Contented Engagement: Navigating the Murky Waters of Social Media
April 13, 2021
As I cleared away the dirty lunch dishes on a quiet, Sunday afternoon, an exuberant conversation about social media’s place in our lives filled the room. My son, who has often bemoaned the negative effects of aimless internet scrolling, decided to produce a guitar-instrumental album and wanted to promote it through a social media platform. As his wife explained what it required to engage people and encourage the algorithms to work in one’s favor, his facepalm revealed his understanding of the complex nuances of it all. Social media is a tricky road to navigate without it taking over our lives. At the same time, he realized that in our current culture, it is very difficult to promote a business, ministry, or hobby without a way to reach people, and social media is one, effective way. In this recent pandemic, it has been the primary, necessary way.
As a writer, I have experienced the same feelings and dilemma. I want to share my message but don’t want to be controlled by my phone, likes and shares, and issues with the tech industry. It is hard to build something from scratch without engaging with people on a regular basis. The expectations from publishers, writing groups, and readers is overwhelming at times. Throw in the inability of many to engage in a Christ-honoring way to something they don’t agree with, and it’s easy to see why many are choosing to step away from the fray.
Even among Christians, social media can become an exhausting, pressure-cooker-type-space to enter. I have scrolled as believers spread unfounded conspiracy theories, questioned other believers’ salvation when they disagreed about politics, and expressed sheer ugliness in conversations online. I think being in such an uncertain time has caused many to seek something from social media that they lack in real life. But the way in which we interact can be harsher than if we were speaking to someone face to face. Loneliness, idle time, and fears about the future have created a boiling pot of angst that has bled out through our typing and into the hearts and minds of those viewing it.
Throughout Scripture, Christ is clear that He is the way to peace. 1 Thessalonians 3:16 says, “Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace at all times in every way.” He invites us to come to Him to find rest. And from that place of rest, we are strengthened to accomplish the good works He assigns us to do. Our online footprint should flow from this place of abiding in Christ. It should be self-controlled, purposeful, and grounded in humility. This is the mind of Christ which should also be evident in us. Before we add our words, pictures, videos, or voices to the mix, may we consider some biblical wisdom on walking worthy to those we desire to reach and influence. Whether we just share snippets of family life, silly videos, news articles, or use the platforms for ministry or work, the things we share influence our friends and followers.
There are many negative reasons for despising social media but most of them can be managed with diligent boundary setting. There are also many upsides for using it to our advantage and good works. As a Christian, I believe I am called to shine the truth and love of Christ to every corner of the world. While physically I can’t accomplish this on my own, the internet has made the world smaller and easily accessible. Within seconds, we can hit post, submit, or publish, and the words we share can be received in lighting speed to people God wants to reach through our interaction. This is both a blessing and a responsibility to carefully consider what we send out into the world as a representative of Christ.
To say this is challenging is an understatement. In 2020, we witnessed the effects of social media madness. It’s been brutal and divisive. From friends to complete strangers, fear has driven many to lash out through words quickly unleashed to the world at large. I have personally had to repent of attitudes that have driven me to respond to things I have seen shared. To use social media as an effective tool requires self-discipline, discernment, and boundaries. Above all, it requires prayer. Our current culture is hostile and easily angered, but this is not supposed to be the way God desires His people to interact with one another and those yet to know Him. Ephesians 4:31-32 says, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
The Pull of Social Media
Belonging. Fitting in. Being understood. Feeling relevant in our culture. These are all things our flesh craves. God designed us for community, so belonging is a natural desire. But our belonging needs to be in the place we have in Christ, and community needs to help us to mature and grow in Christlikeness. We are called in Romans 12:1,2 to not be conformed to this world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Our mission is not to blend into the culture we live in or look and sound like the world. Society pressures us to conform to its current standards for acceptance, but God says that we are to be a unique, called-out people. True acceptance is found only through belonging to the family of God.
Even as adults, we have the fear of missing out and crave to be kept in-the-loop. Often, we use likes and shares to feed our decision fatigue. We are searching for feedback for all our life choices when we should be first and foremost asking God for His will on our lives. Proverbs has much to say about seeking wise counsel and the internet is not always the best place to find trusted advisors or sound truth.
The Purpose of Social Media
For those of us who want to reach a world for Christ with the gifts He has given us, how do we engage in a way that honors Christ and keeps us grounded and content in who we are in Him?
Engaging as God’s peculiar people requires setting boundaries on social media. It means being diligent to answer one important question: Whose voice will I follow and listen to? For the sheep know His voice. He calls to them. They hear. And they come. Hearing God clearly requires space to listen, time for Scripture, and healthy parameters with technology. The voices of the world can easily drown out the gentle whispers of God if we aren’t intentional with our scrolling.
