The pastor’s statement surprised me. It revealed a lack of understanding regarding the seriousness of his position and the inherent responsibilities of the pastorate.
“It’s not fair I lost my job,” he told me. “My church members post a lot worse things than I do on social media. It’s a double standard.”
He’s right. It is a double standard. But it’s reality. And, with greater frequency, more pastors and church staff are losing their jobs because of what they post—particularly on Facebook and Twitter. And, to some extent, their blogs.
By the way, churches will not always tell a pastor the specific reason for their firing. However, once pastors begin to infuriate church members with their public posts, many will find a myriad of reasons to give them the boot.
I recently recommended a pastor to another church who was screening candidates. I think very highly of this pastor. Indeed, the search committee chairman seemed genuinely enthused when I recommended him.
However, the chairman contacted me a couple of weeks later with this comment: “We can’t consider him. He’s just too snarky and sarcastic on social media.”
Of course, this pastor was not fired. But he never had the opportunity to be considered by this church because of his intemperate words.
So what are pastors posting on social media that is raising the ire of church members? It typically falls into one or more of these five categories:
1. Generally combative and sarcastic comments. Do you know someone that seems always to be in a debate on social media? They always want to prove their points, and they will take you on personally if you disagree with them. There are now a number of former pastors in this category.
2. Political comments. If you make a political comment in today’s incendiary environment, you will offend someone. The persons you offend may just be the very ones who push you out the pulpit.
3. Taking on church members. I cringe when I see church members posting critical comments against a pastor or church staff member. I cringe even more when the pastor decides to take them on in a public forum. Most readers have no idea about the context of the conflict or its origins. They just see their pastor acting like a jerk. Little else matters.
4. Criticizing other people. I have a friend who served as the pastor of four churches. He loved criticizing well-known pastors, celebrities, Christian leaders, and others on social media. He was fired from his last church without a stated cause. I believe I know why. By the way, he has gone three years without finding another place in ministry.
5. Unsavory comments. A pastor or church staff member making lewd or suggestive comments on social media gains nothing, even if it’s a quote from a movie or some other source. The consequences are always negative.
The fire of the tongue
This post is not about pastors losing their prophetic voices. It’s about pastors and church staff losing their ministries because of their failure to control their digital tongues.
As James wrote: “If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, then his religion is useless and he deceives himself . . . (The tongue) pollutes the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is set on fire by hell.” (James 1:26, 3:6)
Social media is not the place for pastors to vent their feelings or to wage petty battles.
The consequences are simply too great.
Photo source: Pexels
Thom Rainer / Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. He is also a former pastor, seminary dean, and leader of a consulting firm. Rainer is the author or co-author of 25 books, including his latest release from B&H Publishing Group: Who Moved My Pulpit? Leading Change in the Church. His 2013 book, I Am a Church Member, has sold more than one million copies.