Whether you like it or not, social media is a reality of the world in which we live, and therefore a reality of ministry. How can a pastor appropriately navigate the presence and use of social media? What are the pitfalls and benefits? Join us as we talk with pastor, evangelist, and writer Doug Bursch who shares a unique and helpful perspective on how pastors can interact with social media and the possibility of introducing a redemptive light in what can be a dark and hurtful world.
Doug’s Webpage Fairly Spiritual
Doug Bursch Interview Transcript
It has been called the innovation that has changed the world and the great wasteland of our generation. Connecting us closely and dividing us deeply, a builder up and a terror down a forum of hope and a weapon of hate. I’m talking course about social media and whether you’re for it or against it, whether you embrace it or ignore it, the reality remains. It is now a fact of life and therefore a fact of ministry. So how should a pastor engage with social media, if even at all? What are the particular dangers and pitfalls? And most importantly, how might God be moving his redemptive work forward through such an unlikely means? That’s our question today on Hope renewed.
Yeah, Tom, Doug Busch is our special guest and I’ve interacted with Doug a few times on social media and I just found him to be one of the most pleasant people to talk with in the chat with and . . .
You don’t hear that together, social media and pleasant..
Exactly, and so I thought we need to get this guy on to talk about his new book. Doug is a co-pastor at Evergreen Foursquare Church in Auburn, WA and author of Posting Peace: Why social media divides us and what we can do about it. He earned a D.Mim. from George Fox Evangelical Seminary with his dissertation research focusing on social media. As a former newspaper columnist and talk show radio, host Doug has produced and hosted over 1200 Christian Radio broadcasts. He’s the producer and host of The Fairly Spiritual Show — just a fun little podcast. So, Doug Busch, Welcome to help renewed.
Oh, thanks for having me. This is my pleasure to be on the show.
I want to say, Doug, we’re not at all intimidated that you have a degree in journalism and experience on the radio.
Yeah, well yeah. You know anybody can get a degree. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they know what they’re talking about and we all know that. But yeah, do not be intimidated now there are limits to my wisdom and you will find them in this interview.
About Doug Bursch
Why don’t we start by just having you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself in your ministry journey?
Well, I was born on a farm . . . no, let me just give you like the simple answer. I am married to and she is my lovely wife. I’m trying to think of what anniversary we’re coming up on. I should probably learn that, but. We have four kids; Three in college and one is still home with us for a freshman in high school. You know, like you said in the bio there I co-pastor a church with my good friend Dan Barons.
And then I do this other stuff this. I call it evangelistic stuff. It’s stuff outside the church walls, from radio programs to podcasts or writing books to guest speaking, and just things that just I feel God has called me to do.
That’s I guess the short take of who I am.
Posting Peace: Why Social Media Divides Us and What We Can Do About It.
The book that we’re going to be talking about today is Posting Peace. It’s a fun little cover. Just looking at this, it’s covered with all these angry emojis and you know it’s a good picture of what social media can feel like sometimes. What led you to write this book?
Well, I think everybody listening realizes that social media is getting more divisive. At least, that’s the way we feel, and then often we’ve found ourselves in these situations where we get pulled into arguments, conflicts, divisions where we’re not even trying to fight with anyone. We’re not even fighting, but somehow, we get thrown into that fight, so for me it was kind of this idea of I want to figure out why this is.
Is the technology making us divisive, or are we just becoming more divisive people? And so I did a bit of research on this doctoral work and one of the biggest things that I didn’t take seriously is how much social media Internet communication changes the way we communicate, and I think that’s very important to realize because sometimes we can just think oh, people are just more jerky now and ruder now and it’s a sign the world is ending and those sorts of things. But, actually, the technology itself is bringing about aspects of humanity that can be really terrible. It also brings out great aspects.
This isn’t just a book about all the things that are wrong with social media and just become Amish and avoid all technology. But it is talking about we must be aware of how this technology influences us and actually turns us into different people. So that’s the main focus of why decided to write it.
There’s all sorts of things that play in social media. The fact that we can post somewhat anonymously at times the fact that we don’t actually have to see the other person’s reaction. What are some of the factors that contribute to social media just being a volatile experience at times?
Well, I talk about a lot of different issues and some people would be familiar with and I give some research to that one. I’ll use a theological term it’s a disembodied or a non-incarnational environment where you don’t abide with people in the flesh and we all know the impact of that at some level that when we’re not seeing people in the flesh we tend to dehumanize them.
We all know that from driving a car right, where suddenly someone cuts you off and depending on how Christian you are, you respond to them. In the appropriate manner, a polite honk, or, if you’re less redeemed, other expressions as well. That reality we wouldn’t do that to someone who could talk back to us who was in the room with us.
One of the jokes about this is, have you ever been on an online town hall and they call him town halls, but anything online is not a town hall by definition, because in a town hall meeting where you’re all in the same room, if the guy next to you says something really terrible about you, just horrible, you could punch him if you wanted to, you could just look over at him and punch him in the face now, you shouldn’t do that. But they don’t talk that way when you’re in the room because there’s more of a consequence to this behavior, you know online we can be anonymous. We don’t have to get the responses from people we don’t have to abide with them and awkwardness after we’ve said our extreme thing. So there’s that reality.
There’s other, deeper realities of that in these disembodied environments. We can’t get a lot of the cues that help us reconcile and deal with conflict. One of the perfect examples is even facial expressions. Can you guys think back to the first time as a kid You said something and you realize it hurt another person? Like think back to that memory the first time you said something. I bet you in that memory. It’s not just about how they responded back to you, it’s their face. You saw their demeanor change. You saw their shoulders slump. You saw that you had done something to hurt this person.
Well on social media, most of our arguing is not visual, it’s written and so we don’t see that tone. We don’t see that the person we’re arguing with might be crying or might be incredibly hurt. I mean, they might be a jerk who’s angry and upset and it’s not bothering them but we don’t see those cues.
Empathy comes through facial cues, or at least it rises up through facial cues and we’re finding with generation X to millennial to whatever we want to call the next generations less empathy because we’re spending less time looking at each other in the eyes and more looking at screens as an intermediary between these relational connections. So that’s just one area and then you exaggerate that out. We’re having these important discussions we don’t hear, like my voice, intonation. We don’t hear that. I know I’m talking a little bit here, but I I’m excited. I’m I’ve been, you know quarantine I’m stuck here in my house so it’s really nice to be able to. . .
