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BoxesIt is always difficult to leave one congregation and begin somewhere else. For many, such as those in intentional interim ministry settings, the end is known and expectations can be set from the beginning. For others, the navigation is a bit more complicated. Throw in all the digital connections that follow us through life, and it can be a true mess.

Many ministers ask what are the appropriate boundaries to set, especially on Facebook. The best advise I can give you is to know your community, communicate clearly, and follow through.


Know your options

It can be complicated maintaining relationships on Facebook from the congregation you are leaving, who may have hurt or angry feelings, and beginning new relationships with the next congregation. It is also important that you give the new pastor the space they need to start fresh.

There are several approaches I recommend, and I cannot tell you which is best for you. This is where you need to know your (Facebook) community well.

  • A clean break-up

One option is to say goodbye in real life as well as the virtual world. Remove “friends” from your old congregation, unfollow them on Twitter, and unsubscribe from their blogs.

It is extremely important that if this is the option you feel most comfortable with, that you communicate this VERY clearly. It needs to be stated from the pulpit before you leave, on your blog, in your tweets and status updates. Before you delete the relationship, send them a quick good bye note. Write out your reasons and reassure them of your love and memories. Some ministers have set a time limit before they can “re-friend” someone – i.e. “One year after the new minister has been on staff, if you would like to recontact me, I will accept your request. But I will not initiate the contact.”

This option may be best for interim minsters, who want to leave a clear break for the next minister to come, or for those who have to leave in less than ideal settings. However, the downside is that ministers DO form personal and deep relationships with congregants and in order for this method to be effective, they must remove contact from all, even best friends, or feelings will be hurt.

  • Split personality

I often get the question of whether ministers should have multiple accounts – one for their personal friends and another for the professional life. I personally do not agree with this approach – it feels disingenuous to the very purpose of social media which is that all can be accessible by the masses. But I also understand the reasons behind it. Many ministers have become quite successful at  keeping various aspects of their life separate: family time, sports/entertainment time, education, and ministry. They are excellent ministers who have clear boundaries. And so for this type of minister, social media is a true challenge – where are the neat clear boxes? How do I keep my college buddy’s wall post to me from being seen by my 17 year old youth students? And so their solution is to have two accounts. Some do this by setting up two profiles, which is actually against Facebook’s terms and conditions (though I’m not so sure they are strict about enforcing). Others set up a profile as a person and make it difficult to be found (privacy settings) and then a page in their name that they use as a person too. Personally, it sounds like a tremendous headache to keep track of!  But if you do go this route, then when this minister moves, they can set up a new profile page for their new congregation. Or they can have all the congregants using the same profile page, which will maintain a professional connection.

Additionally, it is again extremely important that you clarify that your profile page is for your professional life. You do not have to mention that you have a private profile, but if you aren’t going to mention your family or post pictures of them on the professional page, you need to be straight-forward about that. You will probably want to set some ground rules about what conversations you will allow to take place about the minister replacing you, changes at the new church, or comments from your new congregation.

  •  Understand, and use, Facebook to its full potential

As I discuss in Facebook tips, there are multiple ways to keep various parts of your profile hidden from others including lists and they way your profile is viewed. If you take the time to set up, and use, Facebook lists, then it will be easy to post updates that are only seen by your new congregants and good-bye messages that are only accessible to your old congregants. To me, this is the most appropriate route for how social media operates. I would still send messages to my old congregants asking for space and time to settle in. Additionally, it would be appropriate to have rules about what you will and will not discuss about changes happening at the old congregation and then stick with your rules.

There is no doubt that transitions can be difficult. As I find resources that are a help for ministers in transition and their digital lives, I’ll share them here. If you have come across some yourself, I’d love you to leave them in the comments!



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