5 Challenges With Being a Local Pastor (or Leader) in the Age of Social Media


Social media is changing you and me in more profound ways than any of us imagine.

Like a growing number of people, I’m increasingly concerned with how addictive tech has become, and am leaning in on the arguments that some like Roger McNamee (who has a fascinating conversation with Sam Harris here) and Tristan Harris make that social is addicting us to outrage and challenging the underpinnings of what we’ve known as civilization. If you’re interested, for a good introduction on how tech is manipulating how you think, check out this article from The Guardian.

The problem with technology is that while we’re its parent, we’re also its child. We don’t fully understand what we created.

While all that is happening, I’m also increasingly sensitive to the fact that social media is also changing how leaders lead.

Especially at the local level.

The problem with technology is that while we're its parent, we're also its child. We don't fully understand what we created. Click To Tweet

Almost every leader has two audiences now: the audience we know (live local and in person) and the audience we don’t (via social).

This is true for every local church pastor and for every leader who runs anything from a local coffee shop, marketing firm, Etsy shop, right on through to 7, 8 and 9 figure companies.

It’s a strange new world, that brings with it terrific opportunities and real temptations.

The key is to know how to navigate it.

Here are 5 challenges every local pastor and leader faces with the continued rise of social media.

Every leader has two audiences now: the people we know (live, local and in person) and the people we don't (via social). That's where the problems can start. Click To Tweet

1. You’ll be tempted to ignore your people in search of a bigger audience

There are two kinds of people in leadership: the people you’ve reached, and the people you hope to reach.

Like most leaders, I have a bias toward growth and expansion, and that means is really easy for me to focus on the people I hope to reach instead of the people we have reached. To be fair, that is a somewhat appropriate bias for a church leader, because the church is one of the few organizations that exists for the benefit of its non-members.

It’s also fraught with problems.

People can tell if they’re a means to an end. And people can sense if you’re using them to get to something other than them. And I promise you, that wears thin fast.

Scroll through your social feed.

It’s pretty easy to spot leaders who are trying to get noticed by a bigger audience at the expense of the audience they currently serve. And listen, that’s something I check in my spirit all the time.

Here’s the truth: most leaders motivated by wanting to reach a wider audience rarely reach a wider audience.

Most leaders motivated by wanting to reach a wider audience rarely reach a wider audience. Click To Tweet

You want to know what gets you noticed?

Leaders get noticed when they do the hard work in front of them. When they love to serve the people they have so well that others line up to get in. When they love and care for what they have more than they focus on they don’t have, things tend to grow.

And it’s hard to love people you ignore.

It's hard to love people you ignore. Click To Tweet

2. You’ll spend more time with people you don’t know than with people you do

It’s great to learn from leaders you’ve never met. I do it every day.

I listen to podcasts, read books, check out blogs, watch videos and connect on social with leaders I don’t know.

It’s never been easier to spend most of your life in the online world.

But wise leaders spend more time with people they know in real life than with people they don’t know online.

When was the last time you took out a local person for breakfast, just to listen, take notes and learn?

When was the last time you asked a stay-at-home mom what her biggest challenges were, or spent some time with a drywaller who’s battling cancer?

Or met with the guy running a local real estate office rather than listening to yet another podcast out of Silicon Valley or Austin?

Social media can move you into a world where you feel like you’re constantly connected, except you’re not. Not to anyone you know. Not face to face. Not real-life to real-life.

Social media can move you into a world where you feel like you're constantly connected, except you're not. Not to anyone you know. Click To Tweet

3. You’ll try to impress people you’ll never meet

If you’re on social hoping to get noticed, to pick up followers, hoping to ‘get picked’ as Seth Godin writes about, you’re signing up for a lot of frustration.

For starters, you’ll likely fall prey to imitation.  You’ll spend so much time trying to be someone else that you’ll fail to develop who you are.

You’ll kill the voice and gifting God gave you and you’ll stifle your real creativity.

Imitation is also the fastest way to kill innovation. If you spend your time trying imitate, you won’t innovate. Which again, should be a by-product of engaging the people you have.

Stop trying to impress people you don’t know. Start serving people you do know.

