These days it seems everyone is pushing you towards blogging, Facebook and Twitter. Whether for professional or personal reasons, it can be wise to take advantage of these emerging social networking opportunities. However, there can be a dark side to these mediums. Like most good tools they are effective when used properly … but they will hurt you if used incorrectly.
Unfortunately we have seen plenty of cautionary tales. Around our country, people have been fired for careless Facebook posts. Others have not been hired because potential employers saw a disconnect between a candidate’s resume and their Facebook profile. Closer to home, I know members of our congregation who have been hurt (sometimes unintentionally) by Tweets and writings on Facebook walls.
Learning to deal with new communications tools is nothing new. When the phone was first invented, it took people a while to figure out proper etiquette. How early or how late can you call someone? What subjects were okay to discuss on the phone and what should wait for in-person dialog? We’ve long since worked through these things and are now very comfortable with the phone.
It was the same with email. How long should you take to reply to an email? CAN YOU WRITE IN ALL CAPS OR IS THAT SHOUTING? Just like with the phone, we have worked through these things and email is now second nature.
There is no doubt that use of social media will also become second nature. However, we’re still in that period where we’re all trying to “figure it out.” Etiquette and best practices are still being determined. In the meantime, how do we get the benefits of social media and avoid its pitfalls? I have found the following guiding principles can help.
Be the same person you are online as you are in real life.
Sites like Second Life and the general anonymity of the internet can be a trap. There really can’t be an “online you” and a “real you.” This is the very definition of phony. People pick up on this quickly. Being the same person online and in real life gives your relationships consistency and integrity.
Remember the limitations of the written word.
How many times have you written an email, only to have the person on the other end misinterpret what you wrote? We all learned pretty quickly that emails don’t come with non-verbal communication and voice inflection … important things needed to impart meaning. Whoever invented the email happy face J is brilliant. At least we can flag our own sarcasm or humor before it gets misinterpreted. Now with social media, the shortcomings of what you write can be seen by not just one email recipient but the whole world. Extra attention to clarity can help avoid unnecessary hurt or offense. The unfortunate reality of social media is that if something can be misinterpreted, it probably will be.
If they will say it to you, they will say it about you.
There is wisdom in determining the point at which the usefulness of sharing personal information ends and gossip begins. Information appropriately shared can build personal connection and encourage relationships. When information is inappropriately shared, it instantly tears down relationships. Be careful when sharing information about yourself or others … and beware of people who inappropriately share information with you (they will inappropriately share your information with others).
Wait ten seconds before pressing “send.”
Never write when you are angry, tired or distracted. Re-read what you write and wait ten seconds before posting.
The bad guys are watching.
If you post information that you are on vacation, robbers know your house is unguarded. If you post your birth date and year of high school graduation, identity thieves have a key piece of information. If you are in the public eye and make a vulnerable post, an ill-intentioned blogger will take advantage. While we don’t always like to think of it this way, as people of faith we know there are bigger forces at work. Satan’s favorite tools are personal offense and deception … both of which easily come into play with social media (Eph. 6:12).
Have a church policy.
While these guiding principles help, you should consider putting a formal church Facebook policy and church blogging policy in place. The time to consider having guidelines is before trouble begins. Churches have to answer some important questions:
- Is a church leader’s blog personal or part of their work at the church?
- In the real world, do congregation members understand the differences between a personal blog or Facebook page and one done professionally?
- Should a church leader blog or Facebook about political views?
- Is the church open to criticism when a leader writes about movies, music, relationships or experiences that may not be universally agreed upon as appropriate? Is there broad understanding in your church about what is “not negotiable” or “negotiable” in a believer’s life? Where is there to be unity and where is there to be liberty?
- Do church limitations on written expression drive leaders away?
- If blogging or updating Facebook is part of ministry, should it be done on work time? Is the line between personal and professional social networking too blurry to define?
- Should staff members or lay leaders put church logos and materials on their personal blogs or social media pages?
Our church has several staff members who blog and use Facebook/Twitter. Our church has wrestled through the above questions. We now have a blogging policy/Facebook policy in place. The guidelines were modeled on the work of several prominent churches and corporations, and then modified for our specific needs. We found that there is no way to anticipate every possible future circumstance. However, having a general policy in place is instructive to our leaders. It helps protect both them and the church from complications.
Facebook and Blogging Policy
Northshore Christian Church
Northshore values the potential good that comes from personal web pages, social networking pages, blogs, texting, instant messaging, email and other forms of electronic social networking/communication. Simultaneously, we recognize that misunderstanding, personal offense, hurt, legal exposure and damage to our church community can potentially accompany use of these mediums. The Apostle Paul instructs that “Everything is permissible but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.” With the principles of 1 Corinthians 10:23-33 in mind, all church employees and lay leaders are to abide by the following communication guidelines:
Your electronic communications should be consistent with the teaching of scripture and the values of Northshore Christian Church. Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say in-person as a representative of the church (Prov. 10:9). If a public dialog gets heated, stop using a public forum and make the conversation private (Matt. 18:15-17). Ministry leaders are expected to have the foresight to anticipate, within reason, how their words and/or actions may be perceived by their audience and to those under their care.
