Twitter Theology
What do tweets reveal about what pastors really value?

Social media like Facebook and Twitter have received an abundance of critique, not the least of which is that social media users are self-absorbed. But I wonder if we might turn answers on Twitter to the question "What are you doing?" or on Facebook's status update into an opportunity for self-examination. It might even be an opportunity for Twitter and Facebook users to examine not just what they are doing but how it aligns with our mission.

I've spent some time observing pastors who tweet or regularly update their status on Facebook, and I'm far from convinced it's simply self-absorption or an attempt by little people to make themselves famous. But these updates do reveal what is uppermost on the mind. But let me begin with a confession: I use these social media tools to draw folks to my blog and to the concerns I have there. In addition, on Facebook I have a good time with my "Friends" discussing sports or the news.

And I'm not alone. The idea of both Facebook and Twitter is to share with friends – real friends and not just cyberfriends – what you are doing. We all know that this can slip into silliness with tweets like: "Having a chocolate macchiato latte, double shot espresso with a raspberry scone" But we should also admit that tweets can be a valuable communication form. And another thing is clear—Twitter and Facebook are here to stay. Over time the craziness will wear off and the abilities of social media will become more clear.

Still, there are observations to make about what we see from pastor tweets. Over time I've noticed that many pastors tweet links to business people and leadership gurus, Seth Godin being the most common. We discover plenty of emphasis on news items, especially controversial ones. Pastors often became "green" in the recent Iranian student revolution. Pastors tweet a lot about sports. There seems to be a near obsession in pastor tweets with terms like "creativity" and "innovation," and a corresponding neglect of our great tradition or our heritage in the Church.

Pastors tweet quotes from their reading, and inform us of what they are reading. Sunday tweets tend to be gratitude tweets. We also regularly discover who is meeting with whom (and the "whom" is always a notch above the "who"), or where someone is traveling. We hear about accomplishments but almost never any failures or disappointments, making the Twitter world largely a happy face community.

I have seen some gospel in Facebook updates – some tweets about Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection, but very few about how Israel's story came to its goal in Jesus. Very few, in fact, about the Old Testament at all. There is some theological orientation. Even if it is hard to reduce theology to 140 characters, the limit of a normal tweet, it can be done and it has been done well. The issue is how infrequently pastors and religious leaders provide such theological orientation and how often they link us to such concerns. Oddly, there is an absence of short prayers for others or ejaculatory prayers for God's help in a tough situation. In fact there are almost no prayers at all.

November 09, 2009

Displaying 1–10 of 20 comments

christian book publisher

April 20, 2010  10:05am

I am a preaching minister for an 400 member congregation. One way I try to use Facebook in a ministerial capacity is to post a prayer there each day from a Psalm I've prayed through in the AM - accompanied by an appropriate picture. I'm also tweeting morning, midday, and evenign prayers on Twitter - all as a way of hopefully helping others "practice the presence."

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November 14, 2009  7:25am

can you imagine Henri Nouwen on twitter...? neither can i.

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November 11, 2009  3:03pm

I wouldn't tweet about disappointments or failures either! When I was still in the ministry, we just had FB, and I had to be SO careful with what I wrote on my profile. While I would have loved to talk about disappointments and failures, the truth of the matter is that the congregation doesn't usually want to hear about them. They want to hear how awesome they are because Jesus is awesome. Hearing about how they are a disappointment to the pastor tends to incite board meetings that AREN'T about what the congregation can do to make it better–if the pastor is upset, it's always the pastor's fault. Always. Plus, how do you write about disappointments and failures in 120 characters or less?

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November 11, 2009  11:58am

Carol's use of the term "self-absorbed thinking" caught my eye. Dr. M. Scott Peck in his book "The Road Less Traveled and Beyond" wrote: " all-too-common flaw is that most tend to believe they somehow instinctively know how to think and to communicate. In reality, they usually do neither well because they are either too self-satisfied to examine their assumptions about thinking or TOO SELF-ABSORBED TO INVEST THE TIME AND ENERGY TO DO SO." (Emphasis mine) The superficiality of Twitter and Facebook reminds me of comedian Woody Allen who said: "I took a speed reading course and read 'War and Peace' in twenty minutes. It involves Russia."

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Carol Noren Johnson

November 11, 2009  2:38am

Cosmic screams for breaking a finger nail. Give me a break! Yep! Lots of self-absorbed thinking. Let me pray rather than Facebook or Twitter.

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November 10, 2009  3:15pm

do we really need to add to the noise? that's what twitter is to me. silly noise. i don't think the Church needs to "talk" more, but less.

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November 10, 2009  10:28am

I got on facebook, despite the objections of my children, who refuse to "friend" me and I was shocked to find out what some of my friends think. I like facebook for keeping in touch, but I hate it that some people use it as a "bully pulpit". I've had to defriend a few people and I regret that I ever got on in the first place. My kids were right.

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Kyle Reed

November 10, 2009  10:00am

It is funny that you write this post yesterday because I wrote this same thing yesterday. I asked what is your twitter strategy. here are my thoughts:

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November 10, 2009  8:52am

I don't know. It strikes me that there's similar harm in pastors being too "on" all the time as in pastors letting their guard slip in public speech. This notion of noticing what your words indicate about you isn't the sole domain of pastors; everyone benefits from moving from self-expression to circumspection every now and then. But to tell a pastor she's neglecting the OT in her tweets just seems like so much muzzling the ox and encouraging a veneer of piety at the expense of knowing and being known. Better to occasionally audit what happens when we tweet, rather than set out to make something happen with each tweet.

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r4 ds

November 10, 2009  7:36am

Social media like Facebook and Twitter has received an abundance of critique. Twitter Has Changed My Life in 5 Ways helped me be a better Disciple of Jesus.

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