Jesus spoke to the masses, he visited towns because that’s where the people were, and every Christian is told to make disciples of all nations. Like Jesus, to love well, we must go where the people are.
When Paul visited Athens, he spent his time in the marketplace where the Athenians “spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas” (Acts 17:21). By roaming the city streets, Paul gathered precious info about their pagan beliefs, thus giving himself a better opportunity to share the gospel in the most effective way possible (Acts 17:22-23).
So where are the people today? Where do they “spend their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas”? Where can we go to better understand their beliefs, culture, and current trends with the hope of giving ourselves the best opportunity to present the gospel most effectively?
Now I know as Christians we must never abandon personal interactions with people. And there are many limitations to loving people through social media. But like it or not, this is where the people are. And it doesn’t seem to be changing in the near future. Just walk through any public place like a train station, a bus stop, or an airport and you will quickly realize most eyeballs are looking down at phones.
This isn’t news to anyone. If you’re reading this article, it means you are probably quite comfortable with the internet. So what follows isn’t an argument to get on the social media bandwagon. Odds are you are already there. The time of convincing people social media is important has passed us long ago.
Now we’re all dealing with the fallout. As beneficial as social media can be for Christian ministries promoting their cause, pastors wanting to connect with their flocks, or just normal Christians enjoying the luxuries of the 21st century, social media comes with a host of common pitfalls.
So here are seven of the most common, damaging ways Christians can misuse social media. Call them “the seven social media sins” if you like. You may not struggle with any of these. Heck, you might be an old soul who stays away from tweets, posts, and pins like the bubonic plague. But if you are a Christian leader of any kind – small group leader to senior pastor – it’s important to know what your people are dealing with.
And like it or not, people are definitely dealing with social media pitfalls.
#1: Trying to Feel Loved Through Being “Liked”
See what I did there? If my pun didn’t do it for you, here’s the simple truth: all fallen humans seek validation from other humans rather than God. Only through becoming a new creation is the sinful heart cured of trying to please man rather than our Creator (Romans 2:29, 2 Corinthians 5:15, Galatians 1:10).
One of the reasons seeking the approval of your “friends,” “followers,” or “subscribers” is so dangerous is because whatever you give the power to make you feel loved, you also give the power to make you feel unloved. When your post doesn’t get as many interactions as you thought, or it totally backfires and starts a firestorm you never intended, your self-worth plummets with it.
Only God will love us perfectly, and we were designed for a perfect love. If you want your soul to survive on social media, you must be intentional to find your validation as a person through God alone.
#2: Debating Rather Than “Sharing”
If you are having a good day and you feel like ruining it, just try to convince a hardcore atheist in 140 characters that God really does exist. Better yet, post something about politics, predestination, or the gifts of the Spirit and then read through the comments.
Social media is not a very good debate platform. It’s too easy for people to hide behind a screen, write snappy responses they would never say to your face, or misread the tone of your responses.
Ephesians 4:29, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.“
Social media is best used to share ideas rather than debate them.
#3: Throwing Your Pearls to the “Trolls”
Jesus said, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:6). When you read this verse in context, it means you should not waste your time correcting someone who isn’t going to listen.
The Urban Dictionary defines “troll” as, “One who purposely and deliberately starts an argument in a manner which attacks others on a forum without in any way listening to the arguments proposed by his or her peers.”
If people really want to know what you believe, they will ask. When people don’t care what you think and just want to share what they already believe, they will use lots of periods, exclamation points, and very little question marks (except sarcastic question marks). So when deciding whether or not to respond, ask yourself, “Did he just share his opinion or did he ask for mine as well?” If he didn’t genuinely ask what you think, he probably doesn’t want to hear it.
2 Timothy 2:23-24 is great social media advice, “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.”
There’s no definite way to tell if someone is just “trolling” you or if she really wants to engage in a respectful dialogue. But most of the time you can feel it. If she is demeaning, sarcastic, or overwhelming you with her word count in her replies, odds are you’d be wasting valuable time and energy if you responded.
#4: Stalking Rather Than “Following”
One of the greatest blessings to social media is that you can stay connected to people from your past. One of its greatest curses is that you can stay connected to people from your past.
I remember talking with a pastor who was asking me for some ideas on how to retain the younger people leaving his church. Every time I mentioned a different local church as an example of a ministry doing something well in reaching young adults, he would instantly rattle off a few names of former members of his church who now attended that church. It was kind of creepy.
