Six Ways Social Media Toxicity Is Hurting Pastors

“There is a group of former church members in my community,” the pastor said, “that is causing me great pain. They are regularly posting negative and divisive words on Facebook about my church, my family, and me. I have engaged them twice, and it only got worse. When you wrestle with a dirty pig, you get dirty yourself.”

His story is one of many we hear at Church Answers regularly. Pastors of twenty years ago had to deal with the occasional anonymous hate mail, but today, pastors can get hit daily with negative social media posts. While there are many options for these critics on social media, Facebook is the vehicle of choice for most of them.

This toxic behavior hurts churches, and it hurts pastors. Here are just six of the ways pastors are hurt.

1. It discourages the pastor. Criticism usually stings. Criticism on a public forum stings even more.

2. It is an unbiblical way to handle conflict. These presumed Christians are not following biblical paths to discuss differences with the pastor. Matthew 18 is but one example of a biblical principle that could be violated. Also, check Ephesians 4: 29 for further guidelines on how a Christian should communicate.

3. It discourages the church. Church members read these attacks on pastors. Many become discouraged and disillusioned by the vitriol. Those who attack pastors on social media are directly attacking the church, the bride of Christ.

4. It does not allow for a response. Even if pastors do respond, many people do not read their comments. And there is hardly ever a response that does not generate another attack. There is no way pastors can articulate their perspective in a fair and godly context.

5. It hurts the testimony of Christians and the church. The world is watching us Christians on social media. Unfortunately, what the world sees is often a blight on our witness. Just recently, I was getting my hairs cut when the stylist somewhat abruptly commented, “You Christians are mean and nasty on Facebook.” I could not argue otherwise.

6. It is a cowardly act. These critics of pastors don’t often have the courage to speak directly with a pastor. They are keyboard cowards. It is hard to respond to such venom.

What often bothers pastors even more is the unwillingness of church members to defend pastors who are unfairly attacked. Perhaps the best place to offer support and a defense of the pastor is not on social media but in person.

Even more, pastors are often deeply hurt when church members assume the vitriol is true. It is painful to be attacked by a critic. It is even more painful when church members assume the worst in a pastor.

It’s a sad and difficult reality. I would appreciate hearing your thoughts on this issue.

Posted on August 23, 2021


With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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20 Comments

  • Robert Barnett says on

    What happens when pastor, deacons, and trustees won’t meet with the discouraged?
    Is that sin?

  • May every church leaders who bear social media toxicity get the grace of God to the glory of the crucified Christ!

  • Don Davies says on

    I agree with this. That’s why my wife still prefers reading Christian books for women like the ones from https://www.keionhenderson.com/books/, which are really focusing on true and real Christian values!

  • Lee Norris says on

    Thom,

    Thanks for another great article. Normally I wouldn’t reply, but you asked for our thoughts so here goes.

    As a pastor, I think ministers need to begin by asking themselves the question: Is it imperative that I have a SM presence? Does a pastor have to have a SM account (FB, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, etc.) in order to do the work of ministry? Obviously, the answer will be a personal decision and the Bible doesn’t speak to the moral “rightness” or “wrongness” of either. In some sense, as technology continues to grow, I suppose that it’s getting more and more difficult not to have a SM presence. But is it a requirement? Despite many of my generation (and older) having SM accounts, I chose not to go down that road. Consequently, in many instances, I’m protected from these types of attacks – at least protected to the degree that I don’t read them or hear about them unless someone else tells me. If I’m being faithful to preach the Word in season and out, then I’ll face attacks. I find it hard enough to do the day-to-day work of counseling and preaching/teaching and compassion ministry, etc. much less manage my SM accounts.

    On the other hand, I have many colleagues and brothers/sisters in Christ (like you, Thom) that actually conduct their ministry through their extensive SM accounts. I’m grateful for their articles, posts, podcasts, sermons, etc. and I pray that God would continue to use those people and their SM accounts to spread the Gospel. My only encouragement and counsel to those that have SM accounts is that while we may occasionally find the need to defend ourselves and our convictions/beliefs from those that malign us and misrepresent the Truth in online spaces, we also need to remember that God through Jesus will ultimately vindicate His followers and right all wrongs. Therefore, don’t be afraid to shake the dust from your feet and move on.

    • Something to remember about social media accounts for anyone who “conduct their ministry through their extensive SM accounts” is they can disappear entirely with a couple keystrokes by the platform administrator.

  • Carl Walker says on

    This is sadly one of many problems with the modern understanding of the word GRACE and the deep roots of replacement theology in the modern church.
    When the Torah is not read or studied in the church then Jewishness of Jesus is lost and his teachings are misinterpreted and an assumption is that we are not responsible any longer for “Murdering” the character of our brother. To even speak evil of someone is the same as shedding blood in Deuteronomy.