But even here, have you ever sent an e-mail to someone and they can’t read the tone? And if they think you’re mad at them and pastors run into this all the time, right? You’re just writing something like, “hey, I just wanted to remind you that our meeting starts 10:00 o’clock and make sure you show up five minutes early.” But if the person thinks you’re mad at them, they read it like “you better show up at you know before 10:00 o’clock and what’s wrong with you” and they’ll read it in that tone.
Well, that’s what we do with these disembodied environments. We write things to each other. We can’t read the tone. We don’t see facial visual body expressions. We fill in the gaps and we fill in the gaps. Also, here’s one of the main reasons we fill in these gaps is we only use certain parts of our brain. When you read stuff you don’t use your full brain. You use certain aspects of your brain that are different aspects than when you see something visually or you hear it.
So, I go into all sorts of areas like this and it helps me understand that a lot of the reason I’m getting into this conflict is not because who the person is, but because of all these obstacles that are standing in the way from us truly getting to see each other and know each other for how we are.
Social Media and Reconciliation
It really underscores that point that that communication really is about relationship. Yeah, and boy, look, here’s a here’s a gospel truth, right? If God sought to communicate fully, we’d love to as he sent his son to have that relationship. And social media can tend away from that authentic relationship.
Yes, well, and this is for pastors or ministers or Christians. We have to know why am I communicating? What’s the goal of this and the theological piece in in my book is the concept of reconciliation. We’ve all been given the Ministry of Reconciliation. No Christian gets to opt out of that. And at some level reconciliation is to communicate in a way where people are closer to God; in that listening to God, sensing God’s love, reconciling forgiveness, and that we are trying to break down the dividing walls of hostility that exist between you know each other.
In social media, we’ve lost the concept of reconciliation, and it’s much more just about being right and being right versus being reconciling is a very different thing. And if you look at a lot of social media, it’s more adopted a partisan way of communication than a reconciling way of communication. And I I spend a bit of time on this because I see Christians and pastors miss this, that they communicate in the same way that their favorite politician or their favorite political pundit would communicate. And the concept is, truth is truth and you need to know the truth. That’s not our goal for people just to know the truth. Our goal is to communicate in a reconciling way where the truth sets them free where the truth brings them into relationship with God and with each other.
That’s a different motivation, and if you look at when conflicts occur, people begin to spend more time just trying to validate that they’re right and the other person is wrong than trying to communicate in a way that lets the person know I love you. I care about you. I’m communicating this because I want you to know a truth that I value and I think you’ll value. But I’m not communicating this because I want my side to win and your side to lose; for this to be my America and not your America. That’s not reconciliation.
So we’re also seeing those divides where people are just communicating for the purpose of showing their right and others are wrong and then rallying other like-minded people who agree with them that they’re right. That’s not reconciliation, just preaching to the choir and rallying people around you who already agreed with you.
Reconciliation is spending time with your enemies. With people who don’t understand you or you don’t understand them, and building a relationship as you brought up there a relationship so that if you speak a word that disagrees with their existence, they know you’re doing it from a place of love, or at least a place of respect.
So does it beg the question then should pastors avoid using social media? Should they not do it?
(Laughing) Some should . . . I I was just like I was thinking of a few people. I wrote in the book I wrote this fictional character, just this extreme fictional character, Pastor. I think I called him, the Reverend Wrightworth or something. You know, even his name says he’s always right and you know the concept of we all have that stereotypical pastor who he thinks he’s advancing the gospel through social media. And he’s making these strong statements about, you know what’s right, what’s wrong, and every position that comes in. And people go “Yes and Amen. We need to speak Truth.” But what he’s actually doing is just alienating a large group of people that he’s been called to minister to.
(By the way, I’m saying he because in general, I’ve found this to be men who do this.)
For us, I believe social media is a tremendous tool. The strength of it is we can connect with people we could never connect with before in my Twitter following I have people who are extreme progressives extreme conservatives all over the theological spectrum, better racial diversity, ethnic diversity, and gender diversity and age diversity than the church that I pastor of the little you know, 80 to 100 people that go to our church. So there’s a strength I want to reach those people, and I want those people to reach me. I want to expand my worldview and understanding of how God exists in the world.
So social media is not going away. Internet communication is not going away and Christians should be there. Some of the most important discussions of our time are occurring online. And what I’m seeing Pastors do and Christians do — They don’t know how to use the technology. They blow their lives up by having all these fights. And then they’re like, forget it, I’m just not going to be online and they give up on it. Or they take a break or a fast. That’s not going to work.
It’s kind of like with food. You know if you struggle with food, you can’t stop eating food. At some level, you gotta learn how to be healthy with food. Internet communication is going to exist and frankly, even if you’re not online, that communication is going to influence how you have in person communication. So we have to learn the strengths of the technology and the weaknesses of the technology.
So that’s what I would encourage pastors to do. Take a break from your crusading. Find a way to educate yourself so you can lead by example. The purpose of communicating online, just as one-on-one communication is, is reconciliation. And if we’re not communicating for that purpose, then we’re not using the medium for it’s best purpose, or it’s best to intent.
More Relationships: Good or Bad?
Yeah, that’s one of the powerful things that I’ve experienced in social media too, is hearing voices that I normally would not be exposed to and intentionally listening to people. Who, for lack of a better term, I tend to disagree with. But it gives me an opportunity to come to engage and to understand before reacting sometimes. And too often in social media, it’s the other way round, isn’t it?
Yeah, yeah it is. Here’s one of the biggest things that I’m excited about in the book, and it’s a little deeper concept, but this has radically changed how I look at the world. One of the reasons we don’t reconcile online is because we don’t have to. And I’m going to point this out, think about, let’s say, way in the past even before automobiles; before the car. How many people did you have that you could interact with on a daily or weekly basis?
Social networks have been around long before the Internet. What was your social network before the car? Well, what, it’s places within walking distance. Maybe if you hook up the wagon or you know ride the horse somewhere, but even that that’s going to be very limited of how far you travel. So people existed in environments where they only had a very few people that they could actually interact with.
