In 2019, experts estimated that almost 3 billion people will utilize social media in some capacity. In 2017, 71% of internet users engaged with social media.[i] If you are reading this article, chances are you saw this posted on a social media platform you engage in on your phone.
Social media is a tool, and for Christians, this powerful tool can be used to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ. Often times, however, our abuse of social media hinders our gospel witness and intrudes on the times we should commune with the Lord and engage with people.
In this article, I want to ask you six questions that can help you engage with social media in a responsible, God-centered way.
Does My Use of Social Media Magnify Christ or Me?
The Apostle John says, “He [Christ] must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30, ESV). I find that many times we default to using social media in a manner that makes it difficult for us to decrease. Sure, socializing and sharing photos of your life with loved ones is fantastic, but are you using social media to indulge your vanity? What is your purpose as a Christian? Is it not to exalt Christ? If this is the case, look at your posts from the last month. Do these posts speak much of Christ or are they centered on you? Do you use social media to vent your anger about politics? Or do you use social media to remind folks of the God who is sovereign over kings? As a Christian, you are called to be a good gospel-steward of your social media posts.
Does My Use of Social Media Amplify the Sin of Covetousness in My Heart?
It seems like everyone’s life on social media is picture perfect. Everyone’s food looks amazing. Everyone’s kids are doing well. If their kids do make life difficult (which of course, never happens!), they post and speak about it in a humorous way that makes you think they are the perfect parents—so laid back, breezy, and enjoying the “journey” of parenting.
Speaking of the journey, everyone is traveling. All. The. Time. Everyone, except me, of course. I can’t afford it. I don’t have the time. I wish I were more like everyone else. They are so cultured. They are so informed. They are so put together. I wish I had their life. My life stinks.
Do you see the progression? We all break and are prone to breaking the Tenth Commandment (“You shall not covet”, Exodus 20:17) without any help from social media. However, for some of us, social media can amplify our ability to indulge this sin. For some of us, social media is the heat drawing out the particular sin of covetousness in our hearts.
Does My Use of Social Media Hinder My Ability to Be Slow to Speak and Quick to Listen?
James encourages us, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19, ESV). The first-century church had a difficult time doing this before social media. Certainly, social media can become an open market for being quick to speak, quick to anger, and slow to listen. Do you find yourself constantly engaged in debates and arguments on social media? Do those debates on social media dominate your thought life? I find that it is much easier to write angry, unsustained thoughts in 140 characters than it is to be quiet and seek understanding. How about you?
Does My Use of Social Media Amplify My Anxious Heart?
Many of the people I minister to at my local church are anxious and depressed. Many times, when I counsel anxious and depressed people, I find that uncontrolled social media intake heightens both. We have access to negative news through social media 24/7. And negative news certainly has an impact on our moods and anxieties. Studies show that negative news actually sells better than positive news.[ii] How much negative news content are you consuming in a 24-hour period? Even if you don’t think it is affecting you, it is. Maybe you need a negative news detox.
Does My Use of Social Media Hinder My Ability to Love and Minister to People?
Some of you reading this are in vocational ministry. Some of you are volunteering at local churches. All of us should be engaged in Great Commission work. I find that angry opinions are flaunted on social media more than any other place because many people feel more comfortable sharing those opinions on social media instead of face-to-face. Is what you’re seeing on social media from your people prohibiting you from loving them as Christ loves them? Is what you’re seeing on their social media pages prohibiting you from laying down your life for them?
If you find yourself becoming bitter and upset with what the members of your church post on social media, it may be wise to take a break from social media so that you can effectively minister to these people face-to-face. Sometimes the knowledge you gain about the people in your church through social media is a burden that weighs down your love and ministry to them. Certainly, social media isn’t the cause of the bitterness you begin to feel if you’re too engaged, but again, it may be a heat drawing out that particular sin in your heart.
Does My Use of Social Media Allow Me to Ignore In-Person Relationships?
Finally, how much time do you spend looking at social media? You may not know. I promise you that your spouse knows. Your children certainly know, and they will model you. Some of us spend so much time looking at social media that it is killing the intimacy we could enjoy with those in our lives. One rule in my home is that no one can touch their phones or computers after 7:30 p.m., and we make sure we don’t touch technology at the dinner table. I even have an app called AppBlock on my phone that locks certain features of my phone down in the evenings and weekends.
Nothing says “I don’t care about you” more than when you are sitting face-to-face with someone but looking at your phone. I don’t even like taking notes on my phone when I’m with people because it can be misinterpreted. We need to learn the discipline of being present with people.
Social media is a great tool, and it is a tool that I engage in. I don’t think the answer is to disengage from social media entirely (although for some of us, that is precisely what we should do). However, we must learn discipline and glorify God with our engagement. I recommend the following steps to begin the journey of disciplining yourself:
- Set a weekly limit for yourself and stick to it.
- Never engage social media when you have flesh and blood people in the room looking to engage with you.
- Utilize app programs like AppBlocker or Buffer to distance yourself from social media.
- Consider using RSS feeds like Feedly to control the content you see.
- Consider using the weekends to detox entirely from social media.
Bottom line: do all that you do for the glory of God!
Joey Tomlinson (DMin, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is a husband, father, and pastor at a local church in Newport News, Virginia. He blogs regularly on broadoakpiety.org and hosts a weekly podcast called The Broad Oak Piety Podcast with another local pastor in the community.