I was an early adopter of Twitter back when MySpace was dying. Yeah, I know… I’m old.
It was so cool back before everyone knew about it. I could follow people; they could follow me (and, alas, they could “unfollow” me, too). I could read about when people were at the movies or when they were sick. They could read about when I had lunch and maybe, on more serious days, read my posts as I’d try to sound all high-minded by quoting Mark Driscoll or something (and no, I wasn’t plagiarizing). You could scour hours of “I hate my job” tweets or watch some @ conversation drama unfold in 140 characters per jab. It was – and is – both a glorious tool and waster of time all in one.
And that still is the beauty of it. 140 character blurbs. Whoever had something to say had to say it within those limits. No diatribes. No blogs…(um…awkward pause)…
You could get “caught up” on everything happening in the world with a quick scan of the page. You literally felt out of the loop if you didn’t spend time at least reading back through the last 12 hours.
Social media has made this possible. Twitter and Facebook are THE ways to connect with people, it seems. I’ve re-established relationships with old friends via Facebook. I found a way to network with leaders online through Twitter. And some of this social media interaction has led to face-to-face meetings and established new friendships. I’ve also seen it leveraged to do great things like raise money for people after a disaster and to rally groups of people to pray for a cause they would not otherwise have known about.
So, it’s all good, right?
There is a dark side.
Recently, I had a conversation with my wife about how social media has changed all our lives. And while we could spend hours enumerating the negative ways it has changed the world (everything from cyber-bullying to the proliferation of porn), I think the scariest thing social media has accomplished – ironically – is to take the “social” out of our lives.
As I’ve already said, it CAN be used as a tool to create connections with people. It CAN have a huge impact on establishing “social” connections, where in the past we would have had to pick up the phone or use all kinds of tricks to track down old friends, etc. In fact, I read this morning how several people are leveraging it as a new way to disciple the online generation. I get it. I use it. I love it. It can be a great tool.
But back to the dark side…
Friendships rise and fall based on Facebook friending and defriending. Text messages have replaced phone calls. Twitter forces us to receive information in a machine-gun format (lots of info fired at you at once with little time to process any of it).
I see memes online that make fun of people who’d rather call than text. I literally see people heartbroken when de-friended. I see people project personae online that do not match up with their real-life behavior. I see arguments develop over politics and even college football.
As REAL as the social side of social networks may seem, the truth is that much of it is not very real. In many ways, it has replaced the depth of real relationship. It has made communication “safer.” After all, you can block, hide, unfriend – whatever – when things go south. Also, people can get very brave behind a keyboard when they don’t have to talk face-to-face. Gossip-mongering and sub-Tweeting (as it is called) can turn mice into mice-using men, apparently.
In Christian circles, it’s even worse. We snipe people with Scripture as passively aggressive as possible. We draw our dividing lines for the whole world to see. Tongues unchecked, we can say and do anything based on our moods or current events and present a skewed image of Christ or others to a world in a more public forum than ever before! Leaders criticize leaders. Churches flaunt how awesome they are and how you don’t want to miss THEIR services/programs by going somewhere else.
This is social media’s dark side. Maybe it’s there because various forms of social media have developed so fast in the past decade that our heads are spinning and we’re using tools before we even know how to use them the right way. But we all use it. It’s on our computers and our phones. Social media – love it or hate it – is here to stay.
However, the more I think about it, I’m not sure that social media has changed our way of thinking at all. Maybe it’s simply allowed us to behave the way we’ve always wanted to.
We already live in a culture where our backyards have six-foot-privacy fences and automatic garage doors that allow us to come and go unnoticed by our neighbors. We already prefer private offices to open workplaces. We hate interruptions. We keep our windows rolled up at intersections pretending a thin pane of auto glass actually separates us from the guy 6 feet away in his car after we cut him off in traffic.
We already live with the walls up – keeping the outside out.
Enter social media. Now we can HAVE our friendships – but without those pesky face-to-face, airtime, real-time conversations that have plagued them in the past. Woohoo! We can be friends, because I can now limit you to 140 characters at a time! I can now block you! I can keep you at the distance I’ve always needed you to be!
Relationships without any of the hard parts, right?
But consider this:
Our faith is a lot like our relationships. Why? Because it, too, IS relationship – a relationship with Jesus Christ. And I cannot help but wonder: Do we treat Him the same way? Do we want to keep our Lord and Savior to 140 characters or less?
Maybe we do, because too often our lives do not reflect the Jesus I read about in Scripture – a man who loved people in such a way that he literally was in the dirt with them. A prostitute washed his feet with her hair. He stood between an adulterous woman and a mob ready to kill her. He touched lepers and healed them. He traveled. He had crowds around him. He spent time with his disciples – a zealot, a would-be traitor, a tax collecter – all in all a whiny bunch who didn’t always understand who Jesus was until AFTER he had left them and was resurrected. Yet he DID LIFE with them. And in the end, his disciples followed Jesus to their own deaths.
Would Jesus even use Twitter today? Or would he be walking the streets, meeting people, still getting in their dirt and their mess and offering them hope. Would he spend time “liking” our posts, or would he be spending the day face-to-face helping people heal from the wrecks of their lives?
I don’t think he’d think “social media” is nearly as social as we believe it is. So why do we spend so much time doing it?
Following Jesus is NOT picking and choosing the aspects of the Christian life we want and don’t want. Faith is invasive – it should permeate and transform every aspect of our lives, ESPECIALLY how we relate to other people. Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, right? But it’s also, love your neighbor as yourself. Faith IS social at its very core, and it’s not limited to the number of friends you have on Facebook, the number of people you follow on Twitter, or the select few in your church.
In all my years of ministry, I’ve heard more than a few pastors/leaders not only admit, but revel in the fact that they’re not “people persons.” Yet they lead small groups or even entire congregations of people and teach them to love people in a way that they do not model themselves. I have also seen entire churches shift from being communities of grace and hope and transform into cliques of “our way or the highway.” I have seen people burned again and again by their congregations – either because they are shunned because of some past sin or because they were simply used as tools to get a job done, and not a people to be loved.
We need to get the “social” aspect of our faith back and we need to do it fast. If you’re a leader, a volunteer, or a new Christian learning the ropes, then know this: You cannot love God and not love people in a real, tangible way.
I will even be so bold to say this: If you are a leader in ministry, yet you don’t attempt to love people and build relationships on a personal level, then you are quite possibly in the wrong position. If people bother you, then quit now. Get an office job in a cubicle. Become a park ranger. Do anything else where you do not have to lead people to love others, forcing yourself into hypocrisy. Do anything where you don’t have to deal with people in the way that Christ calls us to deal with people, because that’s no optional, even if you think it is.
Why so bold? Love has to be more than a concept preached or taught in a Sunday school class. It has to be modeled and lived out. Leaders are more than the CEOs of a company. Pastors are more than teachers. Life group leaders are more than hosts. In their respective positions, they are the shepherds of a flock – a pastor (whether to a whole church, students, children, or a life group). That goes for all of us. We are all called to love our neighbors as ourselves.
It’s time all of us quit having a “follow @Jesus mindset”- where we cling to snippets of love and retweet them on our computers OR from our pulpits. Instead, it’s time to follow Jesus completely in a way that we live and serve like he did.
Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” And they left their nets at once and followed him. (Mark 1:17)