And guess what, conflicts occurred in the past. People weren’t more righteous back then or less righteous now. But if you got in an argument with your neighbor, you had to learn how to reconcile at some level. You had to learn how to abide together, because if you didn’t, that’s one less person. So now you interact with four people in your neighborhood instead of five people.
There are maybe two or three churches in your city depending upon where you are, right? If you struggle with that church and that pastor, someone in the church, If you leave that church, what are you going to do? You’re just going to go to the other one in town. You have to learn how to reconcile in that church community to deal with difficult people.
Now, this isn’t all good. We know in the past because you had less social networks. People could control things. Pastors could control you because there’s nowhere to go. A neighbor could be a real jerk that everyone had to work around, because if you didn’t get right with that neighbor, you were, you know, ostracized from your community.
So here’s the strength of the Internet, and every technology is like this, the strength of the Internet is it allows us to have more relationships than ever before. It extends our capacity to want human connection and relationship. That’s good. But as it extends our capacity, it also weakens the capacity it extends. It weakens our ability to connect with people. Because we have so many options that if I get in a conflict with someone, I can just unfollow them, mute them, delete them and find another 100,000 people that I can interact with.
If I don’t like what’s going on in our church. I can just Google what I want and find you know 100 or 1000 different expressions of the church. If I don’t like what my neighbors saying, I don’t ever have to interact with my neighbor because I conform myself in a community of like-minded people who have the same politics, have the same theological convictions, have the same sports convictions and I can just abide with them.
So what you’re seeing is we are segmenting into ideological similar groups but we’re not learning how to be diverse, learning how to have different opinions in the room. Learning how to go through a conflict, and I think that’s one of the primary reasons we’re struggling with social media, because we don’t have to reconcile. As soon as we disagree, as soon as someone doesn’t serve my needs, I move on to someone else. That’s not how you treat important relationships, not that’s how you treated marriage. That’s not how you treat your kids or family, or close friendships, but that’s how we’re treating our connection with humans. And you can see how that’s hurting us as humans that we’re not learning how to abide with each other in love through a conflict.
Values for Online Interaction
So Doug, your online interaction, as I’ve observed on Twitter, mostly it’s playful, it’s peaceful, it’s fun, but you also you connect with a wide variety of people. What are some of the values that drive your interaction online?
Probably that I don’t want conflict, I’m a middle child. You know I mentioned this in the book, and I think we’ll talk about this later that there are definitely times when justice demands conflicts, so this isn’t just everybody get along and God is good, then let’s just smile. While terrible things are happening. For me, I would say there was a part of me just as a middle child, as someone who didn’t enjoy conflict, that I learned all these ways to help everybody get along. But I had to learn, why am I doing that? If I’m doing that just because I don’t want to feel the pain of conflicts, and that’s not really a great motivator. I’m actually processing people from my own pain. I’m trying to get them to get along because I feel bad when they’re in tension.
However, I did learn some tools on how to reconcile how to connect with people and so in in my best days. I’m hoping that what I’m doing is that my goal is for people to know that I value them and love them. And people say, well, that’s ridiculous with a stranger online. But I want to treat every person as if they were someone who came into the church that I pastor. When someone comes into the church that I pastor, the first thing I don’t do at the door, is say what are your views on the Trinity and what’s your view on salvation? And who did you vote for? Regardless of where they’re at, and Jesus is pretty clear on this, even if they’re an enemy of the gospel, I’m called to love them to bless them, to do good to them, to lend to them, and not expect to be repaid. That’s how we’re supposed to treat our enemies.
So online I want that same spirit. So here’s just a sample, I don’t put a lot of rules in the book, but there’s practical things at the end of each chapter or how to process their own life. I know with pastors you can’t tell them how to live their lives, so they’re going to do their own thing anyway. But, I would ask anybody listening to this, your first interaction and your last interaction are incredibly important with a person. My goal is that my first interaction, they would know that I care about them and love them, and that God cares about them and loves them. Now, I might not say those words, but in the spirit in which I approach them, I’m approaching them in that manner.
What I’m seeing, what we’re normalizing, and Christians are doing this— their only interaction with someone online, a stranger, is just fighting, ridiculing, shaming, winning an argument. For the sake of that relationship that’s not my first goal. So that’s their first interaction with that person and often it’s their last interaction because they fought and they went their own ways.
My goal is my first interaction is to build some sort of relational equity where they know that they can trust me not to harm them or hurt them. My first interaction and my last interaction so that influences me. Online, I try to be who I am. I’m irreverent, I think about silly things. In order to exist in this world, I have to tweet everything, I think. So I send all kinds of weird stuff out there. But if someone starts interacting with me in a conflict, my first goal is not to be right. It’s to be reconciling. So to be reconciling, they need to know that I value them as a person.
So, I will back away from trying to argue a point and more asking questions because, here’s a perfect example, as a pastor sometimes people see pastors as just terrible people. They’ve had bad experiences with pastors and I’m a symbol of that. They don’t see me, they see me as a representation of everything that’s wrong in the world. So their first interaction with me might be an attack and it’s it feels like an attack on me. But what they’re really attacking is all the relationships they’ve had with pastors.
Instead of getting defensive, I need to validate that attack in this sense, say “I notice you’re mad at me. You know what’s going on? You know what are you upset about and thanks for sharing that with me. Is there something else that bothers you about that?” Or, “I’m sorry that happened. I really care about that. I really do want to know more about your experience.” Not trying to process them, not trying to change their mind. And what you’ll find is when you respond positively to someone, two things will happen. Either, they’ll just kind of go, “Oh, I’m sorry. I’m just upset” and you’ll see them deescalate because you’ve humanized the situation. And once it’s deescalated and it’s humanized then you can have a connection.
For other people, they don’t want it to be deescalated. They don’t want to see you as a human. And then they start doing things that we would call like trolling. And now I know this is a person that’s not safe that they’re sinning against me and I don’t want to keep them sinning against me. So my goal isn’t to ridicule and shame them so they can send more publicly and retweet them so other people can hate on this person. My goal is to keep them from sinning, so I’m going to hand them over to Satan. I’m going to hand them over to their own devices. I’m going to part ways. Like this doesn’t seem to be helpful, I’m gonna pray a blessing on them. I always bless people because you’re supposed to bless your enemies, so I’m praying that God will bless you and I I usually say you can have the last word because people want the last word. And then they just say that and then we move our own ways. But the goal was not to not talk to them because I hate them, but I don’t want to keep them sinning against me and others.
