Solid Tips for Creating A Healthy Online Presence

Solid Tips for Creating A Healthy Online Presence

twitter bird

By Amy Ezell

Director, Center for Communication

A few weeks ago, the Rev. Todd Vick of Lakeside UMC sent me a “tweet” that had recently gotten a lot of engagement. It was shared by a layperson who I do not know and it read:

“If you are looking for a church home, along with the usual things to weigh, I would add one more: see if the pastor is on Twitter. If he or she is, observe how they conduct themselves there. Hard to believe we’re at this place, but here we are. I can’t urge you to do this strongly enough.”

Part of my work is spent coaching church leaders on using social media to build a solid brand. Whether it is a church brand or a personal brand, it is very important that each of these speaks intentionally as to who they are for their online audience.

Since the mandatory shift to online ministry and branding because of COVID-19, church leaders are getting many mixed messages that make it even more difficult to create a positive brand. Some examples are: “Be authentic but avoid discussions that could be construed as political.” “Be relatable but make sure not to come across as too eager to connect.” “Be encouraging but be careful not to follow groups or like posts that could be seen as questionable.” “Be creative but don’t be awkward.” The list could go on and on…

To make it as clear as possible, I have broken it down as three easy tips for church leaders to consider when building a positive brand which contributes to a larger online audience:

1. Identify how people feel when they see your name on social media. Could there be any anger or confusion from posts that you’ve shared? Could there be resentment from topics that you frequently like to discuss? Do you cause eyes to roll because you share things that are interpreted as you are in need of attention? Do people feel encouraged by your words? Are people proud to share and like and thank you for what you have posted?

2. Mirror your in-person persona on social media. Developing an online persona is something to avoid. It is very easy to hide behind a keyboard and type things, like posts and make comments that would never be said face-to-face and eye-to-eye.

3. Be kind. Would you want to be around yourself based upon the things that you post, share and like on social media?

Whether we like it or not, people are watching what church leaders are saying. This is a great opportunity for growth, or failure, depending on how you want to be seen online. It’s not easy, it takes work, but it creates an amazing new opportunity for meaningful evangelism.

Salty and Lit

Jesus says we are to be the salt and light of the world. What’s interesting is how often we mis-take his words to mean our primary job is to call out others over their shortcomings. What Jesus is really saying, however, is more about us than them. We cannot be salt for others if we have lost our saltiness, and we cannot be light for others if we hide our light under a bowl. This means our primary job really is to make sure we stay salty and lit, which can only happen if we stay humble, deeply in touch with God and strive to be faithful Jesus-followers. In turn, this forces us to ask ourselves a challenging question. Are we really ready to grow in grace, strive to become perfect in love and seek holiness?

Cross-Racial, Cross-Cultural Appointments Offer A Chance To Grow In Understanding and CompassionClergy Offer Advice for Welcoming Them Into New Appointments

Cross-Racial, Cross-Cultural Appointments Offer A Chance To Grow In Understanding and Compassion
Clergy Offer Advice for Welcoming Them Into New Appointments

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

The Rev. Andrea’ Cummings wants to be treated just the same as any other pastor moving into a new appointment.

The 39-year-old elder is the new associate pastor at First United Methodist Church Bentonville and, along with new senior pastor the Rev. J.J. Whitney, leads her church in the vibrant and rapidly growing community of Bentonville, Arkansas.

She also happens to be the first Black clergy member to ever be appointed to Bentonville First in the church’s centuries-old history.

Benton County, where Bentonville resides, is a majority-white county in far Northwest Arkansas, and the church, like the county, reflects those demographics. According to the most recent census data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Benton County is estimated to be 88.5% white, with Black or African American citizens making up just 2% of the total population.

“I’m the first black pastor, first black woman, to ever be appointed to Bentonville First. And not only that, but this church is the only one that has two women leading it. So yes, it’s huge,” Cummings said.

“But I was called by God to preach the Gospel. I was called to be a pastor. So whether it’s a black church or white church, that doesn’t change. And so that’s the feeling that I have walking into any space of any church because I know what I’m here to do.”

Cummings appointment would be considered a cross-racial/cross-cultural appointment, according to the UMC’s General Commission on Religion and Race.

According to GCORR, “Cross-racial and cross-cultural (CR/CC) ministry settings are those congregations whose membership is different than their pastors,” such as a Black clergy member leading a white church, or a Native American clergy member leading a Hispanic church.

andrea cummings

Rev. Andrea’ Cummings, associate pastor at First UMC Bentonville.

