Ministry can be a minefield of mishaps, injuries, and misunderstandings. It is easy to take a wrong step and hurt someone’s feelings, or expose a long-buried resentment. A sermon, or even a chance comment, can unleash a chain reaction of anger, accusations, and explosions that can permanently damage our ministries.
But we all know this. As ministers, we know that we have to take risks in order to speak the truth as we know it, and live with spiritual integrity. We have to be true to our calling, which is the basis for our service to God throughout creation. We recognize that we will make mistakes in our attempts to live fully and courageously. We already have God’s forgiveness. But what about our parishioners?
I believe that clergy should be role models for a creative and imperfect humanity. We are not meant to be polished and seamless, but real, approachable, and sympathetic to the common human struggle. This is not to say that we should wallow in our faults – just recognize them.
This is especially important in the days of social media. Our names are out there on the web. Every one of us is subject to a Google search, appearing in denominational registries, church w3ebsites, newspaper articles, old job postings, and even family blogs. Strangers may quote our sermons. Our past is never dead. And quite a few of us have pages on Facebook and LinkedIn, and other social sites.
This is the issue with branding in ministry. There’s a difference between truth and full disclosure. There are aspects to our lives that we may not want to share with our parishioners or part of our public persona. We deserve to have a private life, and we deeply need personal time away from the pressures of scrutiny and judgment. We need to be able to wear sweats and shop without shaving. But we also have to be vigilant about our presence on the web and in public.
You must keep your personal Facebook page secure and private. Go to the Accounts page and set it up by invitation only. Resist the temptation to friend your parishioners and ministry contacts and invite them into your personal site. Don’t forget that postings, causes and comments reveal details about your life. Anything someone else posts to your website can be seen as a reflection of your character and interests, no matter how random. It’s guilt – or wackiness – by association. At the least, it distracts from your pastoral message. So make sure you maintain good boundaries. You never know when you’re letting off a bombshell.
But mostly, I think we have to make sure that our congregation’s brand is truly consonant with our own calling. If they are going in another direction, we can either follow and grow along with our members, or we must acknowledge that our service may have fulfilled its potential. Then it is time to move on to another setting where we can lead with commitment and belief in a common purpose. We have to be true to ourselves. Our image depends on our integrity.