Content is written by Rev. Micah James, CCA
Social media has made the ethics of boundaries more complex in recent years. Over the last few months, there have been several lively conversations about the topic in my circles and on social media itself.
I offer up the following to you as a conversation starter, because many communities have not discussed this issue as a part of dealing with the logistics of transitioning from one pastor to another. I urge you to seek resources to help your community find a healthy way to navigate this new terrain.
Here are a couple of examples of how pastors and communities handle the changing dynamics of social media relationships:
- One Disciples pastor’s approach…
- From “Ethical Guidelines for Ministers Departing from Congregations” (1)
Social Media Boundaries:
1) Prior to departure, the authorized minister should pass along administrator duties, remove their own administrator status, and share password information with someone else in the congregation for all ministry-related pages, groups, and accounts.
2) Authorized ministers should discern carefully whether they will unfriend/unfollow parishioners and others with whom they’ve had a pastoral relationship or move them to a more restricted list. Ministers should prioritize the needs of the ministry setting and whoever will follow in ministerial leadership over their own desires to maintain those relationships (or the desires of parishioners to stay in contact). Ministers should also be consistent: the practice should be to either unfriend/unfollow everyone from that setting, or move them all to a restricted list. Authorized ministers should communicate this policy to the congregation so that there is no confusion.
3) Authorized ministers must refrain from providing pastoral care through digital communication after the end date of their contract/ call/covenant with their community of faith. Continuing to provide pastoral care through social media interferes with the ministry of one’s successor and is a violation of the Minister’s Code of Ethics.
4) Following a period of 1-3 years, authorized ministers should discern whether they will change their privacy settings and/or begin to accept friend requests of former parishioners.
5) Ministers should not initiate friend/follow requests, and they must continue to refrain from providing pastoral care through digital communication to former parishioners.
These are just two possibilities of how to handle social media boundaries upon a pastors departure. The important thing is to have a healthy practice.
What is your community’s practice? Share in the comments below.
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