Category Archives: social media pastor

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.”

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emilio and the box pews

Emilio stared at the pews.. It wasn’t like he hadn’t seen pews before. He saw them every Sunday morning. And Monday morning. And most other mornings.

Emilio was an associate pastor. Pews were his business. But these were different. They were box pews, benches with sides, benches with doors.

He was visiting this church for a concert. It always intrigued him to see how other churches did things, how they were built, how they sounded. He always looked at the print materials, looked for clues about how they did what they did. It gave him the opportunity to think about church.

This evening, staring at the box pews, was no different. He knew that these neat, civilized, regular cubicles weren’t how they had started. After the reformation, in the British Isles in particular, people brought in seating, they built boxes, treating them as little personal spaces in the public space of church. It was a way to have privacy, to maintain family space. It didn’t hurt that they blocked out the breezes that blew through the cold buildings. But it didn’t help to break down barriers.

As he stared at them, Emilio pictured the cubicles in his own church, and in many other churches. This time they weren’t around families. They were around generations, around interest groups, around social strata. There were groups that went into their cubicles every Sunday, with walls around them.

Sometimes that was fine. Sometimes it wasn’t.

But the challenge it posed for Emilio tonight was huge. He kept hearing about the importance of communication. He kept hearing people talk about wanting to know what was happening at the church, what great things were going on. He kept hearing people talk about the importance of vision, of knowing what is going on.

His project was to give everyone access to the information they needed to grow, in formats and frequency that helped them feel like they belonged to the community, to the tribe.

And he knew that they were trying. There were weekly bulletins, biweekly mailers, web updates, a facebook group, Sunday school class email prayer chains. There were displays in the hallways, announcements in the services, notes on clipboards in classrooms. There was a limited circulation enewsletter. There were hundreds of pieces of information. And there were people who said they never heard what was going on who, when questioned, acknowledged that they didn’t read the newsletter.

Emilio, self-styled “social media pastor“, knew that there were tremendous opportunities for conversation using new technologies. But he was also aware that a significant number of people in the congregation didn’t want to be part of those technologies. The ages of the congregation spanned a century. The income likely spanned 6 figures. The education ranged nearly as far.

He knew the social media options. He used them. But it wasn’t a social media congregation. It was a people congregation. And his responsibility was not to social media. It was to the people and to God.

As Emilio stared at the box pews, he knew that although the people sat in chairs and pews, they might as well be in cubicles…or silos.

One core message, a hundred applications, a thousand different mailboxes.

What could he do?

see-through social media pastor

“Bother.”

Emilio was frustrated beyond belief. He was limited, however, in his vocabulary options for expressing that frustration.

Open. Honest. Transparent.

That’s what everyone wants. And everyone on twitter was dumping and chattering and seemed to have incredible amounts of time. But Emilio was stuck.

Many of the conversations he had as a pastor–part counselor, part confidant, part confessor, part dad–were conversations that didn’t belong in public.

  • “meeting with deacon Jones about his embezzlement problem. idiot.”
  • “Mary just has to leave her abusive husband. Calling 911.”
  • “time to paste the smile on again for the elders.”

One, it just wasn’t nice.

Two, some of the people following him on twitter knew deacon Jones.

Three, even if he used veiled references (“deacon X), people would know.

He’d never forget the post he wrote about a counseling appointment. He used no names, but his secretary read his blog and knew his schedule. His calendar was shared–with no names–on Google calendar. His office was on the main hallway of the church. A couple of people put the pieces together and said, “I’m glad L___ finally acknowledged her problem and is talking with you. We’ve been talking for a long time about how she needed help.”

L___ must have heard. She never came back for the next appointment.

Emilio knew that other people must have similar challenges. You can’t talk about the core of what you do, about helping people heal. If you can’t talk about that, it sounds like you don’t do anything.

He pulled out his phone.

“Somehow, this coffee isn’t working today. Must. Make. More.”

He shrugged as he started clearing his desk for the next appointment.

—————

For more about Emilio:

“Workflow – Social Media Pastor.”

Social Media Pastor Part Two

Social Media Pastor or pastor with social media