Why pastors are loving a Twitter feed of wrestling gifs

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Hey Pastor, I show up late, leave early, never volunteer, and refuse to attend a small group, but I don’t understand why I can’t seem to get plugged in …

Pastor, I’ve got a box of recalled and broken toys I’d like to donate to the nursery …

Pastor, someone mentioned it was your day off. Don’t you get 6 days off every week?

Those type comments appear in one form or another to those who’ve spent any amount of time in ministry. Usually, the hearer has to shove down the response they want to make. It’s replaced by something a little (or a lot) nicer. Something more genteel and, well … pastoral.

But inside, it’s more like this.

On hearing something misinformed or lacking perspective, people in general feel a need to react and correct. This desire multiplies when concerning something we care about. If you don’t think that true listen to five minutes of sports radio. 

For the past year The Wrestling Pastor, an account on Twitter with 5,300 followers, has grown in audience and popularity. Perhaps no one is more surprised than its founder, a Southern Baptist minister whose true identity is only semi-guarded.

But, the popularity grows with every re-tweet and another pastor realizing, “So, it’s not only me.”

One of many

The Wrestling Pastor began with his personal account in 2008. A wrestling fan from when he was a kid, he realized soon his most popular tweets included gifs – brief video clips that run on a loop – of mainly old-school wrestlers from the NWA and WWF days with a commentary on random subjects. 

“One year at Thanksgiving I did a lot of them in a row, describing Thanksgiving and family,” he says. “It gave me the idea to create its own Twitter account for a few of my friends. That way the people who followed my personal Twitter account wouldn’t be bothered with seeing so many of them.”

It all began a year ago. On Nov. 30, 2016 The Wrestling Pastor (from here on WP) began with the following post:

 

Writing from a minister’s perspective, the account gained popularity with its daily posts. Some retweets from notable SBC pastors and evangelists brought more readers. Jack Graham retweeted. Apparently, adds WP, Jay Strack is a wrestling fan.

WP is far from alone in Twitter accounts that gently poke fun at church – and Southern Baptist – culture. And, he’ll be the first to give a respectful sensei-nod to godfathers of the practice like @Rev_Norespect (over 43,000 followers) and @ChrchCurmudgeon (nearly 97,000 followers). Each account has its angle and target audience, whether @ChristnHipster, @chrchsecretary, or @MrChurchGuy. But there’s a different connection – and maybe it’s just with guys in the South who grew up watching Dusty Rhodes on the Superstation – between WP and his readers.

“There’s a common bond, I think, in people realizing they’re not alone,” he points out. “Everyone deals with challenges in his job, no matter the field. But in the ministry, you’re not allowed to talk about it. Guys just sort of squat on that stuff and keep their frustrations to themselves. The anonymity of the Twitter account is therapeutic to where they didn’t say it; someone said it for them.”

The brevity coming with each post helps readers see the humor in any situation, he adds, and move on with their day.

“I’ll get messages two or three times a week from someone thanking me for a post. Inevitably, they’ll say they experienced that very situation that week. Like anyone else, pastors want to respond in the flesh, emotionally. But they can’t. It’s a whole different set of rules for them.”

Touchy subjects

WP acknowledges that some topics are low-hanging fruit in terms of connecting with his audience. Anything pointing to over-calendared church members is one example. 

But in church life, there are plenty of subjects to explore, such as getting a volunteer to pray …

… or maybe when you lose your audience’s attention during the invitation.

Connecting with many

The man behind The Wrestling Pastor points to a nostalgia for those like him. Images of (his personal favorite) Ric Flair or characters like Bobby “The Brain” Heenan connect with more pastors than congregations realize. The son of a fairly-well-known Southern Baptist preacher, he’s seen how ministry works from the inside his entire life. He hears the challenges.

Grover Wilson, youth director at New Hope Baptist Church in Toccoa, recently tweeted his fandom of The Wrestling Pastor. TWITTER/@grovetrain74

“About 75-80 percent of my audience are pastors of churches in small towns,” he estimates. “Those guys feel isolated, but this gives them a community. They realize they’re not alone. There’s solace in that.”

At one point, followers asked about The Wrestling Pastor logo. Was there a shirt available? WP had never considered an interest in it, so he asked.

Behold, there was great interest and now he’ll get photos tweeted to him of ministers wearing the official The Wrestling Pastor T-shirt. At least a couple have preached in them. Others have worn them to fellowships and Vacation Bible School. Once, a WP fan spotted a shirt worn by a stranger and soon had made a new friend.

In the same vein, books are also available by Church Curmudgeon (Then Tweets My Soul) and @Rev_Norespect (Forty Days of Parody & Piety with The Unappreciated Pastor). Again, both pieces are in fun and not meant to be taken seriously. But in humor there’s always an element of truth. That’s why it’s funny.

“The topics are all rooted in reality,” says WP, adding that his audience includes Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Catholics. “Big church, small church, it all runs the gamut,” he testifies. 

And though only a few know his identity, many think they already do .. at least at first. 

“A lot of new people are convinced their pastor is behind it,” he says. “If it’s happened once, it’s happened 25 times. I get messages all the time from guys who say their church members think it’s them.”

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