Catching The Internet Foxes That Spoil The Vine

As I sit and shake my head for say, oh, the eightieth time this month, I am truly taken aback at the level of total disorder I see on Facebook and other places around the internet. Those of you who know me know I run a relatively tight ship when it comes to issues of decency and order. I don’t have time for nonsense and I don’t have time for people who don’t uphold professionalism in ministry. There’s a word none of us like to hear when it comes to the Kingdom: PROFESSIONALISM. We don’t like hearing that ministry should be a professional enterprise, something we do and pursue in a certain way, with certain graces, and certain ethics. How do I know we don’t like hearing about it? Because we never do. Instead what I see are ministers running rampant, here and there, operating by all sorts of conduct, inconsistent, unprofessional, and unethical. They gossip, run their mouths off, say things they shouldn’t in public or in the pulpit. They run around acting like beggars, asking everyone for money and expecting that people will give it just because they ask. They do not edit documents they put online for others to read. They engage in arguments and debates. They post inappropriate pictures of themselves. They post titles they have not earned, and graces which they do not carry. They use their ministry accounts and presences to sell things through pyramid schemes.

I am not expecting people to be perfect. As a leader, I am a big advocate of the fact that we, as leaders, have the right to be people. I myself know that I am far from perfect, have my days where I don’t feel like acting very holy, and yes, I don’t do everything right. But I also know that there comes a time when, as a leader, I have to step up and show myself as the leader God has called me to be. I have to carry myself with a certain dignity, ethical perspective, and honor. I am also uniquely aware that this concept comes from my training as a leader. What I am seeing in ministry is the simple, basic fact that ministers clearly do not know how to conduct themselves in a professional manner. We have grown so accustom to relying on gifts and anointing that we’ve forgotten the simple, basic fact that ministry is about more than your anointing and your gifts: it’s also about how you present yourself. From how you dress, to what you ask of people, to how you carry yourself in public, to yes…how you behave on my Facebook page and other places…it affects how your ministry is presented and how it is perceived.

The internet is a big place. There are lots of opportunities to work wonders and have an awesome ministry presence online. The thing we cannot forget is that the way we behave on Facebook through our pages and our conduct in places such as groups and fan pages is a good indication of how you conduct yourself in your work. The way you interact on Facebook and on other internet sites is noticed. We talk about the ‘big things:’ making sure your pictures are appropriate, not using fowl language, and not getting into full-fledged arguments. What we don’t talk about is the ‘little things’ that ministers do online which create a terribly negative persona. They are often regarded as so minor that we don’t even consider them to be doing harm – but the reality is that they are causing harm because they turn people off.

The Bible gives us a very interesting teaching in Song of Solomon 2:15: “Catch the foxes for us— the little foxes that spoil the vineyard. Our vineyard is now in bloom.” (ERV) In the middle of this very important book, we learn the precept that it is the little foxes that spoil the vine. We are always so busy looking at big things, we forget to monitor the little things, and those little things are the things that spoil the work. We are encouraged to ‘catch’ the little things before they become a problem – because the work is in full bloom. I am not one of those leaders who thinks the internet is inherently evil. I think it is a neutral tool that can be used for good or for bad, and can firsthand say that I was working with a ministry presence online back before anyone else was doing it, way before it was popular – even back when people were still afraid of the internet. I’ve been through the evolution of internet communication, through dial-up to Ethernet to high-speed, from email to community posting boards to forums to social networking. I have been around and working online since 1998 – which is a feat in and of itself. I have watched the way we approach the internet pass from fear and trembling (remember when we didn’t even use our real names?) to a comfort that I wonder if it is sometimes too lax. Regardless of how the internet has evolved, there is one thing I can’t deny: it’s important for a ministry that desires to grow and actually go somewhere to have a presence online. If we want to get there, however, we have to mind ourselves and catch those little foxes before they spoil the vine.

