I recently taught a Social Media Strategies webinar for Alban. Here are some of the questions that came out of our time together.

Q: I’m intensely busy as a solo pastor. Blogging sounds like it will take up a lot of time. How much time to I have to devote to blogging to make it effective?

It varies greatly, depending on how much you enjoy it. Right now, I spend about two hours a week on my blog. When I’m blogging more frequently, I spend five hours (but, of course, a lot of that has to do with my work as a writer). I did a quick twitter survey of other bloggers and they said that they spend about two to five hours on it (the person who spends five hours is Drew Tatusko at Notes from Off-Center, and he is very prolific).

Q: Does the “host” of my blog make a difference as to how much traffic we get, particularly surfers? (I’m hoping the blog might be an evangelism tool.)

Yes! If you would like for your blog to become an evangelism tool, then make sure that you are hooked into your local networks. For instance, your local paper might have a blog roll, or there might be a blog roll for your city or state, or blogging meetups.

You can blog about things going on in your neighborhood, what’s happening in the local PTA, or relevant news items. Link to local businesses and reflect on articles in your local paper.

The interesting thing about blogs is that they are not geographically specific, so you might be evangelizing around the world, but not necessarily in your neighborhood. If your intent is to reach out to people and draw them into your congregation, then you can makes sure that your posts are of local interest.

Q: Could we learn some of the ways pastors use blogs in sermon preparation? Or leadership development?

There are some wonderful resources for sermon preparation. Christian Century has a regular Monday series called “Blogging Toward Sunday.” Here is the link for this week’s passage.

RevGalBlogPals discuss “Lectionary Leanings” on Tuesdays. They also have a Saturday sermon writing party, where I’ve gleaned ideas and last-minute inspiration.

On the Presbyterian Bloggers site, Wednesdays are typically the day for “Lectionary Ruminations.”

A forum for Methodists can be found here.

If you are on Twitter, we are beginning to use the hashtag #sermonprep. So, you can write a question about the passage and add #sermonprep to the question. Then people can search #sermonprep on the right sidebar and discuss the topic with you.

As far as Leadership Development goes, Alban has a lot of resources. I enjoy Jan Edminston’s blog. She is experienced, witty, and writes a lot about pastoring in the 21st Century.

I know there’s a lot more. What’s your favorite site? What else is out there?

Q: What if you do not want some of your responders’ Blog address affiliated with one’s own blog?

You can easily delete the comment, or even disconnect their link (although I probably wouldn’t do that).

I think that most people understand that a blogger is not condoning another site, because their comment is on your site, but I do understand the concern.

As the blogger, you can moderate all the comments (they only appear if you approve them). I haven’t found that I’ve needed to. I’ve only had a couple of inappropriate comments since I’ve been blogging.

Q: From the standpoint of a local church trying to communicate within the congregation, (not an individual who likes to write or publish), doesn’t a web page combined with email blasts, accomplish the same thing?

It could accomplish a lot of the same things. The differences would be that an email blast only goes out to those who are on your email list. And, unfortunately, email is becoming more and more of a bother for some people.

The other thing that a blog will do is that you can have a conversation among a large group of people, without it filling up people’s inboxes with responses. So, a blog is better for reaching out and for conversation.

Q: Carol said blogs are replacing websites. Our congregation is attracting many under the age of 35 and finding that (plus those who are over 35) are finding us because we have great website. Why would we consider replacing the website with a blog?

Yes, there are some instances when blogs are replacing websites, because they are much easier to set up, and a church does not need a webmaster to put one up. But, I still prefer a website with a blog page. If your congregation is attracting many people under 35 with your site, then GREAT! You definitely don’t want to replace a good site… except, of course, to update it, when needed.

Lynn Baab has a good discussion on this in her book Reaching out in a Networked World.

Q: Boundaries: can I have a truly personal Facebook page?

Yes, there are privacy settings that are helpful. Although… I generally don’t place anything on Facebook that I wouldn’t want to be public knowledge. I may be too cautious, I don’t know.

Q: What about putting pictures of congregants on facebook group – I assume there are legal issues?