So I’m going to deescalate that environment and move on to something else. Maybe have to block or mute them depending upon how hostile they are. Those are some of the motivations I have, but all of those are motivated by what the goal is not to be right but to be reconciling. Do I always follow that? No, I do not. Sometimes I want to be right and I gotta . . .
But I know I’m right.
Yeah, I know I’m right. Well, here’s like another example. As a man I’ve been accused of mansplaining. And you know why, I’ve been accused of that because . . .
Explain that to us. (laughter)
We got three men here, we’ll be able to figure this out ,right? My first response was to say I’m not a mansplainer. Which by the way, once you try to prove that you’re not, uh, mansplaining, you’re mansplaining. So you’re just trapped. Now I had an interaction with someone I thought you don’t understand who I am and how judgy and whatever, but I learned if my goal is to build relationship. And maybe even I was right, I probably still think I’m right inside. But just the goal is I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Clearly to this person I’m a mansplainer. Thank you for sharing that. I’m gonna try to communicate better.
And those are true things. I’ve had people like that where our first interaction was something like that, and now we have a friendship. Or at least we have a polite way to exist. I have atheists who the first, e-mail or text was just terrible. And now they consider me a friend online. You know, I don’t really trust God, but I trust you, Doug. You know that’s what we’re trying to. But that takes intentionality because it hurts the first time someone says something terrible about you or they say it two times or three times.
But isn’t that what Christ did? The apostle Paul? Anyone in the Bible that they communicated with their enemies for the purpose of bringing them from darkness into light from death into life?
Communicating with Hurting Pastors
One of the things I see you doing also online is just identifying with the pain that other people are experiencing from time to time, especially pastors, you have a soft spot in your heart for pastors, don’t you?
I do. One of the things to me is I try to communicate my pain not as the tip of the iceberg because some people will communicate pain, but there’s it’s because there’s all kinds of other things going on, and it’s a cry for help, and I don’t know if social media is the best place to do that. I communicate pain just as here’s the iceberg. Because I want other pastors to know they’re not alone. I do also want people to be able to Minister to me. I Minister to them. I want them to be able to minister to me. But there’s all these fictions or expectations about what the church should be or what pastors should be that aren’t the reality of who pastors are and pastors are afraid to share what they’re actually going through. You know?
For instance, the majority of churches are small churches and that even the term that they’re small churches — they’re not small, they’re normal sized churches. If the majority of churches are certain size, that’s not small, that’s just what a church is. But you have the majority of churches. You know 90% the statistics under 200 and everywhere they go, every conference they go to. Every book though read says you need to break out of this reality. You need to become something. You need to get past the 100 barrier or the 200 barrier or whatever it is.
And what those books are doing and those church growth experts are doing, even if they have great intentions, I’m not saying these are bad intentions; but they’re creating self-hate among pastors. The majority of pastors feel like they’re not doing it right. If they just did it right, they wouldn’t be this small expression. If they just did it right, they wouldn’t be stuck here. So, the majority of our pastors are taught to hate the expression that they will spend the majority of all their life ministering in that context.
It’s the concept of like growing pumpkins. I go to the State Fair and there’s these giant pumpkins. If you have a State Fair where there’s always this huge pumpkin that someone grows, it’s amazing. It’s giant, it sets the record, but it would be foolish to say this is what your pumpkin should look like if you grow a pumpkin patch, right? A pumpkin patch. The normal sized pumpkins look a certain way.
But we’ve lived in a culture where we’re platforming giant sized pumpkin pastors. We’re telling everybody to be that we’re hiding it, suppressing our pain, and then, as a result, pastors have nowhere to go with it. And you also know, for pastors, there’s less safe places, because if you share your hurts with the church part of your hurt is the church. And it takes so much effort to pastor the hurt that you just shared well past week. So your heart tell us what’s wrong and it takes so much work that you don’t have a safe place. There often you don’t have a safe place denominationally when you see who’s platformed, who’s promoted, who’s respected within your denomination.
So, for me, there’s an incredible isolation for pastors, so for me I want every pastor to know I believe that God has called you and equipped you and that he has a vision and a purpose that you have that you want others to value and respect, and to partner with. Instead of giving them a new vision, a new path, something I want them to do. I want to be a safe place where they can share the vision God has placed in their heart. I can validate it and say it has value in the do. That what you’re doing right now has value versus what you’re doing now may have value if you have the right outcomes.
How many pastors are living in that context where they’re doing things, they’re making them miserable, hurting themselves, hurting their family, and yet they’re doing it for a future outcome that might never happen. And even if it does happen, it’s not going to satisfy them. So that’s the area for my heart. Besides all this other stuff I’m talking about is I want to encourage pastors that what they’re doing has value in the doing and that they need places to be honest about who they are and the cost of ministries.
So yeah, that is a passion for me.
The Community of God
We’ll get back to Posting Peace in a second, but I just want you to share a little bit about your other book where you describe yourself as somewhat of a reluctant pastor. Tell us about that little bit.
I’m by the way I’m not writing books to make money. There’s no money in it. It’s not a bestseller. I wanted to make a few bucks, that’s not happening. I think it’s a good book. People who read it enjoy it. But you know, getting people to read something, particularly people don’t read books that are about how to look at our own lives. We love to read books and about what’s wrong with them. So I know that’s one of the reasons people avoid it. I want to encourage people that Posting Peace is a gentle book in the sense it’ll encourage you and what you do well and it’ll help you with the things that bother you already that you want to feal with.
The first book I wrote is called The Community of God: a theology of the church from a reluctant pastor. And I put that in on purpose. It’s a book about why we gather into community, and I think this is another one of the big issues of our time, right? Why do you go to church? Why do you exist in a body? And I’d seen some posts by people like Donald Miller where they said you don’t really need church. I don’t like singing. I really find God more in nature and the people I work with, and I realize this person doesn’t understand why we exist in community.
But I wanted people also to know I’m not just one of those guys who loves going to church, love small groups, love being in community. So I’m telling you to do what I love. I don’t enjoy community. I’ve been called to be a pastor but I am very much a reluctant pastor. I will stand before the congregation and say this, I didn’t go into ministry because I want more friends. I don’t want more friends. If I could spend my time I would spend it safely with my wife and my kids and we’d go on hikes and I’d write books where people paid me lots of money. That part has not happened, but I would just be in isolation and then I’d come down from the mountain. I’d give my message and I’d go back to my isolated community but that’s not healthy.
