By Joel A. Hess –
It’s easy to be a social media pastor. No one calls you to it. No one holds you accountable. You don’t have to deal with someone who calls you on the carpet for something you smugly wrote that actually doesn’t make sense. You don’t have to get your hands wet or bloodied.
It’s easy to write quick one-liners with emotional pictures and splash them in the anonymous pool of yes men like a boss – drop mic. Then, throughout the day, the internet pastor excitedly peeks at his Twitter feeds and Facebook notifications for likes, loves, and shares filling up his need to hear, “with you I am well pleased.” This electronic sharing of the peace satisfies his desperate desire for affirmation.
How empowering it feels to have a church that never called us. Anonymous people fill our pews. These are people we don’t have to visit or sit with in hot upstairs apartments, while eating too much coffee cake and listening to medical procedures that turn our stomachs. How liberating it feels to have members who can come and go. We secretly use them to feel powerful and purposeful, or really feel anything at all. The person who sits in the office of blogger wants to think he is feeding the 5000 and raising the dead. He does not see his reader at 9 pm crying over the death of a son who never came home from feeding pigs in a faraway land.
Oftentimes, the virtual preacher is just repeating old phrases in half-clever ways and throwing words out there, hoping they will stick and be shared, and that someone might remember him. With words, he builds his Babel. To get there quickly, he resorts to radical titles and invented stories of radically transformed lives unintentionally radicalizing his audience.
A good blog post, like a good book (or radio show for that matter–It’s all the same), surely may benefit the reader/listener, and even the church as a whole, but it is not pastoring. Whatever it is, it takes place in a vacuum; there’s no friction. Like vacuums used in scientific explorations, blogging has its place in theology, but it’s not telling someone she is not forgiven as she stubbornly sits with a mocking smile as you try to explain the wrong she is doing (Yes, that actually is part of a shepherd’s job, though you wouldn’t know it from many a tidy little post where all these perfectly illustrated broken people repent and are forgiven). Cute little one-liners do not comfort the parents holding a dead baby that wasn’t baptized because they thought they had time to gather the family for the special day. Memes and quotes are not the same as those exorcisms that take time, prayer, and conversation before finally the pastor’s poor member understands and believes the fullness of God’s forgiveness. In living rooms and pulpits, or at a diner on 8th and Smith. This is where the Word of God is painstakingly applied. This is where the hands get dirty, and the prophet dabs mud and saliva into a beggar’s eyes.
The Church is not like a restaurant where you go, get the goods, and leave. It is a people created by, centered upon, and driven by the Goods: Word and Sacrament. And the Word preached, taught, explained, and repeated involves sweat and tears. It’s not anonymous, and it’s seldom clean. Be careful. You will get hurt, and that’s alright. You will be offended by sermons. You will have your toes stepped on. Those sermons will not always be neat, tidy, and well edited. You will be surprised by who is sitting next to you or working alongside of you. You will smell the devil’s breath. You will be spat on by a prophet as God delivers His forgiveness to your sorrowful ears. You will rub elbows with others being worked on by the Spirit.
God does His grunt work of breaking, forming, and making disciples through poor fools hanging out with poor fools, all with open hands, while enjoying words, water, bread, and wine.
I often hear fellow pastors of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod complain that we have no voice out there – no Timothy Keller or Eugene Peterson. Yes, I know you probably are thinking of names, but believe me, no one knows them. Sadly, many try to be ‘that’ guy. The fact is, we don’t care about that stuff. The prime work of God is in the congregations by ordinary guys working in the trenches, preaching, and teaching with ordinary words.
We don’t aspire to be social media pastors.