Let’s face it, pretty much all of us are on some form of social media. We do tend to gravitate toward a particular flavor depending on our personality. To list just a few options, consider this. The creative love to share ideas on Pinterest. The quick pro quo tweet on twitter. Middle school would not be survivable without Snapchat. Babies can’t be born without Instagram commemoration. Finally, for many of us, the all-around answer to our social media itch is scratched by Facebook. Social media can be a place we find great joy and genuine laughter or it can be the scene of an emotional car wreck or character homicide. It really all depends on the user and what he or she chooses to post and follow.
Like any other social activity, we usually can tell when social media is done well or used poorly. But unlike the real world, the digital world is instantaneous, global, and changing by the minute. Traditions have been replaced by trends and sensibility is trumped by shares. As a pastor, this has caused me to do some thinking about how I can help my people navigate social media the right way. More importantly, how can I help them honor Christ with their social media use and consumption. In true social media form, here is my top 10 list of things not to do on social media if you care about honoring Christ.
Top 10 Don’ts of Social Media for a Christ Follower
1. Don’t Whine
We all go through tough times and we all have funny stories about something unfortunate that has happened to us. I get that. But making social media your first go-to for describing how unfair the world is to you brings zero glory to Christ. If you own a smartphone, more than 2 pairs of shoes, and a car, you already have much more than most of the world. And even if you fall on hard times, the joy of knowing and walking with Christ is enough to supersede any temporary discouragement. Put your big boy pants on, pray, read your Bible, connect with other followers, and suck it up. The world is broken enough without our whining.
2. Don’t Rant
Rants are easy to spot because they usually self-identify. It goes something like this, “I will never go into (insert business here) because today…” or “It takes a lot to make me mad but today…” or my favorite, “I don’t like to rant but…” I know what you are thinking. Shouldn’t we hold businesses accountable? Do we not have the right to voice our displeasure if we have been wronged? Yes, to the business! If something unfair has happened, go to the manager or the owner and make your concern known. Not only is this your right, but it is also in the best interest of the business and its future customers. Though this is secular, it follows the spiritual teachings of Jesus who encouraged us to go directly to a person if we should have conflict with him or her. Walking out of a place of business mad and then unloading your frustration online is what cowards do. Plus, when we rant it appears that we want to do the business harm because it has somehow harmed us. Jesus has a problem with this as well.
3. Don’t Attack
Christ followers should not attack others PERIOD. We have no biblical grounds to ever set out to harm or defame another person or entity. We can disagree, disapprove, disallow, debate, and even distance ourselves from those who would violate God’s Word or assault our faith. But we do not go on the offensive. We do not attack people personally. When we do we show hate in our heart and a lack of trust in God who has said He alone should be in charge of vengeance.
4. Don’t Air Personal Pain
We all hurt. We all feel personal pain. We cannot hold this inside or it will destroy us. We were designed for relationships. Relationship with God through Christ and relationships with our family, friends, and brothers and sisters in the Lord. These are the people who have the responsibility and privilege to carry our pain with us. These people deserve to know our inner most struggles and they are to sit and weep with us. But not the whole world. The unfiltered online world is not worthy to know our deepest struggles. Often people think that by instantly airing their most intimate pain the moment it strikes, they are somehow helping others. This is not the case. Over time and in moderation there is great encouragement in sharing a testimony of God’s faithfulness in our suffering. But the world does need us to feel as though everyone is invited into our struggles as they are unfolding.
5. Don’t Look for Wisdom
If you need decorating ideas for a dorm room or the best place to get an oil change then, by all means, let social media help you. But when it comes to wisdom for the important decisions of life, don’t go there. The issue is not the absence of wise, godly people who may have helpful insight to offer. The problem is everyone else. Sadly, one of the signs of immaturity is that these individuals actually believe they know more than they do. I recently read a post by a man looking for a new church because he was disgruntled with his current church. Virtually everyone was quick to recommend their place of worship. They mentioned the music, the program, the parking, and the preacher’s ability. But no one challenged him to pause and consider reconciling with his faith family. Not one person asked him to go to his pastor and seek a way to reconnect. This proves my point perfectly. Your life is too important to seek guidance from the masses.