The Rev. George Odell, senior pastor at First UMC Clinton and chair of the Arkansas Conference’s Commission on Religion & Race, explains that cross-racial and cross-cultural appointments are handled just like any other appointment, with a church’s Staff Parish Relations Committee working closely with their District Superintendent, as well as the Bishop and Cabinet, to select a new clergy appointment for the church.

“The process truly begins with the church seeing either the need or the want to have a CR/CC appointment. The appointive process through the Cabinet then works with the church and the SPRC/PPRC to see if a church is genuinely interested in moving in that direction,” Odell said.

In the case of Rev. Cummings’ appointment to First Bentonville, Brenda Allison, the church’s SPRC chair, said she felt like their congregation was ready for a cross-racial appointment.

“When our committee met to discuss a new appointment at our church, we said we would be open and embracing of someone from any background, really. You know, Bentonville has changed a lot in the last 10 years, our congregation has changed. And I think we were looking for certain characteristics and we weren’t focused necessarily on race or gender,” Allison said.

Despite not specifically looking at a pastor of a particular gender or race, Allison said she believes Cummings was a good fit for the church right now in light of the renewed conversation surrounding race and racism in the United States.

“I would say it’s a conversation we’ve been having within our congregation over the last few years. So it’s not it wasn’t new to us necessarily, but I think it’s new to more people. I think the fact that we’re willing to have a conversation about it is important.”

According to Odell, beginning the conversation around race and ethnicity in a church is one of the most important steps to becoming more open and accepting of those who do not share the same background as you.

“It is a matter of spiritual, emotional and personal growth to be open to the discernment process of serving those whom you do not have a true ethnic understanding of that culture or race,” Odell said.

“I have a friend who is a pastor in another conference and to date has only served two Native American/Indigenous faith communities. I know that in one of the appointments there was a church member who was extremely negative to her appointment being a Native person and a woman.

“The Lord worked through her to help that man change his heart toward women in ministry and Native/Indigenous persons. He even requested that she preside over his funeral when he died. We too many times do not want to venture out of our boxes when God’s box is vast and can bless us in many ways. When we are open to the movement of the Holy Spirit to move us into the unknown then we will be blessed beyond imagination.”

angie gage

Rev. Angie Gage, senior pastor at Cherokee Village UMC.

The Rev. Angie Gage, senior pastor at Cherokee Village UMC, said that despite being a Native American woman who is over half Cherokee, she has not had to face the same challenges that her Black, Hispanic, or Asian clergy colleagues have had to face.

“I am in a situation that most of my brothers and sisters do not have the opportunity to have. That is that I am able to be seen as someone who fits in culturally and racially within my congregation. You look at me and do not assume that I am anything other than white,” Gage said.

“I have not had to deal with the disadvantages in the same way as my brothers and sisters have because of outward appearances. However, I still have differences that are challenging.

Gage said that often, it feels like it is up to the clergy to learn how to adapt to the cultural norms and expectations of the church, and if you bring in diverse practices too soon, it may not be accepted at first.

“I have learned that the spiritual practices I have as a Christian Native American may not be well received by congregations until I have had the time to get to know everyone, earn trust, and begin to share some of those practices on days such as Native American Ministry Sunday.”

Because of the perceived difference between races and cultures, it can sometimes seem scary to congregations or pastors that are entering into a CR/CC appointment, but one thing that Cummings doesn’t want her congregation to do is make her feel abnormal or “the other.”

“You’re walking into a different culture, so automatically everything’s different because it’s not what you’re used to growing up in a black church; the slow music style of preaching, the talk-back things you get in a black church,” Cummings said. “But as clergy, we are itinerant, you just move and you don’t think ‘I’m going into a white congregation and I’ve got to prepare for that.’

“My purpose is to preach the Gospel and to be in community with everybody. And if you have that in mind, you know, you’re able to walk into that space.”
There are, however, real and identifiable tactics that churches can take to make CR/CC pastors feel more comfortable in their new appointment, according to GCORR.

GCORR suggests getting to know your pastor, learning about your pastor’s culture, and respecting differences in cultural norms are three big ways that churches can honor their CR/CC pastor.

Odell echoes those three recommendations and said that in order to build relationships, it’s important to get to know your pastor on a personal level.

“Be real and genuine in forming relationships with them. Be willing to climb out of your safe zone so you can learn what it means to walk in their shoes. Appreciate the contributions that pastors can bring to your congregation as they and you grow spiritually on this journey. If you are going to use something from their culture, ask if it is OK. Too many times we culturally appropriate things from others without seeking permission; it is just a matter of respect.”

Gage said that she wants others to know that their words have meaning, and she wishes more people would think about their words before they speak out.

