Social Media Advice (Danny Zacharias)

From Danny Zacharias. Danny Zacharias is a lecturer in Biblical studies at Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, NS. He is a PhD candidate at Highland Theological College in Scotland, runs 2 websites (one and two) and tweets @da_knee.

Some Social Media Advice for Seminarians

Social media has changed the way we interact with one another. Sometimes it is for the good, sometimes not. As a seminary prof who happens to be chummy with his students on Facebook as well as following a few on Twitter, I’ve noticed some things that concern me. It is not that I am terribly surprised by what I see, but given who it is coming from I have some reason for worry and concern because I care for my students and want the best for them. So in this post I want to give some advice to seminarians out there—advice that probably applies just as well to college and university students in general.

1. If you are going into ministry, you are an example.

Most seminary or Bible college students are already in ministry or have spiritual influence over some of their peers. If you use social media you are inviting an extra spotlight on your life and you need to take that seriously as an ambassador of Christ. Be wise and think before you post that video, that link, etc.

2. You are giving a green light for others to do as you do.

If you are constantly playing Facebook games while in class, having constant Facebook chats in class, and complaining about other students or your professors on Twitter, you are modeling how others, especially youth, can act. Once you are out there in ministry, don’t you want the people in the pews to actually listen to you? People in your Bible study to actually engage with you? Model respect so that others in your circle of influence can do the same.

There is also such a thing as too much funny. Remember, your social media persona is a snapshot of who you are and may be the primary way people interact with you. If ALL they see are jokes, funny videos, funny pics, etc. people may wonder “Is she every serious?” The opposite is true too—if you are dead serious about everything, and if every post you make is a mini-sermon of judgment, then you’ll be viewed as too serious. Find the right balance.

3. Cut the complaining.

As Christians who are willingly putting the social media spotlight on ourselves, we need to be upright in our conduct and speech. Complaining about life and particularly about classes, teachers, parents, etc. not only sheds a bad light on you and your heart, but it is also a sin. “Do not grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door” (James 5:9). There is a tendency to go and air out our grievances on Facebook or Twitter when something really annoys us or when we feel we have been wronged. Resist that temptation. Leave the judgment up to God. This does not mean you can’t share your opinions or do social commentary about the world, but do so in a way that shows respect and exhibits integrity.

4. You may be burning relationship bridges.

If you’re in seminary you are not only learning from your professors but you are also building relationships with them, with the entire school, and with your peers. Your professors, all of the staff, and your classmates can and will be a resource for you in the future. But if you become that student who complains about everything on his blog you will quickly be burning relationship bridges. And do not think to yourself “I only complain about one teacher.” Guess what? Your professors talk to one another. Our calling as seminary profs is to partner with God to form you and equip you to be the best minister you can be for His kingdom. Which means we talk about you, we pray for you, and we collectively share the joy of your triumphs and successes. But we also get collectively irked over your social media rants. And for some of your peers, the majority of the interaction they have with you may be social media. And these same people may well be partners in ministry with you later in life. How do you want them to know you? As the complainer? As the person who talks about inappropriate things on Facebook? Or as the person who writes thoughtful comments, makes them laugh, and whose speech is upright before God?

5. You may be breaking confidence and intruding on privacy.

It is common nowadays to Facebook post or Twitter quotations from class that you particularly enjoy. I’m not necessarily opposed to this, but again caution needs to be exercised. First of all if you are doing it excessively, some may question how well you are actually engaged in the class (see # 2 above). But furthermore, if the quotations you keep throwing out onto the World Wide Web are only jokes or funny anecdotes, you may be giving fuel to those who question your suitability for theological education, or for those in the wider school constituency who may already have a misconstrued view of the school you attend. When you are a student and alumni for a school, you are an ambassador for that school as well.

I would also be very wary of posting specific statements by fellow students or posting your own commentary on class discussion. This is unwise for a number of reasons. First, students in the classroom should not have to preface what they say by stating “this is only for those who are here to hear.” This should be assumed. Do not break their confidence by tweeting what they say, especially if you disagree. Second, if you really have an opinion on the subject matter or on the conversation in class, then you should ACTUALLY SAY IT IN CLASS! You are part of the learning environment in a classroom. Engage in the class and in the conversation, rather than distancing yourself in order to post online about it. Twittering your thoughts about a conversation taking place in your class without actually speaking up in class really lacks integrity. Not only because you may be holding back an opinion that others need to hear, but also because you are not giving yourself the chance to be challenged and potentially corrected by your classmates and the person you are paying to learn from.

If you still insist on twittering or posting in class let me suggest a few ground rules. First, you should ask your prof for their permission, and if they say yes but give you conditions, follow the conditions to the letter. If it is allowed, then I would only stick with “quotes of wisdom” rather than “funny quotes” which may be misread. I would also refrain entirely from posting a quote from any other student.