Imitation is the fastest way to kill innovation. If you spend your time trying imitate, you won't innovate. Click To Tweet

4. You’ll focus more on image and less on substance

One of the crazy things social has done to us all is made us think way too much about image.

Filters and apps abound that will make you look thinner, erase wrinkles, shrink your nose or slightly expand your eyes. It’s so sad, actually.

If that’s what you want your life to be about, more power to you.

The reality is we all get older. Most of us carry a few extra pounds. And every year, I get more wrinkled.

That’s honestly not what matters most.

My rule of thumb is to dress well enough not to be distracting one way or the other: not badly enough that people want to take me shopping, and not well enough that people spend time wondering how much something cost or where I got it from.

Well-known leaders like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs made decisions to wear the same thing every day (grey T-shirt and jeans, black mock turtle neck and jeans, respectively). Albert Einstein bought several versions of the same tweed suit and wore that look every day.

Einstein reportedly said his decision to dress the same every day was so he didn’t need to think about what he was going to wear.

You know why these leaders got noticed? Nothing to do with their image. Everything to do substance.

Leaders who are focused on image tend to produce little of substance. Leaders who focus on substance find image and style really don’t matter.

Leaders who are focused on image tend to produce little of substance. Leaders who focus on substance find image and style really don't matter. Click To Tweet

5. Your sense of success will rise and fall with likes and shares

Most of us want to be liked. I do. I’m imagining you do too.

But too often we let our sense of self-worth be determined by others, and that’s a mistake.

If you’re not careful, your sense of success will rise and fall with like and shares.

And it will cause you once again to pursue the affections of people you don’t know instead of serving the people you do.

Here’s a rule I’ve had to adopt in my own life: I want the people closest to me to the people most grateful for me.

What does it matter if some follower 1000 miles away thinks you’re awesome if your spouse or staff thinks you’re awful?

What does it matter if some follower 1000 miles away thinks you're awesome if your spouse or staff thinks you're awful? That's right, it doesn't. Click To Tweet

Exchanging the love of people you know for a bunch of social likes from people you don’t know is a sure path to longterm misery and probable failure on all fronts.

The people closest to you should be the people most grateful for you.

Leaders, the people closest to you should be the people most grateful for you. Click To Tweet

Create a Better Future

How do you find the time to process things like this? To dig deeper, to recalibrate and to lead better?

Finding time to reinvent or redirect yourself can seem impossible.

Well, maybe not. It’s very possible…and I’d love to help you get on top of your everything so you can get your life and leadership back.

If you’re trying to find the time for what matters most in life, my High Impact Leader course, is my online, on-demand course designed to help you get time, energy and priorities working in your favour.

Many leaders who have taken it are recovering 3 productive hours a day.  That’s about 1000 hours of found time each year. That’s a lot of time for what matters most.

Here are what some alumni are saying about The High Impact Leader Course”

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What are your temptations?

What are some of the temptations you feel as you wrestle with social media?

I’d love to know. Scroll down and leave a comment.

5 Challenges With Being a Local Pastor (or Leader) in the Age of Social Media


  1. Zach Ochoga on April 12, 2020 at 5:31 pm

    Thanks for the reminder!

    • TIM on April 13, 2020 at 10:07 am

      Another trap is something you’ve addressed elsewhere. “Your desire to reach will be challenged by your desire to be right.” Don’t allow yourself to get pulled into politics. Your “church” is now much more diverse, complex, and nuanced. Do your best to always take the high ground, treat all people with respect, and stay humbly teachable, no matter the other person’s view on volatile issues or politics.

    • Chisenga Kunda on April 16, 2020 at 3:04 am

      Hi Carey,

      I sense this article so far is most outstanding to me. I have a small church of about 15, we have been meeting in the home since 2017 until March 2020 when we got a classroom for gathering on Sundays.

      I do few postings and shares on social media, but I have realized that I spend more time teaching and preaching to my small group. So, this article has really encouraged me that I should be doing more of my ministry for people I know in real life than people online.

      Thanks and I appreciate you for a wonderful article!

