In the 2000-year history of Christ’s church, we’ve come to some clear agreement about what Scripture teaches about what it means to be a Christian husband, wife, mother, or father. Much has been written on these subjects and we’ve got years and years of Godly examples from older men and women who have walked through marriage and child-rearing. They’ve got lots of hard-earned wisdom from which we can greatly benefit. Likewise, the Bible gives us enough principles about honesty and integrity that can inform how we can be Godly employees and employers.
But, how do we think through how we as Christians are to engage with social media? Whereas I can learn a lot about my relationship with my spouse or children by reading Charles Spurgeon or Jonathan Edwards, where do I learn about navigating my relationship with social media? Since Scripture doesn’t address Facebook, Tik Tok, Instagram, or Twitter should I adopt an “anything goes” policy? Should my social media posts, likes, shares, and profile look exactly like the unbelieving world?
I’d like to offer a few helpful guidelines for how we as Christians can best use social media in a way that is thoughtful, winsome, and demonstrates our Christian witness to the watching world. This list is not exhaustive. But, hopefully, it is a good start.
Social Media isn't “real community.”
Let’s be honest, social media is a wonderful tool that can help us stay connected to friends with whom we’ve lost contact. Old classmates who no longer live in my town, people I used to work with that I don’t get to see as often and family members who live somewhere other than in my town- these are just a few examples of social media’s strength in helping me stay somewhat “connected.” But, what social scientists are learning is that although we’re the most “connected” generation in history, we’re also the loneliest. Therapists are reporting record numbers of people who feel lonely, isolated, and anxious and no amount of social media connectedness seems to be able to remedy their deep feeling of being “disconnected.”
Why is this? Doesn’t more Facebook friends or Instagram followers equal less loneliness? The truth is that social media is a poor substitute for real, in-person friendship. Study after study reveals that social media is a powerful drug that not only has the capacity to hook us in and keep us scrolling, it also is linked to increased anxiety, narcissism, loneliness, depression, and suicide.
All of this means that social media doesn’t really deliver on what it promises. It isn’t making us healthier and better adjusted. Imagine being stranded in a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean without any fresh drinking water. We’re thirsty and desperate. What if in our desperation we drank a big glass of salty ocean water? Would that help? No, it would actually make our thirst worse. No matter how appealing it might seem- drinking salt water wouldn’t give me the relief that I need. Likewise, the cure for our loneliness and depression won’t be found online. We need real, face-to-face, community. We need friends, neighbors, fellow church members, pastors, and elders to walk with us through the struggles we face. Churches, neighbors, friends, and families provide the real community that we most need. Online communities cannot offer the real face-to-face interaction that our hearts, minds, and souls crave to flourish. The scientific studies and facts are in and they are conclusive. Social media is not improving our mental health.
What is appropriate to share?
Any counselor or mental health provider will tell you that there’s an enormous benefit to keeping a journal or diary. There’s something about putting our feelings out on paper that can be really helpful as we seek to clarify our thoughts and jumbled emotions. But, not every thought that bubbles up into my head needs to be published for all the world to see. It is good for me to be vulnerable and share my struggles with my wife. It is healthy for me to seek the wise counsel of my best friend or parent. But, not everyone on social media deserves my most intimate thoughts. Just because it is appropriate for me to undress in front of my spouse doesn’t mean that I should undress in front of everyone. Likewise, the struggles that I’m having as a husband or with a particularly difficult child aren’t the business of my 10th-grade science teacher or my plumber. When I’m trying to find out who has the best burger in town or a recommendation for a good landscaper, I should ask everyone. But, not everyone has earned the right to know about this mysterious rash on the back of my right thigh or that my teenage granddaughter is struggling with an eating disorder. We should err on the side of posting less. Let’s not forget that social media posts have a way of showing up years later and negatively affecting my ability to get a job as potential employers try to get a sense of what kind of person they might be hiring.
Now some Christian specifics…
Those last two points were particularly general. These next few principles or cautions are particularly relevant for how followers of Jesus think about how we engage with social media in a manner that is distinctly Christ-like and God-honoring.
Before I move into these specifics we all have seen those “if you really love Jesus share this with at least 10 people” posts. Those are ridiculous. None of what I’m talking about involves that sort of “if you really, really, really love Jesus then you’ll share this” posts. Rather, these guidelines and cautions are more about what we should refrain from posting. Let’s remember, I don’t have to post anything ever. No one is owed my “hot take” on the latest thing happening in the news. The world will continue spinning and nothing bad will ever happen because I didn’t post something. Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok, and Twitter are completely unnecessary. No one ever “needs” them. And, if you think that you couldn’t face another day without these platforms that might be a big indicator that you’ve grown too dependent on the buzz that you get from them.
