Social Media & Spiritual Disciplines


Tweetingre-tweeting, status-updating, going viral, texting, Skyping, blogging, chatting, DMing, IMing -- it is the world of social media today (but maybe not 5 minutes from now).  It is a world that has taken over what it means to be human, to be a friend, to be present, to stay-in-touch, to follow Christ. Not, I suppose, the whole world over, but much of it.  Perhaps more that you think. Do keep in mind that I'm writing as someone who spends much of his time with immigrants, many of whom have spent the last couple decades in refugee camps.  And, I never had to teach anyone how to use Yahoo Messenger, and they turned me on to the world of text messaging.

The evolution of social media has been and is so rapid that significant changes to it are literally occurring all the time. It isn't possible to keep up. And yet, this is our world now. And as Lars Dahle points out in his excellent article "Media Messages Matter: Christ, Truth, and the Media", (a Lausanne 3 Advance Paper), "a critical and creative engagement with the plurality of media messages is an integral part of making the case for the truth of Christ in a globalized world." I agree that to ignore the media world today is tantamount to retreating from the world Christ has called us to be engaged redemptively with. But the problem is that we do not know how to engage well.

This seems to me to be especially the case when it comes to social media.  And by that, I mean just about everything: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Skype, mobile devices that can do just about anything, blogs, and so much more (even the Lausanne Global Conversation) are all a part of this rather ambiguous world. But, we in the body of Christ simply don't know how to deal with this reality.  I became convinced of this during the past several months in my experiences with short-term missionaries that we hosted here in the field. My long-term staff had loads of frustration with volunteers who were expected to be fully engaged with their immediate surroundings that were frequently texting, Tweeting, checking their Facebook profiles, snapping and uploading photos, and more.  Blog articles and other kinds of messages were often posted online that were not always sensitive, fully accurate, kind, or wise.

Of course, I haven't been immune.  Recently, I upgraded to one of those mobile phones that can do all and be all. I find myself inundated with media as a result -- texts, tweets, emails, pics, and even phone calls.  It has become so clear to me that this is a significant issue, that I've suggested some of our mission agency's leaders that part of the summer missionary orientation be devoted exclusively to the topic of social media.


Pastor Kerry Shook
(Woodlands Church)
So then I heard about what Woodlands Church in Houston, TX was calling for -- a national day of fasting from social media.  In the words of their pastor, Kerry Shook, "We're forgetting the amazing power of connection found in looking into someone's eyes, giving them our undivided attention, sensing their body language and being in their space . . . the transformative effect of an embrace, a handshake or a hand on someone's shoulder. As much as we want to tell ourselves otherwise, rewarding and healthy relationships take time and effort."

As I reflect on this, I recognize that there is a very important insight in this concept of fasting from social media. Namely, that the integration of spiritual discipline with our social media activity is necessary for the Christ-follower who desires to be led by the Spirit rather than overcome by the world of social media.  But the "Facebook Fast" does not go far enough.  It is an echo of my frustrated missionary colleagues who say to their younger counterparts, just turn off your phone.  It isn't a true integration of the Christ-life with our social media activity, but rather more of a separating of the two.  It may perhaps have the effect of relegating the Christ-life to a totally distinct sphere of existence. If you want to commune with Jesus or really be engaged in what He's doing in the world, you must unplug.

And I agree with the concerns.  I also agree with a friend of mine who is a rather well-known missiologist who sees in the evolution of social media a great tactic of Satan to disconnect missionaries from the immediate, physical context of their ministry and thus create all kinds of difficulties related to missionary retention, cultural adaptation, incarnation, and more.  But, I feel in my hear that unplugging isn't the answer.  This is an important historic juncture for the Church -- it's movable type, motor cars, and microchips and my call is to incarnate. To engage the world as it is because that's the ripe harvest.  Not to form a commune in Wyoming and wait for Jesus to come.