It slows your healing to repeatedly click on your ex-boyfriend’s profile or constantly watch your ex-girlfriend’s relationship status. When it comes to past relationships, if you’re not friends in real life, it’s wise to not be friends on social media. You don’t have to be enemies. But to protect your heart and move on in healthy ways, you will need to resist the urge to use social media to stay connected with people you know God is moving you on from.
Living in the past is one of the best ways to miss the blessings God has for you in the present. Don’t let social media stunt your growth through bonds you know should be cut off.
#5: Shameless Self-Promotion
There’s no Bible verse that condemns selfies. The act of taking a picture of yourself and posting it for others to see is a neutral action, meaning it is not inherently evil or good.
The intent behind the selfie is what God cares about. A “shameless selfie,” as I like to put it, is a selfie that is posted with a bad heart motive. Are you putting a picture of yourself up because you just got a haircut and you want to know what your friends think? There’s nothing wrong with that. Are you taking a picture of yourself as you walk into your new job to rejoice with others over the faithfulness of the God who gave you that job? That’s great.
But if you are taking a picture after your new haircut because you’ve been feeling horrible about yourself lately and you want guys to think you’re pretty to make yourself feel better, that’s not so good. If you are posting a picture as you walk into your new job because you want everyone to know you are now making a ton of money at “Such-and-Such Prestigious Law Firm,” that’s problematic for your spiritual health.
Only you and God know why you are posting pictures of yourself. Be honest with Jesus, be a God-promoter rather than a self-promoter, and err on the side of caution when in doubt.
#6: Judging Other People’s Social Media Motives
One of the easiest social media pitfalls to stumble into is judgment. Within the Bible, there are two different types of judgment believers are instructed about. One is good and one is bad.
Church leaders and fellow Christians are told to judge other believers’ external actions. Christians are to be devoted to one another’s growth. When another Christian is walking in observable sin, the Bible instructs us to lovingly rebuke that person with the hope of leading them back onto the right road (1 Corinthians 5:9-13, Galatians 6:1).
So if you have a relationship with a fellow Christian who is posting scandalous pictures of herself online, it would be right of you to give that person a call to gently share your concerns.
The second type of judgment, however, revolves around drawing conclusions about someone’s inner motives. Christians are warned not to do this. The difference between discernment and judging people’s motives is the action you take afterwards. Discernment leads us to help and pray. Sinful judgment leads us to condemn.
Only God knows the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). To avoid this deadly sin, we must guard against judging people’s social media motives.
#7: Massive Time Wasting
Laziness has existed long before social media arrived. To claim social media is the cause of slothfulness is a bit too simplistic. But it’s definitely safe to say that social media feeds slothfulness.
If you’re prone to wasting time, tempted to only work hard when your boss is around, or you constantly need mind-numbing entertainment to help you avoid feeling crushed by life’s responsibilities, your daily time on social media should be closely monitored. Perhaps ask a friend or spouse to keep you accountable.
While there’s nothing wrong with taking a break, the internet is a source of endless entertainment that has the potential to turn needed rest into sinful laziness.
Bonus #8: Causing Other People to Stumble Through Venting, Sexual Posts, Gossip, and Other Unhelpful Content
When we vent our negativity, other people inhale it. When you post a scandalous picture, other eyeballs see it. When you gossip about your coworkers, it makes you look petty and encourages others to do the same. In short, our social media actions always have an influence on other people.
One of the dangers of social media is that it can turn into a social network of negativity. The Bible says, “Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33). In other words, the more time you spend scrolling past complainers the more likely you will start complaining. And vice versa: the more negativity you post, the more likely you will influence others in negative ways.
There’s nothing wrong with sharing one another’s burdens or confiding in a friend (Galatians 6:2), but when you vent on social media it only adds to the pollution already out there. It’s bad to be dragged into sin. But Jesus says it’s even worse to drag others into sin (Luke 17:1-3).
Social Media Is Not Bad or Good. It Simply Magnifies the Type of Christian You Are
In closing, our social media accounts are a reflection of the type of life we are living. When you look back over your timeline, what will you see? Are you a person absorbed with yourself? Or are you a person who lives to love God and other people? As Christians, out truest heart’s desire is to live a life of love. Social media can help or hurt this goal.
Social media itself is simply a tool. It’s a neutral thing that is not inherently good or bad. Social media simply magnifies the type of person you are. If you are a self-absorbed person, you will use social media to promote yourself. If your heart wants to please Jesus, your social media accounts will reflect this. So if you are a Christian and want to use social media well, then you must first focus on your heart’s relationship with God.
May we use social media for good and not evil as we seek to glorify God through his grace with every post, tweet, pin, or share we make.