Erik Resly, a Harvard Divinity School student, recently sent me his paper, “Who Do You Say That I Am?: Claiming and Maintaining an Online Ministerial Identity.” The paper presents some of the key issues that ministers face in using social media and explores different strategies for ministers engaging in relationship-building and self-presentation through social media. I found his paper very thought-provoking and enjoyable to read.

In a key paragraph, Erik writes:

In a world of complex interactions that take place in real-time, there is no perfect model for how to be a minister online. Individuals must learn to balance confidentiality, privacy and integrity with openness, honesty and accountability. They must navigate issues of consistency and reliability, while protecting free and creative self-expression. They must maintain security, while optimizing accessibility. In short, the act of creating and maintaining an online ministerial identity requires a series of compromises and trade-offs that are largely determined by authorial intent and the inscribed audience. As one minister alleged: “Social media use is as serious a use of thought and language as any other.

There are also moments of gentle humor in Erik’s paper. I particularly enjoyed this chart that he created based on his analysis of “twenty randomly selected ministerial profile pictures” on Facebook:

Erik has generously agreed to let me share his paper on this blog! For those of you who are religious professionals or are ministering online, I hope that you will find it offers useful questions and suggestions for furthering your work.

About the Author
Shelby Meyerhoff


  1. Rev. Naomi King

    Thanks for sharing Erik’s interesting paper!
    I’m intrigued by the preference for the long-form broadcast model of communication, with relatively little interaction required: blogging and Facebook. Unless already famous, Twitter penalizes clergy who broadcast in ways that neither the blogosphere nor FB do (by driving tweeple away from following). There may be a few folks who interact with each post, but it can be much lower than via Twitter. Also, why dyssynchronous broadcasting may work for clergy, it is a challenge to an active conversation, especially if a few hours elapses before the clergyperson replies. I look forward to the unfolding models and practices of social media ministry!


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