What issues confront me as I seek to pastor my online community (that sometimes may be a mob) even when I am also a part of the mob?

Engaging society is sometimes like pouring coffee into a series of cups stacked on top of each other. Even though the coffee will sometimes spill over onto the floor, some of it will make it to its intended place. How can I, as a pastor, help make sure that the “coffee” ends up in the right place? How can I keep the from spilling the coffee?

I have written about how my friend Dwayne Harms helped shape my belief that I am the pastor of more than my church; I am also the pastor of my community. That has shaped my engagement on the internet as well. My internet experience pre-dates social media! In the days before Web 2.0 I enjoyed engaging others on email lists. But the downside of all of that fun has been that for years I have struggled to find balance on how to engage on the internet.

Now at this point I do need to give a shout out to my mother who exemplifies what it means to be a justice warrior. She has never shied away from personally intervening in situations that are unjust. She is a good model! I get my sense of justice and injustice from her.

Carey Nieuwhof’s latest post on “How to Pastor a Mob” gives some good advice. I should point out that the “mob” Nieuwhof is referring to is primarily the vast, unknown world of the internet — the world that focusses on hot topics and the latest crazes and proceeds largely like a bull in a china shop. Of course sometimes the world of the mob collides with the worlds that I live in. This is what makes things more difficult.

One thing I have done is to unfollow (or unfriend) when reading posts that consistently cause stress. That has made my online experience more enjoyable. I guess my fear is that I may become someone who others want to unfollow/unfriend! How do I avoid that?

Here are a couple of points Carey makes that I found helpful:

“So what do you? How do you respond? The line I’ve tried to follow, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, is to be what I hope to see. In other words, if you hope to see people behaving reasonably, be reasonable.”

This, of course, is easier said than done! Sometimes I don’t want to be reasonable. Sometimes I don’t want to be calm, cool, and collected. But I will tell you one thing, my day goes better when I do respond in a reasonable way.

So how to do it? I sometimes write down my desired reply and read it over before carefully deleting it. I then try to write a more reasonable response. Often it takes prayer and even a day’s thought before the proper response comes to mind.

Of course, those of you who know me and who may follow me on social media know that my response is unfortunately not always this measured.

“There are also times I’ve tried to win over irate people online. I find I can’t. I can usually diffuse a situation in real life. On the internet? Almost a 0% success rate. So I no longer try. I’ve also tried to discuss things online with people who have extreme and public views on subjects. Trying to change their minds is like trying to move a 10 ton block of steel with your baby finger. Not only does the steel not budge, you now have a broken finger. The best way to react to angry, extreme views is to be what you hope to see.”

This is perhaps harder than the first issue I talked about because as a pastor one of my roles is what is called marturia, or truth telling. It is very hard for me to see some untruths without seeking to correct the errors that I see. There are two problems with this. First, it would be impossible for me to be able to correct all the errors out there, which means I need to learn which errors I am going to focus on. The second problem is even harder because it means that I need to recognise that the error may often be from my end.

And that’s the real issue isn’t it? Sometimes I am a part of the mob.

What issues confront you as you seek to pastor your community (that sometimes may be a mob)? In what areas are you also a part of the mob?

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash.

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