Dr. James Emery White

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

Leadership and Social Media

There is a lot of advice out there for the use of social media that usually falls into two categories:  1) don’t put anything dumb out there for the world to see, and 2) leverage it as much as you can to your advantage.

Fair enough.

But if you are part of a church’s leadership team, whether staff or volunteer, there’s more to add to the mix that isn’t being talked about very much.

For example, I’ve needed to remind some of our staff about the following:

1.        Don’t post anything that could potentially undermine your reputation or the church’s reputation for Christ-like character.

I know, this goes without saying.  But it’s stunning how many people feel there is a disconnect between what they post, what people will see, and who they say they are.

At Meck, this tends to play itself out with younger interns who, usually innocently, tend to mimic culture’s values about what is and is not appropriate.  For example, a link to a popular video which is, in truth, inappropriate.  Or favoriting a website that while popular, often features sketchy content.

At other times, we have Meckers who have biblical “freedoms” in certain areas but are not discrete in terms of making them known.  Yes, usually this has to do with drinking.  You may feel free to imbibe, but posting pictures flaunting it is not only unwise, but can be misconstrued as abusing the freedom.

The point is that when you post something, you are putting it out for public consumption.  Make sure it won’t cause indigestion. 

2.        Don’t post anything that would potentially undermine the maturity and gravitas accompanying your leadership role.

Let’s state the obvious: If you are a leader, people WILL Google you, search you, find you on Twitter and Facebook…and then make an evaluation.  Does your online presence support your leadership role, or undermine it?  Does it breed confidence in you as a teacher, as someone who is wise and mature?

I talked to one of our worship leaders recently about his Facebook page.  I had no idea what he had there, as I am not on Facebook, but asked him whether or not it aided his ability to lead people older than him, or hindered it.  He went back and was shocked at how many middle school postings there were on his Facebook page.  Yes, he was in his twenties, and there were still postings from his middle school years.  He just hadn’t cleaned it up in years.

The point is simple: have everything about your social media presence support your position in the church.  This is particularly important if you are a young leader, as you may still have a “college-y” feel to your online presence that makes you seem juvenile to older adults you are attempting to serve.

3.        Don’t retweet from, or link to, any person or source you are not absolutely 100% willing to endorse. 

Let’s state the obvious: if you retweet something, you are endorsing it.  You might say, “No, I’m not!  I just liked the saying!”  Wake up.  That’s not the way it works.  If you retweet someone, your followers will be led to follow that person, and then receive an endless supply of tweets.  Are you wanting to lift that person, that church, that ministry, up?  If not, no matter how much you may like that particular tweet, don’t risk infecting others. 

The same is true to things you link to.

Bottom line:  if you cannot 100% sign off on someone’s theology, practices, ministry, lifestyle, etc., then DO NOT retweet them or link to them in any way that may convey your support. 

4.        Don’t overdo it.

There are some people who seem to live on Facebook and Twitter – or for it.  This is problematic on three fronts: first, for the average busy person it sends the message that you have a lot of time on your hands.  Translation: you’re not working very hard.  That undermines your leadership.

A second concern is that if you overdo it, you set yourself up for mistakes.  This is particularly true for Twitter, as it invites instantaneous communication.  But that’s not always wise.  You can say things you regret, or say things that prove to be untrue or premature.  You can also react emotionally in ways that are inappropriate.  As Scripture reminds us, “Too much talk leads to sin.  Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.” (Proverbs 10:19, NLT)

The final concern is that if you overdo it, you will lose people’s attention.  People who tweet every 10 minutes fail to realize that their followers aren’t reading them every ten minutes.  Nor do they want to.  I’ve had countless conversations with people who say they stopped following someone because they tweeted too much – and ninety-percent of what they tweeted was insipid.

Oh, and two more things: 1) don’t put anything dumb out there for the world to see, and 2) leverage it as much as you can to your advantage.

James Emery White

 

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon.  To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world.  Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

Biting into Reality

One of the most important disciplines as a leader is to look the facts in the eye.  To own the reality of your situation.

Even when it bites.

The reality of American culture is simple: religion is in steep decline. 