Knowing our weaknesses allows us to build proper safeguards against areas of attack. It is important to know ourselves and the weak points the enemy attempts to use against us. We build awareness by being in tune with how we feel after interacting and scrolling. If it is not life-giving but discouraging, why is that? If we feel jealous, what does that reveal about our source of contentment? Wisdom seeks to be selective about who and what we are following. Numbers don’t matter more than our hearts and minds and relationship with God and others.
Find other peace-seeking people to follow. We don’t necessarily have to follow like-minded people only. In fact, it’s probably healthy to see differing perspectives on many issues, but if they are not willing to have civil conversation, we are free to shake the dust off our typing fingers and unfollow. Paul demonstrated this restrained practice in Acts 13:51 after being persecuted by the religious leaders for preaching the gospel.
How do we develop greater discernment for the digital world?
Be led by the Spirit. Pay attention to the fruits being produced in our lives as a result of engaging on social media. Are they fruits of the Spirit as listed in Galatians 5:22-23?
Read Scripture often so you can discern your motives. The Word of God is active and living and a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Knowing truth is the way to abide in Christ and find rest.
Ask questions and be reflective. Why am I posting? Is it to help or tear down? Am I scrolling trying to find something negative to use as a weapon against someone else? Am I seeking to prove a point and be right? Do I seek to glorify myself or God?
We must pray for self-discipline to manage social media in a restful way. Otherwise, it will control us and leave us exhausted and believing the worst about people and life.
We must keep our eyes on Christ – pressing toward the mark – for the joy set before us as He showed us on the cross. Anything that steals our joy, destroys our peace, and thwarts our purpose is directly opposed to the gospel message.
The Hidden Cost of Wisdom
As we grow, we will leave others behind that don’t want to join us. Not everyone will value our growth and be able to let go and move forward. Jesus taught the disciples to speak truth boldly in love. But if the hearers refused the gospel, they were to kick the dust off their shoes and move on to someone willing to hear. We can learn a lot from this wise principle regarding social media. If you need to step away, you are free to do it. If God is calling you to engage, don’t be surprised when the naysayers appear. Quietly unfollow and move on. If you are afraid to speak truth but feel called to it, pray for strength and wisdom and then walk in obedience. Seeking an accountability partner to review your posts and content and protect your testimony is wise.
How does a renewed mind navigate social media?
Remember the Why
As believers, we can renew our minds by reminding ourselves that our feeds are small snippets of life. There is a larger picture outside of our squares, posts, and stories. If we find ourselves overwhelmed trying to create the perfect family photos or content, we will grow discontent and empty. There is no such thing as perfection outside of Christ, and deep down everyone knows it. Our dissatisfaction at life reveals the truth. People long for authenticity and can see right through gimmicks and tricks.
We are called to be who God created us to be and not a personality we think others want to see. Presenting ourselves well and owning our struggles is a great starting point. We must guard our own hearts and the hearts and minds of those we love on social platforms. Be considerate to everyone and remember our ultimate purpose in all things.
Know Our Core Values
We must know our core values before interacting in a public space. Drawing a line on what we will say and how we will respond and behave as a follower of Christ, is important. Then, guard those core values. Define and then defend them. Don’t share all, especially if it involves others. And always protect the privacy of those in your life that may not want to show up in those spaces.
Discern Your Motivation
No matter what others do, God calls us to a higher standard. We speak truth in appropriate ways out of love and a desire to see people saved and to encourage believers. Don’t wear a fake façade to gain followers on social media. Share truth as God leads. Be real and authentic and only share what will edify others, including ourselves.
Never stop discussing and evaluating our place on social media. Take breaks freely. Use it as a tool for God’s glory. Listen to how people are responding to the content, or, if not at all, realign as needed. Reflection is a powerful spiritual practice.
Set Realistic Boundaries
Learn how to set personal boundaries on time spent online, managing feelings, level of social investment, and degree of sharing. If certain things trigger you, remove it from sight. Think through how to protect your mind and think on the good and lovely. Write them out and refer to it as often as needed to stay at peace and avoid overwhelm. Then stick to them!
Maintaining Contented Engagement
I hope there are many more quiet, Sunday afternoons sitting around the dining room table with lively conversation over how to engage our culture through social media. It is through participating in thoughtful dialogue with those seeking the best for us that seeds are planted firmly with truth. It informs us of perspectives beyond our own and reminds us of the purpose we engage at all. If we are thinking about something, we are open to change, and that is always a healthy sign of maturity. Applying these practical tips will dissuade our people-pleasing tendencies, grow us into gentle truth tellers, and help us interact wisely as we wade the murky waters of social media. God desires for us to use it wisely and for His glory, and if we do, I believe He will bless our efforts and grant us the ability to engage with contentment and peace.
How do you protect your spiritual health as you use social media for either entertainment or ministry?
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