6. You are accountable for the words that come out of your mouth…and the tweets that come from your beak.

Seminary teaches you the importance of crafting a good biblical sermon because you will command the attention of several dozens to several hundreds on a Sunday morning. Blogs, posts, and tweets are not given nearly as much thought, but the reality is that you are on a much larger platform when you throw something out on the web. You do not need to slave over every tweet, but you would be foolish not to pause before hitting that publish button. You are accountable, socially and legally, for what you say online. There is  a misconception that what you say via social media is just personal ramblings—you’re wrong. Don’t be one of those poor souls who get sued or fired over a tweet or blog-post rant.

7. You may be shooting yourself in the foot.

In view of all the things that I have said above, seminary students may not realize that they may be shooting themselves in the foot when it comes time to look for ministry positions. Don’t be naïve and think that hiring committees won’t read your twitter feed, your blog, and your Facebook posts.  I would do the exact same thing if I were in their position, and you probably would too! That doesn’t mean you can’t say funny things, post funny videos, engage in discussions etc.  But are your comments lewd? Would your parents or people older than you find it offensive or in bad taste? Is the video you post a little too racy, or have too suggestive language? These things may come back to haunt you at interview time and guess what—they should! And the blame will lay solely on your shoulders. Don’t forget for those of you who are younger—you will likely be hired and accountable to an older generation. You are a lot more desensitized than the generations ahead of you because of modern media. Be aware—don’t post things that would make your grandmother frown.

This whole topic concerns me because I want the best for my students and I also want the best for God’s church. There are some students out there, and you may be one of them, who are bright and full of passion and will do great in ministry—but your social media persona is poor and it may affect your future. It also concerns me because God is interested in the whole person and social media is a snapshot of who you are. Some students out there need to sit back and honestly evaluate their social media persona. You may not like what you see. But more importantly you may recognize areas in your heart and minds that you need to surrender to the Lordship of Christ. Social media is the new conversation arena and it is where people spend an increasing amount of time. So if you are a Christian, BE A CHRISTIAN on social media because the one you serve is Lord over it too.

Danny Zacharias is a lecturer in Biblical studies at Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, NS. He is a PhD candidate at Highland Theological College in Scotland, runs 2 websites (ntgreekresources.com and deinde.org) and tweets @da_knee

 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Peter

    Being theologically sensitive to those who could possibly view a blog, tweet or post was not specifically stated, but is something that can get a seminarian in trouble as well. I am a seminary student and I realize some things that I learn, including sacred dogmas such as inerrancy and creation, can cause a ruckus if posited in a way that makes people wonder about my faith and ability to lead a congregation. I spoke with a pastor who asked me to tone down my posts because they could be construed as controversial and not beneficial to the church. I was frustrated at first, but realized long-term that these kind of posts on theological topics were not worth the risk of confusing others who might take what I post the wrong way.

  • http://www.mwerickson.com Matt Erickson

    This is a very thoughtful and comprehensive take on cautions necessary with social media. I have found a number of colleagues in ministry who have said things either while still employed or after an employment has ended that have violated numbers 1, 3 and 4 in the name of authenticity.

    This is a fine line because we value authenticity and transparency so greatly, and yet I’ve found that many people are not too discerning about what should be shared with others as well as what the right venue or environments are for sharing such things.

    What do people think the line is between vulnerable authenticity and appropriate discernment online?

  • Fish

    My girlfriend is a college professor and she won’t accept facebook friend requests from any of her students. It keeps her personal life separate from her professional life — and both areas of her life benefit from that separation between work and home.

    If I were a pastor and had to choose between having my personal life on full display to a congregation and not being on facebook at all, I might choose the latter. On the other hand, some pastors seem to enjoy having a 24×7 platform.

  • John

    The links lead to error messages.

  • RJS

    Thanks, should be fixed now.

  • http://blog.alexmunos.com/ Alex Munos

    Excellent post and equally excellent advice. I feel pretty confident about what I’ve posted on Twitter, and my blog is relatively new, but I already decided what kind of content should be posted there. As a seminarian, I do feel some added weight about my tweets or blog posts. They reflect me, my boundaries, my character, and my direction. The content could potentially speak volumes to a future employer, search committee, and/or audience. Remember, it’s also the stuff that will pop up when people Google your name to see what you’re all about.

    I would encourage all seminarians, pastors, future pastors, any ministry worker or possible ministry worker for that matter, be aware of how you are using social media. The same standard should apply to all Christians, but we are the ones under the spotlight and the ones called to set the standard. Let us set it high!


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