Apparently it took God until the 21st Century to release an updated version of the seventh commandment. According to one pastor, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” should now read, “Thou shalt not Facebook.” After counseling roughly 20 couples with Facebook-related marriage issues, Reverend Cedric Miller has had enough. Rev. Miller issued an ultimatum to the married pastors, staff and leaders at Living Word Christian Fellowship: Remove your Facebook accounts or remove yourselves from leadership!
Is banning Facebook a pastor’s best defense to the emerging trend of Facebook-related marriage problems? We totally understand how frustrated Rev. Miller must be with seeing a similar scenario and set of choices play out again and again. Many counselors and pastors have told us that they too are experiencing a surge in counseling loads due to online activities. (Could this have something to do with the drastic increase in half a billion people joining Facebook in the last few years?)
Banning people from Facebook seems to be more of a knee-jerk reaction than a long-term solution. Here are five alternative ways pastors and churches can help couples survive and thrive on Facebook.
1) Teach couples how to protect their marriages online – For most people over the age of 30, Facebook is their first online social community experience. Many are innocently and ignorantly learning Facebook on the go. Tell married Facebookers what the potential marriage threats are. Add links to your church’s website, share links through the newsletter, hand out copies of the article at a service. Whatever you do, do something that helps couples take proactive steps to protect their marriage.
2) Preach on healthy boundaries – This is a relevant topic for every one regardless of age and it’s helpful for both their online and real time relationships. Our church recently did a sermon series on “Guard Rails” and two of the sermons focused on social media. The problems arising from people’s Facebook experiences are mostly due three things:
Equip your congregation to set and live by healthy boundaries for all of their relationships – whether they’re on Facebook or face-to-face.
3) Teach adults and teens how to use Facebook safely – There are many ways bad things can happen on Facebook: stolen passwords, identity theft, cyber-bullying, emotional affairs, exposure to pornography, and more. But there are so many great things that can happen on Facebook when people are aware of safeguards and learn to make smart choices. Raise awareness on personal safety, privacy issues, and common sense choices for the Facebookers who call your church home and you’ll see the counseling load for Facebook-related issues radically drop.
4) Create social media guidelines for the congregation – The military has done it. Corporations and companies are doing it too. Everyone recognizes that social media is not going away, so rather than ignoring it, denying it or fighting it, they’re figuring out how to co-exist with it. Creating a set of social media guidelines or principles for your congregation’s members makes a lot of sense. Get the leadership together and brainstorm some ideas on how to set your flock up for success when they’re online. People are empowered to live a blessed life when they’re taught what they can do rather than just being told what they can’t.
5) Help marriages overcome infidelity and betrayal – People do make poor choices and bad things do happen to good people. Pastors need to be prepared to handle emotional and physical affairs. The path to recovery is slow and long, but doable. If this is beyond your abilities, outsource these couples to professionals and ministries who are gifted to walk these fragile couples through “the valley of the shadow of death.” By helping those who have crossed the line of infidelity and betrayal, these fractured and hurting couples can have a resurrection-like story in their relationship, marriage and family.
Rev. Miller says the anti-Facebook mandate is his attempt to “save marriages and families.” But what about other social networks like Twitter? Looking at the surging numbers of people joining online social communities, there’s no sign of these sites going away anytime soon.
Pastors who empower people how to survive and thrive with social media will actually save more marriages and families in the long run. The more church members know how to safely use online communities, the less likely they are to make the mistakes and bad choices that destroy marriages and break families apart. We’re pretty sure that is something God would “Like,” don’t you?