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.
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.
WOODLANDS CHURCH'S FACEBOOK FAST
|Pastor Kerry Shook |
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:
WHAT DOES A SPIRITUALLY DISCIPLINED ENGAGEMENT OF SOCIAL MEDIA LOOK LIKE?
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)
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