How do you keep your soul private in a social media obsessed world?
Back in the 80s there was a sandwich that McDonald’s developed called the McD.L.T. Many of you won’t recognize this sandwich but it was the thing. It actually stuck around for 6 years until McDonald’s caved into the social pressure that deemed it environmentally unfriendly.
You see it was all about the styrofoam. The sandwich came in two compartments; one kept “the hot side hot, and the cold side cold”. So your lettuce and tomato came in that side, and you had a build your own sandwich, making it the perfect McDonald’s experience.
Like that sandwich there are things that should stay hot, and other things that should stay cold.
Like the Offspring said in the 90s, “You gotta keep em separated”.
14 years on from the launch of internet 2.0, and Christians are having a hard time keeping things in their right box. With the advent of Youtube, and Facebook in 2005, social media has changed the way that people interact on a mass scale. This pivotal shift in technology has been as significant as the printing press, and while it offers great force for good, the acne we gain from it’s adolescence may be etching pock marks on our souls that leave scars on our character for years to come.
Jesus said that when you did good deeds, you should keep them private. They weren’t intended for mass distribution or public consumption.
But therein lay the rub. In this age of social media, people are having a hard time keeping them separated.
It seems that everything people do now, whether it’s working out in the gym, making a kale salad, going on a date, or leading somebody to Jesus, becomes an opportunity for a “humble” brag.
In fact, our culture is swerving so far this way, that Jesus’s words “let your good works be done in secret” seem to be irrelevant and out of date to today’s world.
Jesus said that we shouldn’t parade our good deeds before men for their approval, and in the same sermon said “Let your light so shine before men that they see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
So what goes in which part of the styrofoam container?
Jesus is telling us that some things belong “out there” and other things belong to the private sector.
So how do you make sure you’re keeping the private things private, and the public things public?
Today I want to give you 3 questions that Christian using social media should seriously ponder.
1. How’s social media replaced your social interaction with God?
It probably goes without saying that the biggest factor that Jesus is hinting at in the sermon on the mount, is that our relationship with Him is more important than our interaction with anyone else.
But if that’s the case, why doesn’t it feel that way? Perhaps because I don’t get that red circle telling me that I’ve got notifications from Him. I don’t see likes, or read comments from him like I do other people. Make no mistake, if the first thing you do when you wake up is reach for your phone to read comments and notifications, then the social media is working. Developers have long told us that it’s designed to be addictive, because the amount of advertising money churning on the wheels of our attention demands it.
Like anything, it’s a choice, but I would guess that the amount of prayer spent before and after the use of your smartphone has gone down. Social media is a neutral tool, but like all things neutral, it poses a threat to becoming as much a liability as it is an asset. Cal Newport, author of “Deep Work” maintains that social media harms us more than it helps us. He classifies it as entertainment, rather than a tool. The real issue, according to Newport, is that it fragments our attention, and studies indicate that too much fragmentation over a longer period of time lead to a permanent decrease in the mind’s ability to function. Social media can actually rewire our brain to develop a type of ADHD because of the short attention spanned design.
I wonder how that would affect somebody’s prayer life?
2. Has social media resulted in an overemphasis of what others think?
Is it a coincidence that we receive likes? People like what we say? People can dislike what we say? We can value our work, personality, and just about anything else upon how many clicks, likes, and comments we get. Bad comments can wreck your world, while uplifting comments make your day. Should people outside of your normal sphere of life have that much influence over how you feel? Psychologists state that we can only maintain relationships with about 150 people in our lives. Yet social media jumps into the thousands.
Many of these people aren’t people we work with, live next to, or minister to in any way. Yet, their opinions seem to matter.
Recent studies have determined that adolescents have a much higher degree of anxiety due to social pressures due to this new window into the soul. Perhaps caring too much about what others think is not healthy.
Recently, at a gathering of church planters, I hosted a breakout session with Francis Chan. During his time, he disclosed that he shut down all of his social media accounts after receiving praise and abuse from complete strangers. It affected him too deeply, and he just felt it was disconnected from reality. Therefore he quit. Doesn’t seem to have hurt his ministry in any way at all.
Besides, the goal of ministry was never to be liked…at least not if you were doing it right in the first place. It was to please God, not men.
3. Has social media become a way for me to become famous?
This is the hardest one for me personally. I don’t want to be famous, but I’d love to continue selling books. I love writing, and publishing. Of course, I could publish solo, limiting my works to those in my small circle, but when I get an email from someone telling me that my book has changed the way that they think about life, ministry, or following God in general, it’s quite a thing.
I don’t feel the need to be needed. But I like to feel useful.
That said, social media in general is always a bit weird to me. The only reason I got onto it was because the publishers told me I needed it to sell books. So I listened.
I’ve recently decided Instagram will never be a part of what I do. I want to stay away from the “Look at me! Look at me!” mentality that it seems to create. I don’t want people to look at me. And if I do good, isn’t it supposed to stay secret? Between me and God, according to Jesus?
Here’s how it often looks to me online:
I’m going to Dallas today to preach (Translation: I’m a really important man of God who people fly around because I’m so rad.) Pray for Eric who just came to faith (Translation: Check me out, I’m leading people to Jesus. Bet you wish you did that.) I’m enjoying my bible reading for the day (Translation: Dig my posed picture with a bible, a cup of coffee, and while you’re at it, dig how spiritual I’m trying to make you think I am.)
I’ve tried to balance promoting books and projects with being about the message and not attempting a cheap shot at fame in the name of “ministry”. It’s a weird balance, and I’m sure I don’t get it right all the time, but I am attempting to understand it, and make movements that honor God, maintain privacy for things that should stay private.
God help me if I ever post a selfie of me with someone I just led to Christ.
I find it so pretentious and a little creepy. I always wonder how these people must feel right after receiving Christ, when someone says, “Let me take a selfie with you”. Do they know that it’s really “Let me brag about you on social media”. Does it hit them like it did Bob Dylan, who after receiving Christ, got tired of being everyone’s poster boy, and eventually dropped out of the Christian limelight to go back to what he was originally doing…just making good music?
These are personal guidelines, and ones that I wouldn’t impose on anyone else, but I will continue attempting to allow my good deeds to remain in private in this world of social media. Not sure how to accomplish it, but these are questions I ask myself in order to ask the bigger questions, like:
What should remain between me and God?
What should be public, between me and others?
Unfortunately, social media doesn’t give us the answers. How could it? As one of my teachers used to say, whenever you look to a large group of people for advice, you’re merely consulting pooled ignorance.
I think there’s somewhere else we can look for these answers. We can pensively ask the questions above (Translation: Go deeper). And thankfully, we can ask God for a solution (Translation: Go higher).