1. Be quick to listen; slow to tweet (Js. 1:19-20). And specifically, the warning is against becoming angry quickly. Sometimes a minister of the gospel must become angry, but godly anger is cultivated carefully and slowly (e.g. the slaughter of the unborn, the destruction of families, etc.). Godly anger is never contrary to love or gentleness or self-control. But the wrath of man is just another form of terrorism. Related to this: A minister of the gospel should not be surprised at the effect of His words. A minister is called by Jesus to be a herald of God’s Word, and therefore He must be a wise messenger and well-practiced wordsmith. If you write something and the mob comes for your head, a minister must not hide behind ignorance. That’s like a Marine accidentally discharging his weapon and claiming he didn’t know it could do that. This isn’t counsel not to speak or write, but rather a charge to listen carefully and learn to speak and write well.
2. Think about the Internet as the Holy Spirit’s wonderful gift to the Church so that our words may “go out to the ends of the earth” (Rom. 10:18). And how will they hear without a preacher? In other words, use the Internet by faith. Believe God for the gift of Facebook, Twitter, blogs, email lists, etc. Paul said that He would reach unbelievers by any lawful means: to the Jews, He would gladly embrace any lawful customs or tradition, and to Greeks, He would drop those same customs in a heartbeat if it would lead to their blessing and salvation (1 Cor. 9:19-23). If Paul were alive today, His Twitter account would be blowing up. There’s a certain cynicism about the Internet that is simply unbelief. Yes, there are people sinning on the Internet, but people have been sinning with God’s good gifts for millennia. The answer is not cynicism but rather repentance and embracing the good gifts of God. Hundreds of years from now, I suspect that the Church will look back at the Internet like we do the printing press or the invention of paper and see the gracious hand of God giving us something profoundly good for the advance of the gospel.
3. Let love cover a multitude of sins (1 Pet. 4:8). And let me remind you that in Greek “multitude” means a lot. Remember that love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things (1 Cor. 13:7). If there is any charitable way to spin it, labor diligently to hope and believe that. A minister of the gospel should put this kind of love on display, patiently bearing much. The accusation should be (from those who can see) that a man is taking far more than he’s answering, just as Jesus endured accusations, like a lamb before its shearer is silent and opens not his mouth (Acts 8:32, 1 Pet. 2:23). Related to this, a minister must understand deep in his bones the difference between defending himself and defending the sheep. Love doesn’t retaliate but gladly gives water to thirsty enemies (Rom. 12:20).
4. Cultivate a high joy. Christians are to rejoice always (Phil. 4:4, 1 Thess. 5:16), and it is the glad duty of ministers of the gospel to lead this charge. This is the joy that only rests on those who know that Jesus reigns at the right hand of the Father and He is systematically conquering the world by His grace. When Picklebutt365 is saying outrageous things on the Internet, Christian ministers remember that God is on the throne laughing at those who conspire against Him and against His anointed (Ps. 2:2). Ministers should be quick to smile, quick to laugh, and have deep cellars full of the good wine of holy joy. At the same time, ministers should avoid being (or sounding) cynically sarcastic. Godly joy is simple, clean, and pure.
5. Do not announce your pieties on the Internet (Mt. 6:1-4). On the one hand, recognize the enormous gift it is to let needs be published broadly to the Body of Christ throughout the world. On the other hand, that means you can announce how much you gave to hurricane relief or how long you spent in prayer and Bible reading this morning, and the Internet has become your street corner and Facebook is your trumpet. Likewise, let Facebook fasting be between you and your Father in Heaven (Mt. 6:16-18). Don’t confess your private sins of being lazy and distracted and undisciplined to the world and announce your newly formed holiness of repenting and leaving Facebook, giving the distinct impression that the rest of the world must still be deeply entrenched in their slavery to sloth and if they were really extra, super duper holy (like you), they would join in your pious crusade. Lastly, let other men praise you and not your own posts (Prov. 27:2). Thou shalt not humble brag.
6. At the same time, use the Internet as a bull horn of gratitude and thankfulness for what God has done for you (Ps. 149:1). Thankfulness is cultivated outloud and in public. The key is clearly pointing the praise. Is this post about the fact that you’re insecure and need some attention or is this about God’s goodness and grace? Being a quick listener means being a quick study when it comes to the developing Internet etiquette and cultural cues. This may occasionally mean that your honest gratitude sounds like a humble brag or that you’re fishing for hugs and affirmation (when you weren’t really) – so learn from your rhetorical fumble and don’t do it again. But listen and learn so that you can clearly articulate praise and gratitude and others will be encouraged to join in.