But if we are to engage the social media, we must do so with the Christ-life.  We must consider what it means to integrate spiritual disciplines with our social media activity.  And for this, I call upon (with my small, small voice that depends on your re-tweeting, commenting, posting, and otherwise sharing to gain volume) those spiritual formation heavyweights in the Church to really engage this issue with us.  I am not one of those, but I have some thoughts that I hope will get our conversation really going.  The question is:


And, I must confess, I don't know the answer.  I've never seen it. And, as these thoughts are basically new to me today, I've never really practiced it with any intentionality.  But as the practice of spiritual disciplines (like prayer, fellowship, meditation, etc.) is about the Christ-follower moving towards a greater imitation of Christ in their own historiocultural contexts, I offer the following six reflections upon how this movement should look as it relates to social media:

1. We must move from triviality to truth (Titus 1:9-10, 3:1-9)

The lure of triviality is very strong in the social media world.  Every second, countless vain messages in every conceivable form flood our networks.  The Christ-follower must recognize such things for what they are and move away from them.  Moreover, we should strive not to add to the triviality by producing and posting even more of the same.  Truth should be a goal in our engagement with social media.  I appreciate the criterion that Lars Dahle has provided in this regard. The Truth that Christ-followers share is (1) clear and consistent, (2) corresponding with reality, and (3) possessing the power to transform lives. What will my Facebook profile look like if I move from triviality to truth?

2. We must move from narcissism to prayer and worship (Matthew 5:3, 2 Tim. 3:1-7)

Perhaps the original sin of social media is it's seemingly inherent narcissism.  Self-interest is built-in to even the names of sites like MySpace,Facebook, and YouTube.  Some have seen Twitter as the narcissistic social media tool par excellence in which people "follow" the 140-character updates of friends, celebrities or strangers who "tweet" about everything from standing in line at the coffee shop to sleeping in late.  It actually seems to sometimes transcend mere naval-gazing because through Twitter we're actually trying to get others to look at our naval with us. So much social media activity is driven by the a natural sinful desire to get others to look at us, listen to us, respond to us, pay attention to us.  The Christ-follower must move away from this and seek to use social media to shift the attention of the nations towards the only one worthy of such devotion.  The spirituality behind our social media engagement should be, "He must increase; I must decrease" (John 3:30).

Of course, there is a challenge in the fact that this is "social" media. That is, we are talking about media that is designed to facilitation communication between people. The assumption is that people really do want to connect with me, get to know me, and otherwise utilize social media to facilitate a relationship with me.  So there is a balance to be maintained. I should be sharing my life through these means (1 Th. 2:8), but this must always remain penultimate for us.

3. We must move from lust and licentiousness to self-control (1 Th. 4:3-8)

Much has been written and said about the dangers of sexual immorality on the internet.  I won't add to that here except to remind us all that with the rapid evolution of social media comes ever-increasing availability of sexually perverse materials and opportunity for immorality.  This, of course, calls for self-control.  But, beyond that is the attitude of licentiousness that seems to permeate social media everywhere.  There is a kind of anarchy -- an antinomian spirit that dominates.  People feel free to be dishonest and abusive while commenting on a YouTube video or sending a Facebook message; others feel it is always appropriate to receive and send text messages (even while driving or during a worship service); still others ignore the possible negative consequences of what they post on their blogs or elsewhere.  Christ-followers must move towards self-control and must consider regular fasting as a means to facilitate this move.

4. We must move from greed to giving (2 Cor. 9:5-11)

Simply put, consumerism is not difficult to find in the social media world.  Many engage with the desire to make money or get stuff.  We must be careful and instead seek to utilize social media as an opportunity to exercise the spiritual discipline of giving.  As a matter of fact, social media can provide a great way to facilitate stewardship in the Global church as never before.  We must prefer this concept -- social media as a potentially great facilitator of Kingdom stewardship-- over the spirit of greed that see social media primarily as a means to get stuff and make money.

