Tweeting Personal Condolences & Other Pastoral Misteps

TWITTER 2Remember when someone broke up with Carrie Bradshaw by Post-It Note?  I was never a big Sex and The City fan, but this is a glaring example of how not to communicate regarding personal matters.

One of the issues of 21st Century ministry involves the temptation not just to phone it in but also not to tweet, Facebook, or email it in.   We might believe that we have too much administrivia in our lives to take the time to connect with people face to face, but for sticky or difficult conversations, it’s the least we can do.

How do we know what’s Post-It Note-appropriate and what’s Twitter-appropriate and what can only be discussed face-to-face?

Many of us believe that our mamas raised us right  and we know what to do and what not to do.  But as a person who works with pastors and other church leaders, believe me, we do not always get this right.  I talk with quite a few church committees who are concerned about pastors who mostly communicate using screens.

Gone are the days when pastors do Every Home Visitation.  But – more than ever- our culture longs for community and sometimes Facebook or Instagram just don’t cut it.  Meeting over coffee or something is always better.

Don’t get me wrong.  I believe social media makes us better connected than not. But one of the beauties of church is the eternal possibility of personal, messy, maddening, real relationships that feed our souls.

I once heard that churches and baseball parks are two of the only places left where random people sing publicly.  Along those same lines, I believe that church is becoming one of the only places where random people can share their joys and trials openly with people who will care for them as a whole community.  The rest of the world basically doesn’t want to hear about our troubles.  A good church will take our troubles on as their own.

To test out our communication chops:

You (the pastor, deacon, Stephen Minister) hear that Mr. Parishioner’s spouse just died in the hospital.  Your response is to:

A)  Drive to Mr. Parishioner’s house and place a Post-It Note on the front door saying, “I’m so sorry.”

B) Email Mr. Parishioner saying you are sorry.

C) Get in the car and drive to the hospital to be with Mr. Parishioner.

Answer: Always C  (unless the hospital is in another state or country and then call to say you will see Mr. Parishioner when he returns home.  And you are so sorry.  And you’ll be calling back later.)

Winifred the Elder is Very Upset about the fact that her daughter told her last night that she thinks of herself as male.  Winifred left you a voice mail sharing this news.  You:

A) Avoid Winifred like the plague.

B) Put out a “How would you handle this?” to all your Facebook friends.

C) Call Winifred and ask her how things are going.  Would she like to get together?  

Answer:  Again C.  Even if you are wholly unfamiliar with transgender issues, tell Winifred that you and the church will circle the wagons for her and her child. What do they need?  What do they not need?

A church staffer is so frustrated that she wants to quit her job.  She has had it.  You:

A) Send her a long defensive email stating your side of the situation.

B) Contact the Personnel Chairperson to complain about the situation.

C) Call the staff member and invite her to meet and talk things out.

Answer:  C.

You get the picture.  Snap Chat away.  Use email for simple messages.  Text even simpler messages.  But let’s get up from behind our screens and talk face to face with our people.  Pastoral care is not only an art; it’s a privilege that deserves our attention.

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2 responses to “Tweeting Personal Condolences & Other Pastoral Misteps

  1. AMEN!!! Thank you for this wonderful post!

  2. A while back, when my daughter started showing her yearn for foreign travel, I made a comment about the world becoming larger because of computers. She responded with acute vision that the world was also becoming flatter; that is as flat as the computer screen.

    The same could be said for many relationships.

    In order to keep it real, relevant, and authentic we need the 3D, plus emotional, plus spiritual interactions.

    Excellent post!

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