Justin Lathrop Cautions Church Leaders About Social Media


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justin_smallWith over a dozen years of local church ministry Justin has spent the last several years starting business’ and ministries that partner with pastors and churches to advance the Kingdom. He is the founder of (now Vanderbloemen Search), Oaks School of Leadership, and all while staying involved in the local church. Justin is obsessed with connecting people to people and lives his life daily to make the world a smaller place. He now serves as a consultant in the area of strategic relations predominately working with the Assemblies of God, helping to build bridges with people and ministries to more effectively reach more people. On today’s podcast Justin provides some great coaching to local church leaders about some of the downsides of social media. This is a great episode as we consider the role of this pervasive technology has in our lives!

Justin Lathrop [website] [twitter]

Interview Highlights //

00:31 // Rich introduces Justin Lathrop.

00:49 // Justin tells us his background.

01:55 // Justin talks about meeting Leonard Sweet.

04:57 // Justin talks about pastors weighing in on emotional or political things on Facebook before thinking about it.

06:37 // Justin talks about how surprised he is at how responsive some pastors are on social media.

07:38 // Justin explains that we should think about how we want to be represented on social media.

09:16 // Justin and Rich joke about how easy it is to get sucked in by social media apps and websites and how wise it is to set a schedule.

11:15 // Justin talks about how a lack of content is a problem with social media and churches.

14:13 // Justin explains that it is important to know what audience you are talking to on social media.

Lightning Round Highlights

Helpful Tech Tools //, Think Digital Academy

Ministries Following // One Hope

Influential Book // “Anonymous” By Alicia Britt Chole

Inspiring Leader // Billy Graham

What does he do for fun? // Tennis


Interview Transcript //

Rich – Well, welcome to the unSeminary podcast, my name’s Rich Birch, your host around these parts. Thanks so much for tuning in today; we’ve got a real treat on the show today. Super excited to have Justin Lathrop with us today. It’s going to be such a great conversation. I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve been looking forward to this conversation for a while. Justin, welcome to the show.

Justin – Hey, thanks so much Rich it’s great to be on.

Rich – Hey now so Justin, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background? Kind of who are you, give us the Justin story.

Justin – Sure, sure. You know, I grew up in the you know, evangelical capital of the world here in Wheaton, Illinois right on the campus of Wheaton College, although no affiliation, my parents didn’t do anything for the school, but just kind of grew up there. Born and raised at a church in Wheaton and then went to Minneapolis for Bible college and three years in got a full time youth pastor job at a great church there. So my senior year took three years, as I was doing that, getting married, and did youth ministry for three years before I decided I really couldn’t hack it as a youth pastor. The lock-ins were killing me. I go to bed at like 9:30 so just, it just wasn’t fitting. I moved to Dallas over twelve years ago now and met a guy named Scott Wilson, he’s the lead pastor I still work with quite a bit, although I don’t work on staff anymore.

I’ve just been growing the ministry since then. So a couple of years in to being a young adult pastor here at The Oaks, just discovered that wasn’t for me and I started I was actually, I don’t know how much you want of this but. A conversation with Leonard Sweet on the way from the airport, an event he was speaking at. He just said to me, “You know Justin, it sounds like you’re a zero to one guy”, and he said, “The greatest distance between any two numbers is zero and one. It’s greater than the distance between one and 100, is that getting something off the ground. Your challenge is going to be trying to find a role in life that you can constantly reset yourself, and keep bringing things from zero to one. Otherwise you’re going to just want to move jobs every three years.”

So that really opened my eyes a couple of weeks later I met with my pastor Scott, and told him that I just didn’t think I could be a young adult pastor. So I gave him a basically a letter of resignation. I gave him a job description of a job that didn’t exist. I’ve never seen exist in a church. I gave him the resume of a guy I thought could take my job. So, those three documents I handed him; and kind of the rest is history. From there I’ve grown just in starting things. Developing ministries, helping connect pastors and leaders. Ever since the time, which is I guess about eight years ago now. And it’s been a great journey. I’ve just fallen more in love with Jesus, more in love with the church and pastors that lead those churches. And so it’s, I really found what it is I want to do with my life and that’s you know, connect. I believe we’re stronger together. I believe that, you know, no pastor should be alone, no pastor should be un-resourced or under-resourced and so.

