What is it about the internet that seems to bring out the jerk in so many people? Ministers included.
If you have a habit of using the internet to vent, even if it’s to vent against things you feel need to be denounced, be aware of the unintended consequences attached to it. It’s the new normal for pastoral search committees and church leaders to check out our online behavior when deciding to partner with someone in ministry or hire their next pastor.
The biggest reason people pass someone over? A mean, critical or overly judgmental spirit in online conversations.
That’s one of the takeaways from Thom Rainer’s recent podcast about ministers and the way we interact online. People don’t want to work with ministers who regularly exhibit negative online behavior.
Even if people agree with the content of what we’re saying, they can be turned off by the attitude with which we say it. So speak your mind. And speak it passionately. But be careful about the tone with which you say it.
Most people, especially ministers, know how to speak strongly and express our opinion about controversial issues in face-to-face conversations without coming across as self-righteous, judgmental jerks. But when we write those same things online, some of us seem to lose all sense of civility. And with that loss of civility also comes a loss of respect for us and our opinion.
It’s not because people don’t want to hear our opinion. And it’s not that people are unwilling to hear the truth – even hard truths. Not for most people, anyway.
Bottom line: people don’t want to work with ministers who act like a jerk online. Even if they agree with us theologically.
Some Undeniable Realities of Negative Online Behavior
There are a lot of ministers with all the skills and gifts needed to fill most ministry positions. When a church has options, why would they choose to work with the pastor who has a reputation for being a jerk online, when they can find someone just as skilled and called, who isn’t a jerk?
I’m not looking for a new pastorate. But I’m always open to partnering with other ministries whenever I can. It’s one of the great benefits of being a member of the body of Christ.
So here are a few realities I try to remember when I’m online:
- Just because the group has a closed membership, doesn’t mean the mouths of the people in the group are closed. People talk.
- Many of the people inside the closed group may be the ones whose ministries you might want to partner with.
- One obnoxious comment will be remembered more than ten good ones.
- Yes, some of that is gossip. But just because they’re wrong, doesn’t make you right – or protect you from the consequences of their gossip.
- You can’t stop people from being gossips, but you can stop giving them ammunition.
- Gossip that’s based on a lie will die out. Gossip that is confirmed by everyone who checks out your online behavior will survive and thrive – but you won’t.
- When people are looking to work with someone in ministry, they ask around. They dig for references. And people steer them towards people who are easy to work with and away from those who are not. That’s not gossip. That’s normal human relationships.
- People tend to speak positively about positive people and negatively about negative people.
- We’re not exempt from the command to love our enemies – and our fellow believers – just because we’re online.
Yes, there are times we need to be critical. (I’m being critical of critical people in this post, after all.) But there are correct, gracious and biblical ways to do it.
The main reason we shouldn’t be jerks online isn’t because of the possible blow-back to us. It’s because all people are made in God’s image and deserve to be treated with love, grace and dignity. And because we need each other in the body of Christ.
So what do you think? What do you do online that you may need to be more careful about?
We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
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