Sep 14, 2015

7 Habits of Highly Annoying Clergy on Social Media

Clergy and social media. They go together like, well, selfie sticks and tourists. They might look ridiculous but that's not going to stop them. And occasionally they produce something breathtaking.

My Facebook timeline and Twitter feed are littered with posts by clergy. This makes sense since a) Duh and b) Some of my best friends are women and men of the cloth.

Nonetheless, there are some things clergy post on a regular basis that are highly annoying. Mind you I've been guilty of all of these at various points. So, yes, this blog post is written from the friendly confines of my glass rectory (Biblical reference - ding, ding, ding!)

As I hold up the collective mirror, please know that you're in my thoughts and prayers (religious cliche -- ding, ding, ding!).

1. Posting prayers and/or sympathetic comments after Every. Single. Tragedy. 
We know you care. It's what makes you an excellent pastoral presence in your congregation. But there are some clergy who feel obligated to post banal religious platitudes anytime something bad happens in the news (which is, like, every hour!). We won't think any less of you if you keep some of these thoughts in your daily prayers. Really.

2. Complaining about all the work you have to do during Holy Week.
Yes, you're busy the week before Easter. We're all busy slaving over hot altars with 12 services in four days or whatever. We all have too many sermons to crank out. But you know what? Holy Week is the greatest week of the year -- it's our Super Bowl! If you can't get jazzed about preparing for the Resurrection, despite all it entails, maybe it's time to hang up the vestments.

3. Posting your sermons.
When polled, nearly 90% of drivers believe they are good to excellent at navigating the highways and byways. If you've ever pulled out into traffic, you know this is a ridiculous. The same is true for preachers. Have you ever known a cleric to say, "You know, I'm terrific at running budget meetings but I can't preach my way out of a paper cathedral." No. No, you haven't. And yet when we go on vacation, we here plenty of sermons in the "fair to meh" range, if not worse. Your sermon isn't God's gift to the internet. Sorry. (And, yes, I do have a sermon blog -- though I only share them on the parish Facebook page and Twitter account, where people know the context and my voice).

4. Humble bragging about how many people showed up on Sunday. 
Yes, that's fabulous that you had 682 people show up on Christmas Eve and that you performed eight baptisms on a random Sunday in August. I'm sure Jesus is thrilled as he is depending exclusively on you to usher in his Kingdom. However until you, like the Pope, can sell out of 10,000 tickets to his upcoming mass in Philadelphia in 8 minutes, keep your numbers to yourself.

5. Discussing theological and/or liturgical minutia. 
You may well get your theological jollies by parsing the use/non use of the maniple. But ask yourself, is this doing anything to help make you/the church more relevant and inviting to the world? Unless you were completely insufferable as a seminarian, you presumably have a group of friends you can message about such matters. Use them. For the love of God.

6. Tweeting like a bishop.
A few years ago, several of us got tired of the social media posts of church leaders who had a hierarchical platform but no clue. Thus the #tweetlikeabishop hashtag was born. Any post that proclaims "What a blessing to be with the good people of St. Leo by the Lake this morning" falls under this category. It's a way of trying too hard to be a person of the people; one which has the reverse effect of setting someone apart from rather than within the community. And, no, you don't have to be a bishop to Tweet like one. Believe me. (There are a some bishops who rock social media, by the way. I just wish there were more).

               6A. Selfies with the congregation.
               Please stop. It's not about you.

7. Confusing personal and parish accounts. 
Maybe your parish doesn't have it's own Facebook page? I don't know (get one, please). But I do know that posting multiple pictures of your church's recent Tuna Fish Casserole Cook-Off is irritating  to me and most of your other Facebook friends. I'm not suggesting there be a solid line -- that's the thing about parish clergy, our identities are blurred -- but not everyone on your timeline needs to hear about everything going on in your parish.

Ultimately, this is all about the over-used word "authenticity." Just be yourself. Don't post things because you think they are things clergy should be posting. Post things you're passionate about, things that others might want to hear, things that communicate who you are.

Of course number eight on this list would be over-posting. If you're posting more than about three things a day on Facebook, um, join Twitter and have at it.

See you online!


sojourneranne said...

The "thoughts and prayers" thing always makes me cringe. I like my FB page to keep my vocation a secret. I'm always a priest but I also always am a wife, mother, grandmother, friend, neighbor, reporter, political junkie, antique collector, history buff, murder mystery fan. You get the idea.

Meredith Gould said...

Hard to decide which of these I adore the most, but may have to go with...all of them. Ok, #5 and then #6A, but also #3, as well as #1. As per #5, I'm writing about the disease of Orthopraxytosis in my new book.

Anonymous said...

Despite all appearances, 6A is definitely not me.

G said...

Facebook's friend lists and custom post privacy settings are useful for #5 - my minutiƦ posts are only seen by the willing!

Unknown said...

2a. Priests who post how exhausted they are after a big funeral or a late night pastoral emergency, seemingly to beg for the inevitable sympathetic responses from their admirers about how wonderful a priest s/he truly is and how bless their parish is to have them love them all so much.

Jay Croft said...

regarding #2--what is worse is announcing that you're going to take a week or two off immediately after the last Easter Day service.

Hello? Easter Day is the apex of visitors, newcomers and potential new members. A prime opportunity for evangelism!

Stick around, make calls, sign notes thanking those folks for their visiting. It'll pay off. A "you all wore me out" mentality, spoken or unspoken, is a turn-off.

Unknown said...

You make some fair points, but couldn't we argue that these habits would be annoying in real life/in person, and are just as annoying on Facebook and social media? Humble-bragging about church attendance or debating theological minutia is, to me at least, fairly annoying in person--though that probably happens a lot less in person than it does on FB. I think some of this also speaks to the isolation that clergy feel in some respects. Who can we really easily commiserate with about the gauntlet of Holy Week and Easter? I'm not sure how my close colleagues would feel if I started calling them up or taking them out to coffee just to tell them how exhausted I was from Holy Week services.

I think social media just gives us an excuse not to exercise a decent level of discretion--a problem not isolated to clergy, but should clergy know and do better?

Jay Croft said...

I do think that Holy Week services are over-done.

Why cram so many services into just one week? The universal feeling is "I'm glad it's over for another year."

The feeling should be "We're just starting!"

Relling said...

There is a variation on number one, which (forgive me) applies to some female clergy and postulants. It is not only the comments on whatever happens, it is also the over the top sentimentality of the tone in which it is done. The "oh I just enjoy praying with you so much" and "I will always remember the joy we shared in singing" may describe the speaker's feelings. However, it is very unlikely that this sentiment will be shared to the same extent by the audience. It creeps me out. It makes me want to go home and take a shower. It is over the top all the time. It makes me think the speaker has no idea of proportionality, and no genuine idea of the holy either.
Have you had a similar experience?

Jay Croft said...

There's also the responsibility of bringing Communion to shut-ins, nursing homes, etc. during Easter Week. (Anticipating Easter by attempting to give "Easter Communion" during Holy Week does violence to the liturgical year.)

Unknown said...

confusing it's with its.

Theresa Weaver said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aquilonius said...

If instead there were a #tweetlikeadean hashtag, I wonder what kinds of comment it would be attached to...

More seriously, I'd rather clergy got out there, engaged with social media and helped make a positive difference than held back for fear of falling foul of these (very sensible) admonitions. We are all bound to fall into some of the many traps for the unwary, especially when starting out. Self-over-exposure is one of them, particularly when role and person get confused. But let's encourage one another to try things out, learn from the feedback, and serve the gospel and humanity in whatever creative digital ways are open to us. It's an important aspect of pubic ministry these days, I think.