But before we throw the baby out with the bathwater, consider how social media might actually help you test and live your faith:
- Accountability. It’s not that hard to live two lives in the real world unless you live in a very small town. But on facebook and twitter, unless you create two separate accounts and go to great lengths to keep separate profiles, separate friends, and separate lives, its challenging to maintain a Christian personna among one group of people and a promiscuous personna among others. In online days gone by, no one knew who else you knew online. But with facebook, much of what you do and say is visible, and anyone can post to your wall about what you did last night. Sure, you can create lists and privacy controls and try to keep one group of people from seeing what another group sees, but social media sites slip up from time to time. And eventually you’ll slip up and post something to the wrong place (just ask ex-Congressman Weiner) and your Mr. Hyde self will emerge. The more public your life is, the more accountability you will find yourself faced with.
- Heart Analysis. Not your physical heart…your spiritual one. The one whose condition will determine where you spend eternity. Back in the 1990’s my friend Andy Stanley used to say all he needed to see to know where your heart is is your checkbook, credit card statements and calendar. He’s right: where you spend your money and your time is indicative of what you value most in life, and what you value most in life is what you worship—your functional God. Now that we are in the 21st century, I imagine he probably would add “social media accounts” to that list of heart dashboard indicators. How do you communicate on facebook? Does your facebook page give evidence of any spiritual fruit? Or is it mostly a display of rotten fruit? If your profile is all parties, alcohol, profanity, babes, dudes, and expensive items you wish you had, and the only thing that indicates you’re a Christian is that you check that box on your “about” page, something may be amiss. No, you don’t need to have silly baby angels floating around your background, cheesy MIDI files of hymns auto-playing or Christian cliche sayings all over the place. You don’t need to only “like” Christian books, Christian music, Christian movies and have only Christian friends and cheerful, chiche-ridden comments. That type of profile essentially screams “pretender in denial of the real world.” But it should be evident from your profile that your lifestyle is different not just from the self-righteous, pharisaical churchy crowd but from the pagan, promiscuous party crowd as well. What do you post about the most? That may be an indication of an idol in your heart, if the emphasis is excessive. Football? Cars? Restaurants? Organic food recipes? Dog shows? Types of beer? Political viewpoints? End-times scenarios? Stock tips? President Obama? Calvinism? A TV show that you love or hate? Where your affections are is where your heart is. A review of your facebook posts can help reveal things that you may like too much…things that are not necessarily bad things, but things which basically fire us up more than Jesus does.
- Encouragement. Read through your feed–past the ads, self-promotions, rants, retweeted trivia and nonsense–and you will find people you know who are battling cancer, financial struggles, and other discouraging aspects of life. Without social media, you would not have ever known of a need you can pray for, or reach out to. Social media can connect you to a community of old friends more than willing to reach out to others with needs they can meet. You might have to clear the clutter by reducing your following or online friends—the sales people, the self promoters, the complainers, the conspiracy theorists, you get the drift–in order to see the feeds of real people you have real relationships with whose needs you would never see if not for social media.
- Evangelism. You don’t have to email Billy Graham videos to all of your friends once a week. But you don’t want to keep your light under a bushel. People should see your profile and be able to tell that you aren’t motivated by the stuff the rest of the world is. You can express your faith remarkably effectively by simply maintaining a profile that makes it clear you’re a Christian and that your lifestyle is different than others. Don’t be a Johnny-one-note: If 90% of your posts are on a single topic, just start a Pinterest page or Group on Facebook or LinkedIn devoted to that topic and post most of it there. Don’t post every thought, rant, or article that presents some or all of your point of view. An occasional link to a well written article has more influence than 10 random rant posts. You look like a more reasonable person when you post on a variety of topics rather than just one. And this principle is true not just for presenting the gospel, but anything else you are passionate about–like sports teams or politics.
- Discernment. Who should you date? Who is appropriate for you to allow to influence your kids? Who might you hire for a job? Social media gives you the ability to look at people’s true selves and make an informed judgement about whether they are suitable influences on you, your business, and your family. Yes, I said judgement. When you go out on a date and someone expresses themselves in a manner you find distasteful, you decide not to go out with them again. You judge them. At least I hope you do. When you consider hiring someone and your neighbor had a bad experience with them, you judge them when you decide not to hire them yourself. Not all judging is wrong. We’re not judging someone’s salvation, just their maturity level, value system, and whether they would be a good influence on an area of our lives. The Bible tells us that we will know them by their “fruit” and you can’t evaluate the condition of fruit without judging the condition of the fruit. But that’s another topic for another time, and one that requires a deeper understanding of the meanings of the words “judge” and “love” than most people are willing to engage in. For now, lets just say its unfortunate that the definition of “legalism” has expanded to include the legitimate, God ordained pursuit of holiness, and few people ever move past bumper sticker theology with their perspectives of “judgment” and appropriate expressions of love.
But wait, some say. “It’s just social media. Don’t get all legalistic on me. It’s just fun. I don’t want to restrict my speech to that extent.” If that’s your heart-felt response, here’s my suggestion: Stop reading blogs for 60 days, get a good study Bible, and read carefully through the New Testament. And whenever you see a word that references speaking, read it as if it says “blogging, tweeting, facebooking, pinteresting, and posting.” You might find a new perspective emerging that builds up both your own heart and the hearts of others through your online persona. One that brings your online life into the light—where it belongs.