I was able to let go of the illusion of my own importance.
I am regularly asked by young leaders how I “manage” my social media. What platforms do I use, how do I get noticed, who do I follow are all questions I am peppered with. These are all valid questions considering how much social media shapes our world. A religious blog I subscribe to went further and attempted to answer how often a pastor should post on social media. It’s a question that, in part, led to my own sabbatical. This was the posting frequency from the blog recommended to leaders:
Facebook – 2 times each day
Twitter – 3 times each day
Instagram – 1.5 times each day
I’m still trying to wrap my mind around this logic. These are young men and women who are grappling with how to effectively live out their spiritual calling and the advice is to post at least 2,372 times each year on social media. How am I supposed to keep a proper understanding of my own importance if I am talking about me to the world nearly seven times a day?
Author Rick Warren said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.” It is making a conscious choice that the ideas, opinions, and values of others matter. It’s a willingness to be quiet instead of thinking I should always be the one to offer an answer. Actor Dick Van Dyke said, “Just knowing you don’t have the answers is a recipe for humility, openness, acceptance, forgiveness, and an eagerness to learn.” If I am opening my mouth seven times a day (even to espouse truth) and it is being liked and retweeted by hundreds, it is impossible for me to keep a proper perspective on which is more important, me or the truth. It’s the same reason why the neurosis in me requires me to check and recheck a post to see how it is trending.
I was talking with a friend recently who is also a speaker and author. Regarding social media he stated, “After a while I began to realize just how often I was posting quotes from my own writings and speeches on twitter. I was literally quoting myself! If that is not the hight of narcissism I don’t know what is.” I cringed thinking of the times that I’ve done the same thing.
I am continually reminded of the blessing that I have to be a public speaker and writer. Yet, I am daily aware that the greatest obstacle to people seeing Christ in me is that many times it never goes beyond me. Deep down in the parts of me that I even try to hide from myself is a need to be validated for my efforts. It makes my skin crawl even seeing these words on the page.
In the moments and seasons of life when I am keenly aware of God’s work in me––the unexplainable symbiosis of his spirit alive in me; using me for his purposes––it is then that the shadow of my own ego wanes the longest. It seems such a paradox that when God’s work is the greatest, the pull of my flesh can seem the strongest.
We see the same thing happen to Jesus in the wilderness. For forty days, he was taken on a journey to discover a deeper dependence on the Holy Spirit to guide and the Father to provide all of his needs. At his most vulnerable moment, Satan shows up and basically says, “Make it all about you. Make much of yourself, Jesus. Call all to worship you.” With so few details told to us about Jesus’ pre-public ministry experiences, I’ve often wondered why the Holy Spirit inspired Matthew to include this story. I don’t think it was to broadly show us that Jesus understands temptation.
The story of the wilderness temptation gets to the core of my own struggle with the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Though I may not like it, the temptation for Jesus is the same for me––elevate me, talk about me, draw attention to me. I can not make much of myself while also being fully engaged in serving the needs of another. These are mutually exclusive postures of the heart.
A popular recent media post on why pastors should use social media states, “Pastors and church leaders: God has tasked us with using the gifts he has given us to steward the good news of the gospel. This responsibility extends to the digital space. We cannot forsake the unique opportunity we have to reach people via social media.”*
I would never disagree that christ followers should be adaptive in our approach to the gospel. This is the sentiment of Paul in 1 Corinthians 9.20 when he speaks of “becoming a Jew for the Jews and a Greek for the Greeks. Whether the printing press, newspaper, blog, or social media, it is possible for any to be effective in a particular context. While I agree with with the blogger that we must “steward the good news of the gospel,” (and we could admittedly have a spirited debate on what this means) his sentiments regarding social media are nearing hyperbole.
First, the gifts (Ephesians 4) that the Lord has given to each believer are of a spiritual nature meant for the edification of the his church and the furtherance of the gospel. Regardless if you are a theological conservative that recognizes only eight gifts or a charismatic that see twenty-two possibilities, all would agree that social media isn’t a gift. Its a creation of man just as is every technological innovation. An innovation, by the way, that I’m glad we have. Sadly, I wonder if I spent more time and thought stewarding the gifts of leadership and teaching that have been entrusted to me instead of creating quote pics for twitter how much more alive I might be to the needs of others around me?
Second, to argue that we have a “responsibility” to the digital space in regards to the gospel and that if a pastor is not there he/she is somehow forsaking a unique opportunity sounds dangerously emphatic. When we make a behavior emphatic, whether as a command or prohibition, we join the company of the Pharisees. We can use social media. We can enjoy social media. We can redeem social media. But surely, I can not teach that God commands it’s use as part of a gospel lifestyle.
I have intentionally spent most of this writing recounting in the first person my social media sabbatical so as not to place on you an expectation that you should do the same. I’ve attempted to be sensitive that this was a spiritual and social decision for me alone and for you to apply however you need be in your life. But if you are firmly of the mind that you are using social media to further the kingdom of God, then I would be remiss to not help you evaluate the authenticity of your actions.
1. How much of your social media is spent making much of your accomplishments, successes, or met goals?
2. How often are you redirecting people back to your own ideas or products?
3. How often do you ask others to retweet your posts and then go back to see if they did?
4. Do you find yourself putting forth a public character that does not measure up to the private you?