6. Don’t Depend on it for Encouragement or Affirmation
Notice I did not say, “Don’t get encouragement or affirmation from social media.” I hope you get a lot of it from friends online. We all need it. I just don’t want you to live or die by the approval or applause of social media. We like to think of ourselves as self-reliant, independent, and completely secure. But let’s face it, we are most certainly not. We need love and support of others in our lives and we don’t do well without it. Yet as vital as this need is, we cannot depend on social media to be what only real people in relationships can be for us. Unlike healthy, real relationships, the comments online tend to run to extremes. Either we find all kinds of cyber-love or we hear nothing but criticism. You don’t need a certain number of “likes” or “shares” to be significant. Basing your self-worth on the thoughtless clicks and comments of others is like building a house on sand, and we know what Jesus said about that.
7. Don’t Post Poor Taste Pics
Let’s just leave a rule here. Do not post any picture you wouldn’t gladly show your five year old daughter, your grandmother, or your pastor. Just don’t. Your PG-13 meme, cleavage, open wound, or embarrassing shot of some unsuspecting stranger do not honor the Lord. There are many pics that are a joy to share, but if you have to think about it, don’t post it.
8. Don’t Cry Wolf with Prayer Requests
The boy who cried wolf wanted attention more than protection. This is why social media cannot be your prayer strategy. Let me explain. First, prayer is not bending God’s will to your agenda. It is seeking and submitting to the will of God for your life and the lives of others you intercede for. It is the special place we humbly submit our desires and needs before a loving and benevolent Father. It is a sacred and holy activity that is a privilege and honor. It should not be reduced to, “Say a little prayer for my kid’s baseball team in this week’s tournament,” or “Pray about changing your life by joining my team and getting great discounts on the supplements we sale while earning money on the side.” Second, prayer is not for everyone. There is one prayer God is waiting to hear from any person at any time. It is the prayer of repentance and faith in Christ. God is not deaf to the prayers of unbelievers, but He is not obligated Himself to hear or respond to anything in their life save the humble cry for salvation. Therefore, I’m not interested in distracting people who need Christ by constantly posting every need or struggle in my life in the form of a prayer request. Is it wrong to post a prayer request? I don’t think so. Just make sure it is truly prayer worthy and your request shows a desire for the will of God.
9. Don’t Promote Politics More than The Gospel
I think Christ followers ought to have political convictions that match their faith. It is also God-honoring to engage our culture with our values and do all we can to promote God’s will and wisdom among our neighbors. We cross the line, however, when we spend more time online attacking or defending political views than we do promoting the love of God in Christ. I wish I could tell you this were not true, but it seems many professed Christians are more passionate about defeating terrorism, rejecting refugees, and reducing taxes than they are about sharing the gospel. You know what refugees, Muslims, illegal immigrants, welfare recipients, police officers, and member of the LGBTQ community all have in common? They are all people. And people need Christ. All people do. So, offer ideas, express opinions, and even articulate disagreements. But don’t push politics more than the gospel.
10. Don’t Be Afraid to Create Distance
Social media is extraordinarily addictive. We all have a desire to be in the know, see what’s going on, and, most importantly, connect with others. This is how God designed us. The ability to do this instantaneously is however a new phenomena. We used to have go to school to see our friends. We used to have to knock on the front door to pick up a date. We used to have to wait all night (and even pray about it) before we had a chance to speak with a co-worker about a conflict. We used to have to go research information and think about our sources before it was cast in front of our eyes. We used to have to go to the drug store and wait a whole hour before pictures were developed and then we could share them by pulling them out of the envelope and allowing a real-life person (usually one at a time) to see them. All that has changed. But what has not changed is the deep yearning within the human heart for real relationships, not just cyber ones. So if you reach for your phone more than you do your Bible, or your kids say, “Dad (or mom), you’re always on your phone,” or you find yourself over interested in the number of likes your post gets, or your “go to” friend when facing a dilemma is all of your friends online, you would be wise to take a break. Create some distance. Build in some accountability. You did not need social media before you had it and you don’t need it now. Make sure you are controlling it and it is not controlling you.
Social media is not a bad thing, until it becomes a bad thing. I hope this list help you use it wisely.