Church Realities Seen Through Twitter Anonymity
How did the idea for this character originate?
RNR: I developed the character in my mind around 2009. I was bi-vocational then and had a lot going on. I would just make up Unappreciated Pastor jokes and share them with church members, friends and my wife. I didn't discover Twitter until 2012. After I joined I began seeing some parody accounts. That gave me the idea of taking The Unappreciated Pastor to the Twitterverse. It really started as a joke. I had no idea people would follow. It caught on pretty quick. I can't get 100 followers on my real Twitter account! The Unappreciated Pastor is me, at times—it's how I feel. Sometimes I'm wrong, sometimes I'm shallow, and sometimes I'm right! The tweets are usually exaggerated realities or perceptions. The character is kind of a coping mechanism for me. It enables me to laugh at or challenge myself.
CC: Back in the old days, there was @Xianity and @SBCMessenger, and a couple of other fake church anons. I've known lots of curmudgeons in my life as a worship leader, and I really do love them. They've taught me a lot. So I figured there needed to be one on Twitter.
What has the feedback been like? How do you handle the haters?
CC: The feedback has been amazing. Mega-pastors, micro-pastors, watch-bloggers, actual curmudgeons, and mostly just regular churchgoing people have responded with good will and good favor.
One of the things I decided when I started out is that I would not clog up my twitter feed with lots of interaction. That way, when people would read my feed, they could read it like a book without having to sift through a lot of back-and-forth. I regularly heard from people who would spend an hour reading through my tweets, laughing until they cried.
I interact a little more now, but it's usually just on a whim. He's really there to tell his own jokes.
It sure helps that the opinions of the curmudgeon are not necessarily my own. So I'm not so married to what people think of what I say. I haven't had many haters, but when they show up, I either ignore them or make sport of them. People on high horses are pretty easy to knock off.
RNR: Overall the feedback has been positive. I have had people ask me for advice on how to handle situations in the church. I have received DM's thanking me for helping them cope with ministry. What has surprised me is how upset people can become. I have found that generally people get more upset when I poke fun at larger ministries or churches.
I have been rebuked. Sometimes people don't realize the account is satire. I have also had people apologize to me once they realized the account is for fun. But some folks get really upset. Some send me messages telling me they have to quit following because of a Tweet. Some have told me that this type of humor just isn't what we need in the Body of Christ. If you follow me for very long you will see Tweets that contradict one another. The point is that I don't believe many of the things I say. The tweets are generally about perception more than reality. I try not to offend people. That isn't my goal. My goal is to poke fun & provoke thought. I have removed Tweets because of feedback.
I have had some folks that really enjoy the account. I have been told that some weekly staff meetings include me. My Tweets are shared in bulletins. My Tweets are used as illustrations in sermons. I have been featured in blogs and on other web sites. So the feedback has been good.
Why do you think the character has generated such a devoted following?
RNR: I don't know. Maybe we can relate to him. He's insecure. He gets beat up. He can't catch a break. He's been through what we are going through. He surprises us once in a while with something deep. He's that guy who loves the Lord but just doesn't have it all together. He has been our pastor. We have been on staff with him. I don't really know. I just think people relate to a sarcastic guy who whines about church stuff but genuinely loves the Lord.
I try to let folks know they are not alone. A lot of folks out there are serving in smaller churches. They feel isolated—sometimes they feel victimized. I try to cool things off for all of us. I try to make us laugh instead of cry.
I appreciate all my followers. I'm pretty sure I'm just a guilty pleasure for some. But that's ok. I'm most grateful for my wife—I'm amazed she follows me. She doesn't follow many people. She thought I was nuts for starting the account. In fact it was a while before I even told her. She showed her approval by ordering me the "World's Best Pastor" coffee mug on my Twitter wallpaper.
CC: It boggles my mind. I was astounded when I hit 400 followers. At this point, I'm guessing it's because I developed a well-rounded character that talks about the little aspects that are common to church life. Every church has at least one curmudgeon. And when you get to know them, they usually have a great story and they're willing to tell it. A lot of them have a great sense of humor, too—that's what I want to get people to see.
What place does humor have within the church and Christianity?
CC: Really, if you don't laugh at church life, you'll cry. The people, our interactions, the things we complain about, the things we do, they're funny. And the people I have the blessing of fellowshipping with are an absolute hoot. I have more fun and laughter with them than most people could ever imagine.
Beyond that, when it comes to dealing with the real issues going on in churches, humor can either ease the sting or make the "zing". It heightens the interest and reception of what we can say about these things that hit close to home.
And besides, there is so much wordplay and humor in the Bible that we'd be missing out if we didn't weave it into the fabric of who we are. Read the book of Micah with footnotes, and you'll see that God loves puns. Who am I to argue?
RNR: It belongs. God has given us the gift of laughter. He created us with the ability to laugh. What else laughs? I'm pretty sure cats are sarcastic, but they don't laugh. Dogs don't have a clue, but they don't laugh. I think one of the unique things about humans is laughter. God has given us the ability to laugh and therefore we are going to laugh at something.
There are obviously things we shouldn't laugh at. We shouldn't laugh at sin. We shouldn't laugh at suffering. But there are lots of things that it is ok to laugh at. As Christians we need to offer outlets to express humor. That's what I see The Unappreciated Pastor as.
I have discovered that laughter is a great way to make people think. For instance, I was trying to find a way to deal with the issue of distractions in church without sounding like a high school principal. As I was preaching, I had my son call me. The phone rang and I answered it. I had a conversation with "the culture" about how rude I was being to the people who were at church that day. Everyone was laughing pretty hard but at the end a serious point was made. I made my point with laughter.
In what ways is what you do beneficial to the church and other Christians?
RNR: I hope I'm helping. I am saying some things that I think are important. Sometimes you have to read between the lines to see them. I hope the church recognizes some of the silly things we do. Perhaps mistakes can be avoided and lessons learned. I hope Christians learn not to give up on the church. I hope they learn to laugh at others rather than get upset with them. We are all broken people. We get on one another's nerves. We offend one another. We can be immature. But in the end, as believers, we are still the Body of Christ. We need one another. I hope that the account will encourage us not to bail on one another. We even need the critics around.
I think what I do is beneficial. Some may not agree. But let me say this: it is no secret that there are jerks in church. I haven't let the cat out of the bag. Everyone knows it. Hey, sometimes I'm the jerk. Let's be honest with one another and the world. We aren't perfect and we know it. We can point out the problems of the church with smiles or frowns. I'm just choosing to do it with a smile.
I'd like to do a small book or a calendar with a saying from The Unappreciated Pastor for each day of the year. Lots of folks in the ministry aren't on Twitter, and I'd like to make them smile too. So if you could get me a publisher Ed, I would appreciate it ;).
CC: I'm hoping that I'm helping people look at the local church with a joyful heart, and to take lightly the things that need to be taken lightly. There's a lot of heavy stuff that needs to be taken very seriously, but in the midst of it, the youth pastor's a goofball, the worship band is too loud, the decorating committee is bickering, and there are 47 bottles of mustard in the church fridge, and we need to love each other in the midst of that.