I just love connecting the dots to see us strengthened and do more for the kingdom.

Rich – Nice, very cool.

Justin – Did I answer the question; I kind of got on a tangent there?

Rich – No, no that’s fantastic, it’s always fascinating to hear you know, classic Len Sweet has super insightful.

Justin – Oh yeah.

Rich – You know you’re like, “Gosh, why didn’t I think of that?”

Justin – Yes, 140 characters or less, you know, yes.

Rich – Exactly, and a lot of people have that kind of story with Len, so that’s fantastic.

Justin – Yeah.

Rich – Alright, so one of the things I appreciate about you. I follow you on social media, your blog, just everything. I think you do a great job online. Obviously, and everyone who is listening in should really, we’ll give some more detail at the end how people can get in touch with you but, you know we’re obviously fans of social media. We talk a lot about it at UnSeminary, but you know I think there’s a flip side to that right? There’s probably some, you know, things we should be concerned about or just some things we should have our eyes fully open when we think about social media. Justin, what would be your kind of counsel to pastors, you know what are some of those things we should be thinking about when we think about social media?

Justin – Yeah there’s a few things. I mean I’m not a sociologist and you know, I feel like I’ve studied enough, and been around. I think I’ve just been in the middle of social media enough, and pastors enough to have some insights to this. But one of the things I really just noticed is, I mean, especially as we’re transitioning; so none of us have grown up in the social media culture. It’s just that, that new sense of voice and access to people, we forget about how strong that is. So I watch pastors at times and leaders at times, seem to weigh in on subjects that they think they’re just, they’re just emotional about. So whether it’s a political thing on Facebook and they want to give their two cents in response to someone, just cause man they read it and it just makes them mad. I get mad too, I mean.

But those kind of things-and I just feel like we need to readjust and rethink how we respond- what we’re saying on social media, what the power is in that. I love what Andy Stanley says when he talks about, you know, there are certain things he is just not going to use and lend his influence to. It’s not that they’re not important issues and I’m not even going to cover them so we don’t have anyone to give us. But he, there’s some things that he wants to keep his influence and save it for things that involve people coming into the kingdom, and I think sometimes as pastors we just start throwing away-and throwing away is probably too strong of a word-but just giving away our influence to things that don’t really affect the salvation of souls, you know the discipling of others, that kind of stuff. And so, I would say one of yeah, that would be a thing; is that we need to be slower to listen, or you know, quicker to listen, slower to speak. You know, don’t get on there and just type away.

Rich – Right

Justin – The other thing with it is just the amount of time it takes, you know, and I think in the ministry, you know there’s so much to do. And this is just kind of added on top. Nothing went away in the ministry to give us time for social media; that’s how everything is, things keep getting added. So I think it’s easy to become this monitor of all social media; and you know there’s tools and tricks to do that and more effective ways. But, there’s sometimes I’ll watch a pastor who’s just, I mean I don’t know how they do it; it’s just like every, you know I’ve got a lot of stuff automated and of course I interact when I can but, but it’s like they’re just always responding. They’re always posting every 15 minutes and you’re going, “Man are you, are you really connecting with the people, or are you just there on the social media?”

So I think those are two big things. I do think that we have an opportunity with social media as pastors to really, really create the kind of person we want to be and kind of church we want to be. I mean you go to churches, I know you see churches and you go into them and they just represent their pastor so well. Like, I have a friend in Illinois, I mean he is just the most generous, giving of his time and money and everything, person there is. When I went and visited his church, everywhere, you know-a church of about a thousand people, twelve hundred people- everywhere around me, people are just giving to me and being kind and helping me, opening- it just represented him. I think in social media, we have a chance to really say, “These are the tenets of my life, and who I want to be as a person.”