  2. Andrew on April 12, 2020 at 5:13 pm

    Oh wow! Thank you Carey for this timely reminder and heart check. My wife and I pastor in a regional centre in australia which has an overall physical reach of 30-40k people. We have noticed the increased “viewership” through our push into online and it is fraught with danger when you see people globally commenting and joining your service. We made a decision early on that that was nice, but we are called to serve our region. The one area I will struggle with admittedly is point 5. Because the higher the analytics, the greater the intoxication.
    This is a time to go for more, but also keep as grounded and humble as possible.
    Love your work and appreciate you so much!

  3. Mark on April 12, 2020 at 8:03 am

    You have to lead the people you have, not the people you wish you had. That does not preclude outreach, just not forgetting the pastoral care of those you have.

  4. Apo Rageci on April 12, 2020 at 5:02 am

    Easter Greetings! I have been truly helped by your post. Thanks so much!

  5. John Ginnan on April 12, 2020 at 4:46 am

    Thanks! So much here to be thankful for. It was a timely in 2019 when I think it was posted?, and timely in 2020. Feeling renewed toward the people I’m with, cultivating that community – “the hard work in front” of me despite the pull of social media.

  6. David Cook on April 8, 2020 at 6:59 am

    Love this!

  7. Brian McMichan on May 1, 2019 at 4:06 am

    I am reading in many of the comments that self effort is the focus …… whereas Father’s wish is … Zech 4:6 …… Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit [of Whom the oil is a symbol], says the Lord of hosts.

    Unless a ‘believer” is born again (Read John 3:3) , resting in the Vine (read John 15) receiving from Him moment by moment … you need to read Rom 8:13 For if you live according to [the dictates of] the flesh, you will surely die. But if through the power of the [Holy] Spirit you are [habitually] putting to death (making extinct, deadening) the [evil] deeds prompted by the body, you shall [really and genuinely] live forever.
    Rom 8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

    A (true) Christian is Christ-in … receiving Him, moment by moment …. having a consciousness of being a vessel for Him to live through …. part of the Body of Christ …. bearing fruit for FATHER’S glory.

    The success of your life, as a child of God, is in direct proportion to the consciousness of the Christ & power of God that is in your heart! …. He is the LIVING Christ …. He paid the price on the cross to FREE THE CAPTIVES (those living in dependence of their flesh, seeking worldly advice from worldly men …. go to a quiet spot, look up & submit your plea … “Help me!” (You will likely hear Father say …. “Ah! I FINALLY have your attention!” ….. then seek His guidance & to be filled with the Holy Spirit (as Christ Jesus was.) ……. His goal for you is ….. (joined to the Vine) 1 John 4:17 In this [union and communion with Him] love is brought to completion {and} attains perfection with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment [with assurance and boldness to face Him], because AS HE IS, SO ARE YOU IN THIS WORLD. ….. Christ Jesus in me, the hope of glory!

    Put on the full armour Father supplies …. Eph 6:10-17 ….. THEN follow Eph 6:18 …… NOTE Who it is that wields the sword!

    • Ed Kruse on April 12, 2020 at 8:03 am

      Are you and I, not even knowing each other, naturally people of good will?

      I cannot by reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to him, but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel.

  8. checkers games on May 1, 2019 at 2:27 am

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  9. Brian McMichan on April 22, 2019 at 5:45 am

    In today’s churches there is so much evidence of rituals, customs, rules, etc., etc. plus often teaching that did not conform with Scriptures.

    In September, 2018 my concern was heightened when I was reminded of 2 Thess 2:3 (Amp) Let no one deceive {or} beguile you in any way, for that day (the coming of Christ Jesus) will not come except the apostasy comes first [unless the predicted great falling away of those who have professed to be Christians has come], and the man of lawlessness (sin) is revealed, who is the son of doom (of perdition),

    As a consequence of my concerns, I have not attended “church” very often in the last 5 years, (but maintained regular contact with a few “like minded believers”) as every time I attended a “church” and I shared my concerns, I met with resistance.

    Three days ago whilst looking in my computer files, I saw a reference to Juan Carlos Ortiz and his book, “Disciple” … I had read this book quite some years ago – I opened it and read….

    “He was a Minister in South America who took over a church & over about two years of “conventional hard work” he built the numbers up from about 80 to about 200. As he sat back “reminding the Lord” of his good work, the Lord told him to close the church …. but before he did he was to select a few good “leaders” & then set up home groups of no more that 12 (no husband and wife in the same group) and as soon as anyone else joined, a new group had to be formed to keep the numbers small. (below 12)

    Within 2 years the 200 grew to 20,000 (yes, 20,000) and growing. (the groups also met for a “picnic” once a month for extra fellowship).

    This concept has been “tried” in Australia and likely other parts of the world, but if they didn’t follow how Ortiz was directed to operate the groups, it resulted in “ordinary churches” in small groups.

    I then went down a bit further in my computer file and found …. “Living with Jesus” … a condensed copy of another book by Ortiz – sent to me by a friend a few years ago (but ?? too busy to read it) … Thank You Lord, Ortiz had covered my issues and concerns very clearly, all supported with the Word of God.

    Then, if you are as enthusiastic as I am, share Ortiz’ book with as many “believers (including church “leaders”) as you are led.

    Satan is VERY active in the world at present and many “believers” are looking to the world and deceptions …… Father wants ALL His children to be with Him for eternity!

    Father, Who is love, and through His Son Christ Jesus, paid for sin and deadened all Adam spirit ….. but through His love, He gives ALL men choice …. look to the Light to see you have been set free OR look to the world and man’s ways …. where Satan is ever ready to deceive.

    Christianity is SO SIMPLE … but man complicates it (through the flesh).

    Father’s “goal” for ALL men is ….. 1 John 4:17 In this [union and communion with Him … grafted into the True Vine (John 15)] love is brought to completion {and} attains perfection with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment [with assurance and boldness to face Him], because as He is, so are we in this world.

    Zech 4:6 Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit says the Lord of hosts ….. Rest in Him (the True Vine), parts of the Body of Christ, and LET Him do it all, through us as branches.

    Join in intercession with the Holy Spirit and Lord Jesus … Rom 8:27, 34, Eph 6:18 because …. Gal 2:20 We have been crucified with Christ [in Him we have shared His crucifixion]; it is no longer we who live, but Christ (the Messiah) lives in us; and (after people turn to the Light & see that they have been set free) the life they now live in the body they live by faith in (by adherence to and reliance on and complete trust in) the Son of God, Who loved us and gave Himself up for us ….. all mankind!.

    I will be overseas and “out of touch” 6-21 April, 2019 (Australia time) ….. very timely, I will be visiting old friends in Christchurch, New Zealand (all arranged, well before the recent horror.)

    Highly recommended reading — “Living with Jesus” – Juan Carlos Ortiz

  10. Dillon M Smith on April 9, 2019 at 3:08 pm

    Really loved this post!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 10, 2019 at 6:49 am

      Thanks Dillon. 🙂

  11. David Willerup on April 8, 2019 at 2:47 pm

    So true! I’m “fasting” from FB this year and found this and more to be true. Not only was I trying to gain the attention of and impress people I’d never meet, I was also expending a lot of emotional energy on people and issues I couldn’t do a blessed thing about. My bandwidth for the people in front of me was thin because of the toll paid to scroll the page and recognize, in each post, anger or confusion or humor or sarcasm or grief or lament or joy or hope or ridicule or or or. It was exhausting.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 10, 2019 at 6:49 am

      It can be exhausting. And you know what, it’s okay to block people!

  12. Mark on April 8, 2019 at 2:31 pm

    I think there are 3 audiences. In addition to the ones you mention, there is a group of people whom you are around who you still don’t know, don’t talk to and make no effort to know. They are the ones observing whom you do (not) talk to. However, there are many people who are willing to be a “follower” and that will perhaps stroke your ego. Now, that said, because you are willing to reach out to people you don’t know and help them, there will be people who appreciate you. That is different. Likely because people around them aren’t willing to help them, you will have a following. Why leaders continue to ignore people around them is beyond me. Perhaps Carey should ask why people think they are ignored as an attempt to help leaders quit doing it.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 10, 2019 at 6:51 am

      Some good points hear Mark. I think one of the challenges is that in a larger organization or church, you can’t know everybody but that doesn’t mean you should stop trying. It can be hard, but you should meet new people regularly.

  13. Chris Dixon on April 8, 2019 at 2:20 pm

    Great post. Thznks Carey.

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