There has been quite a stink lately about the Kentucky Conference's social media policy, and while I do not care to dive too deep into the crevasse of Board of Ordained Ministry policy, I do think it is WAY past time for those of us who are pastors to figure out how to use social media.
I have taken the tack, so far, of wait-and-see. I have never been one to post intensely personal things on Facebook (or on this blog, for that matter), but I also have kept my Facebook privacy settings pretty strict. I don't limit what folks can see once I friend them, but I also have made it so that I can't be searched for. This strategy has worked, so far, in my capacity as part of a multi-staff congregation; people are not that interested in the online life of an associate pastor. Besides, I really don't care to rock the boat too much as an associate. I want to be myself, of course, but I honestly also don't want to do anything to distract from the senior pastor's vision for the church.
I don't have anything online I am ashamed of, short of the haircut displayed in several high school photos in which I have been tagged. I do not have photos of myself doing kegstands with bikini models or whatever. I'm pretty boring. You'd be hard-pressed to point to a place on Facebook where I've violated the social principles (though, I should note, this is not a challenge!).
Still, there's the issue of integrity. I want to be who I am, and I want who I am in real life to match up with who I am online. I think those members of my generation--especially in the clergy, though not exclusively so--are sort of at a crossroads with this social media business.
Those who are older than me did not grow up with the internet. They did not get into Facebook when it was The Facebook (and only open to colleges and universities). Many of them entered (and continue to enter!) the world of social media with a wary eye and a general feeling of inevitability. There does not seem to be a problem, with some of these folks, about how to handle social media, but then again social media is not so much "social" for many of these folks as it is, well, an assigned parking place on the internet.
Those who are younger than me have grown up with a Facebook page to which their parents had access. They instinctively know how to operate online, or at least they are good at hiding those things which they do not want their parents to see. I suspect that as they come into the professional world--and as those who are called enter the ministry--they will face many of the questions my generation is now facing. For now, though, they seem to operate online quite well, devoid of much professional responsibility.
But those of us in the middle--I'd say four or five good years worth of Facebook users--entered the social media world thinking it was one thing and are now being told it is something else entirely. The problem is not so much the changing nature of social media. The nature of technology is that it changes.
The problem is that those changes mean I have to reconfigure how I am socially oriented, and if this sounds like an exaggeration, let me just say that I grew up with the internet, quite literally. My first AOL handle was DRush11, reflective of my age at the time. Those of us who are now young professionals, especially young adults navigating the clergy universe, have been taught to be social online in a certain way. Now that my role has changed, now that I am living into my calling, I have to fundamentally reorient my social self. This is difficult, and I suspect this is also why so many United Methodist young adults are reacting so viscerally to new policies on social media.
So cut us a little slack. We are figuring this stuff out--and from a much different place than those who are writing the policies. As people of integrity (and most of us are!) we recognize the issues. We just need a little time to make the adjustments.
As for me, I'm still deciding on how to use Facebook. If we're talking integrity, hiding behind privacy controls does not seem to me to be much better than lying about who I am on Facebook.