We know our tenets of faith and I’m not, you know that’s a whole. But our tenets of who we want to be. And I think it’s important that we establish those no matter who you are; platform big or small. Establish who you want to be as a person, as a leader, and let those things shine through on social media. Those are important for us to know so that we can filter those things through our-so I know man that I want to be a connector of others. So because of that, I don’t take-and that’s me-some people might say I want to be a, you know, I want to hold ground on the right wing agenda of the conservative church. Well then, maybe they are going to-that’s-I don’t-I’m not saying I’m against or for it but I know I’m a connector so I don’t you know, weigh in on issues that are you know, high voltage kind of things where people are going to get polarized on those things.

So, I think it’s important as a pastor, leader, to know what it is that you want to be. Who you want to be represented as, and you know social media gives you such a great opportunity to cultivate that in a very intentional way.

Rich – Alright well you’ve just unpacked a lot there, that was–

Justin – Yeah, I know I’m sorry, I’m so excited!

Rich – No, that’s fantastic. Let’s jump in, just dive a little bit deeper with you on even just the time piece. So how do you make sure-because I feel like you have a pretty robust online presence, you have a pretty robust social media presence. How do you insure that, that doesn’t just kind of suck your entire life down a Hoot suite, you know, feed?

Justin – Man, it’s really tough. Thank God for my children who are pretty good at reminding me that I need to get off the phone or, you know, that kind of stuff. I live a little bit of a different life now working from home and not at the church and I guess it’s summer so I’m real, you know, just honed in on that right now as far as you know, making sure I’ve got the phone away when I’m at home. But I do think it’s wise to set schedules for that, you know the idea of just check anytime just really sucks you in. So you can have your phone out and you know, check Facebook, and then you’ll close that, put the phone down, and I’ll watch myself pick it up and push Facebook again. I mean literally not ten seconds, three seconds later.

Rich – True.

Justin – What is the, you know what, it’s just a very-and you know I know there’s jokes and there’s probably also real research on the addictive whatever of social media. I don’t know about all of that, but I do think looking at going here are certain times that I’m going to check that stuff, I mean it’s the same thing with email. You know if you’re going to just, it’s the exact same thing. I mean you look at your email, put it down, three seconds later you’re going to check and see if you got an email. So I think scheduling time that you’re really focusing at. I you know, and again, depending on your role and your position in leadership of a church, but I believe in developing a team around me to help with that stuff.

So I have you know with the blogging stuff, you know, I have a team of people, sometimes I’ve even used students in our school, ministry school, to help come up with topics to blog on and even help develop them you know again we’ll just get a couple things from them but, it’s just I think using others giftings and that who want to serve in those ways to help add content. I know we’re constantly [inaudible 00:11:06] under the church side too; but even as a pastor leader, you know, how do you manage that stuff and how do you. I think the church and it’s so funny, I don’t do a whole lot of the social media consulting but I do see one of the greatest issues for anyone in social media is the lack of content.

Rich – Right.

Justin – And it’s so crazy how the church has just got such, you know, just I mean. I was going to say shelves but, hard drives full of content that just needs to be repurposed and needs to. So I think really looking at how do you develop that content, adapt it because it’s not just copy-paste your sermon from Sunday onto your blog but how do you develop and adapt it and schedule it on. I think it’s so important for pastors.

Rich – Definitely. You know I know, I follow a guy, this is a, a leader who is not in the Christian space, he’s like an entrepreneurial kind of leader guy and he has thousands of followers. Probably somewhere you know, he’s probably just south of 20,000 followers. He’s super accessible. I’m always amazed whenever I tweet him. I’m like dude how, you know it’s not right away but I’ll get an answer back. I was at an event recently that he was speaking at and he said you know, he only does 30 minutes of Twitter a day, that’s it. And so he sets it on his schedule and he sits down and he’s like, “Listen, any of you people out there, you can connect between literally hundreds of people on Twitter every day with just 30 minutes.”

Justin – Yep, yep.

