Pastoral Counseling on Facebook

Josh, the youth pastor, was looking at a very frustrated teen. Chris, a fourteen-year-old in Josh’s youth group, refused to speak with Pastor Josh about anything. Josh had tried talking to Chris about sports, music, and even girls. Chris wouldn’t respond with anything but monosyllables. Then, Chris would shuffle away when the silence got awkward. Josh was in a tough situation. If he could simply break through the communication barrier, he could actually reach Chris and help him out. It was obvious that Chris needed help. But how could Josh help someone that you he couldn’t even talk with?

“You on Facebook?” Josh asked Chris, attempting to revive a dead-end conversation.
“Yeah,” Chris replied in typical monosyllable fashion.
“Hey, well, I’ll send you a friend request, ok?”
“Sure,” came the monosyllable back.

Later that night, Josh looked up Chris on Facebook, and clicked “add as friend.” Seconds later, Josh got a notification: “Chris accepted your friend request.” “That was fast,” thought Josh.

As soon as Chris appeared in his “friends online” list, Josh sent him a chat. “Hey, you’re quick!”
Chris chatted back immediately–”im alwayz on fb.”

Chris and Josh kept chatting. They chatted for a long time. In fact, Josh had the longest “conversation” he had ever held with any of his teens. As they chatted, Chris opened up about struggles he was facing, an addiction that he was experiencing, and the problems that he had with his parents. Josh was able to give help and provide Scriptural counsel.

This isn’t just a fairy tale counseling story about a pastor who finally broke through to a teen. It’s the real-life experience of many pastors who are able to connect better with their people on Facebook than they are in face-to-face settings. It’s not just teens that open up on Facebook. Lots of people do. That’s why pastoral counseling on Facebook is becoming one of the means that an intuitive pastor can use to better reach his people.

Why Facebook Works
So, what is it about Facebook that makes it such a powerful tool?

  • It’s familiar. People become very accustomed to Facebook. After a while, navigating, friending, chatting, and likeing on Facebook become second nature. People become very familiar with using it.
  • It’s private. People are naturally hesitant to approach you at church. It’s a public place. What if people see them going to talk with the pastor. What will people think? Facebook removes this problem, and allows them to approach you confidentially
  • It’s easier. Scheduling meetings and taking time to sit down and talk is tough to do. Hopping on Facebook and chatting is not hard to do. In fact, people spend hours doing it each week anyway.
  • Facebook is focused on self-revelation. The whole point of Facebook is opening up to your friends with statuses, pictures, updates, and “about me” information. Using this self-revelatory tilt of the network for counseling means that you can counsel on a platform that is already helping people to open up.

Simply put, Facebook removes a lot of the barriers that are inherent in a traditional counseling setting. But these are pretty basic facts about Facebook. Why does Facebook have such particular potential for pastoral counseling?

Why Facebook Works for Pastors

  • Facebook makes the pastor accessible and approachable. Most pastors want to be “approachable.” What does it mean to be approachable, though? In a web 2.0 world, it means being online and using the same networks and social hubs that your people are using. When people see their pastor on Facebook, they can access him with just a click.
  • Facebook takes away the pressure. As mentioned above, Facebook is a very comfortable medium of communication for many people. It’s casual, yet effective. It is a “neutral” setting, much different from meeting in a pastor’s office. Facebook takes away the possible nervousness of a direct conversation with a pastor.
  • Facebook puts the pastor on common ground with his people. Part of approachability is having shared experiences. Facebook is a shared experience that pastors can have with their people. Plus, people feel comfortable using it. It is a “neutral” setting unlike a pastor’s office. Taking away the face-to-face pressure of a direct conversation
  • Facebook is all about connecting with people. Pastors should be about connecting with people. The more the people see their pastor connecting with other people, the more likely they are to seek his help. People ought to know that their pastor loves people and loves to connect with people.
  • Facebook helps the pastor understand his people. Counseling is not a one way street, i.e., you only administering counsel to someone else. Counseling must begin with the counselor’s understanding of the other person. Facebook can give a counselor vast amounts of information which contribute to his understanding of a person’s situation. In counsel-speak, Facebook provides the “halo data” that helps to facilitate a productive counseling session. People are likely to reveal their movie preferences, favorite reading material, current activity, and their network of close friends.

How to Use Facebook for Pastoral Counseling
So if Facebook has such powerful potential for pastoral counseling, how do you use it? What’s the best way to maximize the medium of Facebook? Here are five suggestions.

  • Be on Facebook. Let’s start with the basics. You’ve got to be on Facebook. Acknowledge that this generation uses Facebook as a medium of communication, and engage them. Facebook is where people are. Facebook is how people interact. Use it.
  • Be active on Facebook. Being on Facebook is just the starting point. Being active on Facebook is the next step. “Being active” is as simple as putting up pictures, updating your status, commenting on other people’s status, writing on walls, and using the “like” button on people’s pictures, statuses, or other activity. A lot of pastors are concerned about the time that Facebook may consume. “Facebook?! As if I had the time to add another whole activity to my life!” is an understandble response. Sure, it’s tough, but Facebook is pretty easy to integrate into your daily activity. Use an iPhone app to stay connected. Update your status via your cell phone. Pop on Facebook for a minute or two throughout the day. Facebook can become a huge time drain if you let it, but it doesn’t have to take up an enormous amount of your already-busy day.
  • Pursue your people on Facebook. See a status that you like? Like it. Find out that someone is going on vacation? Write on their wall. Treat Facebook like a conversation. Why? Because it is. Engage your people in the Facebook conversation. If you haven’t spoken to someone for a while at church, see if they are on Facebook and send them a message.
  • Use the “chat” capability on Facebook for counseling. Major point of advice:  don’t make counseling a public issue on Facebook by posting counsel on someone’s wall. That’s a big no-no. Counseling ought to be a confidential activity. Keep it to Facebook messages (like email) or in a confidential chat. Chat is best, since it provides real-time interaction and back-and-forth dialogue.
  • Use Facebook as a conversation opener in other contexts. Facebook is not exclusively a tool for counseling. It’s a way to open up conversation in face-to-face contexts, too. “Hey, George, I noticed that you guys were at the beach last week. How’d it go?” Things that you learn on Facebook can turn into conversation starters and open doors with people.

