OCIAL MEDIA has changed our world. There are more than one billion active users on Facebook alone, with networks such as Pinterest, Instagram, WhatsApp, SnapChat, and Twitter representing hundreds of millions more. For the first time in history, we have tools to reach the world that are literally at our fingertips.
We live in an exciting time, but it can also be a confusing time. Technology is reshaping life and ministry, and it is moving forward at a crazy pace. It can be difficult to know how to leverage these tools for the Kingdom. The Great Commission compels us to engage our world and make disciples, but with all the noise and potentially harmful things online, it’s hard to know where to begin.
When I first heard about social media, I thought it sounded like a complete waste of time. It wasn’t long, however, before I connected to a new site called MySpace, and my perspective began to change. I realized this new form of communication could be a powerful tool for building relationships, learning new skills, and even evangelizing a world of lost people who might have no current interest in attending a church.
When a friend told me it was time to get off MySpace and migrate to a new site called Facebook, I was reluctant to switch. I can be pretty stubborn and slow to change. On top of that, I had painstakingly chosen the perfect pictures and background theme song for my MySpace page, and I didn’t like the sound of having to start all over again with something new.
In hindsight, I’m thankful I finally took my friend’s advice and started a Facebook account. I’ve since branched out and started using Twitter, Instagram, and some other new tools as well. Over the past few years, God has blessed me with a platform to reach hundreds of thousands of people through my Facebook “marriage” page (facebook.com/strongermarriages). In addition, my personal page has provided a wonderful tool in reconnecting with old friends, staying connected with family, and getting connected with new friends in our church and community.
I’ve worked hard to learn how to best use these technologies, but I still have a lot to learn. I scratch my head trying to figure out why God has entrusted me with a blog that averages around a million visits per month and social-media platforms that reach all around the globe, when my children can operate my iPhone much better than I can! God really does have a sense of humor!
For me, social media “clicked” when I realized I didn’t have to become an expert on technology; I just needed to be willing to use the technology to amplify the ministry I was already doing. Social media can do the same for you. I believe it begins with the simple question, “How would Jesus use social media?”
Whether you’re representing the social media for a church or ministry or you’re one of the millions of people who use these tools to stay connected with friends, I believe seven principles can help you maximize your influence for the Kingdom.
Seven Principles for Christians on Social Media
1. Don’t use social media just to inform people; use it to impact people.
Whether you’re an individual posting updates about your family or a church posting information about your ministries, remember that people aren’t just looking for information; they’re looking for inspiration. Instead of just sharing facts, figures, and service times, share scriptures, links to inspirational stories, beautiful pictures, updates on answered prayers, and anything else that will honor God and inspire people.
Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise (Phil. 4:8 NLT).
2. Remember that social media is an aspect of meaningful community, not a replacement for meaningful community.
Social media is a wonderful tool for connecting with people, but if all your interactions are happening online, you’re missing out. Meaningful community can be enhanced online, but it can’t exist entirely online. Be face-to-face with people whenever possible. You can’t give someone a hug on Facebook.
Let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near (Heb. 10:25 NLT).
3. Show respect even to those who don’t deserve it; not as a reflection of their character, but as a reflection of yours.
Many people use their social media platform to create “drama” and public forums for arguments. Fight the temptation to be pulled into negativity. Rise above it by refusing to engage in online shouting matches or by publicly criticizing others (even if they may deserve it). People will come to respect you more, and the influence of your life and ministry will be stronger if you display dignity and restraint with what you post online.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone (Rom. 12:18 NIV).
4. Don’t be discouraged by critics. Criticism is the price of influence.
Anytime you post something online, there’s a good chance someone will misunderstand your intentions or completely disagree with your perspective. If your words and actions are consistent with your faith in Christ, then you should have peace whether you’re receiving praise or criticism. Pleasing God is always more important than being popular with the crowd.
If you’re consistently sharing content online, criticism will probably come, but don’t be discouraged by it. It means people are paying attention. If nobody’s criticizing you, it’s probably because nobody’s paying attention. Remember that criticism is just the price of influence.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets (Luke 6:26 NIV).
5. Don’t be online all the time. Find balance and protect boundaries.
I have a confession — I’m a social media junkie. If I have 30 seconds to kill sitting in traffic at a red light, I’m tempted to pull out my phone and post something on Twitter. I have to fight the urge to share every thought that comes into my head with all my Facebook friends. I “cyber stalk” my friends and even some people I’ve never met in person by watching their newsfeeds. In fact, I’m tempted to take breaks after writing each sentence of this article just to see if my latest Facebook status has any new comments or likes!
Maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit, but there’s some truth here. I’ve had to put boundaries in place, and I’ve often failed to have healthy balance in this area. I try to observe a “Sabbath” from social media one day per week, and I also like to have all electronics shut off during family time. It’s a struggle to find balance, but it’s so important. I don’t want my kids’ memories of me to be my constantly glued to a screen. I want to use these tools effectively, but I don’t want to let them lock me in a “digital prison.”
Therefore be careful how you walk . . . making the most of your time (Eph. 5:15-16 NASB).
6. Don’t be an “undercover Christian” online.
I’m quick to rave about a good restaurant or a new movie, because if something is good, I want to share it! Yet, I can be reluctant to share the best news the world has ever heard because I’m afraid of offending someone.
We cannot lead Christ-centered, Spirit-led lives if we’re unwilling to share our faith online (or in person, for that matter). We don’t have to beat people over the head with our Bible or cast judgment on all our friends’ sins. We should simply look for opportunities to share the good news of Jesus and be willing to engage in conversations (either online or in person) about our faith.
In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15 NIV).
7. Remember the goal is not to gain more followers for yourself; it’s to gain more followers for Jesus.
It’s OK to have healthy ambition, but the destructive sin of pride can tempt you to worship the idols of fame and popularity instead of leveraging your influence to point people to Christ. The world has only one Savior, and I’m not Him (and neither are you)! Use your influence to point people to Jesus.
In the end, it’s not going to matter how many friends or followers you had. All that will matter is if you were a faithful friend and follower of Jesus. Use social media (and every other resource at your disposal) to grow in your life with God and to encourage others to do the same.
Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:9-11 NLT).
Dave Willis is teaching pastor at Stevens Creek Church in Augusta, Georgia. He is also an author and the cofounder of OneBigChurch.com.
This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of Evangel.