I am a ministry leader. I have been in vocational ministry since 2001, serving an additional 10 years before that through my local church as a volunteer. During the time I have waded in these waters, none have been as murky as the current ministry pond in the United States.
Apart from my professional office, like many others across the nation, I serve in my local church. I am honored to do so as both a small group leader and elder. A few years ago, our elder team began reading through books of the Bible together. A chapter each day, discussing our musings and inquiries via a text group. (The lessons I have learned from this exercise will be a future post).
Yesterday we read 1 Thessalonians 4. Today, it spurred a post.
1 Thessalonians 4:10b-12
“But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”
As I read these verses, especially within context of the larger manuscript, I was convicted. I was not convicted of a wayward sin or malicious speech, or any of the like. I try to keep my speech online and offline, controlled. I do have conversations and will ask direct questions for clarification of thought. But, I was convicted of the importance social media seemed to have in our everyday lives.
As a ministry do we really need to have accounts on multiple social media platforms? I ask this question, knowing this post will be pushed out on those very platforms. They have their place and can be used for God-honoring purposes. The downfall, is that those pushing 180 character opinions, declarations, and memes are affected by doing so. They are swayed. They are slowly being formed by a God-given desire to be known. But instead of being formed by the Holy Spirit, the likeness is more reflective of heart and thumbs-up emojis. And as a person who’s vast majority of online followership is other ministry leaders, I am watching it happen.
Here is what I typed to the godly men I serve with in my local church.
This is why I wrote those words.
- Paul: Aspire to live quietly
Social: Aspire to gain popularity through attracting followers who will repost your posts, in order to get thier own following.
Lesson: Our longing to garner “likes” and “hearts” on our musings and multi-threaded rants rarely is done in order to build up another person. It is almost always done to get our name out there and get noticed. As Christian leaders, we speak and shepherd others to be reliant on God, his word, and his timing. But social media has formed us into a people who spend our evenings, multi-tasking on our devices, checking social media for the latest take on culture or to hock our new book. The incessant need to build a platform for ourselves is not rooted in Godly meekness. This is not aspiring to live quietly.
- Paul: Mind your own affairs
Social: You deserve to have your voice heard like everyone else. Get involved in every tertiary matter that another has posted about so that, perhaps another with more likes than you will see it and repost.
Lesson: We have been formed into believing that our voice matters on, if not all, most of what happens on social media. We read a post about which we strongly disagree and find ourselves just having to comment. And like most unimportant matters, it takes on a life of its own and we are involved, not in only one other person’s affairs, but in a multitude of affairs and disagreements, fueling judgments as they are hurled across the screen. These conversations are not even with people we know. They are strangers. We have heated arguments with strangers, typing on our phone. How stupid is that! This is not minding our own affairs.
- Paul: Work with your hands [and minds]
Social: Be sure to continually check your platform of choice so that you can break the latest info to your followers or can chime in on your local church, denominational, or organizational squabbles. Why deal with internal matters in private when you can air dirty laundry worldwide?
Lesson: Christian leaders often feel beat up – psychologically, spiritually, and emotionally. And to be honest, sometimes it “feels good” to get it out. The problem is it tends to do more damage than good. Yes, it releases stress, but in doing so we take the lazy way, with cutting sarcasm and hot tempers on a public platform. Paul urges the Thessalonians, and in so doing, us as well, to work diligently with our hands and minds, keeping ourselves occupied on the work he has put before us. We should learn to abide in such ‘work’.
And we are urged to do all of this so that, “…you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”
The amount of battering the Gospel has taken due to social media over the last 10 years in immeasurable. Churches have split. Friendships have been lost. Reputations that have taken years to build, have been buried within 180 characters. All because of the allurement of social media platforms could not be resisted.
As leaders we are not called to build our personal platforms to get our name out there, and to make our mark on the world. We are not called to lead megachurches, even those that do. If you pastor a church, you are called to shepherd those that God has brought to your church. If you lead a parachurch ministry, you are called to the mission and purpose of your organization. Everything else, apart from family, is secondary.
I am not against social media per say. I am against the use of social media that tugs our hearts, minds, and affections away from Christ. I am concerned that we, the Christian community, have given away too much leverage in our everyday lives. I am concerned that as leaders, we no longer are satisfied with the simple vision God has called us to and feel we must supplement our “boring” lives with the excitement that social media provides.
For some, it has brought great notoriety and has increased bank accounts. Good for you. However, I am concerned, not that our platform has enlarged, but that we haven’t allowed God to enlarge it.
We may not be fashioning golden calves in our spare time, but we are fashioning blue check marks. And they are no less idolatrous.