Rich – You don’t need to be looking at it, you know, all day long. You don’t need to have it open. He said he doesn’t even have it on his phone he just sits down at his computer, cranks through it. And it’s funny as someone on the other end that follows him I think he’s done a good job developing that kind of relationship where he does and it doesn’t take a lot to respond on Twitter. But he’s been able to restrict it to, you know, that kind of 30 minute band; and now that I see that I’m like, “Oh yeah that’s true that’s why it takes, you know, whatever, four or five hours to get back.” But you know, I don’t care, you know that’s fine. And so yeah that’s fascinating for sure. Now how do you ensure, you know, as a church leader, I think there can be a time when we just want to kind of get out there and it almost feels like it’s just noisy, the kind of stuff we’re talking about. How do we ensure that as a church we put stuff out there that actually makes a difference, that isn’t just more noise out into the ether.

Justin – Yeah I mean that’s I mean a million dollar question, I mean I think, you know, I think-one of the things pastors struggle with, I think, and I’m not in the local single church anymore. But I see pastors struggle because they’ll, they don’t really know what their audience is. Ever, you know most pastors; they’re building on a platform they’re excited to connect with church leaders. You know, if they’re blogging they could be blogging on growing your church or planting. But then, you know, a week later it’s going to be a blog about the church picnic that’s coming up on Saturday. You know, so make sure you get your kinds there.

Rich – Right.

Justin – That kind of stuff, so I think, I think really-and it’s not even to say you couldn’t do both-but I think, I think people don’t really even know who they’re talking to. So I think really figuring out, you know, and honing in that focus of who you’re talking to. I think as a pastor, you should definitely be thinking through; any pastor that’s just building a platform around other church leaders is totally missing it. I’m not saying they should be, but they’re just missing it. I mean there are people on Facebook, there are people on Twitter, and there are people on Instagram. You know, using those channels to continue to grow a relationship with them, and especially as your church grows larger and it’s harder to connect.

I mean it’s just amazing. I watched you know, my pastor I feel like he does it so well; it’s just to me, we’re close friends, but it’s just amazing how much I miss of his life if I didn’t; you know I just know where he’s at, what he’s doing and I feel connected to him. On Sunday when I see him I talk to him I go, “Dude, that was awesome watching your son play that song.” We’re talking about things in life immediately, not going, “What have you been doing lately?” So I just think as a pastor, you know, your people will want to know about your life and building a relationship with them, responding to them. But then of course there are pastors out there that are supposed to be resourcing church leaders and others.

So, I do think they need to know what that is, well on how to share it. But it is, I don’t get it, like I still don’t know what makes people click on one post versus another, you know. It’s pretty much, if I think it’s going to be a great thing I wrote, pretty much no one reads it and if it’s something I think is going to be dumb, it’s like you know, viral for me, so it’s like, I don’t get the equation of all that, I just know that content, you know, you know, good content on a consistent basis is going to help you and serve you as a pastor. So I think you know, figuring out that what good means is the big part of that. But consistency in that, sharing is going to bring greater connection to your church and to the people that care about what’s going on in your life.

Rich – Yeah I think if you’re looking for an example and I think of a church and a church leader that does a good job dividing those two out. If you follow Perry Noble and New Springs’ blog, it’s fascinating to see because they use Perry Noble, or he uses Perry Noble for the most part to communicate to other church leaders. And then their main church blog is really targeted at their own people. He used to do these posts where it was, “A Letter to New Spring Church” but really all that’s moved over, or the majority of that, it still trickles in sometimes but the majority of that has moved over. Which I think is a smart way to do that, that’s an interesting model.

Justin – Well and I think I haven’t looked too much at the New Spring blog but I think that when it does trickle over to his blog it’s something that is helpful to me as a church leader. You know, seeing how he communicates to his church, it’s not about the picnic that they’re having, you know, or whatever. It’s something that will give me some lesson on how to communicate to the people of my church or, that kind of thing.

Rich – Yeah, absolutely. Alright, anything else you would love to share with our listeners, it’s been super helpful, just before we jump into the lightening round?

Justin – No I think that’s it I’m just excited. Any way I can serve, like I said earlier, I mean I don’t do this-from a consultant place I just love pastors and I love to see them grow in their way to connect with others. So, I’m just excited that I get the chance to do this with you.

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.