Social media and the pastoral search

During a recent webinar, a judicatory leader asked how I advise search teams with regards to reading through candidates’ social media profiles. It was a great question. Search teams should absolutely do their due diligence with internet searches, background checks, and conversations with references. However, there are some potential pitfalls when it comes to perusing candidates’ posts on sites like Facebook and Twitter. Here are some things you need to know when checking candidates out on social media:

Timing is everything. Consider – and agree upon as a search team – the best stage of the search for scrolling through candidates’ social media. If your team members do this too early, you’ll have a lot of information with very little context, plus you’ve made extra work for yourselves.

Litmus tests don’t tell you what you really need to know. What I believe personally about a political issue might not directly correlate with how I would respond as a minister in a situation related to that issue. Your search team might needlessly weed out some great-fit candidates by making the leap from the title of an article a candidate shares and that candidate’s pastoral approach.

Many pastors don’t maintain separate professional and personal profiles. If all of your candidates’ worlds collide on social media, then that candidate’s parishioner, mom, middle-school nemesis, and softball teammate are commenting on the same posts. Keep in mind that without careful monitoring and a touch of censorship, it is hard for the candidate to control everything these people from various venues and eras write – including about the candidate.

We live in politically-charged times. Many ministers have waded into previously untouched waters on social media because they feel strongly about current issues they believe are life-or-death. This takes courage and shows leadership.

Some ministers use their social media outlets as discussion boards. Pastors might deliberately post something provocative to get a robust conversation going – and their sermons and teaching will likely be more well-rounded for having sought out different points of view.

Everyone has done things they regret. And the younger the candidate, the more likely that moment was caught on camera and shared widely. Consider whether the incident inspired repentance and was a teachable moment, both for the candidate and for the people the candidate has led since.

Bottom line: if your search team reads through a candidate’s social media posts and finds something that raises a question, then ask that question – to the candidate. You will build communication, trust, and understanding instead of cutting a candidate loose based on an assumption.

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash.