Over 3 billion people use social media. This comes with a 13% increase every year (SmartInsights). In the maelstrom of a variety of debates the issue of “Christians on social media” comes up again and again. There are obvious basics:
1.) It’s a time-suck
2.) A platform for contention and hate.
3.) It’s like a drug with a dopamine spike for every like.
4.) It’s a cesspool for child predation.
It’s also a single source for connecting with friends and family. It’s a place to share experiences, and yes, our faith. It’s a place to celebrate milestones, announce events and share burdens. But for every thumbs-up, heart and comment where else could that time have been spent? Prayer, scripture? Before you roll your eyes please know I’m not calling for a Christian walk-out on Facebook (yet). I’m not saying Instagram and Snapchat are evil. I just want to take a serious look at how we use our time and how social media plays into that. I’ve caught myself spending hours just “catching up” on everyone. Is that a bad thing? There are friends I’ve known for years and without connecting through social media we would probably never stay in touch. But was that the best way to spend my morning?
Time isn’t just one mark against the media machine. No one can deny the stuff people post (even from friends) can be shocking. Ads can be offensive or inappropriate. People post mean and hateful things sometimes just for a laugh. Like it or not if you have a username, you are a part of that world. But just as we go to secular jobs, shop at secular stores and drive cars made by secular companies, Christians can be on social media without compromising our beliefs and integrity. We are called to be in the world and not of it (John 17:15-16). There’s a difference in our location and our incorporation. The tricky part is how to not let the location (ie. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) impact what we have incorporated as truth through God’s Word. How we do that isn’t just social, it’s actually quite personal:
1.) Set limits
This isn’t just for kids. Find something reasonable and healthy and stick to it. Even if it means everyone will miss Jr’s perfect baby giggle video because he found something hysterical after you logged out of Instagram, limits are good. Maybe that giggle was meant just for you to enjoy (see #2). There is so much to enjoy that does not require a login: Good books, a new recipe (I hate to cook, but I’m sure someone would enjoy this), a walk or hike, a museum, a concert, a festival. In short, learn to live without posting, tweeting, uploading, snapping . . . you get the picture. God exists outside the bounds of time, but we do not. We have 1,440 minutes every day. No more. No less. What we do with that time matters greatly to God:
So, then, be careful how you live. Do not be unwise but wise, making the best use of your time because the times are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. -Ephesians 5:15-17 (ISV)
Behave wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of your time. -Colossians 4:5 (ISV) (emphasis mine)
Limit your time viewing and how many times you post. For some, it will be a real eye-opener as to how much time you really do spend interacting with the digital world.
2.) Consider who you are with
You’re on a family outing. Jr. does something extra cute. Do 500 people need to see it? Or would your time be better spent just enjoying the moment? Vacations, anniversaries, date-night: They are happy times and we want to share them with the world. But I believe we miss some of the significance of the moment the second we upload the photo to our social platform. We take our attention away from the person we are physically with and welcome in a hundred others. Our special time has become a little less special. The early church was built on quality time:
All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. -Acts 2:44-47 (NIV)
Would Peter have tweeted: Feast of Pentecost was off the chain! #speakingintongues? Maybe. But that day in the upper room was meant for those who were there. Their continued joy came from meeting, eating and celebrating together. Some things just can’t be fully appreciated on the ‘net.
I know we want to share what a good time we’re having. And all the spectacular things our kids do. And we should. In a busy, scattered world it’s a perfect way to share special moments with those we love. But quality time loses some of the quality when our attention is divided. Resist the impulse to post every meaningful, intimate moment with the person you care about. Let that time be their own.
3.) Take inventory of why you’re on social media
Are you enjoying corresponding with friends and family around the world? Or do you feel obligated to “like” or comment on everyone’s post to give them a boost? Are you excited or proud about something in your life you want to share? Or are you doing a popularity check? (Hint: how many times do you check your “like” count?) The “why” for many things is an important assessment. And might help in your “to post or not to post” determination. I won’t lie. I definitely take some satisfaction in how many people “like” my posts. And I feel an equal disappointment when my posts are met with crickets. In fact, I took a break from facebook a few years ago when I realized I was allowing the attention (ie. “like” count), not the interaction, drive my contentment. Maybe I’m just insecure that way. But I don’t think I’m alone.
Let me give you an example. Birthdays. If I wish you Happy Birthday on your Facebook timeline it’s not necessarily because I remembered your b-day. It’s because Facebook reminded me. Now, being wished happy birthday makes us all feel loved and remembered. But to rely on Facebook b-day wishes to fulfill some void of belonging is not healthy, nor God-honoring. I think we are just scratching the surface in the psychology of social media and how it affects our well-being and self-worth. Some people might be more susceptable to the emotional impacts of social media. And certainly teens fall into that category. Just understand that worth is not determined by like count. Read my take on worth here. Worth is God-given. Not media driven.
4.) Limit the number of posts
Okay, I’m going to say it. Some of us post way too often! Once a day should do it, maybe. Look at it this way, even if you have a handle on your own social media use, others might not. Are you contributing to someone else’s time-suck or like addiction?
