No matter your opinion or your usage of social media, it is a worldwide experience that effects our lives daily. Consider the following statistics from Brandwatch:
(For context, as of May 2019, total worldwide population is 7.7 billion)
- The internet has 4.4 billion users.
- There are 3.499 billion active social media users.
- On average, people have 7.6 social media accounts.
- The average daily time spent on social is 142 minutes a day.
- Social media users grew by 202 million between April 2018 and April 2019.
- That works out at a new social media user every 6.4 seconds.
- Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp handle 60 billion messages a day.
So, what, if anything, should we as Christ-followers do in the midst of such a historic experience? It begins by seeing social media through the same lens by which we should see all experiences, not about ourselves. Just because social media is built on a me-first, self-branding foundation does not mean we as Christians should embrace this approach. If it is true in every other arena of life – marriage, parenthood, interpersonal relationships, our jobs, etc. – it should be the same with electronic interactions as well. The acronym, J.O.Y: Jesus Others Yourself, should remain our outlook. The opportunities to be counter-cultural within the social media experience are plentiful. Not only are they plentiful, but as the sheer nature and purpose of social media is self-promotion, any interaction as an authentic Kingdom-first Christ-follower will be magnified, counterculture.
Am I suggesting we never post a picture of our children? That we never post videos of an exciting life change by shooting gender-specific confetti? That we keep that incredible panoramic photograph of Mount Rainer to ourselves? No. Not in the least. I’m suggesting there is a better, healthier, God-glorifing way in which we should post and interact with said material.
Before the next time you open a social media app, consider these two questions.
Why Am I Posting This?
The question may seem simple, but it comes down to your heart condition. Jesus has much to say about heart condition in the Sermon On the Mount recorded in Matthew 5 and 6. While He does not address social media specifically on that seaside hill 2,000 years ago, He does discuss how a person’s heart condition is equally as important as their actions. If you are truly a Christ-follower, then you must consider not just what you are doing but why you are doing it. Specific to social media posts, are you posting that picture, that video, that retweet, for self-promotion? Is it as a veiled arrogance in the form of passive aggressive boasting?
In Matthew 15, in the context of a larger point, Jesus teaches that whatever comes out of a person’s mouth comes from the heart – and it is by this we know a person, truly. Is it a stretch to apply this truth to “whatever comes out of a person’s fingertips?” The words you use, the language you pose, the images you share – all these things come from the heart whether you realize it or not. Each post you post requires time and effort. With every post you create, you are telling the world, this is important enough for you to stop, look at, and consume. Ask yourself if what you are posting is worth post. Consider the purpose of the post. Think about the effect it could have on others. You know you have followers, but have you ever thought about what could happen when they consume what you are providing?
How Am I Responding?
If what I wrote in the introduction is true – the environment of social media is ripe for seeds of counterculture – then this is where we as Christians can really make a difference. What if you began to see every comment section as a mission field? You and I both know that whatever content a person took the time to post, they likely care about, have strong feelings for, or want you to enjoy. Take just a moment to write an encouraging comment or send a quick word of compliment. Proverbs 17:22 reads, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Which of these two are you? Could it be said that you are a good medicine? Do the comments you leave make others feel better like a strong dose of vitamins? Or do you indirectly dry up their bones?
I had an unforgettable experience of this kind, even before social media was all the rage. As a college minister in Memphis, I sat with a college student over coffee. As we got to know one another, he shared with me some of his hobbies. He loved to play the violin. He was incredibly talented with an extremely bright future. As we sat there, he told me of a Stradivarious violin for which he paid nearly $1,200. “For a violin?!” I said. I could tell immediately I crushed his spirit. My shock told him he was silly. What he cared about was not important. How much easier is it for us to be “keyboard cowboys” who type things behind the cloak of a screen that are hurtful? Things that directly, or indirectly, imply that it is not just the other person’s interest but the other person themselves that we do not value.
Becoming a social media missionary starts with filtering what you post by asking the simple, crucial question, why am I posting this? Just because the world encourages self-centeredness does not mean you should. Social media is not off limits to the call on our lives to give Him the preeminence (Colossians 3). Don’t hijack the post. Rather than being a “one-upper”, what if you share uplifting words of encouragement. Instead of being critical of a minor point or tiny mistake, celebrate anyway. If we are truly to be pro-life Christ-followers, let us find value in all human life – in what others celebrate and in what others achieve. Just as if you were a missionary to a foreign field, fight the urge to put yourself first and curb your temptation to be critical. Live a virtual life of good medicine!
Disclaimer: I whole-heartedly believe the primary goal of any evangelical missionary is to see a person repent and believe in Jesus Christ as Savior. So, let’s do that on social media too! But my use of the term “missionary” in this article is for the purpose of creating the image of being one who infiltrates an environment with an alternative experience.