I am not my own
As Christians, we believe that we belong to Christ. As such, we recognize the Kingship of Jesus and His authority. We’re not saved by how moral or pious we are. But, that doesn’t mean we throw morality and piety out the window. Rather, we want God’s wisdom and guidance as it is found in Scripture and the shepherding of pastors and elders to inform our social media activity. In the Presbyterian denomination that I pastor, we ask people who are joining our church five simple questions. They come before the congregation and answer “yes” to these basic vows about what it means to not only be a Christian but a member of a local church. I think these vows actually do a good job of guiding us to think about our social media presence. So, let’s walk through these presbyterian membership vows and ask the question: What does obedience to these vows look like in how I conduct myself on social media platforms?
1. Do you acknowledge yourself to be a sinner in the sight of God, justly deserving His displeasure, and without hope, except through His sovereign mercy?
2. Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and Savior of sinners, and do you receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel?
These two questions are of course the most definitional questions that frame what it means to be a Christian. We’re sinners and we cannot save ourselves. Christ is our only hope. If that’s true it means that we’re no better than anyone else. If “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” then that means that my social media posts ought to avoid snarky, self-righteous or mean-spirited comments.
Paul tells us in Philippians 2: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
Are my snarky posts displaying humility? Do my memes and posts demonstrate that I count others as more significant than myself? Or, am I publishing self-righteousness and/or moralism that puffs me up and makes me look better than others?
Membership questions 1 and 2 remind me that I’m just as sinful and broken as anyone else. And, I can communicate that belief to the watching world by avoiding self-righteous and snarky posts.
3. Do you now resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, that you will endeavor to live as becomes the followers of Christ?
4. Do you promise to support the Church in its worship and work to the best of your ability?
How do these vows affect how I will conduct myself on social media? How do I conduct myself on social media that in such a way that I am supporting the church in its worship and work? If I have come before my church and promised that I will endeavor (try) to live as becomes a follower of Christ- then that includes my social media life as well.
Does that obligate me to share every single post that my church or pastor shares? Nope.Do I have to use Facebook to invite my friends to church events? No.Am I required by that vow to like, comment or share lots of churchy-type social media posts? Not at all.
Then what does it mean to conduct my social media life as a follower of Christ? Quite simply it means that I refrain from posting and sharing things that run counter to the teachings, beliefs, and doctrines of both the Bible and my local church. When I lend my approval to ideas on social media that run counter to my church’s teachings then I’m failing to support the church in its worship and work. On social media, we see a whole host of viewpoints and opinions. A new believer might not know if this or that post or meme that they’re thinking of sharing goes against their church’s teachings. That’s understandable. Ask your pastor, an elder, or a more seasoned Christian friend in the church for their opinion. Do they think this is an appropriate thing to share? Or, would sharing it sew confusion about what my church or the Bible teaches?
Maybe that sounds like a hassle. But, we’ve all promised to endeavor to live as becomes a follower of Christ. So, honoring that vow as a Christian is worth it. Or, we can avoid the hassle altogether by just refraining from posting. Nothing bad happens if I don’t share or post. I can just keep on scrolling.
5. Do you submit yourselves to the government and discipline of the Church, and promise to study its purity and peace?
What does it mean to submit myself to the government and discipline of the church? When we think of the word “discipline” we tend to think of spankings and punishment. Discipline we sometimes think is the thing that kicks in when I run afoul of the rules. You broke a rule! Time for some discipline! But, discipline is related to the word “disciple”. If we belong to Christ then we’re all disciples. And, if we’ve joined a church we’ve submitted ourselves to being discipled by and through that church’s ministry. That’s why everyone who joins a presbyterian church has submitted themselves to the discipline of the church.
When we speak of the government of the church we’re talking about the way in which the local church is structured. Every church has some form of church government or structure. And, the way in which I pursue peace and purity in the church is by recognizing that my church has a structure that allows a space for me to ask questions and raise concerns. I’ve submitted myself to elders who are to shepherd me. If I’ve got a concern in the church or something is going on that troubles me what do I do? I seek the wisdom and counsel of the church’s elders or deacons.
How might I violate this vow on social media? Posting negative or critical things about my church on social media would be the opposite of submitting myself to the government and discipline of the church. Criticizing my church, church leadership or fellow church members online (either overtly or subtly) rather than taking my concerns to them directly is a failure to submit myself to the government of the church.
Dear Christian! You were bought with a price. You belong to your Savior, Jesus. That means that His will is always best. Not always easiest. But, always best. How we represent Jesus in our homes, workplaces, and even on social media matters.