Pastoral Death Match — Social Media and the Ministerium.
It doesn’t take long being Facebook “friends” with a bunch of pastors to see it unfold – fighting, feuding, snark, mockery, and downright cruelty. This is conduct unbecoming the called and ordained (1 Timothy 3:2-3) but it happens. In the short term it means a lot of passive-aggressive behavior, taking the battle to the blogs and comment threads, and who knows where else. In the long term I fear it will have a much more destructive effect.
Doctrine is important, we get it. Pastors strive to make sure we have the proper teachings and preserve them for the good of our hearers. We strive to be the best preachers and teachers we can be. Pastors also strive to live a godly life, not as perfectionists, but as examples to the flock to which the Holy Spirit made us overseers. This means “good” behavior, but more importantly Christian behavior – confessing our sins and having faith in Christ’s work for our forgiveness.
In studying church history and even in knowing older pastors today, this rivalry and even bitterness towards brother pastors is nothing new. The anger at each other, talking past one another, insulting one another, breaking the 8th against one another, and holding onto lifelong grudges has been and continues to be found among the clergy (of course laity also). What is changing is the rate of which the offenses can come in an environment ruled by 255 characters or less, statuses and comments that take seconds to type but have lasting repercussions, and blog posts indirectly directed at your perceived foes.
It is a death match that is happening. We are grudging ourselves to death, and bitterness is taking root. It can be seen in communications between known opponents of the theological debate du jour. Each one rallies others to the cause, and pretty soon it is more about who can out-snark the other and come up with more “likes” or simply mock the other ones with sarcasm and plain cruelty.
Fellow pastors, what is this doing to our Life Together? If we can sense grudges among men of God who could only communicate through letters and printed words, how much worse is it getting for we who can in a moment’s notice burn down the reputation of one another through a comment firestorm? Is “winning” the status comment war worth it? What will the ministerium of the LCMS look like in ten years? If the opportunity for offense and the temptation to trample underfoot is so easy to fall into because of the disconnected nature of this social media, should we caution ourselves and pause before entering the flame wars?
There is time for debate and arguments over our beliefs and practices. This can happen on social media. It is difficult to have happen, but it can be beneficial. It can help us be better pastors, teachers, and preachers. I am not advocating having no debates. I am pleading that such debates do not have to leave wounds which form into scars on the surface with roots of bitterness running down to hearts hardened by grudges. Even if you “win” in such a situation, the Church loses, and even if your cause is truth, the truth is lost to those you had to kill to prove yourself the victor.
Writing this has caused me to reflect on my own actions online. They have not been what they should. There is a time for repentance and it is always right now. Pastors need Jesus, and it does not take long lurking and reading the Facebook feed to understand that. Pastors, you have Jesus. The same one you preach for your members is for you. He is for you and for your conduct on social media. As you type the keys in front of you, remember that your unclean hands have been washed clean by your baptism and that means something.
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. Romans 6:12-14