If there was ever a time to get an accurate read on the best and worst of social media, late last June would have been it. After the SCOTUS decision on gay “marriage” went public, people took to Twitter and Facebook en masse to voice their opinion on the news and, in some cases, confront vigorously those who opposed. Some voices were louder than others; several were downright nasty. There were comments from both sides of the debate that were thoughtful, polite, and open to reason. But many were just the opposite: visceral, snarly, and fiercely close-minded.
It’s times like these that you just want to delete your Facebook and Twitter accounts and take a long walk in the woods.
Or maybe not. (Well, a long walk in the woods is almost always a good idea.)
Leaving Facebook and Twitter
Over the years there have been Facebook and Twitter users who have deactivated or deleted their accounts because they have grown weary of reading posts and tweets that stir up more heat than light, and they are thoroughly pessimistic toward the idea that social media can really provoke lasting change and spread influence. Why waste my time on these online forums if they are just going to raise my blood pressure?
When it comes to the issue of whether Christians should be on social media, a question all of us should ask is whether or not Facebook and Twitter can be used for the glory of God. It’s my conviction that they can. It’s also my conviction that evangelicals should not be quick to leave these online platforms in a disgruntled huff.
Prayer and Social Media
If you are someone who believes posting edifying quotes and links to articles on Facebook and Twitter is a futile exercise, take this recent experience as an example of what can be achieved online. A couple weeks ago I received a message from a friend who had been reading my Facebook posts over the past several weeks and months. He said that the quotes and article links had been helpful and had served to spur him on to greater obedience to Christ. Incidentally, yet most importantly, I had been praying regularly for this particular friend–specifically in the areas he mentioned. In this case, God used a small tool called Facebook for his glory and for the good of my friend.
For those who are fluent in Facebook and Twitter, posting multiple quotes and links and thoughts per week, it may rarely come to mind that prayer should be an essential part of the task. It’s just so fun to scatter the seed that we forget to look to the sky for rain, or hope for fruit. But without blessing from above, our quotes and Bible verses and articles and blog posts will fall upon hard soil, and our 27K tweet count will serve, not as a metric of faithfulness, but as a haunting reminder that those who labor without the Spirit labor in vain.
But because these social media venues serve as a kind of teaching ministry, our efforts should be saturated in prayer. Consider the following reasons.
1. We Need Wisdom to Know What To Post. It should go without saying that not everything we read or watch should make its way onto our TweetDeck. Some articles and comments should be posted right away; a few should be held in our queue for a couple hours. Others should be discarded after a time of reflection. We need wisdom in order to sift through all the knowledge with which we interact during a given day and chose what is best and most helpful. Times of intense theological, social, and political controversy will highlight this need for wisdom, for our desire to defend the truth may threaten to outstrip our discernment, and we will be found posting material that is illogical, unsubstantiated, unhelpful, or, at worst, simply false. Remember the fake story about the pastor in Vermont who was allegedly jailed for refusing to perform a gay “marriage?”
2. We Need Wisdom to Know How to Post. Similar to our need for wisdom in choosing content is our need for crafting how to communicate that content. Frankly, it’s far easier to be snarky and clever then it is to be winsome and restrained, yet the Proverbs are clear that our choice of words will add persuasiveness to what we have to say (Proverbs 16:21, 23). More and more frequently I am left in head-shaking disbelief when I read tweets and blog posts from some prominent Christian leaders who appear more concerned with saying something than saying something well. Is prayer the missing element in such cases? It should concern all of us that there are only two times when the Proverbs say that “there is more hope than a fool,” and one is for those who are “hasty with their words” (29:20).
3. We Need God to Bless Our Efforts. This is an obvious point, but it bears noting anyway. If we desire the truth prevail in people’s lives more than we desire to increase our Tweet count, then we will pray for God to bless our efforts on social media. Just as Paul relied upon God to initiate and sustain growth in the seed he planted through preaching (1 Cor. 3:6-7), so we must rely upon the Spirit to bring about lasting change among our readers through what we post.
4. We Need Grace to Interact with Those Who Disagree. If we care about the truth and making the truth known, we will inevitably bump up against opposition, but we are called to handle opposition in a way that glorifies Christ, adorns the gospel, and enables us to learn and grow from our critics. We need the Spirit to help us respond to those with whom we disagree with humility, courage, straightforwardness, and a willingness to be corrected.
5. We Need Grace to Be the Same Person Online and Offline. More than we would probably like to admit it, creating an online persona that doesn’t match our offline character comes rather easily. Online we are zealous for holiness, but in person we are distracted by the things of the world. Online we are enthralled with grace, but offline we are harsh, unkind, impatient, and legalistic. Online we are dogmatic; offline we are too scared to confess what we believe. Online we are humble; offline we are proud and over-bearing. If a fracture between who we are on social media and who we are in person is left to grow in depth and width, we will find ourselves in serious spiritual danger and the gospel will be liable to disrepute (see Romans 2:17-24). A plea for authenticity should enter regularly into our prayers.
God is not dependent on social media to advance the gospel and establish his kingdom. Venues like Facebook and Twitter are tools to steward, nothing more. Nevertheless, because we take to these venues with a desire to promote biblical truth, our efforts should be doused in prayer. I don’t mean that we need to offer supplication for every tweet, but we shouldn’t be unwilling to prayerfully consider the content and demeanor of our online presence, nor should we be reluctant to ask God for fruit. In other words, we should be those who post and pray.