To be human is to be in community and being forced to be in community has made me more human. It’s helped me understand my God who is community one God, but father, son and Holy Spirit. The only way to understand the fullness of God is to be in community. The only way for me to understand who I am, because it’s not good for man to be alone, is to be in community. But I will tell you, even as I’m saying these words, I still don’t want to be in community. My first inclination is to not want to walk through those doors and to interact with people that can hurt me reject me, harm me, and ridicule me.
And by the way, this last year, has been for any pastor, it has been terrible. I’ve had so many people leave our church that I thought would be there forever. Because, you know we took COVID very seriously and so we did lots of precautions and we weren’t a kind of church that was political. But still people were like nope, if you’re not going to meet together in person every week, then we’re not going to have anything to do with you. That kind of stuff broke my heart. And I don’t want to go back into that environment and have my heart broken again, but that’s how we understand the love of God through abiding in community.
So that book is all about one of theology helps pastors. Why do we gather into church? Why are we in small groups? For me, You need to exist in a community that’s large enough to be annoyed with somebody but small enough to have intimacy. If it’s just all your friends who left a mega church, now hang out together, that’s not a church. At some level, it can be in your house, it can be a hiking group, but at some level it better be a group where there’s people there that annoy you, people there who don’t know the Lord, and then also people that you can connect with. And then whatever that is, I’m OK with the diversity of that.
But to be a Christian is to be in community because Christ is in community. We are the body of Christ. We are, you know, we are the church and so Christ in me is going to want to gather with other people. So if I’m not gathering with others in a consistent way, I’m not allowing Christ to be fully expressed through me so.
But do I want to do that? No, so here’s that part of me that has that issue so it. Very much is the theology from above.
We’ve been in Romans 7 there, the very thing.
That’s right, yeah. It doesn’t get easier too. Like, we lie to pastors in that we just tell them it doesn’t get easier. And in fact I think I think emotionally sensitive pastors burnout and they get used up and they get thrown away, And also, if there’s certain church structures that burn up pastors where they have no authority and they voted in and move out. So what happens is some of the pastors who remain are kind of not very emotionally connected? They’re kind of bitter and harsh and they tell you how to be and you should just develop thick skin. And I wanted people to know this, You don’t develop thick skin. You have the skin that you have. I cannot make my skin thicker, so I had to structure the church around my strengths and my weaknesses. And to let the church know this is as best as I can do. And if you love me, you’d understand that. And if you don’t love me, this is a terrible relationship. I’m not going to just do things from expectation, you know, here’s your pastor. I co-pastor because I can’t pastor alone. I want to do that in community. We have limited interactions with people I don’t meet with people all the time because it would burn me out. The people who love me understand that and know that.
So I think we need to broaden the definition of ministry to include the identity of the pastor and allow pastors who are maybe more emotionally sensitive. Who or have some struggles in different areas to be able to have a place for them, along with a guy where nothing bothers them and they’ve been doing it for 40 years and you know. Great, you exist, but let’s expand the definition of what it means to be a pastor.
Dangers of Social Media
I want to bring this back to our conversation on social media, then taking all of this a pastor who feels that way too struggling with the isolation, or the pain, hurt, and combining that with social media. What are the dangers? What are the pitfalls you see particularly for pastors in social media?
Well, here’s one, I think this works for everyone, and this goes along even with why pastors burnout. I’d ask everyone really practically to go back and look at your last two weeks of post online. If you really want to get into this, look at your last month. Just see what you post. Now I’ve said this to people, and this is not a gotcha moment, I’m not trying to make someone feel bad. But people will go, oh that’s tough. Why are you saying this? But here’s what I’d like you to do, go back to that last two weeks, the last month, and then say if you died today, (which pastors love to do that, “if you died today . . .”, here’s the Pastor one right?)
(laughter) If you died today would you want those posts to be read at your funeral? It’s a very simple question. That’s some of mine are like a thought about a sandwich or something. I don’t know. Do you want those posts? Read and then the other question is, do those posts reflect the core of who you are, or do they just reflect even the whole picture? Or is it just one part of you?
Because this is what I find, social media segments us into different communities and it also segments our own personhood where we begin to only communicate certain aspects of us. We all know pastors that when we meet them one-on-one in a pastors’ group they have diverse opinions, they talk about more than politics. They can actually be kind of nice and welcoming and they can say something strong. But then they also recognize that you might not agree with them and they’ll communicate in a way that is welcoming. But online they’re not like that at all. And you know if you met them online, you would not connect with this person at all, because they just communicate about one thing. Every post is, you know, whatever vaccines, whatever it is. What every post is just one area, and it’s not even about whether they’re right or wrong in that area. But you’re not seeing the full picture of who that person is.
So, for pastors, that’s a great way to just have your social media presence match your in-person presence. Look at what you’re posting. Does that show the core of who you are? What you love the most and does it show? A more complete picture of yourself. Even the idea for pastors who just use social media to preach at people, do you want to be known as that? The preachy guy that just tells everybody what to do? Or do you want to be known as someone who listens? How many of your posts are just “hey, could you answer this question? I have a question, what are you guys thoughts on that?” How often do you facilitate discussion and how often do you control discussion?
That’s important if you want to go the next step, and I’m telling you something right now that none of your listeners will do. And if someone does it, please contact me, but no one is going to do this. But if each of us did this, it would change the world. Don’t just do this yourself, ask the people that you love, that you consider to be friends, ask them about your social media presence. Ask them, “Are there things that you’re concerned about in the way I communicate online? Are there areas where you think I could do a better job of communicating online?” And by the way, if they give no answers, they’re either afraid of you or I don’t know if it’s really a friendship. Because if they’re your friends, they’ll probably say stuff. “You know, sometimes you just come across a little harsh. I know who you are, but it looks like you’re arguing with people all the time.”
If we do that, we’re going to see are we truly communicating in a way that shows the heart of who we are? Because if our friends are afraid to talk to us, if our family members are afraid to interact with us, you can only imagine what’s happening with strangers. So, this, to me, is a practical way, a place for pastors to start.
