By Tiffany Vail
Associate for Communication
Massachusetts Conference, United Church of Christ
Over the past couple of years, I've facilitated a number of workshops and had a lot of conversations about ministry on Facebook. And through that time, what I've heard again and again is a concern for privacy, and worry over boundaries.
Attending a social media training session put on by the Center for Progressive Renewal this weekend led me toward a new way of thinking about these issues.
Presenter Kimberly Knight makes a compelling argument that, in the world of social media - a world we are all in now, like it or not - transformational leaders have to give up a little bit of privacy. They need to be willing to give a little more of themselves to the community they wish to lead. Because today, being in a so-called position of authority is not enough. Today, people will not choose to hear your voice over the cacophony simply because of your title.
No, people today choose who they will listen to - and to whom they will give authority. And time again, they have shown that they will listen to leaders who are authentic and transparent. Who are honest about themselves and who they are. As Kim pointed out, the little personal things that we share as leaders are critical because they lead people to know us and to care about us. And when people start to care about us as people - not care about our cause or our theology, but care about us - THEN they start to listen more closely to what we have to say and what we are asking of them.
Does this mean sharing every last detail of our lives? No, of course not. We should always post in a way that is mindful of how we are presenting ourselves. Privacy online - no matter what privacy settings one may use - is really a fallacy anyway. Whatever you share with your "friends" can easily be re-shared with others. So it would be wise not to "overshare" - not to post about our frustration with co-workers or congregants, for example, if we don't want those words to get back to those people with whom we are frustrated. But we do need to post enough to let people see who we are. That we struggle with questions. That we have bad days. That sometimes we do things just because they're fun. For lay people, it means letting everyone see how being Christian motivates our actions. For clergy, it means letting people see that we have lives outside of the church. And for everyone, it means that we don't create multiple personas of ourselves - on Facebook or anywhere else. In today's culture, that is considered inauthentic. We need to be the same people in the office, in the pulpit, at home, at Bible Study, in the grocery store. And online.
Yes, that is messy. It is hard. It blurs all kind of lines and boundaries that many of us would be more comfortable leaving crisp and clear. It creates awkward moments. It was acutely uncomfortable for me recently when one of my clergy friends got into a debate with one of my high school friends in response to a Facebook post I had made. But our lives cannot be separated into neat little boxes. Sometimes they will intersect and overlap.
Now I realize this is all easy for me to say. I am not a local church pastor, and I have not had to deal personally with the boundary issues raised by being in that position. So my question then, is to you, church leaders - particularly local church pastors. Is it possible for you to be authentic and transparent while still maintaining proper boundaries?
Tiffany Vail is the Associate Conference Minister for Communications for the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ.