Social media chaplain

Emilio stood in the shower trying to think.

Sometimes it seemed that it was the only place he was able to think.  It was probably the only place he unplugged.

He was struggling with understanding what, exactly, he does.

Emilio is an associate pastor. He has been described as a social media pastor by both Chris Brogan and Jon Swanson. He has, however struggled with that label. In his local congregation, he is a pastor that uses social media. It’s a face-to-face congregation,  different from the online church where Tony Steward is a pastor. Not that one is more community than the other, they are just different setting, different communication tools.

At the same time, Emilio has  number of friends in the social media world, people who aren’t connected at all to his local congregation. They interact often. He writes a daily devotional. He often has people say, “can you pray for me?” He chats about coffee and about life on twitter and elsewhere.

He often has felt a tension about the two worlds. In one, he is clearly a pastor, caring for a flock, connecting them to each other and to God. In the other, there is no clear each other. They don’t gather in the same place at the same time–physical or virtual.

And he struggles with what to call his social media presence. Reading about branding, reading about marketing, reading about expanding influence, all of it sounds fun and compelling and important. Except that it felt somehow uncomfortable. For him.

He shook his head and wiped his face. It was time to quit the struggle. He had to just do what he does, regardless of what it’s called and whether it fits with any categories.

And then it hit him. “I’m a chaplain. I’m a social media chaplain.”

Everyone knows about chaplains. They carry bedpans and assist with surgeries on MASH, but no one mistakes them for competent. Until the mortar rounds explodes and people wonder about surviving. Then Father Mulcahy has some interesting conversations.

Chaplains stand on the sidelines at football games. People look at them, wondering why anyone that unathletic, that uninvolved is wasting valuable bench space. Until there is an injury and a player is abandoned on the sideline, and there is a guy holding an icepack and a guy listening.

Chaplains show up in hospitals and listen to stories. They are the one in the room that isn’t family, that isn’t medical, that isn’t healthcare. They are just there.

Present, listening, available, comforting. That’s a chaplain. Doing it in social media circles, that’s a social media chaplain.

It seemed a workable balance. Pastor in one setting, chaplain in the other. Leading in one setting, waiting in the other. Available always.

He turned off the water, grabbed his towel, looked at the counter. His coffee cup sat there, the second of the morning.

“And chaplains get to drink lots of coffee. It’s perfect.”


16 responses to “Social media chaplain

  1. I like it, Jon! Been curious since we swapped emails about it exactly what you’d do and how. Perfect.

  2. It’s so you Jon 🙂

    And it immediately makes me feel more connected and able to talk to you, should I need to, because a chaplain is there even for people like me, who don’t belong to any flock.


  3. Jim, thanks for your input. you helped me clarify very well.

  4. thank you, Joanna. The power of words.

  5. Jon,
    I’m not a copy cat but this message is speaking to me so much I might have to become a “Chaplain” !

    Seriously, I was Emilio just the other morning (including the shower) wondering how to translate all of the digital connection tech I’m involved with to best translate who I really am and to best help me travel the diverse paths of life I’m currently walking without leaving the one I love the most.

    Amazing the tools the Lord can use to speak to us with when we are asking but not listening to his voice directly.

    People, I’m getting clarity through all of this instead of being more confused.

    Don’t laugh, but I’m taking it that Emilio’s story is fiction in order for you to reach out on the subject?

    Love this blog.


    P.S. Oh, and please pray that I can narrow things down to the same path soon so that ALL my energies might be focused thus more effective.

  6. bernard –
    fiction is such an interesting word.

    glad that my own thinking process helps you, too.

    And yes, I’ll be praying for clarity.

  7. The current state of Social Media, I say, has a great need for even more Chaplains, Social Media or otherwise.

  8. bernardmolek

    I just thought of a good question: Does being a chaplain mean you must be more, say, open, flexible or nuetral with the specifics of your faith?

    I ask because it seems that in th emilitary, sports and/or hospitals they tend to be there for EVERYONE and I wasn’t sure how that would work since a chaplain surely must have his own specific views?

    Just Thinking…

  9. I love this. I wish I had read it Tuesday when you wrote it as I had a meeting Tuesday Night that I tried to explain social media to people who don’t get it and this is the perfect metaphor for what I was trying to say. As always, thanks for your thoughts.

  10. @bernardmolek – Others may or may not disagree, but I think in all things we are called to be ourselves. As a chaplain, our purpose and goal is often comfort and a gentle nudge, and so the purpose results in the appearance of neutrality because the opportunity to be specific isn’t presented.

    When I was a volunteer chaplain for the local High School Basketball team, we regularly had a Bible Study on Campus. I always prayed “in Jesus Name”. I spoke for scripture (new and old testament). And I asked kids for prayer requests. I didn’t change who I was or what I believed for the context.

    I think institutions (hospitals, sheriffs office, military) worry about the political correctness of your specific views. I think people care that you care. That you are willing to listen. That you are willing to pray. That you pray to Jesus while they pray in some other fashion will matter less than the fact that you were there to show them God’s love and care for them.

    Just my two-cents and said as much for my own clarification and encouragement as to answer your question. Would love to hear Jon’s (and other’s) thoughts on the subject.

  11. Words are so important – they clarify things for ourselves as well as others.

    This sounds like a real jigsaw moment, when it all falls into place and you can see the whole, not just glimpses.

    The concept of social media chaplain is an excellent one. I’m glad it fits for ‘Emilio’ and I think it will be useful for others too…

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  13. @ChrisMarsden thanks Chris. Very insightful and calming since while I do like to listen and remain open to people’s existing faith base, I also do not wish to compormise my walk, prayer or conversation in any way.

    Your thoughts, as well as Pastor Jon’s helpful email link are bringing my questions into a very easy place to rest it.

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