Today, I’m blogging on social media, because it seems that everywhere I go lately, this subject is on everybody’s minds. For example, in the past month, I have discussed social media in clergy groups and in the adult Sunday school class at St. James at least twice in each setting.
In clergy groups, I often hear church leaders boast about how they are not on social media or, if they have one or more accounts, then they proudly announce how inactive they are. The observation offered by a minister that made me laugh the loudest is the one in which a person whom I respect shared, “I have only ten Facebook friends, and I blocked half of them.”
Conscious aversion to social media usually follows one of two schools of thought. The first school of thought is driven by politics. For some people, the rhetoric coming from both sides of the aisle during the 2016 presidential election proved to be toxic enough to lead them to completely reject social media as a mode of communication.
The second school of thought is more relational in nature. People lament that social media has become a substitute for face-to-face conversation, and thus, relationships suffer due to a dearth of opportunities to read facial expressions and to ask follow up questions that increase understanding and deepen one’s relationship with the person to whom he or she is speaking.
Perhaps there is a third explanation for resisting social media, one that bubbles beneath the surface of conversations, even face-to-face conversations, and that’s that critics of social media are afraid. They are afraid of technology, because they perceive that the learning curve is too steep for them to scale (when, in fact, it probably isn’t).
I wonder if folks are reluctant to post, because they do not want a public record of what they think and feel (and this, of course, is their prerogative). Which would you rather have: freedom of speech or plausible deniability? Freedom of speech does not obligate us to say everything that we think, and a steadfast commitment to maintaining plausible deniability may suggest that one is up to something that he or she should not be.
Debating whether social media is a good thing or a bad thing is beside the point. Social media is a fact of life. Soon, if it isn’t already, arguing against the use social media will be akin to insisting that the world is flat or to booking a seat on a covered wagon, as opposed to an airplane, when traveling to the West Coast.
Each and every one of us has to decide for ourselves what the nature of our relationship to social media will be. If we choose to engage (and thus to be engaged), then I believe that it is essential to T-H-I-N-K before we share our thoughts and feelings with the world.
By T-H-I-N-K, I mean ask questions, like: Is what I am about to say via social media true, helpful, inspiring, necessary and kind? When the answer to each of these questions is “yes,” then go for it. When the answer to one or more of these questions is “no,” then prayerfully reconsider.
Personally and professionally, my relationship with social media has evolved over the years and is evolving still. At this stage in my life, I am more active on Facebook than on any other form of social media.
Given that I am a GenXer, the fact that I prefer Facebook is to be expected since, as a high school student I once taught explained to me that, “Snapchat and Instagram are for my generation, Twitter is for my parents’ generation and Facebook is for my grandparents’ generation.”
As a pastor, I do not initiate contact with church members via social media, but I do accept friend requests and follow people back when they follow me first.
Each social media network serves a different purpose in my life. For example, I think of Facebook as a personal account. It is a place where I reflect on what is going on behind-the-scenes with me. Years ago, I began thinking about Facebook as one long obituary that I am writing for people who may want to know what I was like after I am gone.
Updating a Facebook status is always fun, because when I consider who all of my Facebook friends are, it is amusing to think about how different people will interpret the information that I share.
Ultimately, I am not updating my status or uploading photos for the external affirmation (though who does not like to be liked?), I am doing it so that, every so often, I may step back from my life and see how the Holy Spirit flows through it and then share this story with the next generation(s).
Twitter is another story. Since my Twitter account is open to the public, I rarely, if ever, post personal information in this forum. I think of Twitter as a professional account, and given that I started experimenting with Twitter when I was in academics full-time, the overriding theme of my posts is the relationship between faith and science.
Science fascinates me, and I think that churches who deny scientific research do so at their peril, because churches that deny facts will ultimately be dismissed as communities that subscribe to fiction.
For me, as a pastor, social media serves as another language to be learned and as another means for proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.
If Jesus were alive today, I don’t know if, when or how he would use social media, although I am utterly convinced that he would love the ways in which social media provides a voice to the otherwise voiceless. I also believe that he would like to update his own statuses and tweet his own tweets so that he would be less likely to be misquoted and misinterpreted, especially by members of the body of Christ.
In a world where opposing forces constantly compete for our attention, isn’t it great to be reminded that God’s promises may be trusted? Regardless of one’s attitude toward social media, that’s something to like, even love.