  • Micah Sturm says on

    Thank you, Dr Rainer! A few years ago I thought I was losing my mind and ministry! Some members took to social media and did irreparable harm to the cause of Christ.

    I composed this response:

    SANCTIFIED SILENCE
    Micah J. Sturm

    I heard a definition for gossip that keeps me focused: “gossip is when you share details of a situation with those who are neither part of the problem or a part of the solution.”

    There are times when the best response to a situation is silence.

    (1) I choose silence because there is always more to the story, that I may never know–“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24, ESV);

    (2) I choose silence even when it is painful to hear or read the ugliness that comes from limited knowledge or understanding–“Fire goes out for lack of fuel, and quarrels disappear when gossip stops” (Proverbs 26:20, NLT);

    (3) I choose silence because the Savior sanctified it–“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth (Isaiah 53:7) and “when he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23, ESV).

    My Master was clear when He said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37, ESV).

    Therefore, there are times I need to exercise sanctified silence.

    The sting of their social media stones hurts, but the dust must be shaken and we keep preaching Jesus!

  • Joyce Martin says on

    I am compelled to add that whatever profession, job, or course of life we travel we are all affected by toxic behavior on social media. Often that climate continues into other aspects of our daily life. It is as you state a sad, difficult, and often painful reality.

  • Mitch Fisher says on

    I could not agree more with this article! All six points are spot on and as an associational leader this topic has been brought up and discussed as much as any. I have been the topic a couple times. I have never responded on-line and only followed up in person regarding one accusation. I addressed it honestly and head on, but only after allowing my emotions and ‘first reactions’ to fade away. The results were good and we were able to continue a healthy relationship. Having been in the ministry for almost 40 years I have been down this road a time or two, but criticism on social media brings it to a new level.

    On a personal level I never post or respond. about politics or current cultural trends. If you don’t want to see pictures of some grandkids or trout it may be best to pass by my page). I also highly recommend my pastors to be very cautious on social media in what they post and how they respond.

    Thank you for this post! I pray for pastors and community leaders on a regular basis asking God to give them grace, wisdom and protection.

  • Rev Ralph Hough says on

    Greetings! Certainly, social media used as described above is a non-productive way of trying to achieve a brotherhood of the disenchanted. Besides keeping in contact with friends/family, and those we will likely not have a face to face reunion with in this lifetime, the untruths about Jesus and the church, and other issues on SM can be dealt with in simple to understand ways that can edify and strengthen the believer, and perhaps help the skeptic begin to think a different way than they do. Especially do we need to point out more and more in our fractured society that Jesus is the original diversity driven, equal opportunity, community organizer… all other are counterfeit means by which the devil does his deceiving work. BTW: If/when I am called all sorts of names (sexist, homophobe, etc.) I am polite and thank them and pray God’s blessing for them. KISS!

  • Henry Wentz says on

    The digital age has certainly created this atmosphere. Cast me as a church leader but not a pastor and my council for these situations is mostly to put them on ignore.
    Obviously, it depends on the severity or if the accusations involved a legal issue. Generally however it’s simply preferences over some interpersonal conflict.
    Simple answer to a worrisome issue, but I always like Nehemiah’s answer in a similar situation, he refused to come down from building the wall and let his actions speak for themselves.

    Blessings to all!

    Henry Wentz

  • Keith Benjamin says on

    While some of us (pastors) must take responsibility for some of the things we do (and even say), the use of social media to attack the pastor is cowardly. I concur with everything you post in the article and the feeling op hopelessness is overwhelming. So you soldier on but that hurt cannot be ignored. You are powerless against these attacks, and some laity may well say just ignore it, but your integrity and character are being attacked. At times a response is needed, but that gives way to further attacks. However, more importantly, how much damage is done to the Gospel? That is incalculable. Followers on social media, who have an agenda, latch onto the criticism and use it to discredit our witness as the Body of Christ so that we have no credibility, driving even more people away. Of course, the pastor will be blamed, why not? Some well-meaning souls will remind you of Christ’s suffering, or any of the Apostles, and almost want to elevate you to that level. The fact is, the suffering we endure comes from within the Body who should be supporting every effort to proclaim the Gospel. A timely post, but one that’s needed

  • There is often culpability for both sides. Some of the pastors did some % of what is being said on social media. That said, there are people (formerly) in congregations who are first class trouble makers. I also believe that some of what is said about the pastor applies more so to the lay leadership, I think they sometimes hide and let the pastor take the fall. Sometimes the reason that people won’t support the pastor is that the wrath of the trouble makers can be (re)directed towards them, and they plan to be in that town and congregation for years to come.
    Now, don’t get me wrong, there are times that I have wished social media existed when I was young so that I could have spoken up anonymously about preachers who said nothing that the younger people could take with them and use and church leaders thinking everything was just fine. Even in university, those who spoke in chapel said nothing most college students could use but the administrators who controlled the speakers were satisfied so that was all that mattered. There was no way to speak up without risking backlash.

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