Instead of sitting on here and ranting and raving about what’s wrong, I am going to tell you all some things you can do that will make a radical difference in how your ministry is perceived. As the internet is often the first way people encounter a ministry today, it’s important that your ministry is perceived as positively as possible. Here are some great ways to mind your ‘little foxes’ online!

Do not add people to a Facebook group (or another group) without their permission. – Today I received the fourth inboxed message of recent because I left a FB group that someone added me to without my permission. The messages I receive about this are all the same: They apologize to me if they “offended” me because they added me to the group without permission. Then, they proceed to tell me WHY they added me to the group without my permission, as if that is going to change something. I feel that I need to clarify something in this example because I know that being added to groups without permission is an extremely common issue on Facebook. First of all, I know that I myself have made it explicitly clear on at least five occasions that I do NOT want to be added to things without my permission. It’s been on my Facebook page no less than five times to rave reviews, with multiple ‘likes’ and statements of agreement. If you are starting a group and you would like to belong, come and ASK me first. That is decency and order. Tell me that you have a group, the name of it, and that you would like to add me to it. Before the defensive response gives me the responsibility to change my settings, NO. I shouldn’t have to make it so no one can add me to a group. I may want to allow someone to add me to something and if I make it so no one can do that, that complicates the situation. What SHOULD happen is you should ASK ME FIRST before adding me. This is not hard to do, nor is it too much to ask. Stave off your emotional excitement about having a group long enough to come and ask the woman or man of God if you can add them. Or better yet, put a notice about your group in your status and invite people to join if they would like to be added. I operate a group here on Facebook with 177 members, none of which were EVER added without their permission. If I want to join your group, I will indicate thus. Operate by decency and order! If you are a leader, you should know better than to just go around, randomly adding people to your groups and causes.

Do NOT send people messages on Facebook telling them how they are feeling. – This seems to be a big problem online. Given the fact that tone can be extremely difficult to perceive and most people you know online you have never met in person, it is easy to misread someone’s thoughts or feelings based on a posting or a status. Despite this fact, people are always going around telling other people how that other person is feeling. Last time I checked, nobody crawled inside anyone else’s mind and knows what they are thinking. Personally, I am extraordinarily in touch with how I feel and I don’t really like it when someone else tells me how I am feeling, because they are usually wrong. It’s not prophetic to tell someone how wounded they are or offended they are online, it’s stupid. If you know someone (actually having met or even talked to them online) or are perceiving something in the Spirit, that is clearly different, as it is done out of caring, rather than presumption, and I am not talking about that. Clearly when this is done, it is done in a different context. But, while I am on the topic at hand, stop using the word “offended” all the time. That seems to be the word du jour on the net. Everyone is always saying how ‘offended’ someone else is. We do this because offense implies the receiver of the action is somehow in a certain state of fault, rather than the transferred accepting responsibility in full for their actions. In the example above, I am not “offended” when I am added to a group without my permission. It does not hurt my feelings or emotionally wound me. What it does do is show a total lack of respect for me as a minister, for my time, and for my request that I not be added to groups without my permission. It shows me that you do not hold proper respect for me as a person and as a leader. What it DOES do is make sure that the leader who did it will not ever be invited to speak at any of my events, because I can’t trust that you won’t overstep the boundaries of order and authority therein.

Don’t manipulate leaders online. – If there is one thing I know I despise, it is when someone comes on and starts telling me how wonderful I am when they have no idea who I am. I’m not talking about being complimented, because people can tell a lot about us from our ministry presence. What I am talking about are the sickly, sweet, saccharin-y people who come on and say how anointed you are, how great your ministry must be, and how incredible you are…and then start talking about themselves, or just have to give you the opportunity to network with THEM, or buy their item…or how you can get your spiritual breakthrough in nine days or less if you just send them money, like their page, or buy their book. Grow up. I did not fall off the turnip truck, I was not born yesterday, and it does not say STUPID on my forehead. I know when someone is being genuine, and when someone is just blowing smoke up my behind. Stop it!