And then I also think you know, as pastors we’re supposed to model reconciliation and what are we modeling? If everybody did like we were doing, what would the world look like? And those are the kinds of questions that I ask myself online. Whether you’re a pastor or not, I think they’re valid to ask.
It almost sounds like a learning to have a social media self-awareness. You know, using the tools that we use for self-awareness.
Well, this is one of the problems of social media. What Marshall McLuhan, I use him a bit In my book, he’s a technological theorist, popular in the late 70s, and you know one of the things that he talked about is social media it extends a part of our human capacity, but as it extends that part of our human capacity, it also weakens it. That’s why it’s so dangerous, ’cause at one level parts of you that you really love and you’re very excited about and you get to express them. But if you don’t see yourself clearly the same things you’re extending you’re also weakening. Some of your . . . you’re just weakening some of the core of who you are. You need somebody else to come in and to shine a mirror and to help you see yourself the way you are because it becomes a distorted image of who you are and it only becomes more exaggerated over time because it’s non-relational —It’s just me on myself doing my own stuff.
Social Media and Social Justice?
So we’ve talked a lot about the importance of reconciliation, and I’m completely on board, I think that’s so needed right now. Are there times where it’s necessary to stir things up a little bit?
Yes, and I put in the book and I people the one area where people got offended with me. They’ll say, “I like all the book, but I don’t like that section where you talk about your own privilege. And I, by the way, I think I know who I’m talking to, who gets offended with this. I’m writing this book about reconciliation and peacemaking, but I also realized I am a white, middle-class male. And I might at some level be writing in a way based on my own privilege, because the biggest issues of our time really aren’t impacting me the way they’re impacting other people. So that’s why I’m very careful not to say you need to only talk this way, or you only need to do this interaction, because we each have different callings, purposes and assignments.
The reality is injustices demand conflict, and the big illustration that everyone uses is what Jesus turned over tables, right? And so I do a whole chapter on that of Jesus turning over tables. I would say If you’re only known for turning over tables, you’re not really modeling Jesus. Jesus turning over tables is powerful because it seems different to his nature on Earth.Iit’s surprising. The idea of like, when Jesus turned over tables, I’m gonna turn over tables. Are you also known as loving? If you’re not known as loving, then turning over tables is really not going to point people to Christ, and some people are like that. This every day they come up to you and they’re waiting to turn over your table at the same level, though.
Why did Jesus turn over tables? For the purpose of reconciliation. In the temple, what’s happening there that foreigners are traveling from long distances? The poor as well are trying to give offerings, and in this context for the foreigner. They have to exchange their money into the temple currency in order to give their offering, and so the exchange rates are really terrible for those foreigners. What is that doing that’s keeping people from communicating with God? It’s creating division and separation.
So, Jesus turns over the table to try to bring intimacy in the sense of the foreigners, to bring them closer to him, and also to remove the dividing walls of hostility between the moneychangers between the foreigners between the temple and it’s the same thing with the dove. And if you even look at, you know the dove is for what the poorest person could give as an offering. The Bible even goes further than that and the Old Testament says, if you don’t have money for a dove, you can give sort of a grain offering. Well, I think what was happening in the temple at that time is that they were requiring people to give Dove offerings where they shouldn’t have had to give a dove offering. The those who are running the temple are saying, well, you’ve got to give something. The Bible even gives an exclusion that if you are poor and you can’t afford a dove then you can give some sort of a grain flour offering. So, he cast out the dove merchants and I think it’s more than just you need to sell these doves at a legitimate price. He’s getting at a bigger picture that you are forcing the poor to do something they should not have to do. And you’re keeping them from intimacy with God, so the same issue with social media.
There are issues of our time where the poor are being given expectations that the rich don’t have burdens to carry, that the rich don’t have, and we need to turn over tables because it’s separating their ability to connect with God and our ability to love one another. There are racial issues that are causing divisions and divides and hurting the ability for people to come close to God and close to one another.
We need to turn over those tables. So, that idea of justice demanding conflict. It does demand conflict and I’ll give you one illustration for this. So, in a pastors’ group I was in there was a meeting about racial . . . it was just a meeting about racial understanding. It was after one of these terrible events where there was a police mistreatment of a black man and then the issue of that there’s some injustice within our systems. That was the purpose of the meeting.
And one of the members was calling people to that event, and a white pastor in the group wrote to me a very, in my experience, a very kind of clueless understanding of racial complexities in America. He’s a nice guy, he loves God, but it was one of those that was really discounting what’s going on.
Well, my desire to not cause conflict is just to kind of like OK, I don’t agree with that, but I’m not really going to say anything and we’ll just let it pass. Well, a few weeks later, one of the pastors in our group, who is a minority, wrote a very angry e-mail about how he felt isolated and alone in this group that no one understood his issues that no one was supporting him. And this is what I realized, my silence was complicity by being silent. He assumed that I agreed with what this other pastor was sharing and I had to apologize to this pastor because at some level people need to know who you are and what you believe. And that will cause conflict. And if I’m just silent because I don’t want conflict, then I am actually looking like I’m perpetuating that issue. If I if I’m silent when someone says something incredibly racially insensitive, then that’s saying at some level I don’t have a problem with that.
Now someone who’s in that group that marginalized group, they don’t have the privilege of being silent because the impact of that language affects their relationships affects their health, their very existence, their economic abilities to thrive in this country. I can opt in and opt out because there’s really no consequence for me. That’s what we need to understand. If you’re someone who can opt into a discussion or opt out of a discussion and it doesn’t really impact your future, you’re in a privileged position. At least with that issue.
So, I need to see people who can’t opt in and opt out and say, am I truly highlighting their voices? Am I truly listening to their voices even if I’m not going to speak? Am I letting them speak by retweeting their messages by posting what they’re sending people in their direction? If I’m not, then I’m existing in my comfort in my privilege, so I definitely and I know even I’m sharing this. This is probably one that people get upset even in this podcast.
I’m not talking about even agreeing with the other person, but if you don’t have relationship with the people that you’re talking about, you don’t have authority to speak. I’ve met pastors who say, you know this is what the issue of Black Lives Matter and this is what the issue of racial and they have all these opinions and I’ll ask him this question, “What do your black friends think about this? What do your black pastor friends think about this?” And what you’ll find 9 out of 10 times is they don’t have black pastor friends, or they have one friend that they use to leverage all their issues.