Consider the “rise of the nones,” those who claim to have no religious identity whatsoever.  The number of “nones” in the 1930’s and 1940’s hovered around 5 percent.  By 1990, that number had only risen to 8 percent, a mere 3% rise in over half-a-century.  Between 1990 and 2008 – just 18 years – the number of “nones” leaped from 8.1 percent to 15 percent.  Then, in just four short years, it climbed to 20 percent, representing one of every five Americans.  If you isolate Millennials, it climbs to one out of every three.

Or consider the graphs assembled by Tobin Grant, based largely on the work of the Gallup organization, such as the decline in church attendance:

The same is true of church membership, religion’s importance in life, and religion’s relevance to today.

All in freefall.

Combining all such graphs into one, Tobin offers the following graph, titled “The Great Decline”:

One would think that such reports would galvanize the church into heightened mission mode, spurring on the rethinking of strategies with a fresh awareness that North America is now prime mission territory. 

And in some quarters, it has.

But I have been stunned by the number of people who seem more interested in dismissing such reports.  Some say it’s just fear-mongering, contending that such reports of the “death” of the church are premature.

No doubt this is true. 

But I am more concerned with those who dismiss such reports theologically, saying that all those leaving the church are simply the “unregenerate” who have lapsed in line with the pseudo-reality of their faith.

As if that makes it okay.

But it’s not okay.

Yes, I believe in the old mantra “once saved, always saved,” but that seems to me to be missing the point.  First, let’s make sure that we understand the phrase itself.  Biblically, the emphasis isn’t on the “once” part, but the “saved” part.  Once someone is truly saved, they are eternally secure.  But the final verdict on that isn’t in until this life is over.

But more to the point of this blog, think about what that phrase is saying missiologically.  We may not be losing authentic followers of Christ, but if we are indeed losing people to the church and “religion” who were never saved to begin with, isn’t that a concern?  If people who need Christ are walking away from the church and their sense of “faith,” isn’t that losing a primary evangelistic audience in a day and time when we can ill afford to lose even a single listening ear?

There is something else at play here that must not be denied.  We live in a post-Christian culture, which means the supportive nature of a Christian culture – in whatever form it may have existed – is no longer in place.  If people are removing themselves from the only place left that is contending for the faith, that’s a concern.

Actually, it’s a crisis.  One that leaders dare not deny.  Instead, they must embrace it and go into full mission-mode.

It’s called biting back.

James Emery White

 

Sources

James Emery White, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated (Baker).

“Religion Among American Hits Low Point, As More People Say They Have No Religious Affiliation: Report,” Katherine Bindley, The Huffington Post, March 13, 2012, read online; see also “Americans and religion increasingly parting ways, new survey shows,” Yasmin Anwar, UC Berkeley News Center, March 12, 2013, read online.

“Graphs: 5 signs of the ‘Great Decline’ of religion in America,” Tobin Grant, Religion News Service, posted August 1, 2014, read online.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

Paving Paradise

Most of the people on staff at the church I serve were not only hired from within (meaning, they were already an attender), but came to Christ here.

One of them came to Meck many years ago after a bruising experience at another church. 

She and her (then) college roommate were heavy into the party scene.  Her friend became pregnant, decided against an abortion, and both decided to rethink their lives.

They went to a church near the campus and, at first, were welcomed.  They didn’t particularly "get" the music or the message, but they were eager to try and find out what God might mean for their lives.

A few weeks into their fledgling attendance, it became known that Kristina’s roommate was pregnant outside of wedlock. 

Then it began.

They were not greeted with smiles at the door.

No one came and sat next to them in the pew.

People glanced sideways at them and whispered to those around them.

Finally, the pastor approached them and told them that perhaps they shouldn’t be coming to their church.  He said something along the lines of "not really being their type."

Floored, embarrassed, angry, confused – the emotions were many – they left the church vowing never to darken the doorstep of one again.

But then Meck came on their radar screen, and they decided to give church (and God) one last shot.  They came, and six weeks later, both gave their lives to Christ.

I had the privilege of baptizing both.

Kristina’s roommate moved out of the city after graduation, but Kristina remained.