5. We must move from distractedness to intentionality and mission (John 20:21) 

6. We must move from noise and superficiality to shalom and presence (Psalm 46:10)

I want to address these last two together in part because I've been writing a long time now and I'm tired. But also because I see them as so closely related that I'm really not sure where one ends and the other begins.  The point is that social media tends to distract us (the chime of an incoming text for example), make our lives generally noisier, and gradually erode our connection to our immediate physical context.  This has a devestating impact on our ability to be still and simply rest in the presence of God.  It likewise hinders our ability to become truly incarnate and thus missional.  Ultimately, while incarnation may require the engagment of social media, it always will mean that the Christ-follower enters fully a specific, historic and physical context.  How do we move away from the noise and towards shalom and God's presence?  How do we move away from disconnect and towards incarnation and mission?


Okay, there you have it.  I really got to rambling today, eh?  Well, for those of you who have made it thus far, congrats!  Please do leave me your feedback.  This must be only the beginning of the conversation.  The Church in the World needs to reflect on these things now! Please take time to answer the key question, "What does a spiritually disciplined engagement of social media look like?"


Media Messages Matter: Christ, Truth and the Media by Lars Dahle
Christians, Social Media and the Loss of Privacy by Sharon Hodde Miller


  1. Good thoughts, Cody. I agree with all of them, and I agree that it should be something that we seek to address. I will be thinking about this for a while to see if I have anything more to add.

    Grace and peace,
    August 28, 2010 @ 1:24 AM

  2. Michael Felkins7:28 PM

    Great post Cody! I agree with you whole heartedly. Spiritual Disciplines or Habits of Grace as I like to call them are filled with grace of self-control. It is something we should teach to Christians as this new medium begins to impact our culture. Thank for your insights because I am wrestling with how to manage this new medium too.

    I actually like to be unavailable more than I should but I know I cannot. If I had it my way I would hole up in a cave two days a week and read, write and pray. My Greek prof. and Howard Payne always told us to find the balance. I think there is a balance and holding on to it requires wisdom and strength.
    August 28, 2010 @ 8:50 AM

  3. Michael Felkins7:28 PM

    Edit: It should have read, "My Greek prof. at Howard Payne. . ."
    August 28, 2010 @ 8:52 AM

  4. Thanks John and Michael. Do direct others to this article. I want to get as much feedback as possible on my way to creating a fuller article and training.
    August 30, 2010 @ 10:06 AM

  5. Jeromy7:29 PM

    Cody, I thought I would come home and read this since after our mtg this morning. By the way, this is a really good insightful article. In regards to reflection #2 “Narcissism to prayer and worship” I have been trying to make sense of this issue too recently. I have never thought of it as the “original sin” of social media but I believe you are on to something here. Myself including in this, I think that even without intentionally doing this by nature the structure and format of FB in particular encourages us down this road, without us taking a moment to think about what we are doing and saying. I am not completely there yet with my own post, but really do my 400 something friends really care about all the little insignificant rambles I post on my wall, because I certainly don’t care about all theirs. A few weeks ago I intentionally spent 2 days off FB and I spent that extra time in 1 John. Which is (among other things) about loving your neighbor, loving your brothers etc….I am sure that there are many ways we can fulfill and practice the Shema on FB but from what I have observed and participated in is the other way around, looking or even manipulating the countless others to affirm me by simply clicking a “like” status button on my page, over some seeming less moment of my life. I have observed that some of my FB friends for this is not a problem, but there is one “CP/Pastor” of my FB friends (even though I don’t know him that well and actually only meet him once several years ago) that I fear is heading down a what could be very unhappy lesson to be learned. The other day I followed a link off his page to his blog and read regarding the launch of his new church “I know how to really put on a first class quality worship service” ARE YOU SERIOUS???? I am afraid that I see more and more of these narcissistic attitudes and behaviors from pastors, church leaders all the time. It seems that FB or what ever social media has increased that opportunity an infinitive number of times. There is not much humility, silence anymore. There is not much attention given to God as due him, but we are good about getting it ourselves. We are naive to think that others actually give a crap about what I am or not having for breakfast. But I have found when I use my FB status to reflect what God is doing in my life or my desire for him to do in my life then I think maybe that is a better us of my time and the person reading it. Who knows?
    September 21, 2010 @ 3:11 PM