And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.” -Luke 17:1-2
This seems a bit harsh. I mean you’re just sharing with all of your friends that amazing meal at the new restaurant. But that’s the disadvantage of digital separation. You don’t know how you are impacting others. If that “friend” or “follower” is busy scrolling through hours of social media interaction, each post is another temptation to ignore those at the dinner table, disobey at school for being on his or her phone, or miss out on meaningful conversations with the person he or she is with. Are you the person “through whom the temptation comes?” You can’t know. But if you’re discerning about the amount you are posting, you are minimizing your impact on someone who might be struggling.
5.) How do you comment?
In other words, are your words uplifting, encouraging, honoring and respectful? Or are they divisive, mean, sarcastic or argumentative? There are a slew of Proverbs that deal with hurtful words:
- It is foolish to belittle a neighbor; a person with good sense remains silent. Proverbs 11:12
- Your own soul is nourished when you are kind, but you destroy yourself when you are cruel. Proverbs 11:17
- The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered. Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues. Proverbs 17:27-28
- Evil words destroy one’s friends; wise discernment rescues the godly. Proverbs 11:9
Just as you won’t know how you might be tempting someone with a social media struggle, you can’t know how your words will impact those 500 friends. So choose your words wisely. I’ve seen a mile-long debate on a single comment. Presumably well-meaning Christians giving their opinion on a scriptural viewpoint. The first few comments respectful, seemingly well thought out. But soon I could almost see the finger shaking and the discourse turned nasty. I submit social media is not the best place to discuss differing opinions on scriptural doctrine. If you must say your peace, let it be known and then let it go. Don’t give into the temptation to try and “convince” someone else who is right and who is wrong. It rarely goes well. Best to keep your posts to kind words and then move on.
6.) How many friends do you have?
You may indeed have 3000 friends with whom you want to stay in regular contact. But for most of us, there’s not enough time in the day to keep up with. I know when Facebook first caught on (anyone remember My Space?) one objective was to see how many friends one could acquire. Part of the problem leads us back to point number one, setting time limits. Can you really stay in touch with that many people and still have a non-digital life? And are those digital relationships worth having?
Sherry Turkle, professor of computer culture at MIT has this to say:
These days, insecure in our relationships and anxious about intimacy, we look to technology for ways to be in relationships and protect ourselves from them at the same time. The problem with digital intimacy is that it is ultimately incomplete: The ties we form through the Internet are not, in the end, the ties that bind. But they are the ties that preoccupy. We don’t want to intrude on each other, so instead we constantly intrude on each other, but not in ‘real time.’
Even better this is how King Solomon so wisely put it:
The righteous choose their friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray. Proverbs 12:26
Perhaps even more damaging is the amount of information you have scrolling across your screen. All manner of jokes, comments, and photos. Can you be assured all of it will be God-honoring?
Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character. I Corinthians 15:33
I suggest narrowing down to those you would actually spend time with if you could. It’s not that you have fewer friends. It will just be better quality time with those you love.
7.) Do you share meaningful content or fluff?
Fluff includes posts that say “Share if you love Jesus.” Or pictures with captions that say “How many likes will I get?” Our world is already too loud. Our words should carry weight, meaning and most of all love. I’m not saying a shared joke here or there is bad. But if you share three or four a day, you might be just clogging the airwaves with drivell. We can’t read an article, a blog post or a news update without sifting through pop-up ads, click bait and links to more information. The more jokes, memes and “like or else” posts we share the more our friends have to scroll to find the new baby announcements, encouraging Bible verse or wedding photos. It’s all fun stuff to share. Just be discerning.
8.) How many social media platforms do you use?
Being a part of a social media network takes time. I believe choosing one or two platforms where the better part of your friends and family hang out is enough to stay in touch. If you’re spending more than an hour or two keeping up with all the conversations then it may be time to cut back. We can’t compete in a soccer league, coach a softball team and play in a band at the same time without letting one slip or becoming obsessive. Limits are good. They are healthy. With only one place to share and check in, think of all the time you would have to play soccer, coach sports or learn an instrument. Or whatever hobby suits your fancy. Without our eyes glued to our phones imagine the refreshing observations we could make of what’s going on around us. I’ve noticed when I’m out by myself, waiting in line, having a meal or even shopping, I tend to occupy my mind with social media, texts, emails, anything that takes away the awkward feeling of being alone. It relieves the discomfort of having no one to talk to and, if truth be told, so I don’t look like I don’t have any friends. I’m getting better though. Sometimes shopping solo can be relaxing. Waiting in line is a great way to people-watch. And it’s a great way to train myself to be comfortable with myself, by myself.
At the end of the day, if we really are turning every part of our lives over to God, who knows us better than we know ourselves, what we post, and what we read, should also go through Him. How often do we pray about what we post? Yikes! I’ll be the first to admit, probably never. Social media can be a place of impulsive posts and mindless meandering. Without purpose, accountability and guidance, it’s easy to let it get away from us. Prayer puts it all in perspective. Make it second nature to pray over your time on Facebook. Pray for checks in your spirit over how you comment. Pray that you honor Jesus in every tweet, snap and post.