We talked about this a lot when we set up our church page, but our discussions were more concerned about photos of children. We do not post children’s photos, but we assume that most of our congregation members will let us know if there’s a problem with putting their photo on the page.

Q: Could we hear more about the “why” a church would use Facebook or Twitter.

Many of your church members are already on Facebook, and some of them might be on Twitter. So, as Aaron Spiegel said during the webinar, it is a great way to reach people where they are. Facebook and Twitter are both ways to stay connected with your congregation throughout the week. You can let them know about upcoming events, share interesting resources, and learn more about their lives.

Q: Can you twitter from your computer or do you have to be able to textmail on a phone?

You can Twitter from your computer or your phone. I only Twitter from my computer.

Q: I had been sending out to congregants a weekly lesson who would give us their emails and would get in their email the article I wrote. I was thinking of doing a blog instead, but would that be as effective in getting the lessons out to people?

That sounds like a wonderful idea!

A blog would allow for more discussion and input. And, it would reach more people than the email list does. The one drawback that I see is that people may not check the blog. You could send out an email reminder with the link.

Q: How does Twitter compare with text messaging? Why Twitter as opposed to other venues?

Twitter is a lot like text messaging, but you are sending your message to a larger group of people. I think Twitter is attractive to people because it is so easy. It’s only 140 characters.

For instance, you can follow @albaninstitute, and they will inform you about new religious studies, relevant technology news, and interesting articles.

Another thing that it is helpful is hashtags (# and an abbreviation). For instance, if you have set up a Twitter account (go on, it’s easy!), you can write something and use the hashtag #albanisms (short for Alban Institute Social Media Strategies). You can write some more questions, or write something that you learned from the seminar, or your favorite blog. Then, you can search for #albanisms and share resources with other people who took the webinar.

Q: What is the role of facebook in the church as opposed to twitter or blog?

More people are on Facebook than Twitter. Sending a message on Facebook is a lot easier than sending an email because you don’t have to track down the person’s exact email address. Facebook is great for sharing photos, sending Birthday greetings, and sending an invitation.

The downside to Facebook is that it is more closed than a Blog. I also think that Blogs can be much more aesthetically pleasing (for instance, check out Jon Fogle’s blog, that he set up after the webinar. It’s beautiful!)

Of course, you can have the best of both worlds. You can connect your blog and church facebook page together.

Q: My experience is that this is all very time-consuming! How much time per week on social networking sites have you found to be effective? Also How much time do you spend on these tools? When we have so much to do, what is reasonable?

There are a lot of questions about the time it takes. Yes, it can be time-consuming. I just find that for many people, social networking is just a part of their rhythm of life.

I guess it would be like asking my mother, “Why do you use the telephone? It is so time-consuming!” The fact is, she is on the phone to socialize, and network, and do business all the time, and no one questions it. These are just different tools to do the same sort of thing.

Finally, if Social Media feels like an energy drain or a chore that you don’t feel like doing, then you don’t have to do it. Right now, it is a wonderful tool for reaching people, but my personal guideline is that I’ll do it as long as it is fun. When it quits being fun, then I’ll stop.


Feeding peace


As a child, I often had pastors who would paint terrible, frightening pictures of hell. Then they would tell us that if we did not accept Jesus Christ into our hearts, we would be thrown into a fiery pit, for an eternity of weeping and gnashing of teeth.

This happened on a regular basis. I would stand alone in the second pew, while my parents would be in the choir loft. The pastor would fire up a verse of “Just As I Am,” and if we got through all the verses without anyone coming up, he would have us sing it again.

He would remind me that if I did not ask Jesus into my life, I could be the best sort of person on earth, but I would still be sent into eternal burning. It didn’t matter if our parents were Christians. It didn’t matter if we were raised in a Christian family. God didn’t have any grandchildren. We were to make the decision for ourselves, or we would go to hell.

I would stand, with my best dress, my lacy socks, and my shiny leather shoes, and I believed every word of it.

It was frightening to hear, as a tiny girl. The threats worked. I invited Jesus into my heart. And then I did it again. Again and again. In fact, on a pretty regular basis, I would ask Jesus into my heart. I didn’t go up to the altar each time, because I figured that would be an embarrassment to my parents. But I would pray in the pew. Just in case it didn’t stick. Just in case I wasn’t sincere enough. Just in case I lost my entry ticket into heaven. Just in case I had done something that did not merit God’s love that week. Just in case God was angry at me for some reason… I just kept asking.

