Social media often seems to reflect the opposite values of God’s kingdom.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Social media often seems to bless the outraged. Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek.” Social media often seems to bless the narcissistic.
I’m grateful for many godly Christian leaders who model an edifying use of social media. At the same time, I worry that we as the church are often shaped by the unhealthy dynamics of social-media culture more than we are shaping it. Too often, we get pulled into the yuck, the noise, the sneering.
I don’t think the answer is necessarily to avoid social media altogether, though it may be for some, and all of us should consider our limitations. But I do think that in the current state of our culture, godliness in social-media use will require extra intentionality and ballast. We will not likely drift into an edifying use of Twitter or Instagram. Things like self-promotion and meanness are too powerful a current.
We will not likely drift into an edifying use of Twitter or Instagram. Things like self-promotion and meanness are too powerful a current.
How do we do this? I’m still wrestling with what this looks like, but here are three strategies we might consider starting with.
1. Fight Envy with Gratitude
Social media invites constant comparison, making envy a constant danger. There will always be someone with more followers, and some new crisis you feel you must weigh in on (or joke you want to be a part of). It’s easy for the fear of being overlooked to become a tyrant, or the need to maintain your platform to become a burden.
I’ve discovered that the fight against envy is helped by cultivating gratitude for what I have. It helps to focus more on using our platform for actual good than growing it for potential good. Rejoice in whatever influence you’ve been given, however small. Be grateful for it. Cultivate it like a precious garden in a desert.
It’s also healthy and freeing to regularly offer our influence back to the Lord. Lay it down before him, and seek to be genuinely okay with him taking it away, if only you can have more of him.
As we do so, it helps to remember that pride is always the path to barrenness and humility the path to joy. Jesus came with a manger, not a parade. Our social-media presence should reflect this fact in some way. Oh, the happiness and freedom of simply serving others, and not minding obscurity!
2. Make Extra Efforts at Kindness
I’ve often thought that social media is one of our culture’s mechanisms for public shaming. What we used to do with stocks, we now do with Twitter.
What we used to do with stocks, we now do with Twitter.
The scary thing is that people who engage in this kind of activity often get more attention as a result. It’s a sobering indication of our fallenness that in certain contexts we not only tolerate meanness and outrage, we actually reward them.
In light of the state of our cultural dialogue, and the nature of the medium, we must work all the harder to display kindness. Take extra steps to say something positive whenever you can. Avoid sarcasm more than you normally would. Be extra eager for opportunities to honor someone else (Rom. 12:10).
I know this isn’t simple, and I don’t want to take away from the value of open disagreement and debate. And certainly, there is a time for rebuke and indignation. Some attacks or misrepresentations require a forceful response.
Still, it’s worth asking, with any tweet or post: does this feel more like the flesh or the Spirit? What culture am I contributing to?
3. Take Breaks
Regular disengagement is helpful for a healthy life on social media. In addition to taking sabbath breaks away from social media altogether, you might also consider:
- Delete the app on your phone—just use it on your computer (either do this always, or for certain seasons, like weekends or family days).
- Have certain places in your home where you never bring your devices (e.g., a den or study).
- Use “do not disturb” function as default practice (so it stops buzzing at you—the constant distraction is not healthy for us).
Another helpful practice is, quite simply, to mute or unfollow people who consistently drag you down. Don’t hesitate to do this. You’re not required to follow anyone (or interact with any comments) when doing so is detrimental to your soul. When I’m struggling with envy or loneliness while scrolling through social media, I know it’s probably time to disengage for a while.
When I’m struggling with envy or loneliness while scrolling through social media, I know it’s probably time to disengage for a while.
Or, if you never argue with people in real life, but you do on Facebook, it’s time to balance the two out more. Social media should complement, not compensate for, face-to-face interaction. (An obvious challenge in a global pandemic!)
Those of us who go by the name of Christ must be especially mindful of how we talk to one another. Our interactions on social media play out before a watching world. Even amid our disagreements, we should be distinguished by love (John 13:35), lest we discredit the gospel of grace.
I realize there are some people with whom it is next to impossible to have an edifying interaction. Truly, I think we often need to give greater thought to Titus 3:10 in such instances: “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him.” It might sound harsh, but wisdom will at times require total avoidance. Paul understood this, and so should we.
So much is out of our control. We cannot stop the incessant screaming and scrambling that is the internet. But we can try to reduce our own involvement in the problems, and do whatever we can to contribute to a healthier culture.
Here’s a happy goal to pray for: that more Christians would be recognizable on social media by the wisdom that James describes: “peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17).