I have realized since newly joining the Facebook phenomena, that I am connecting with many youth pastors across the globe, keeping up with my students of past and present, talking with family members, and reconnecting with childhood friends and high school classmates. By the way, I just had my 10 year reunion and am amazing how time has changed things! For some for the better, but for others….
But what this entity of Facebook has taught me is that I am very conscious about how others view me…and rightfully so.
I am all into the “pastor” profile thing, displaying my religious and political views and posting links, videos, and photos about my ministry.
Yet, when one of my baseball players from school wants to befriend me, I become very aware at what my profile is screaming out out to them…”Hey I am one of those tight a@# Christian pastors! Want to be my friend so I can convert you?”
And when some old friends from Jr. high and high school discover me, what is the first impression I want to make?
Now, I want to make this clear, I am not ashamed of who I follow and what I do.
Yet, i am very leery about shutting the door too soon (possibly because of false conceptions), and not allowing a genuine friendship to occur.
If these new Facebook friends think I am solely out to convert them, then how much of an authentic relationship will I have with them?
At the same time, I must also be very careful with what I post to these non-religious friends, because my youth group students are always watching!
And by the way students, I am always watching you and have been appalled by some of the comments and photos you post!
While at times ignorance is bliss (for a parents and youth pastors alike!), I don’t want my students to think the same about me.
I don’t want them to think, “I wish I never knew that about Dan”, or to somehow have their respect of me diminished by what they see or read on Facebook.
Of course the easy solution (which I happily agreed to for years) was simply to not register on Facebook and basically stay out of the web of social networking.
But I must admit that times are changing, and with it come new and great opportunities for relationships and conversations that would have otherwise never occurred.
So…I am now on Facebook
But back to my stated dilemma.
I cannot lie or hide things, nor should I have to.
Here is what I am convinced of:
As youth pastors and leaders, we should have the freedom to be ourselves and be real, understanding that God is always at work on us chipping away the rough edges of our lives.
If things come up from my past and magically “appear” on Facebook, then I own up to my past and teach a lesson from it.
And if I allow myself to be put in a tempting situation now (and am stupid enough to let someone take a picture of it) then shame on me.
I need to take a long hard look at who I spend time with, what I spend time doing, and where my priorities are. Remember, we are no longer in high school or college (for most of us) and should not act like we are. We are called to minister to these students, and in order to do so effectively, there must be a certain level of maturity that comes with the responsibility.
Now, because of a level of disconnect, I have a few students who will not let me see their profile, and I am still wrestling with where the line between pastor and friend needs to be.
But again, we cannot control what our students post, we can only lead by example and keep praying for them and encouraging them to take a good look at the person they are portrayed to be online.
So, as we all have probably given a lesson to our students about watching what they put on social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook,I find myself asking the tough question
What’s on my profile?
It is an accurate portrayal of who I am and the person God is forming me to be?
Do I present myself to friends, family, students, colleagues, and strangers in a way that will not run them off, but will rather offer hope and inspiration?
Do my list of friends all reside within my private circle of Christians? Is my profile full of “Christianese” language hard to understand by anyone outside of my circle?
As youth pastors, we have a very complex role and unique identity. On the one hand, we are called to help spiritually develop young people and what we do and say should be a reflection of that.
On the other hand, as followers of Jesus we are issued the call to reflect God’s love and message to those who do not yet know His love. I believe that in everything we do, we must be mindful of those not part of our “Christian” circle.
And we are also friends, family members, neighbors, coaches, teachers, community workers, colleagues, and much more.
May our lives, actions, teachings, and attitudes reflect these callings and identities.
May we be mindful that eyes are always watching and ears listening to what, and how, we say things?
May we live within this vast complexity as authentic followers of Jesus, proud to know the One who has given us our hope and life, while keeping an open door for those who do not yet know Christ.
And may our Facebook profiles be just an mirror image of our lives on display.