If we don’t have relationship with these groups, we don’t have a right to speak about that. So, in conflict, I’m not just asking people to post something negative or post something that argues I’m asking you to get into relationship in these communities that you’re talking about online. If you care about poverty, then figure out what’s going on about poverty in your hometown. Get involved. Get connected.
If you care about immigration, don’t just post your views on immigration, get involved in what’s happening with immigration in your local community. Trend local if you care about race relations, then just wait. Don’t give your opinions. Spend some time with people who care about it, get educated and then maybe, after you’ve spent a lot of time building up relationships, you have the authority to speak.
I’ll tell you you’ll speak differently when you have relationship with people when they’re not just ideologies, but they’re humans made in the image of God.
And this is one of the really powerful things about social media is it gives you the opportunity to listen. Right now one of the really hot discussions is around abuse in the church, and it’s a heartbreaking. When you listen to how the church’s response is impacting those who have been abused and you really just listen to them, you don’t try and correct them. You don’t try and censor them or even sanitize the conversation. Just listen and it opens up a whole new world of understanding.
That’s so good, and it’s hard though.
I have relationship with people where they will regularly tweet just blanket statements about the church and pastors that are really negative and it’s hard not to take that personal when you know all of them are in it for the money, you know, whatever the issue is, you know. And then sometimes I will because I have relationship. I’ll just kind of throw in, You know, I’m a pastor too and they’re like, well, you’re not like that you’re everybody else is but you’re not right but that’s hard it’s hard not to be defensive but you know, I write about this in my first book of ministering to the sinned against —that some people may never trust the church again. God knows God knows what they’re responsible for.
I don’t know if you’ve been sinned against by a leader by any authority figure. If your parents abused you, if a pastor has abused you, it doesn’t matter what I say. It doesn’t matter if for eight years I’m trustworthy in your life, you’re still at some level, maybe even beyond rour intellect, but your body is assuming there’s going to come a day when you will be trained. There’s going to come a day when you will harm me, so can I ever expect from that person a mutual submission or expect that they’ll let me lead them as their pastor or they’ll just do it because, you know, trust me, I can’t expect that.
My goal is to love them. And to open up the doors to the community of God that they can enter, but understand they may not never enter, or when they enter they may run right back out, and not judge them but thank them. “Hey, thank you for being here.” I think the church needs to be a safe place for abused people, and the only way we’re going to be safe is to allow people just to be broken in our presence to allow them. To weep with no answers. To allow them to be angry without trying to explain away that anger.
As you know, there’s many areas where the church must repent. And I don’t think the church has taken this seriously, the level of abuse. And here’s the one for pastors. I know some of you pastors have been abused as well, and that’s what’s hard because you’ve been abused by people, but you don’t really have any voice. I have had a friend of mine from many years ago whose son was sexually molested by someone in the congregation. Destroyed him, but he can’t talk about that, even. Bbecause when he talks about that, pastors can be abused or their families can be abused, he just gets into this huge area of people who are angry with pastors.
So humans can abuse each other. Church councils can abuse pastors, other pastors, abuse pastors and definitely pastors have abused and harmed people in the church. We have to, as you said so well there, it’s ask questions that allow people to speak, love them, and accept them, and also just admit that you don’t know. Christ knows. Christ knows what it’s like to be abused. At the cross he shared in the fellowship of our sin. He knows what it’s like to be sinned against, to be, spit upon to be defiled, to be abused. So the cross is not just about forgiving us of our sins, but it’s identifying with the sinned against, and so we can point to Christ and say Christ does understand how you feel.
But as you said there I just don’t think I have authority to demand anything from someone. Instead to thank them that they would allow me to be a part of their pain and that they would even trust me with their stories. So, listening and asking questions is huge.
And how instructive that is for not just posting on social media, but every aspect of our lives. Every interaction that we have. It’s choosing that posture of humility.
Hey man, well you know how hurtful it is if you when you share something with someone and they don’t understand how painful that is. Like even well-intentioned pastors, right where you share something,g they say “oh I understand” and they give you an illustration of their own life and I might have just even done. That I don’t even know but they give an illustration of their life. But then, as they’re talking to you, you’re like, “You don’t understand me. You don’t know me.” And then the nature is, you just kind of have to just find a way to end the conversation, but it’s almost more alienating than never sharing at all. Because you finally share your hurt and this not just with the abuse could be anything you can you share how the struggle in your marriage and the other pastor. Oh yeah, I know it’s a struggle in my marriage, but they don’t. And I think we need to admit that as humans. That we are re far more different than we realize. Biologically, our histories or nature or nurture, and if grace would be to used for anything, grace could be used for this.
That Grace says, fundamentally, I don’t really understand how other humans walk through this life but God is the one who can connect us where we can’t connect. God is the one who can find a way for me to minister to someone, even if I’ll never understand how they exist right now, or they’ll never understand me. That’s the miracle of the Kingdom of God that we’ve all had times when the Holy Spirit has brought us together to truly connect. Even though we don’t really understand each other at all, so we must facilitate environments that lift up the name of Jesus, not my ideologies or my education.
Well, I have a doctorate in this. Let me tell you it has to be much more where we make room for the presence of God to Minister to people.
Blessings of Social Media
Well, what are some of the blessings you’ve experienced through social media?
Well, this would be one of them, wouldn’t it? Yeah, I don’t think we would know each other outside of social media. I’ve gotten to just see, meet so many tremendous people. I’ve also gotten to see the hurts that people are going through that I didn’t take seriously. Church abuse will be one. How women are treated within the church. Things that I though,t you know, growing up in the northwest, some of these things I thought ended in the 50s. I know how naive that is. But then I’d be in some environments where I’d see this. Is the reality someone has faced? They have only faced environments where, as a woman, their voice was never valued. Or they’ve only faced environments where they were considered, racially, a second class citizen. S,o that’s been an incredible privilege to be able to see the church that God always sees. This is the thing that kind of gets us, right?
Even with COVID we’ve seen Christians act in a certain way. We’re like, “Oh my goodness, is this how Christians act”and we get shaken, but God has always seen that. God has always seen the worst of humanity when he said things you know, love your enemies, do good to them, bless them, lend to them. Don’t expect to be repaid. So we’re getting a perspective of what God already sees. So, social media shows a lot of garbage bthen it allows you to see the world that God sees and the world that God loves.
