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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  • Amanda Price says on

    This is a late reply I know. I’m responding because it is an issue that is so pressing upon the Church today, and upon my heart. First, thank you for this article. It was a word from God that I needed to be reminded about. Bless you!
    I, nor my husband are ordained, but have been Christians for 40 years (not looking for points just saying we’ve been around). During that time we have seen good pastors vilified beyond belief, we have seen not-so-good pastors elevated to dangerous levels of unaccountability, and we have seen very bad leaders (in terms of leadership, we are all saved by grace not because we are ‘good’) attack their own flock and destroy people who protest. We have been the subject of attacks and have felt undefended and misrepresented. I don’t think you can serve the Lord and not have come under those attacks. Still, whether it’s happening to you or others, it is painful and sorrowful.
    In my head, I have composed hundreds of letters exposing the bad and vindicating the good. I have stayed awake at night, distressed by lies, alarmed by a lack of accountability, or yes, furious, that a leader has chosen to attack or abandon his own sheep. Whether to speak up or remain silent, we’ve discovered, has nothing to do with the situation, the leader or the severity of the issue (unless it is criminal, of course). We’ve learnt that wrongly motivated human intervention leaves no room for the judgement of God, and for His healing.
    What everyone of us can do, without limitation or risk of harm to anyone, is pray, and that we have found is the most powerful way to respond. Social media, itself is not bad, as we all know, but it is an instrument for harm in the hands of those wishing to harm, or whose hurt has not healed. When someone’s fingers are furiously clicking away while they are writing a diatribe or defense, they are rarely praying. When we pray our words come back to us through the Holy Spirit, revealing them for what they are. Sometimes God keeps us in the dark about whether our leaders are right or wrong, but he will always keep us in the light as long our aims are the same as His.
    I admit to be grieved by the behaviour of certain leaders (though I am grateful for far more!), but I am most deeply grieved at the blood which flows freely in the streets around churches as people (leaders and lambs) are put under the knife of judgement and condemnation. Both secular and Christian journalist and commentators write about it, social media disseminates it at horrifying speed and extent, and the world looks at us and sees nothing different then when it looks in the mirror.
    The question of what to do is simple – pray at all times and do nothing else unless God tells you to do so, and even then make sure that is confirmed through His Word and in godly counsel. It hurts to be attacked, it hurts to see others attacked, it hurts to see those causing harm keep on harming, but the greater harm is to pretend to be God and behave as if He were not capable of looking after His own Body, the Church. If Jesus were on earth today, social media devotees would have made the Pharisees’ attacks look mild but it would not have thwarted the gospel. That is what social media judgement is directed at today, not individuals, but the gospel.
    As a further consequence on the social media judgement methodology, is the propensity among Christians to destroy the works of leaders accused of failing, or having failed. How many books are tossed into the rubbish because we now look down upon the author? Though we believe we should read books that espouse truth found in the gospel, we take that truth and put it in the trash if the person who penned it has been besmirched or failed to maintain their integrity. If Solomon were alive today, how many of us would have thrown Proverbs away? What does that say about us in terms of who we worship and who we esteem? What does it also say about where our minds are focused?
    The issue of social media in its attempts to condemn and elevate, is not about friends or fiends but about our faith. If our eyes are on God and our faith rooted in Him, then “what can mere man do” to interfere with His goals and purpose.

  • Thank you for writing this. My church, specifically me and the leadership, is currently the subject of a great deal of criticism. When this plays out in parking lot meetings and phone calls, it’s very damaging, but when we see it on social media, it’s devastating. It hurts people and absolutely destroys long term relationships, likely permanently. So very sad to see… it breaks my heart.

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