What do you think? What are some other things that you do to use Facebook for pastoral counseling?

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14 thoughts on “Pastoral Counseling on Facebook

  1. Amazing article. Your methodology makes sense. People are much more open and willing to share on social networks. Great tool for Pastors !!

  2. Excellent article. You HAVE to do what is necessary to keep up. Just because “in your day” it wasn’t done is a clueless excuse. I have a pastor friend who often poses tough questions on facebook and gets amazing comments from his congregation and beyond. He gleans valuable information for his sermons from the feedback.

  3. Caution is in order, here. I, for one, would be very, very concerned if my child were interacting via Facebook with an adult in this way, and revealing intimate details to that person. In general, I would urge young people not to interact online in this manner. In my view, the youth pastor in such a scenario would be seriously overstepping what should be his boundaries, and would be putting both his own reputation and the safety of the child at risk. Yes, social networking offers awesome opportunities for Christian networking, but this isn’t the way to do it. Better for the youth group to set up a fan page, for all communication in that forum to be open to all members of the page, and for all communication to be monitored closely for appropriateness by the page administrators. No private messaging between young people and the adults that are overseeing them.

  4. While I definitely support your view about facebook, I also believe it is vital for us to approach a Pastor in person with whatever issues also. The shame we may feel, humility and pain is all God given feeling each of us are learning to balance. Proverbs 11:12 says: “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is His delight. Its a great thing and true to have facebook and connect to even teen or people who don’t go to church or have been wounded by the emerging church movement or false teachings (their are many in this category) who need counsel to be restored, renewed and healed. So thank you for posting this and bringing opportunity for counsel online on facebook. I have 2 teens on it and one 21 yr old also, and I would recommend you guys for them to chat with..One question I have though? Do the men help men and women help women, whether young or old? I know older leaders/Pastors are qualified to lead and help women and youth, but in such cases as these how do you all deal with this issue? I believe when it comes to a teen (Numbers 14:29 & 1st Cor 7) lays out the age before a whole woman. Do the Pastors/leaders counsel these young women/youth? I think thats ok, and its not my decision but yours, but as far as Women to help Women in counsel and men with men is only wisdom I think for the times we are in. Titus was actually one of my devos today and it tells of that topic. Though Paul does state that leaders such as he was are able to lead about women and youth. So if a mans heart is pure and he is a leader, I think he would be an awesome counselor. May God bless each of you as you help each of us that you do. In Gods love, grace and peace to you all, Ana

  5. In my circle of friends I am not aware of anyone that does not have a Facebook page. That’s how everyone keeps up these days. If I see my pastor on Facebook I will most definitely befriend him.

    As far as counseling is concerned, I think its a great tool. The world however, has perverted the use of online social networking and many individuals uses it for evil-doing. That should not prevent us from utilizing these tools for God’s glory.

    Many times a Pastor learns of a death, or loss online and can easily reach out on Facebook. The pastor should always use good judgment when talking with members online. A good way of doing this is to publicly announce in church that you are making your counseling services or those of your counseling team open to your congregation by utilizing online methods.

    There are currently hundreds of ministries that offer counseling by phone, by email or by live chat. Facebook is just one more option.

  6. An adult befriending his pastor online is quite a different thing than a pastor initiating friendships with children online. The latter is a bad idea. The kind of chatting described above is wholly troubling.

    An adult, one hopes, is wise in the ways of using privacy tools and overall settings judiciously. Children, too, should be taught these skills.

    Meanwhile, even for adults, the fan page (an overall page for the church and/or for the given ministry within it) seems a far wiser and more inclusive use of social networking tools for outreach. These also allow the organization to exert some control over its online presence, which is a smart thing to do.

  7. In response to Kafkaz,

    I agree with you that in our age with the increase of social networking it becomes very dangerous territory especially for young kids to befriend strangers online.

    However, befriending your pastor or youth pastor is in no way befriending a stranger and I don’t think in any way that the article suggested or encouraged such behavior. It was simply discussing a very real fact. Teens and young adults are much more prone to discuss sensitive matters with a trusted friend or mentor.

    The article highlighted aspects within the realms of Facebook that can be utilized by the Pastor for ministry purposes. It appears that this article was written towards pastors not teenagers or young children.

    A Godly pastor will know the boundaries of inappropriate online friendships and use social media to the advantage of the Kingdom, which was exactly what the author of this article pointed out.

  8. @Kafkaz I think it’s shortsighted to say an adult should not ‘befriend’ and privately chat to a young person on facebook or other social media. I would say this is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    However I would agree that the pastor is ethically and morally obliged to think about the age of the young person, state of mind, maturity (etc) and assess the possibility of talking to a parent about the occasion TO counsel via the electronic medium, however not necessarily revealing the nature of conversation (confidentiality) unless the young person or another are at risk of harm.

    In this way, I don’t think the issues a pastor (or other church member) must consider for private conversations on e-media are any different from those they would consider when offering counselling in person.

    In my opinion this article is suggesting that whereas a young person might not want private in-person counselling (for fear of judgement from friends, parents or others), they may accept e-counselling.

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