Don’t try to recruit for your pyramid scheme on my page (or anyone else’s page, for that matter!) – I know that we are living in difficult economic times, both among believers and among ministers in the church. I also know that this is a prime time for people to get involved in pyramid schemes. There is no end to the number of agencies out there who seek to prey upon vulnerable people who are hoping for a financial windfall with little work. No matter how you may perceive an organization you sell for, remember decency and order. Do not solicit sales or recruitment for a sales company on Facebook. It is especially out of order for you to come to a leader and solicit their support. There are lots of opportunities for you to sell your wares – as a vendor. Don’t use ministry connections to promote pyramid schemes!

Do NOT promote you or your ministry on someone else’s fan page. – A fan page for a ministry, a person, or a business is just that – it is for that ministry, person, or business. It is not for you to promote yourself, what you are doing, an event or leader that you believe in, what you like, or what you feel is important. People who insist on promoting themselves on someone else’s fan page are just selfish, and don’t tell me you are doing it for the Kingdom – you are doing it to try and attract their audience to you. Your presence on a fan page indicates that you are a supporter of what someone else is doing. Let me say as one with fan pages – it speaks volumes to me when someone is willing to show forth that sign of support – it’s a sign of respect. If you want to promote your own areas, beliefs, thoughts, or issues of importance, get your own fan page. Issue solved.

Don’t ask for money or ask people to support someone you know (that they don’t) on somebody’s page. – I am really getting tired of all this begging in the Kingdom. I’m sorry that you can’t trust God enough for your finances that you have to resort to begging. I know we all hit difficulties, I know there are problems that we all encounter, but I also know that the Bible says to seek FIRST the Kingdom of God, not seek first money from everyone in the Kingdom. Do I have issues from time to time, yes. Have I ever come on here and asked everyone for money, no, I have not. Stop asking people for money. I think what personally galls me is that all these online beggars don’t just ask for an offering, they ask for specified amounts – anywhere from oh, say, $50 to $2,000 – and these are the same people who know I have a book, know I have .mp3 downloads available on Amazon.com for under $5 apiece, not to mention a host of other materials available now and soon available through both ministry and business, and yet they never show a single sign of support to this work financially. They expect me to give, but they do not expect to sow. Then they come on my page and litter my inbox with messages asking me to buy something done by someone else or to support someone else – who I do not even know online and have never even met! I am not sending money to people I do not know and do not trust online. I am surely not giving money to someone I have never even heard of! I am not sowing into ministries that display disorder online. This is still the internet, and no, you are not entitled to receive from me just because you come and ask me for something. I am not your bank, your covering, or tied to you in some way. If this is a problem for you, feel free to ‘unfriend’ me. Life will go on.

Don’t solicit to cover people. – For real, church, what is our problem? When did people start going to people on Facebook and telling them that they should be their covering because “God” appointed it? Then they accuse them of being out of order when they don’t dump their current covering to be under you? Oh, get real. If you are a real leader, then your fruit speaks for itself, and that person will be moved by God to be under your leadership. People will come to you to be covered because God draws them. It’s not a magical process by which you control everyone else’s life. Covering is not a competition – this isn’t “whoever covers the most people wins.” Sometimes I wish I had a gigantic switch I could just whip all these leaders with…then I would feel better.

Edit your notes and check the spelling in your statuses, – Yes, we all have an occasional typo, myself included, and I am not talking about this. I am talking about the consistent misuse of words, spelling errors, and grammar that are extraordinarily prevalent online – from Facebook, to blogs, to yes, even people’s websites. I’ve had people argue with me that “People don’t take the internet work that serious.” Well, do you want to get invited to preach, or not? Do you want to get a book published, or not? If you do, check your spelling and grammar. If your thought is so profound you have to get it down, type it in Word, run spell-check, and then copy it into your status. The world can wait five or ten minutes while you polish up your language presentation.

I have no interest in Children’s Ministry. I am tired of feeling like I am running Children’s Ministry! If you’re a leader, act like it! If you are in ministry, act like it! Stop taking liberties because those liberties will move you clean out of ministry if you don’t get your act together.

(c) 2012 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.

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