7. Apologize as publicly as you sin, quickly, directly, and without excuses (Js. 5:16). Don’t use euphemisms or hide behind ambiguities. Take responsibility for what you said or wrote, and ask forgiveness of those you sinned against. The same goes for setting records straight, retracting false or inaccurate statements or claims or just being a stinker. Love the truth. Love the truth in public. There’s nothing quite as unseemly and embarrassing as a minister of the gospel who can’t or won’t apply that gospel to himself or his words. Remember that where sin abounds, grace abounds still more.
8. Don’t feed the trolls: Do not answer a fool (Prov. 26:4). Better mud wrestle an angry pig in a rainstorm than try to reason with a fool. Likewise, never apologize for sins you didn’t commit. That only encourages them. Christians are notoriously bad at this, but it really is a bad testimony to the watching world. Christian ministers do not speak on their own authority; they speak on behalf of Jesus. They are His messengers. You have no right to alter the message, and therefore you cannot apologize for things Jesus didn’t die for. Related: Don’t grab passing dogs by the ears (Prov. 26:17). And to be very clear, there are many passing dogs on the Internet. Yes, there are always people who are wrong on the Internet, but not every fight is your fight. And of course, occasionally you do have to answer fools (Prov. 26:5).
9. Don’t whine, complain, or be huffy or fussy. Don’t be pedantic, finicky, fastidious, or sophistic. If someone claims to not understand you, don’t assume they’re insulting you. In other words, a minister may not take offense and may not be the Internet equivalent of a briar patch. And this once again requires the development of an Internet ear. Cultivate an ear to hear what it sounds like out there. The man of God must be kind, gentle, patiently correcting those in error, honestly hoping for their repentance (2 Tim. 2:24-26). One additional point that could just as easily be filed under another heading is the fact that teachers and preachers repeat themselves a lot. This is our job. And it’s our job not to be bothered by that fact. Pastors must be thankful for the task of repeating themselves. And this is why it can often be just fine to repost old sermons or outlines or exhortations or articles. There’s a way of doing it that’s just tooting your own horn (see #5), but there’s also a way of loving truth and loving people that cheerfully reminds (2 Tim. 2:14).
10. Remember that you were not ordained by the Internet. You do not serve an amorphous congregation of likes and retweets. You serve a concrete body of believers in a local region; you must be under the authority of local elders. Pastoral ministry necessarily prioritizes some needs over others. Often this means letting Jesus rule the Internet without your help because you need to prepare your sermon, visit a widow, or go out and share the gospel with unbelievers. Bernice in Cincinnati may need pastoral care but not at the expense of the saints Jesus has assigned to you in Los Angeles. At the same time, don’t underestimate how significant the Internet has become in the lives of the people God has called you to serve. While there may have been a time when it was understandable for ministers not to have telephones, I believe we can officially note that time has passed. In other words, some pastors fail by being sucked into the Internet vortex, while others fail by refusing to see how Jesus is calling them to minister to their people in and through the Internet.
11. Do not confuse the Internet with the means of grace. Jesus calls men to minister to His sheep by feeding them face to face at least once a week in the same room with the Words of the Gospel and with the bread and wine of His Table. Jesus commanded the Church to make disciples of all nations through baptizing them and teaching them (Mt. 28:19-20). The Internet is an enormously useful tool for teaching, but you can’t use the Internet to baptize or share bread and wine. That requires proximity. Internet cannot become a substitute for personal, face to face, pastoral care, hospitality, and friendship. And yet, at the same time, rejoice the ability we now have through the Internet to comfort one another across great distances, continue conversations through busy stretches, and to cultivate broader friendships and community beyond the four walls of the local church.
12. Embrace the power and limitations of written words. God made the world with words, and He said it was good. And He created people in His image who speak like Him, with fire in their mouths and in their pens. Of course this means that all the warnings about the tongue apply, and teachers will be judged with greater severity (Js. 3:1). But Jesus (in His infinite wisdom) still sends men out to speak and write and proclaim. Some of those words will be incorrect. Some of those words will be sour. Some of those words will land like smooth stones in the foreheads of giants. Some of those words will bring down strongholds and fortified cities. Some of those words will be misunderstood. Some of those words will be taken out of context. Some of those words will set worlds ablaze. And some of those words will incite riots. And Jesus, knowing all of this, determined to remake the world through the means of fallible men announcing the infallible Word of the Gospel (1 Pet. 1:23-25).