Over the years I've watched that precious young woman grow up in her faith. 

I've seen her meet and fall in love with a godly man. 

I had the joy of officiating at their wedding.

God graced her with children, and I’ve had the privilege of dedicating each one.  And then seeing them come to faith in Christ, and baptizing them.

Over the years, she felt the call to ministry, and now oversees everything related to arts and weekend services here at Meck, impacting thousands every weekend who were just like her.

She sent me an email just a few weeks ago:

"On my way to the new Mountain Island Lake campus, I drove by the street of that very first church I attended in Charlotte.  The church that asked us to leave.

"It’s gone.  It’s literally a parking lot.

"I sat in front of it for a solid minute just stunned…Though I’m not sure why.  Such an odd combination of having your heart break for God’s church and the reality that God’s church wouldn’t be a parking lot right now. "

She’s right. 

A church that really was God’s, dripping with grace toward His sin-soaked children, wouldn’t be just a parking lot.

It reminds me of a story that Fred Craddock once told about the first church he ever pastored.  It was a small church in the hills of East Tennessee, near Oak Ridge.  

Because of the huge facility built at Oak Ridge, where the materials for the Manhattan nuclear project were developed, this little, sleepy country church suddenly found itself in the midst of a booming population.  The town became filled with temporary workers, living in RV's, tents, and make‑shift shelters all over the area. 

And here was this 112 year‑old church.

Craddock saw it as a wonderful opportunity to reach out.  So after church one Sunday he told the leaders he wanted to start a campaign to invite these workers into the church.

And then he began to hear it:  

"I don't think they'd fit in."

"Are we sure that they're our type?"

"What kind of people are they, anyway?"

"They're only temporary ‑ they don't have houses or own property or anything!" 

They decided to take a vote the next Sunday.  The day came and the first thing that happened was a motion that in order to be a member of the church, you had to own property in the county.

It was seconded, and passed. 

And that ended that.

Years later Craddock went to find that church that had given him such a painful memory.  He wanted to show his wife the first church he had ever pastored.  He found the church building, but it was different.  The parking lot was full of cars ‑ RV's and vans, motorcycles and trailers.  

And then he noticed the sign out front: 

"Barbecue:  All You Can Eat."  

The church had died.  It had become a restaurant.

Craddock turned to his wife and said, "Good thing this still isn't a church, or all these people couldn't even be in there."

Two stories, two churches, two parking lots.  Both of them, borrowing from the song by Joni Mitchell,

…"paved paradise and put up a parking lot. "

James Emery White

 

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon.  To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world.  Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

Read When Discouraged

This is a simple post.  When you are discouraged, remember these seven words:

There is a God on the loose.

If you’re in ministry, remember it when you don’t have

…enough money
…enough volunteers
…enough space
…enough freedom
…enough staff.

If you’re trying to raise kids, remember it when you don’t have

…enough patience
…enough time
…enough sleep
…enough wisdom
…enough hands.

If you’re trying to follow Christ, remember it when you don’t have

…enough trust
…enough strength
…enough hope
…enough faith
…enough love.

Remember.

There is a God on the loose.

Remember that you have,

…a God who knows all that you don’t have;

…a God who loves your church and ministry more than you do;

…a God who loves your child(ren), and your spouse, more than you do;

…a God who knows what you need more than you do;

…a God who wants to see His kingdom come, and His glory radiate out from your life, more than you do.

This is the God who is roaming wild and free.  He knows your situation.  He knows…

…you. 

And He adores you.  He is on your side.  He wants nothing but the best for you.

Don’t trivialize this with worldly ideas of “success.”  God is about more than that for your life.  He’s about all that is right, all that is best, all that is true, all that is beautiful.  Despite your current circumstances, His larger, perfect plan is unfolding.  Every perfect gift comes from His hand, and He is a gift-giving God.

So if you are discouraged, take heart.  You are His prized son, His precious daughter.  So pray.  Trust.  Particularly when you are discouraged.

Why? 

There is a God on the loose.

And He knows your name.

James Emery White

 

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon.  To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world.  Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

About Dr. James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.

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