  6. Cody, I really enjoyed what you had to say here. I am in total agreement with what you are saying. I would love to see points 5 and 6 expanded, and I think that meditation on that question will help me to do that. Narcissism is a real problem for this young generation, my generation, and the ones to come. We have been fed that we are super awesome, totally unique, that we can be whatever/whoever we want to be, and we don’t really have to that hard because mom and/or dad will take care of it. These are ideas that are bred in these younger generations from really young ages. No all of these things are awful things, but we are often on getting past the looking glass self stage of adolescence. We cling to these idea and that can often turn into think people really care about where I went for dinner, how I like the movie, or what I my exercise was that day. We are obsessed with popularity even as we enter adulthood. We want to popular among those we don’t really know and among those we are not particularly fond of. The scripture you gave, 2 Tim 3:1-7, really describes my generation well. This is a sad thing and need to change. We really need to stop looking to others for our value and look to Christ. Social media makes it even easier to continue look for our value in others. How many friends do I have? How many people responded to my post? How many people viewed my profile? This is one where I think what you said about the importance of self-control comes in.
    I believe that we should be plugged in, it is important for incarnation in society today. I also think we don’t need to be plugged in 24/7 to be incarnate. If we are truly engaging in social media in a way that is following truth and tuning away from the trivial, then we need to be doing the same things in our daily lives. If this is true of us then, we won’t disengage from the world we actually live in. Turning off our cell phones for a couple of hours is not totally unplugging. In fact, I would say that it may help us to be more appropriately plugged if when we turn our phone or computers back on.
    September 22, 2010 @ 7:21 PM

  7. Jeromy and Sarah,

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful posts. Hopefully, the Lord is moving us towards developing some solid content to teach and disciple others (and ourselves) regarding this issue.

    - I appreciate some of the specific examples you’ve shared about how narcissism takes hold of people in this realm. I can really identify with the idea of being preoccupied with how many people “like” my status, etc.
    - Sarah, I’m very interested to consider more about how the way this next generation has been brought up has played into the narcissism that we are talking about. You’ve said some things that are very thought-provoking in this vein.

    - I see that you have both spoken some about the idea of having some kind of rhythm in the use of social media (we may include everything from cell phones, texting, FB, Twitter, and so much more). I think this is probably a very important component. How do we shut it down and really unplug so that we can have times, intervals of being fully present. How can we be plugged in and present at the same time?
    - Jeromy, I really landed on your sentence, “There is not much humility, silence anymore.” Wow, that seems quite important. The issue of silence and stillness is a critical one for the imitator of Christ and attaining that in our ever-increasingly wired (wireless) world seems quite elusive. As I continue to develop these ideas, I definitely want to give this issue some serious thought.
    September 22, 2010 @ 9:24 PM

  8. Let me just add that in the midst of this, I have recently come across the Twitter feed of Paul Washer. Now I've just been following Paul for a couple days, but I have to say that I've found here a guy who really knows how to move away from narcissism towards worship and prayer. I encourage you simply to take a look at his posts here:

    It has been very edifying to me.
    September 22, 2010 @ 9:45 PM

  9. A paragraph in section 11 of the Manila Manifest speaks to the issue of modernization and technology. It confesses that "we have not struggled as we should to understand" such things. Again there is a determination statement about intentionally engaging in critical and Christ-centered ways new technology. And yet, years later, we find ourselves in a very similar place with respect to new technologies. The statements here were made in a day when our present technologies couldn’t have been anticipated. Yet, they speak powerfully to our context. Note, "We have used [the world’s] methods and technologies uncritically and so exposed ourselves to worldliness." Again, I am reminded of the importance of allowing our Manila predecessors to speak to us in Cape Town through the Manifesto.