Many priests who actively maintain an account with Facebook and other social networking sites do so mainly for the purpose of shepherding their digital flock. One of the exciting things about social networking is that it has enabled priests to build stronger fellowship with the people entrusted to their care and to dialogue with them beyond the confines of space. Priestly ministry has never been this global.
Web-based social networking has now become an integral fabric of modern life. It is utterly impossible for today’s generation to imagine life without Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social networks. In the context of pastoral ministry, this means that it is also utterly unacceptable for priests not to place social networking at the service of the Word.
For digital shepherds, the use of social networks to proclaim God’s Word involves establishing authentic relationships, deepening faith, and being in solidarity with the poor and the powerless. Any form of shepherding needs to be modeled after Jesus’ way of doing pastoral ministry. The following are the principles of digital shepherding as exemplified by the Good Shepherd, who himself said, “I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:14-15).
The Good Shepherd knows his sheep
In the world of social networking this means that digital shepherds must have intimate knowledge of the people who make up his friends’ list. No, not just knowing their basic profile info, but also their concerns, hopes and dreams.
The sheep know the Good Shepherd
In order to establish and maintain authentic interpersonal relationships with their friends/flock, digital shepherds must always be faithful and transparent online. This means that their profile info, updates, comments, likes and choices must always be consistent with the Gospel message they are proclaiming.
The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep
Digital shepherding is not self-serving. Priests should feel guilty before God if they failed to use social networking to serve as voice of the voiceless, to challenge oppressive systems, to defend human rights, and to do so with kindness and compassion.