How To Be A Tech Pastor

I got an email this morning that the leader of my city’s local WordPress meetup is stepping down. The email stated that if there was no one to take over the position the Meetup.com group would be closed. I looked at the subscriber count and there were 148 people signed up for the meetup. It’s a shame that these people will be disconnected.

This news didn’t come as a shock because it has been a while since the last meeting. It was disappointing because I had the chance to speak at and attend the meetup last year and had seen first hand what was going on. The people who attended were at different levels of experience with WordPress – from “I’m starting a blog” to “I building a site for a client”.

I think the local meetups are one of the main strengths of the WordPress community. In church parlance they are where the “real ministry” happens.

In a post Chris Lema wrote “We need more pastors, less preachers.” He stated that preachers are different than pastors and explained that pastors:

…attend to the sick, they counsel others, and they marry and bury folks. They’re the folks that spend time in their community, serving it (when done right).

Then today I saw this tweet from the upcoming WordCamp Miami:

WC Miami Tweet

This was a great example of people being local pastors.  Much of the time on social media people are trying to be preachers, when what we need is more tech pastors.

Preachers do this

Vision. Preachers are responsible for the overall vision of the group. They set the long term goals and care about where the group will be five, ten, fifteen years from now. They think about “35,000 feet” kind of stuff.

Broad communication. Preachers are good at broad communication to a large number of people. They can take a message and clearly communicate it in a way that teaches, builds camaraderie, and motivates people to act. Lema talked about the people you see on stage at WordCamps. These are normally what you think of when you hear the term ‘tech pastors.’

Leader of leaders. Preachers are also leaders of leaders. The number of people one person can effectively relate to is very small, perhaps less than 12. This means that to be effective a preacher needs to focus on relating to, encouraging, and investing in a small number of people. This group then turns around and does the same to a group of people, multiplication happens, and the larger group is served.

Pastors do this

In person. Instead of the on-stage person pastors are normally in person. Their mandate is more of a one-on-one expectation. They may lead groups, but they can focus on individual relationships.

Hands on. They will come to your kids soccer match, meet you for lunch, and help you plant a garden. Not that preachers won’t get their hands dirty, but it’s a matter of where their time is effectively spent.

Mentor. Because of the focus on individual relationships pastors can be mentors. Being a mentor requires a time commitment. You’ve got to listen, be compassionate, relate, and keep confidentiality.

How to be a tech pastor

So how can we use this model to help our tech communities? Well, instead of trying to be a street Twitter preacher, try to find ways to be a tech pastor.

Be a mentor

Over the holidays Matt Medieros launched a fantastic project called WP Mentor. The goal of the site is to match up people looking to be mentored (mentees) and people wanting to be mentors. I think this idea is fantastic and I love watching people sign up.

Support your local meetup

If you’re an advanced user of WordPress you might not want to spend your time answering beginner questions. But it’s important to remember we were all beginners once. And the people at a meetup are humble enough to say “I don’t know it all, but would like to”. It’s very fulfilling to help others and share knowledge.

Help at happiness bar at a WordCamp

Along with meetups, WordCamps are a great way to be a pastor. Here the focus is different. Each camp has tracks with great speakers and it’s tempting to spend the whole time with an inward focus, taking in as much information as possible. While listening to speakers may be informative and inspiring, there is no feedback loop. The ‘real ministry’ at WordCamps happens at the happiness bar. This is where you can make those one-on-one connections that may not change the world for everyone, but may change the world for one person.

Answer questions in support forums

Since we’re a digital community I’d be remiss in leaving out a technical way to be a tech pastor. Answering a question in a support forum on WordPress.org helps the person asking the question, but carries the added benefit of being viewable/discoverable by the rest of the community! So it is one-on-one but also one-to-many.

So how will you engage in being a tech pastor? How will you share your time and talents to improve the community?

Posted by Daniel Espinoza

I'm a digital tentmaker, web developer, a native Texan, avid reader, and a wanna be polyglot. Follow Daniel on Twitter @d_espi.

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