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In the past several weeks, we’ve heard the phrase “I have the RIGHT to say WHATEVER I want to say HOWEVER I want to say it” ad nauseum. With the rise of social media, people often exercise this “right” with little forethought or filter and for all the world to see.

Episode #3 of our series focuses on developing social media guidelines for your ministry. It’s vitally important that your ministry monitor and manage social media platforms for your organization as well as the social media platforms of your employees. We’ve seen how one post, one miscalculated response, or one lapse in judgment can cause immense harm to individuals and ministries.

Before we discuss social media policies, let’s first discuss the First Amendment. The amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” This right to speak freely does not provide “free reign” to say anything at all, whenever or wherever, without consequence.

The NCLL has received calls from individuals who’ve experienced employment issues due to what’s been posted online through social media. We’ve also received communication from schools and other ministries regarding media consequences due to an employee’s online social media behavior. These consequences have destroyed lives and ministries over a simple comment or post.

At the NCLL, we have a phrase we use every day with those who call concerning these types of issues. We need to communicate the right message the right way with the right spirit. This is exactly the way Jesus ministered when on earth. The Bible says in Proverbs 12:18 that “there is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is health.” Proverbs 29:11 has a similar message for us: “A fool uttereth all his mind: but a wise man keepeth it in till afterwards.”

Another way to express this idea is that we need to take the right stand the right way with the right spirit. As Christians, it’s our duty to take a stand for Truth in these evil days. We best take this stand by representing Christ and His message in a thoughtful, loving way. As we’ve discussed in our first three episodes, times are changing in America. We must be wise in these changing times because the influence of our ministries and the impact of the Gospel is at stake.

The first area of concern regarding social media policy is that all private information or communications should remain private. This may seem like a simple idea, but too often we’ve seen employees or even pastoral staff “lash” out at individuals online after something occurs at church. For instance, a pastor’s wife made the statement Sunday afternoon, “I’m glad our resident sermon expert confronted my husband after church this morning to help him improve #annoying #rollmyeyes.” There’s no way to know who might see a post like this, and sure enough, it almost always gets back to the individual being made fun of in the comment.

Another area of privacy concern online has to do with counseling appointments. A ministry counselor finished a marriage session and posted, “Well, working with that couple was a sincere waste of all of our time.” This post violated the couple’s privacy, and it caused a hindrance for the counselor in working with the couple again. The work of the Gospel in restoring this couple was hindered because of a rash and thoughtless social media post. There should never be a reference or even inference of any private information like this posted to social media.

The second area of concern is the reputation of the ministry. A Christian ministry’s purpose is to spread the Gospel in the community. This is the primary mission. A thoughtless post on an employee’s Facebook could destroy the church’s potential for ministry in that community. Your organization’s social media policy should require that people use the grid of Philippians 4:8, posting only things that are “true . . . honest . . . just . . . pure . . . lovely . . . and of good report.” A heat-of-the-moment post could change the entire community’s view of your ministry in heartbeat.

The third area of concern has to do with ensuring that private communications do not become opportunity for moral failure. Private messaging should not occur between pastoral staff and minors in the church. Our office receives calls each week regarding youth pastors who began regular texting or messaging conversations with teenagers that ended in moral failure. Place safeguards around your pastoral and ministry team regarding social media conversations.

For additional guidelines, you can download our social media guide at ncll.org/socialmedia. This resource will help your ministry put a strong social media policy in place that will guide your organization’s social platforms as well as your pastoral and ministry team members’ social platforms. Developing and policing your policies is vital to protecting the work of the ministry.

As a legal organization, we hear stories each and every day where a lapse in judgment or misguided action caused harm, hindering the work of the Gospel. Social media is a powerful platform that can be used for good or evil. Let’s work to ensure that it promotes rather than hinders the cause of Christ.

At the NCLL, we want to see your ministry experience “maximum ministry with minimum liability.” Spend time developing your social media policy to protect your church and your church’s influence in your community. You can send your policy to info@ncll.org, and our legal team will review it to help ensure you’ve covered all the necessary areas of concern.