s a movement, Pentecostalism is remarkably adaptive. Historically, we have tended to use whatever tools are at our disposal to communicate the Gospel, producing innovative forms of curriculum, radio, and television throughout the 20th century.
Now, we find ourselves in the Information Age, and the adaptation continues. It is encouraging to see church leaders so readily embracing social-media platforms as a tool for congregational communication, community-building, and even evangelism. At the same time, many of us have wondered if we aren’t being so quickly swept up by these tools that we have failed to pause and reflect on their advantages and disadvantages. Undoubtedly, there are significant points in both categories.
DISADVANTAGES OF SOCIAL MEDIA
Excessive screen time makes us lonely.
It is counterintuitive, since online communication is supposed to be “social,” but research proves it is actually making us lonelier. As Leonard Sweet has observed:
We’re in a remote-controlled, security-fenced, Internet-commuting, environmentally insulated society. We’re increasingly cut off from genuine experiences and expressions of community. We’re increasingly removed from real, dynamic relationships. Our high divorce rates, our fractured families, our corporate superstructures, and our let’s-just-move mind-set all evidence our failures at relationships.
If we can hide our loneliness in a real crowd, imagine how easy it is to hide behind our digital personas. The online world can be incredibly isolating and competitive.
Social media can tempt us toward image inflation.
A recent cover article on the Apple watch in Time magazine lays out the danger of our over-connected world:
The reality of living with an iPhone, or any smart, connected mobile device, is that it makes reality feel that little bit less real. One gets over-connected, to the point where one is apt to pay attention to the thoughts and opinions of distant anonymous strangers over those of loved ones who are in the same room.
We receive a hit of dopamine with the number of “likes” and re-tweets we receive. Our friends and followers praise our insights. This can become addictive, leading to the tendency to project intelligence and perfection. Social media can too easily feed the unhealthy desire for public affirmation every waking hour of the day.
Social media blurs lines between our personhood and profession.
Today I had a routine physical with my doctor. We made small talk along the way, but I don’t need or expect my doctor to be my friend. I need her to be a doctor. I wonder if social media doesn’t easily blur these lines for pastors.
I’m not suggesting that we pastors should not be personable and have real friendships within our congregation. I can’t imagine what life, much less ministry, would be like without my friends in my small group. But the false intimacy that comes from the release of privacy online strikes me as strangely artificial. There is a deflation of memory that corresponds with the release of privacy.
In this environment, I’m reminded that I am not called to be relatable. I am called to be the best pastor I can be. What I have to say to my wife on our anniversary is none of your business. My private life and relationships are not for public consumption.
Social media can make us scattered.
Last Saturday I was in the Detroit airport alone, and sat down at a restaurant for lunch. As I looked around the tables, I saw a married couple, a woman with her young son, various friends eating together, and not one of them was disconnected from iPads and smartphones. I immediately thought, I don’t want to live that way.
I realize we are all busy and we have to multitask. However, constant connection moves beyond multitasking into a state of being that researchers are calling “continuous partial attention”—being so available to everyone trying to call us, email us, and text us that we slowly lose the ability to pay complete attention to what is in front of us. John Michael Talbot, a contemporary monk, writes:
Our minds are like ponds. And for many of us, our ponds are turbulent and our water is cloudy, which prevents us from seeing through to the bottom. But when the turbulence stops and the muck and silt settle to the bottom, the water becomes clear and we can see through it to the very depths.
For this reason, I do not put email and social media on my cell phone. I want to be as fully alive as possible to the tasks and people in front of me.
ADVANTAGES OF SOCIAL MEDIA
Social media is a new evangelistic roadway.
It is a standard statement in New Testament survey courses that the well-kept roads and bridges of the Roman Empire enabled the spread of the Gospel and the flourishing of the Church in its first centuries. Additionally, the fact that written Gospels, perhaps performed as plays, so quickly took hold in the early Christian movement shows us the believers’ willingness to adapt to the current communication models of their day.
Social media surely constitutes a new roadway that Christian leaders are using to impact their communities for Christ. For example, the past two Sundays I have had different friends coming to my church for the first time because we reconnected on Facebook.
Social media helps to advertise the church.
In the launch of our church’s satellite campus, we found that using targeted social media was both cheaper and more effective than mass mail-outs or other traditional advertising methods. Facebook enabled us to target users in our surrounding radius very affordably, not to mention the free advertising that came from our people jumping on the online bandwagon.
Among my network of Facebook friends, I frequently see pastors sending out messages for Bible studies, outreaches, and services. This is not only a tremendous tool, but Christian marketing consultants can help us to maximize social-media platforms as one ingredient in getting the word out about our ministries.
Social media can promote more substantive conversations.
Most of us loathe the petty arguments and the 140-character bickering that often fills our social-media screens. In reality, social media is probably not the best venue for having controversial conversations. However, the web is a great place to engage people with articles, sermons, and essays that can be pulled up in a second. Using social media to link to these larger pieces is simple and a great tool for discipleship.
At the end of the day, I suppose that Epicurus’ ancient instruction is quite relevant to our social-media habits: “Be moderate in order to taste the joys of life in abundance.” That’s so catchy that I am tweeting it now! #Epicurusstillholdsup