I use social media because I want people to approve of me.
Most of the time, that means posting art I’ve made, tweeting insights I think are clever, or announcing it when I volunteer for something. For others, it might be Facebooking pictures from their vacation in Italy, Instagramming their fancy drink at a hip new bar, or confidently arguing their intelligent political views in the comments of a blog.
I think what we post on social media can be a clue to where we find our value. The examples above can be done with good motivations, of course, but I’m not sure all of mine have been.
I took a seminary class this semester about ministering to young adults in the digital age. We were taught that a monumental shift has happened in communication methods and now a huge number of people live much of their lives in digital spaces. Texting instead of face-to-face communication. Blogs and podcasts instead of going to church services. Forums instead of in-person discussions.
The teacher asked us, “How does this change how we do ministry in our daily lives?” We have traditionally done ministry by gathering to hear sermons in church and meeting in small groups for community and further discussion. And then meeting one-on-one to minister to each other in more intimate ways.
And those face-to-face encounters are still hugely important.
But now, I think many of us are ignoring the other room of life—the digital space—that is so prominent in our culture. So I started asking myself, how can I be a Christ-like presence in these new spaces too? What would Jesus post?
Give, not take
I think we each have something different and unique to contribute to the body of Christ. That’s why a body works so well. So I started to ask myself, “What do I have to offer that others might find valuable?” Not for the purpose of promoting myself, but instead for the purpose of giving them something of value they wouldn’t otherwise have.
Whatever I’m good at, whether it’s great recipes, financial advice, personal blogs, links to beautiful articles, updates on my life, or photos of my adorable Corgi (or other people’s adorable Corgis)—am I doing it because I want to look good? Or am I doing it because someone else could find value from my posts?
Also, I can use digital media to utilize my more ministry-related gifts. If I’m an encourager, I can leave encouraging comments. If my gift is intercessory prayer, I can pray for someone’s struggle they just shared. If I’m good at mobilizing people around a good cause, I can blast the news to all my followers and friends.
Give dignity to the downtrodden
I think one of our major calls in the Bible is to help the helpless.
Social media is an amazing platform to easily give a voice to the voiceless. A year or two ago I stumbled on an opportunity to do this. A homeless man asked me for money as I walked by, and I had a few minutes to kill. I had just come from a conference where they had talked about the value of story. So I told him, “Hey man, would you tell me your story if I bought you dinner? I’d like to put it on my blog.” It was amazing. Not only did my friends get to enjoy hearing his wild story, but my new homeless friend got to be heard and validated, and teach us his salty wisdom. Since then I’ve done the same thing with a lot of homeless folks. I post the recording, transcribe the best parts, and post a selfie of us. Here’s one of my favorites.
I have a friend who takes beautiful pictures of random strangers and asks them what makes them happy. Then she posts their answer and picture on Instagram.
There are a million ways to use social media to promote social justice, encourage the overlooked and oppressed, and be “present” with those who feel alone. We can re-post volunteering opportunities to help worthy non-profits. We can share meaningful posts by folks who don’t get a lot of activity on their page. It takes two clicks to give someone a wider platform to be heard.
And if it’s not the type of thing to share, I can just comment to let them know they are heard and I care. It’s just so easy.
Texting has diminished some of our communication. It has given us a way to deliver a message that previously would have been loaded with facial gestures, nuances of tone, and eye contact. We’ve sacrificed those things for the sake of convenience. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we can’t use it for good. It has given us a new mode of communication we didn’t have before, because it is convenient. We can send a message that isn’t quite worth the time and price to postmark it. Now the moment someone crosses our mind, we can send an encouraging, “You crossed my mind. I hope you’re doing well!” Or “Hey I miss you! Is there anything that I can pray for you about?”
The digital age has opened whole new arenas of life. It’s like a new land we can take Christ’s light to. Let’s get good at giving what God built us to give, helping the lowly and encouraging people in these new spaces. It’s an opportunity to share Christ’s love and beauty instead of just sharing a picture of your Corgi drinking a beer in Italy. Unless of course you’ve figured out a way to bring Christ’s light to your friends that way. Now that would be something worth tweeting about.