This experience taught me a lot. For the most part, it taught me that God was angry, jealous, and petty. And even though God was all-powerful, God would let a small child to burn in hell. For all of eternity.

I began to question this vivid idea of God when I started traveling around the world. I went to China and Hong Kong, and I came face-to-face with crowds of people who (according to my view) were going to hell.

I was deeply concerned about my view of God when my closest friends began to confide that they were gay or lesbian. A couple of them grew up the same black-and-white religious world that I did, and I can’t imagine the courage that it took for them to come out of the closet.

This view became even more problematic when a friend committed suicide. I knew the torment that he lived through. I had great compassion for his suffering, and yet, according to my religious system at the time, he was in hell.

I began to wrestle with the notion, when I loved certain people in my family deeply and I knew that they were not “Christians” in the same way that I claimed. I knew that, according to my beliefs, they were going to hell, but I also knew that I would do anything that I could to save them.

So why wouldn’t God? Why would God allow so many people suffer for eternity? And for what reason? Because they didn’t say a prayer, inviting Jesus into their hearts? Why was that formula so important?

There seemed to be one conclusion. It was because God was cruel and vengeful. Full of wrath. And I was in the hands of that angry God. Just like a tiny spider who was held over an open flame, God was holding me over the fire, and I would be singed unless I loved God.

This was the God I grew up with. And this idea of the divine fostered a great deal of anxiety and fear within me.

I knew that something had to change. And at the heart of all of this was my concept of God. It was this God who withheld love except if people came asking for it. It was a view of God who would allow a person to suffer, unless he or she loved and worshiped God in a certain way. It was a view of God that gave me the sense that I was never worthy of love or acceptance, and therefore in turn, no one else was either. It was a view of God that enflamed intolerance toward people from other religions, and for gays and lesbians.

It was an ideal of God that ran contrary to the very nature of what the Scriptures say. That God is love. That Jesus Christ is our peace. That we are to love God, love our neighbors, and love ourselves–and all of that is very difficult to do when the source of that love is jealous, vengeful, angry, and intolerant.

And so if I was going to have peace, I needed to re-imagine God. All of this, I did intuitively. When I became a Presbyterian, when I went to seminary, and when I began an intellectual pursuit of reading theology. In the midst of all of this, I often had seasons of doubt, and I wondered if religion was more damaging than healing. Yet, I persisted with my religious studies, because I knew that even though fundamentalist religion could be destructive, there was something there that was a source of peace.

Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist, wrote a book with Mark Robert Waldman, a therapist, entitled How God Changes Your Brain. As the title suggest, their research shows that contemplating God will change your brain. Even though our brains begin to lose abilities and begin to slow down at the age of 30, meditating, praying, and contemplating God slows the aging process. They help the brain to grow. Contemplating God actually changes the neural circuits that enhance our cognitive health. Furthermore, it makes us socially aware and makes us more empathetic. It promotes peace.

Newberg and Waldman explain how the anger and prejudice that is generated by extreme beliefs can damage your brain, but imagining a God who is loving, rather than vengeful, can reduce anxiety, depression, and stress. Their studies show that contemplating God can increase feelings of security, compassion, and love.

I guess that’s why I stay. Even though I witnessed religious abuse growing up, I keep writing and pastoring, because I’ve seen the security, compassion, and love flourish in so many lives.

The authors explain how it works by telling a Cherokee legend about a little boy who received a drum as a gift.

It was a beautiful drum, and he loved it. Soon after he received it, he was playing with it, and his closest friend came up and wanted to play with it.

The little boy was torn, and he ended up grasping the drum and running away.

Frustrated, the boy went to one of his elders and asked him what to do. The elder responded that he often felt like there were two wolves inside of him. One was greedy, angry, and selfish. The other was generous and kind. And the wolves were fighting. The elder turned to the boy and said that he thought that the boy had two wolves inside of him too.

The boy asked, “Which wolf will win?”

And the elder answered, “The one that you feed.”