“I get tired of hearing racist comments from people who do not realize what they are saying is racist. I get tired of hearing comments that may acknowledge the rights of some being taken away while forgetting that I sit right in front of them, the descendant of those whose land was ripped away from them. I get tired of hearing comments that acknowledge the wrongdoing of some but forgetting that I sit right in front of them, the descendant of those who had promises broken again and again by the very people who stripped away our rights and called us savages.

“I just wish for myself and all my brothers and sisters that everyone would think before they speak and act. I pray for unity, for understanding, for support for one another and most especially for love of each other.”

The Arkansas Conference has set up a webpage for its Dismantling Racism initiative, which includes links to GCORR resources on how you can welcome a new CR/CC pastor to your congregation. Please continue to check this page for constant updates and new information as we gather it.

Life Morphs

You have routines, expectations, traditions and things you do regularly in life. And then comes the pandemic, and nothing’s the same anymore. Where you work (if you’re blessed to have a job) has probably changed, worship is taking place in your living room in front of a screen, eating out has been curtailed, sports are taking place in a bubble with no fans, certain items are not readily available at the grocery store, and the Hogs will play a reduced schedule this fall with only a relatively few fans allowed to attend. Yet you have adapted well. In fact, you have discovered new joys like being home with your family, taking walks, reading and catching up on those projects around the house you’ve been putting off too long. Yes, life morphs. You adapt. You discover new possibilities. And you give thanks because God is still God, Jesus is still Lord and the Holy Spirit is still at work. 


New Perspectives Can Lead to Changed Hearts

New Perspectives Can Lead to Changed Hearts

neon heart

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

For the past couple of months, I’ve been doing some real soul-searching about what it means to have privilege and how I have failed to examine that privilege in my day-to-day interactions with my neighbors who are people of color.

Like many others who identify as white, the catalyst for this examination was the tragic death of George Floyd, as well as Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and a heartbreaking and embarrassing number of others in 2020 alone.

I tend to think that I pay close attention to injustices in the world and try to speak out against these injustices when I can, but something about these most recent deaths really took the conversation to a new level, not just in the United States but around the world.

Suddenly, you had all of these people on social media speaking out when they had never spoken out before.

That’s a good thing. I’m not here to make anyone feel guilty for failing to speak out before. I know that it sometimes takes a long time for hearts and minds to change. There should be nothing embarrassing about receiving new information and changing your opinion based on that. It’s called growth and it should be celebrated in our society, not shamed.

With this new examination of privilege and the brutality directed toward black and brown people in America came an explosion of book recommendations and authors who I had never heard of before. Names like Robin DiAngelo and her book “White Fragility,” Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” and Ibram X. Kendi’s bestselling book “How to Be an Antiracist.” All of these books are featured on the ARUMC landing page for our Dismantling Racism initiative, which you can find here.

I’ve recently purchased many of these books, and I know some of you have as well. I know a lot of you have read Kendi’s book and it’s really challenged the way you view the world.

To that, I say: good. It should challenge you. It should convict you, and it should encourage you to think differently and think of ways that you can lift up black voices and tear down the sin of racism in your own community.

I have not yet read “Antiracist” but it is sitting on my bookshelf right now. The reason I haven’t read it yet is that I decided to start with Kendi’s first published book, “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.”

Although I wasn’t a history major in school, I’ve always loved history as a subject. I’m always in pursuit of knowledge, which is no surprise if you know the traits of enneagram fives, which is what I happen to be.

“Stamped” is a powerful book, but it’s also challenging. Kendi presents a history of racism in America, starting from the early 17th century — when colonists from England first came to the Americas — all the way to the modern era.

I felt strongly that I needed to read “Stamped” first in order to understand the basis for racism and white supremacy in America, which has been here from the very beginning.

I can tell you for a fact that much of the history told in this book was never taught to me in public school. Sure, we talked about slavery, Jim Crow, and the civil rights movement, but in a very basic sense, leaving out some of the most horrible parts of that history. My classes never explored deeper than a surface level understanding of these events.

But reading this book, and seeing all of the other amazing books about racial justice that people are now paying attention to, has been eye-opening and, at the same time, convicting to me.

It has challenged my understanding of the history I was taught and caused me to re-examine the “facts” about our nation’s founding.

My encouragement to anyone reading this is to go make a point to go outside your comfort zone and read, watch and listen to media created by, and about, people of color.

I believe strongly that new perspectives often lead to changed hearts. And so often, voices of color are ignored or forgotten when we talk about history.

Pick up a new book, subscribe to a new podcast, or watch a movie or television series that’s outside of your comfort zone! I’m certain you’ll be surprised by what you learn.

And check back often on the Dismantling Racism page where we will be sharing important resources to create a Church that more accurately reflects the diverse and beautiful Kingdom of God.