It’s a common question among the wives of pastors: Should you be Facebook friends with congregation members? How much of your social media presence should you share with them, if any? Is it safe to include them in your social networks, or will those connections harm your in-person relationships—or worse, the relationship between congregation members and their pastor or even the church?
Maybe you’ve asked this question, too, whether you’re a pastor’s wife, a professional church worker, or a faithful layperson desiring to offer all you have to the glory of God.
Life in a Fishbowl
For pastors’ wives, and for many professional church workers, it often feels like we’re living in a fishbowl. There’s only one of you, after all, and so many church members. Everyone notices when something is new or different. And everyone, it seems, feels free to share their opinions about everything. Making and keeping friends within one’s congregation can be hard. Not everyone understands how to differentiate the pastor’s call to lead the congregation from the spouse’s vocation as a baptized member of the body of Christ in that place and time. Navigating those tricky waters in person can be difficult. Trying to do it faithfully online is even more so when one is missing the tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language that can help to understand the full meaning of a person’s communication.
But, I think the effort we put into nurturing those online connections can be good—both for us and for the friends that bridge the divide between our congregations and our social networks.
I’m writing this blog post after about two months of stay-at-home orders designed to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. Many of you have been quarantined at home even longer. I’ve been busy helping my first grader finish up his schoolwork for the year via distance learning while his two younger brothers leave a trail of destruction between the toy boxes and the living room. Screen time rules have gone out the window, although we do try to get a good amount of outside playtime each day, now that spring has decided to stick around. And my pastor-husband has been somehow working even more than before the quarantine as he learns how to livestream worship services and edit sound and video on the fly. He does this and more, along with all his regular pastoral duties.
The kids and I have gone on walks around the neighborhood, and we’ve been able to see (from a distance!) a few of our fellow church members who live close by. But for the most part, we’ve been separated from our church family for two months. And I miss them! I’m sure you miss your church families too.
Social Media Friendships
That’s one of the reasons why I’m so glad I chose to be Facebook friends with church members. If I hadn’t been friends with church members on Facebook or Instagram before this pandemic, I think I would feel even more disconnected than I do. Instead, I’ve been able to keep a little bit of our in-person connections alive and get a little glimpse into their days: what it looks like for other families doing distance learning and walking together and painting windows; to celebrate new pets and applaud home improvement projects; to share recipes and see who’s got their sourdough starters started. I’ve been able to share a bit of our quarantine life with them as well.
St. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians, “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (2:8).
This is guidance for all Christians, not just pastors’ wives or professional church workers who have traditionally been thought of as “living in the fishbowl”: to be so affectionately desirous, to be so loving of our fellow believers that we would share with them not just the Gospel but our own selves.
What would that look like to you? Not just in person, as we hopefully begin gathering together again soon, but online through Facebook, Instagram, and other social networks? Can we share our lives there, as St. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians, in a faithful and God-pleasing way? Approximately 223 million Americans used social media in 2019. Thanks to social media, we’re all in the fishbowl now.
Called to Be Peacemakers
There have been times when my online interactions with church members (when I was serving as DCE) have gone terribly wrong. And those breakdowns in online communication affected in-person relationships. Some of it was due to my own actions, my choice of words, and my insistence on pursuing a conversation that would have been better dealt with in person; some of it was due to a basic misunderstanding of how the medium (Facebook) worked.
But even then, in the face of broken relationships—whether those relationships are broken by actions in person or online—we are called by God to pursue a life together as Christians that’s transformed by the Gospel and shaped after the life of Jesus Christ; shaped by the cross. As people forgiven by God and baptized into Christ, we are called to forgive and to seek forgiveness. We are called to be peacemakers.
And so, I ask again, can we do that online in a faithful and God-pleasing way? Let’s wrestle with this question together. Next month, we’ll take a look at how we can lay the foundation for faithful social media usage by simply thinking before we post.
Keep God at the center of social media.