Also we get all these wonderful blessings that people have spoken into my life and blessed me and encouraged me, and I’ve actually sometimes been more encouraged some stranger in the sense of online, from two states over, has been more supportive of me as an author than people in my own church. I’m not trying to judge the people in my church, they’re just doing other things. That’s amazing that I can have people who’ve invested in God vision in my life and valued that. So yeah, this book is not about, you know, social media is evil and we have to, you know, avoid it at all costs. It extends parts of our human capacity, but as it extends it, it weakens them.
Mapping technologies. Do you like that you have mapping technology that allows you to get anywhere you want to go? Yeah, we do, but what does it also do? It kind of keeps us from knowing where we are once our map disappears, we don’t really know where we are. Because we’ve been following this technology, so that’s what every technology does, so it allows us to connect with people. But maybe we’ve lost our tools of how to learn to build meaningful connections, to go through conflicts. It allows me to exist with segmented groups, but in that sometimes I just want to be with people like me.
That’s a strength, I get to be around a bunch of people at the same story. Pastors that identify people who have been abused by the church can gather together and be supported. But the strength of that becomes a weakness, so that community of people that all united around being hurt by the church a conflict occurs in that community. And instead of knowing how to go through the conflict, they fracture again. So you still have to learn. Okay, the strength is we are able to unite on what we agree on, but there’s going to come a day where we don’t agree and how can we make room for the reconciling power of Jesus Christ. So all these strengths of the Internet will become weaknesses if we don’t allow God to also strengthen those muscles and allow us to continue to learn how to abide with each other in healthy ways.
I think sometimes social media is just the place where we can experience, worship again or learn to laugh together or just watch cat videos. You know, sometimes this social media is just a gift to experience common interests with others and develop relationships around those things.
Than’s so good. Well, one of the things we’re so segmented that people still desire commune. And we used to be more when we were in our own local communities, we could do shared experiences. We all experienced something together and we talked about it. Media was like that for a while, let’s say like when Seinfeld was on TV, people didn’t watch that many programs, so they could all unite around the last episode of Seinfeld, decide whether they liked it or not. Now we have how many streaming platforms? How many different? So everybody is listening to different content. Even in our own homes: dads watching TV, one of the kids is on their switch and doing YouTube, another person is doing Instagram, so we’re all sharing different content. We’re not able to unite around that content, and a lot of discussions occur when we’re doing something together.
When you’re all working together in the field, you talk about other things. Well, we’re all working in different contexts, but we still want community. So social media can be that I don’t know if you’ve seen this, there’s a wordle. Is this thing going on? It’s this where you have to guess the word right word right and some people driving them crazy. Why is everybody so excited about Wordle? And if you don’t know what this says, you’ll know eventually if you’re online ’cause people post it. Well, I think that’s the desire that I want to share an experience with others, but there’s nowhere to share it. So now everyone sharing around. We all looked at the same word on wordle and how many times did it help you get through it?
This is what’s going to happen in the future, we still want shared experiences, so some of the worst shared experiences are going to rise up, and some of the best shared experiences. Politics is still shared so we’re still going to unite around that in some of the worst ways, and some of the best ways. We also are looking for these shared things to do together, so I agree that God loves art. God loves music, God and if you think I’m putting words in God’s mouth, 1/3 of the scripture is written in poetry. Poetry is not what you communicate truth through if you want to make sure, everyone knows exactly what you’re saying. Right? You know if you want to like you don’t take a science class and say I want you to study this poem and then we’re going to test you on it on how to do the scientific method.
That’s not what you do, but God communicated truth through culture, through poetry. It had to be developed for Holy Scripture even to be written, and poetry is something that happens when there’s luxury when there’s time to sit and ponder and wonder. That’s the nature of God. God spoke through vineyards. Vineyards are what you create when everything is OK and there’s peace in the land and you can plant some grapes and take some time there for celebration, there for culture. And he communicates how Israel is this vineyard and how he wants us to become this vineyard.
So that’s another strength of social media. Right where you can facilitate those things, the joy of humor, the joy of a video that we share someone took some time to do something that we didn’t. What’s the meaning of it? The purpose of it I don’t know, but we need it as humans. And God values that the scripture is full of those expressions. We certainly should have those expressions in our social media presence.
Words of Hope
Doug, this conversation has just been great and we’re running out of time, so I just want to share with people where they can find you online. Your website is fairlyspiritual.org and your Twitter handle is at Fairly spiritual. I like the theme there.
So we just want to close with the question we ask all of our guests, what words of hope would you like to offer to pastors and their families?
Uhm, I know for me personally, I felt incredibly alienated. I felt really hurt and I just want for other pastors who you’re feeling that way. Like I don’t know who to trust. There’s pastors’ groups I don’t want to go to. There’s denominational meetings I don’t want to go to. I feel like some relationships have just abandoned me. So I want you to know that you’re not alone. If you feel like that, I don’t think it makes you a bad person, it’s how you feel.
But I do want to remind you of this, that you’ve not been left alone. We’re not left as orphans, that God abides with us, and that he has next steps for our lives. And if you listen to the Lord, his first words are words of comfort, encouragement. Words of building up. He’s a good father. He’s a good dad. And I know my father is a good father and he encourages me and he builds me up and if he has something to say to me, that might be a corrective it only comes after I clearly know that my dad is for me.
Your father is for you. He has given you the Holy Spirit to be able to walk daily in his promises. I’d encourage you to take that next step, it’s OK if you’re just surviving. It’s OK if you’re just taking the next step. That’s the strength you have. The harvest is ripe. The workers are few. Do your best. Other people can come into the harvest, but you just do what you can do and trust that the Lord will bless this offering, even if it’s far more simple than you ever thought it would be.
So be encouraged fellow brothers and sisters in the ministry.
Doug, thank you so much for taking the time to be on hope renewed with us today. We really appreciate your generosity in your time.
Oh my pleasure. I love to talk and you gave me plenty of opportunity for that, so thank you so much.
It’s great, and as always, we invite you, our listeners to rate and review hope renewed in iTunes or your favorite podcast app. And to share this podcast with your friends on social media, it’s a great way to help us continue to bring hope to others. Thanks for joining us today.
It is our prayer that the message of Christ hope grows in and through you.