Offer a Disclaimer
When you are in a position of church leadership, people don’t easily distinguish between your personal and professional behaviors. Your name and the church are always linked in people’s minds. As such, all personal web pages, social networking pages and blogs (in which you are personally identifiable) should feature the following disclaimer: “Please know that these are my personal views and not necessarily those of Northshore Christian Church.”
Make sure your facts are correct, in proper context and that your positions are justifiable (1 Cor. 13:5-7). Respond to those who disagree in a spirit of love and grace (Luke 6:28-30). Avoid using a “stream of consciousness” writing style (as it can easily be misinterpreted or taken out of context). Do not use electronic communications to resolve interpersonal conflicts that are best handled face-to-face.
Keep Confidences and Avoid Libel
Be extra careful that your communications do not inadvertently share confidential information (we sometimes deal with a lot of confidences in church work). Know that with any public postings you are legally liable for what you say. Laws governing slander, libel, defamation and copyright apply. Outside parties actually can pursue legal action against you for your postings.
Don’t Engage in Polarizing Political Speech
In order to be effective, Northshore must maintain a position of being able to speak into people’s lives. If people in the community view Northshore as blatantly left-wing or right-wing politically, we lose that platform. Some teaching of scripture may occasionally line up with the platforms of various political parties. However, as a church we are not to take a viewpoint aligned purely with a political ideology. Further, we are to be careful not to act in a way where we are perceived as being aligned with one party politically.
As a non-profit organization, the government does not tax Northshore as if it were a business. Because of this, however, there are certain restrictions placed on non-profit organizations such as ours. For instance, we cannot endorse or support political candidates. Nothing in your public communications should lead people to believe that Northshore is endorsing a political candidate or party.
Respect the Church and its Staff
Since electronic communications are public (or easily made public), we expect you to be respectful to the church and our leaders, employees, volunteers and members. Any employee who uses electronic communications to disparage the name or reputation of the church, its practices, or its pastors, officers, employees, volunteers or members will be subject to serious discipline, up to and including immediate termination of employment. Staff is to be cognizant of the electronic communications widely distributed by their lay leaders in order to provide guidance and accountability.
Respect Your Time
All time and effort spent on your personal communications should be done on your personal time and should not interfere with your job duties or work commitments.
Respect Our Beliefs
When working for a church, it is important to remember that employment decisions will be made based upon our Christian beliefs. If your personal website displays inappropriate images or reflects personal opinions or life-style choices that are contrary to Northshore’s beliefs or the teaching of scripture, you may be subject to discipline, up to and including immediate termination of employment. For this reason, we encourage you to first seek guidance from your supervisor if you have any questions. Northshore may request that you temporarily confine your social media commentary to topics unrelated to the church. In rare cases, Northshore may request that you temporarily suspend your social media activity altogether if it believes this is advisable to ensure compliance with church regulations or other laws.
Electronic Communications are Teachings
The senior pastor is under the authority of, and accountable to, the Elder Board with respect to teachings and the teaching calendar. For other pastors and teachers, electronic communications can also be church teachings. As such, they too have accountability to senior leadership to ensure all teachings are true and doctrinally sound. The senior pastor will run potentially difficult teachings past the Elder Board prior to preaching. Similarly, all who teach in the church should run potentially difficult teaching past their supervisor prior to publication.
Limited Expression in Written Words
Remember that written words can easily convey the wrong message. Written words do not have the “non-verbal” channels that accompany face-to-face communication. Missing are body language, facial expressions and tone of voice that can help ensure proper context. As such, re-read everything prior to sending. See if there is any possibility of misunderstanding. Every year the church deals with many relational problems brought on by poor word choices or communications sent in anger/haste. Think before you press “send!”
Do not use Northshore’s logos/slogans on your communications or reproduce church material without first obtaining written permission.
Communicate as if Your Words are to be Published in the Local Newspaper
A good tool for determining what is correct communication is to behave as if the local newspaper were printing your electronic communication for all to see. If you wouldn’t want your actions/words to be seen on the front page, you may not be handling the situation properly.
Northshore understands the good that comes from electronic communications and social networking. It is not our desire to create consternation or dampen creativity when it comes to the use of these mediums. At the same time we recognize the tremendous potential for hurt and misunderstanding that go with these mediums. We trust that by following these guidelines and common sense, you are able to both reap the rewards of electronic communications … and avoid their potential pitfalls.