Thursday, March 25, 2010

Facebook for Ministers -Boundaries

A colleague has asked about Facebook for Ministers, specifically, how to use Facebook without encouraging or (heaven forbid) engaging in boundary violations, and how to use Facebook without it being a time sink.


The most important thing to get clear on is that this world has "friends" and it has "facebookfriends", and they are not the same thing at all, even if the share a syllable.  Ministers need to be careful about having "friends" in their congregations,  that is to say, people the confide in, let their hair down with, giggle and share and travel with and so on.  There are so many good reasons for ministers to be careful about having friends in the congregation that many ministers don't have friends in the congregation at all.  These reasons include:

  • Most people who actively court their ministers as friends don't really want to befriend the person who giggles and shares and travels, they want to befriend the MINISTER and partake, somehow, in the ministerial glitter. (or worse, use the ministerial glitter or the minister's ear to advance their agendas in the church, or, worst of all, what to befriend the minister to assure themselves that scary people like ministers are really just regular joes.)  Any sensible minister avoids this like the plague for personal and professional reasons.
  • Even when the minister develops relationships more naturally, with healthier persons who actually want to know the minister as a person, giggles and glitches and all, there will be some others, who, seeing this relationship, can become jealous and make the minister's professional life difficult. 
  • And when things go south politically in a church, among the very painful things for the minister is to lose friendships just when one most needed them or to see one's friends become estranged from their congregation because of their friendship with the congregation's minister.  
Some wise ministers have no friendships in their churches, and some wise ministers have a few, carefully developed friendships with very mature people which, while not secrets, are conducted out of the public eye.   All wise ministers nurture friendships outside of their congregation, whether or not they have friendships with members of their congregations

"Facebookfriendship", however, is a completely different critter from friendship.  Facebookfriendship is to real friendship what coffee hour is to an encounter group.    Facebook is a way of keeping in touch, briefly and pleasantly, with aspects of people's lives in one sentence, one picture, one "read this that I've linked to" bites.

Does FacebookFriendship have boundary issues for ministers?  It depends on what you post, not on who your Facebookfriends are.   To my mind, the minister's Facebook life should be conducted the way the minister's semi-public life always is...carefully.

I think of it this way.  If I was in a long airport security line and behind me was someone from my church...or even someone from my former church,  I would not ignore them out of anxious concerns for boundaries or my privacy.  We'd exchange news about the doings of our children, our gardens, our political opinions.  We might mention things we were reading, how we are feeling, and talk politely about the people we know.  That's the kind of stuff I put on my Facebook update.

So, my policy is I Facebookfriend anybody in my church who asks.  Any UU who asks, actually.  I set all of my security to "only friends can see this".  I don't say anything I wouldn't say in the airport line or post any picture I wouldn't, under the right circumstances, show around at coffee hour.  And I doubt that I will unbefirend people when I leave this church, any more than I would refuse to talk to them if I found myself in their company.

I only very occasionally leave comments on congregant's posts, although I do very often click "like" when they are reporting happy news.   When I read things on congregant's posts which warrent a pastoral response, I send a private messange, an email, or pick up the phone.  I've also used the live chat feature in what seemed to be dire circumstances.  The point is that the minister doesn't play favorites or have "special" Facebookfriends, at least not on the public side of Facebook.

Therefore...nobody gets any "ministerglitter" from being my facebookfriend, any more than they get it from watching a video from the church website.  It's there for everybody.  Nobody gets jealous. There are no political implications.  There is connection, but not real friendship.  But those connections are interesting and valuable.


Lizard Eater said...

Great set of posts!

If I may add two things:

1) What you do not have control over: what other people post on your page. e.g. you post something controversial. Person A comments positively. Person B comments negatively. Person A calls Person B an idiot. And it goes from there ...

Also in "no control over" -- someone from non-ministerial life posts something on your wall that you would prefer not to share with congregants. "Dude, you were so wasted last night. What time did the police release you?"

Be aware.

2) You can have facebookfriends who you limit in what they can see, like all those people you went to high school with, who are very different from you politically and religiously. Or your Mom.

Go to "Account" on the top right. Then, on the left, under "Lists," click on "Friends." Now, in the middle, click on "create new list." Make a list -- "high school," "relatives," or whathaveyou. Click next to each friend applicable and put them on that list.

Now, go to back to Account, and click on Privacy Settings. Click on Profile Information. On the right, in the drop downs, you can choose "customize" which will take you to a box that includes "Hide this from" where you can then put in the name of the list you just created. Or the name of an individual.

**Now, as you add friends, you'll get an immediate box with which you can put them on one of your lists. Don't forget this step. sigh.

Chalicechick said...

Thank you for articulating this.

I think about the youth advisor version of these issues all the time.

thisgirlremembers said...

As a religious educator, I (gasp) have two Facebook pages. One that is personal (for family and friends past and present) and one that is professional (for church members and other UU's). And never the twain shall meet. :)

I know I could, with some work, do the separating in one account as LE described above, but that has pitfalls that she also mentioned. I really don't need church members or youth to see photos posted of me when I was 13 by cousins who think it's funny to display me at my most awkward. Or patronizing messages left on my wall by certain older extended family members who think I'm STILL 13. But I also wouldn't want to cut those people out of my circle in an attempt to keep it all professional. I like the separation.

Christine Robinson said...

If you are in your profile view, you can delete any comment someone makes to your posts. Comes in handy for those of us who have mixed-use Facebook pages. (of course, you can never erase the memories of those who saw you wasted, not to get wasted in public.)

Anonymous said...

Oh dear, oh dear. The temptation to excerpt "of course, you can never erase the memories of those who saw you wasted, not to get wasted in public." for the Interdependent Web!

Lizard Eater said...

Lizard Eater wishes to offer a formal public statement that she has never been wasted in public nor arrested for such, and that the illustration given was entirely fictitious.

"Day ain't over yet." -- Jack Palance

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