Social media is our new reality–and it matters more than you might imagine in a ministry search process. Your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts are THE FIRST significant introduction most search committees will have to you. They will read your cover letter, glance at your resume, skim over your references, AND then head straight to Google to see where all they can find you.

And when they find your account or accounts, the committee will look at ALL your photos, read through your statuses, check out your comments . . . so if you have a social media footprint, YOU need to go and review what you have posted and determine whether you have work to do, cleaning up your pages, deleting pictures, or adjusting your privacy settings.

While social media is wonderful for sharing yourself and your views, the truth is that your postings can scare off the committee very easily. If you are applying for youth ministry positions and you have dozens of photos of you at college keg parties, a good many committees will quickly deposit your resume in the trash. If you are hoping to be a children’s minister and you have posted photos of yourself in revealing beach wear or super short shorts, some committees will question your professionalism and decide you might not be the appropriate one to nurture their preschoolers. If you are searching for a pastorate and you have posted strong political statements, the committee might deem you to be too intense or too inflammatory to lead their congregation and cross your name off the list.

For those who are overly active on Twitter, tweeting multiple times every hour, a committee will look at that and wonder if that is all you do . . . if that is all you will do should they call you to their church. For those who post photos of themselves two or three times a day on Facebook, a committee will see those pictures and wonder if perhaps you aren’t a bit too self-absorbed to be a caring, giving minister. For those who get into extended and heated engagements with others and who hurl insults often, a committee will see that and decide that you are too angry, too hot-headed, too mean-spirited to be a good minister. These conclusions may not be accurate. Your social media engagement may not reflect who you really are or how you live your life, but your public presence is WHAT churches will see FIRST and judge hardest.

So take a critical look at your social media presence. Polish up your profile. Delete what you should delete. And take control of what you show to the world. What you post, what you tweet, it matters!

One of my friends, a young minister who has recently been through a successful search process, emailed me and wrote, “The attitude of ‘well, that’s who I am, if you don’t like it, I’m not for you'” is not going to get you far in interviews or ministry in general.” I think she is right. She then noted, “There are some churches that are more progressive and for whom political posts are fine, but it is certainly not true of the majority of Baptist churches.  I remember cleaning up my Facebook page when I was interviewing . . . and adjusting privacy settings so that things I posted weren’t available to people I didn’t know.  It’s a fine balance of not hiding who you are, but also not turning committees off.  I am certainly way more progressive than my church, but I have fallen in love with the people here and have found that I can meet them where they are without losing a sense of my own self.”

Working hard on a cover letter, polishing up a resume, honing your interview skills–all of those are important, but your social media presence NEEDS your attention. Put your best self out there, and be mindful of your words, your activity on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and . . . all those other ways of sharing information. Pay attention to what you are conveying to the world! It matters more than you think!

Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.