“Myspace” was my introduction to the world of social media. I had been hired about a year earlier as a youth pastor, and heard students talking about all the things they were posting, and how they were designing their page. As a “mature” 26-year-old I figured this was something for the youngsters, so I hesitated getting involved. But the more I heard them talking, the more I realized this was an opportunity to be involved with their lives at a different level, and this could be a key tool for my ministry. So, I set to work designing my Myspace page; I got the background selected, my profile picture set, I was SO relevant. Two weeks later… “Hey Jeff, do you have Facebook?” This began the journey that continues today of trying to keep up with the latest and greatest when it comes to social media. But what is worth a “Like”? What is important to “follow” or “Unsubscribe” from? Not only is it far from a simple answer, it is a cultural dynamic that is constantly shifting and changing.
I talk a lot about this with students, and also parents especially when it comes to what is good and bad about social media. Let’s start with the good! We were created to be social, which means that we will naturally look to be connected with those we relate to, connect with, share a common interest, and seek approval from. Social media gives us more and different opportunities than ever before to be social (it’s even in the name). I have seen incredible opportunities to stay connected with people that live far away, and otherwise would be a struggle to really know what’s going on in their life; or to let them know what is going on in mine. While you can look at this and judge whether or not this is “real” relationship, I have seen positive things come from people sharing their lives on social media.
Social Media can give people a voice who, in person, would struggle to be extroverted enough to have their voice heard. I have had the personal experience with this and a young lady in my youth group who will occasionally post a drawing or some work of art that she has created. Because of this girl’s personality and comfort level in front of people, she would never draw the attention to herself by bringing her art to youth group, and saying, “Hey everyone, look at what I created”. Yet, because of social media she has been able to put herself out there, and her art has been an encouragement to many people. In fact, because I commented on one of her pieces that she posted, she arrived with it the following week at youth group as a gift for me, and I have had it in my office ever since.
Naturally, there is a dark side to most things when they are abused or go unmanaged, and social media definitely has its share of things that we should be aware of, set up boundaries for, and even be accountable to. Romans 12:2 says that followers of Christ should not be looking to copy and conform to the behaviors and customs of the world, but be transformed by allowing God to change our thinking. Social media gives us unedited and unending glimpses and pressures from culture and the people in our lives, that scream messages of who you should be, what you should look like, what you should value, how you should react, what you should think of people, etc… It is a constant battle and point of deciding, “who will I be? What will I allow to shape me?” It’s like when you change schools, and no one really knows who you are and you have the chance to present yourself as whoever you want to be. You consider what has worked for you in the past, and what didn’t, and then put your best “product” out there. Social media can be like this, where we are tempted to reinvent ourselves to be who we want people to think we are, or who we think people expect us to be. But what does that do for you? Does it lead to authentic relationship? Does it communicate that you are a person in need of grace just like everyone else? I see post after post of perfect hair, perfect smiles, perfect families, but far fewer confessions of a rough day with the kids, or a disappointing result from an interview. It can be so easy to conform to making ourselves look perfect, while at the same time railing against those who don’t think like us politically, or socially, or even spiritually. Social media can be a place where we put a premium on what the world thinks, and we base our value on the number of “likes” “retweets” and “views” we get.
Philippians 4:8 says Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. How does your interaction with social media help or hurt this ambition? As you scroll through and you see someone else’s “perfect” life, are your thoughts honorable, or are you hoping a bulldozer drives through their house? When someone posts something that you disagree with, are your thoughts lovely, or do you want to use the comment section to prove to them and the world just how dumb they are and how you have the right opinion; when you read the latest gossip are your thoughts on truth, or is repeating the story more important? When an ad pops up advertising whatever appeals to a weakness you have, are your thoughts pure, or does it leads to action that you then try and justify?
Before, during, and after our engaging with social media, we should consider, “has this helped me think about what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy?” And “Will what I just posted help someone keep their minds there as well?”