.
The minister who interacts with it the way they would a polite grandchild, popping in several times daily to tell their eager followers that “the begonias are coming along thanks God for the rain” or “my latest batch of marmalade is done”, regardless of how few people care about the begonias or the marmalade.
Still others use it as a forum for their political rants, attempts at wit, and the only evangelism they engage in- that being of their favourite band or author.
But the last and most evil of all the types of Facebook user, Ministerial or not, is the over-sharer. The person who has taken the word ‘friends’ –shockingly misused in this context- to heart and who tells all of theirs daily of their thoughts, complaints and emotional states.
Perhaps I am wrong, perhaps this is a perfectly legitimate way to express yourself and to receive succor from the bosom of those intimates whom you have allowed into your digital circle. But, beloved, let us not forget that Facebook can be, and is often, three things: Useful, public, and treacherous.
You lot can make good use of a forum that allows the easy and informal dissemination of information to many, with options of interactive commentary and a function for organising event invitations.
Let’s not forget though that this is a public forum. It’s not you telling your neighbour Marge about your other neighbour Kev. It’s you telling your “friends” and potentially more depending on your privacy settings and on the respecting of those into the future, about your neighbour Kev.
This is not an admonishment about privacy in the vein of “be afraid of hackers” or whatever other hysteria some people find themselves prey to, I personally don’t care at all about the faceless identity thieves/ stalkers combing through my information, which we can talk about at another time.
My care is for those who have become, however it has happened, connected to you on this platform. I have unfollowed family, due to persistent oversharing. How much more will I unfollow a minister who does the same!
The crux of my letter, dear ones, is this: think carefully about what type of user you want to be.
You aren’t taking a close friend aside for a debrief. You’re talking to possibly upwards of hundreds of people.
Furthermore, if you’re friends with members of your congregation, which I would also council thinking about, and you are interspersing your “oh three meetings down and the rain has stopped crying with laughter face” with “church council is totally draining where is the life of Christ here sad face with single tear” or “Pastoral visits are really hard” or “really struggling at the moment” you are inviting your congregation to provide some sort of pastoral care to you- however insincere, and I believe it struggles not to be at least a little- which I would suggest could be inappropriate, not to mention the potential offence and or breaches of privacy that could crop up.
I’m not trying to say that as a minister there is no place to be authentic- that is the last thing I think. But this portal is not authentic. It is almost by definition a curated, doctored arena of personal performance and mediated interaction. It is treacherous. I understand the temptation to vent, particularly after a frustrating meeting, and particularly when it can be done with such ease, and with such a resulting satisfaction when all your likeminded buddies can like and comment. But I urge caution when making your emotional complaints into a sphere where one can offer “support” simply by clicking a small button. You, I hope, have other avenues of actual support available to you. Use them. Leave Facebook to its other evils, the dull and the overly political.