Social Media and the Call Process

June 18th, 2012

Social media presents those seeking a new call with great opportunity but also potential risk. Today, you must be digitally savvy not only to help land a call, but to manage your digital connections and communication during the interview, call, and transition processes.

Calling is a heady, intense, and disorienting time and often the last thing on your mind is digital media. I’ve just been through it myself and these nine big things I learned.

Get Beyond the Box

In my Lutheran tradition, the call process is a fairly centralized affair. In our polity, pastors submit “mobility papers” — a personal ministry profile, which goes on file with the national church and is transmitted to the regional synods of your choosing. Synods suggest one or more candidates to a congregation based on the congregation’s expressed need and your profile. Typically, your first introduction to a congregation is your profile. All your experience, ideas, and identity are crammed into 25 pages and a bunch of text boxes, which feels especially limiting compared to the infinitely expandable world of digital media.

It is vitally important now to have some kind of online presence beyond all those boxes, in order to give a more complete and vibrant picture of your interests, passions, and ideas. You can write at greater length, answer questions not posed in the forms, and, for that matter, pose some questions of your own.

Tip: if you don’t already have personal blog or website, start one. Share some sermons, video, your ideas, reflections, and pictures. Give people a way to get to know you and your work. Just as we expect churches to have website, we increasingly expect leaders themselves to have some kind of online platform. or are both good options.

Your Body of Work, Digitized

Think of this online presence as your online portfolio. Share your sermons, ideas, and video. People will check out your current church’s website and Facebook page. Make sure these are up to date. Give people a picture of your ministry and your body of work. Don’t just a rely on giving one great sermon for the call committee. Post several of them, so they really get a feel for you.

Tip: Make sure you give the links to your web platforms in your forms, stationary, and correspondence.

Understand Your Personal Presence

Oftentimes, we just go about doing our thing on Facebook or Twitter without reflecting on our personal presence - what kind of content we are sharing, how often, and what tone. Take some time to review the style, content, and tone of what you are sharing. Even if your current call is getting you down, don’t be negative. Be aware that people are watching. Remember that you tell a story by virtue of your presence as well as your absence. If people can’t find you online, this also tells a story - one that, as a leader of a public institution in the 21st century, you don’t want to tell.

Tip: Review your last 20 Facebook posts and/or tweets. Make some of your posts public if they aren’t already so that people who are not yet friends can see what you’re about.

Be Responsible for Your Content

You are responsible for what you share and post. If you’ve posted it, it's on the table. Call committees and Church Councils are not only limited to what you present on your paperwork. Know what you’ve posted, whether it is your content or someone else’s that you shared. Be ready to speak to it if you shared it.

Tip: It’s best avoid controversial posts, your own and others, during a call process. Save them for later.

Get Thee to a Camera

Calling a pastor is an emotional process, and the best way to connect with people on an emotional, personal level in social media is through video. Share some videos of yourself speaking to the camera or just engaged in activities you care about. Share them publicly Facebook, YouTube, or Vimeo.

Tip: You don’t need an extensive YouTube channel. Some public videos on your Facebook Timeline or blog are fine. Shoot video with a simple camera. Get a friend to help. Do not just post videos of you preaching. These tend to be remarkably boring.

Timing Really is Everything

Be very careful with friending and following people from the new congregation before the congregational vote. In only takes one comment, tweet, or tag to blow your cover. In my process I friended just a few staff members, so we could become better acquainted. But we had some very close calls—a few revealing comments, and comments that were supposed to be messages, which I had to quickly delete. Limit friending and explain why. People will understand.

Tip: Communicate via email or text, not on social media where public and private messages can be confused. Temporarily designate new church friends as “acquaintances” on Facebook. It gives you more control over what they see and how they can post to your Timeline.

Lock it Down

During the weekend of the call vote, I was aware that there could be a burst of social media with the news, and word could reach my congregation before I had a chance to notify them myself. So, I locked down my Timeline so no one could post on it or tag me without my approval. I monitored my social media platforms continually. One person I didn’t know tweeted congratulations. I had to temporarily block them in order to delete that tweet.

Tip: Click the down arrow in the top right corner of Facebook to access your privacy settings. From there, you can easily modify who sees what.

Word Travels Fast - Really Fast

News travels fast in the church, whether people are on social media or not. It just takes one person to tell another person. As soon as the call vote is official, it is only a matter of time before people find out. Social media accelerates this process. I announced my new call four days after the call vote. I emailed my resignation letter to Redeemer. I posted it on my blog and shared it on Facebook later that day when I determined, thanks to Constant Contact statistics, that seemed most people had read the email.

Tip: Have a plan in advance for how you will communicate the news of your new call — and what means you will use. We put so much time and energy building up to the call vote that we don’t always think about what our communication plan will be.

The Whole Body of Christ

Finally, when I shared the news with my current congregation, I started accepting friend requests from the new congregation. It has been interesting—and a blessing—to see members of both congregations interacting with one another. There is this sense in our polity that when you go to a new congregation its like you are entering a witness protection program, where you can’t interact with people from your former congregation when you leave. There’s also the feeling you shouldn’t say too much about your new call—that you should keep everything as separate as possible. However, members of both congregations have been very gracious and interacting on Facebook has, I think, reminded us that this is not competition between congregations but about our larger identity as Lutherans and as the Body of Christ.

Have you changed calls in this time of social media saturation? What did you learn? Share your tips with us.

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