The Main Thing
The year is 2016, and as Americans we once again find ourselves smack dab in the middle of an election year. As Christians, we find ourselves caught again between two political parties and the principles they represent. It used to be that people would discuss politics one on one or in small groups. Most political conversations were reserved for meetings around the water cooler or at the dinner table, but today we are engulfed in them 24/7. With the advent of social media, people can be informed of stances on gun control, taxation, or health care reform by simply looking at their smart phones. We are inundated with Twitter feed updates from politicians as we check our emails and text messages. We are exposed to the subsequent reply strings from their supporters and dissenters alike. We are quickly brought up to speed, and down into the mud, with the click of a button or the swipe of a finger.
I am comforted by the fact that so many Americans are passionate enough about their country, that they share their views on social media. I am also inspired that many Christians are involved in daily discussions about the issues. Further, I am pleased to see that we are defending our faith, our rights, and our future, by engaging in conversations that bring our problems and solutions to the surface. However, I’m greatly disturbed by the content of these exchanges. I am saddened by the tones that are being used. It’s disappointing to see how aggressive Christians have become. It’s embarrassing to witness how divisive and confrontational conversations are dealt with. All of this has resulted in more deeply entrenched views on both sides of the political landscape. This trend is not exclusive to politics either. I see it happening with discussions about race, popular movies, trends, and world events.
My concern is that we as Christians in general, and ministers in particular, are forgetting about the main thing. In doing so, we are damaging our opportunity to be able to preach the Gospel to those we influence. Please don’t misunderstand this article. I firmly believe that we must give voice to our ideas, and we must participate in the political process. This includes researching the issues, and making informed decisions. It means we are to participate in conversations about those issues, and educate those around us as needed. It certainly means that we are to use our God given right to vote, the very right that our fore fathers and mothers fought and died to attain. But, we must consider our message. We must attend to our tone.
Over the next few weeks I want to share a number of tips on how representatives of Jesus can change the impact they are having on social media. These are practices I have tried to implement in my own personal life and ministry. They are things the Lord has shared with me personally and I in turn would like to share them with you. Consider this a series of articles I’ve titled, The Main Thing. Each article will address one point that will hopefully not only change the tone and direction of our messages, but hopefully our culture as well. The purpose of these points is not to discourage our participation in the process, but rather re-direct the content of our contributions. My intent is to inspire change in how we communicate our messages on social media, particularly during an election year. The eternal state of those we influence hangs in the balance. With this in mind, I’d like to encourage us all to consider a few things with regard to the content we post on social media.
This week I’d like to address the first point entitled, Determine the Purpose. As we communicate on social media, let’s think about the purpose of our message.
Determine the Purpose
The apostle Paul wrote that, “There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification”.[i] Paul states that everyone in the world has something to say. Everyone has a voice, or an opinion, and many of them are going to share it with their audience. They are going to use that voice to communicate their ideas. With all of the voices in the world that are clamoring for attention, it can be hard to sift through the rhetoric to determine sincerity and validity of their message. Those voices come from phone calls, emails, text messages, social media posts, news reports, and speeches. Some people have larger audiences than others, but social media has ensured that all have a platform. We not only have responsibilities as hearers of messages, but also as senders. It’s our job to ensure that we fight for “air time”, and gain the attention of our audience. With this power to communicate comes great responsibility.
It is important to remember that trying to be heard above the crowd should not be our primary purpose in communicating. The first question that we should ask before we post to social media is, “what is the purpose of this post?” When we ask this question of ourselves it helps to shape the message. Are we trying to educate our audience? If so, it would be helpful to provide concrete data from reliable sources. Are we trying to persuade our audience? If so, then we should communicate in a way that fosters interest and openness. Christians and ministers of the Gospel should consider whether the post will build up their audience, or tear them down. Will the post communicate in a positive and loving way, or will it degrade people and insult their intelligence? I assume that as Christians we would choose the path that Jesus did by building up people, but some of the more recent posts I have seen have removed all assumptions. In any case, it’s important that we ask ourselves what our purpose is before we post. If our purpose doesn’t line up with our faith and what The Word of God has to say in the matter, we probably shouldn’t post it at all.
As Christians and as ministers, we firmly believe in the power of the message we carry. We believe that the message of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ changes lives for eternity, and has a residual impact on societies around the world. We also believe in the absolute truth of this message. This purpose, and this purpose alone, should assist us in drafting our posts whether they are related to politics, life events, or trivial subjects. On a personal note I have chosen recently to post scriptures as often as I can. Whether I am in a good mood or a bad one, I try to share something from scripture that had a positive impact on me or the situation I was in. I’ve also found it comforting and beneficial to post scriptures that address current events or situations that the social media community is facing. The purpose of these posts is to encourage people. The purpose is to build people up and give them hope.
Over the last year I have really sought to put this small step into practice. While I am far from perfect, and have posted things in the past that I have regretted, I have noticed a change in myself and in my audience as a result of this minor tweak. In closing, I’d like to share a private message I received from a friend on Facebook. Receiving the following message was such a blessing to me as it solidified and validated this new mission on social media.
My friend writes:
“I hope you are doing well! I appreciate your Facebook posts Matt. God recently led me to a local church that we frequent regularly now. I am still learning, but I am feeling blessed by the love that fills me since my faith has been strengthened. Your posts have been an encouragement to me over the last 7 months. I wanted you to be aware of your positive influence. Thank you!”
The Lord deserves all the glory and credit for the impact that has been made. I don’t share this note to heap praise upon myself, rather I share it to encourage all of us that we can have a positive impact on our audience.
I hope this short point serves as a small reminder and encourages us all to consider our message. The power of life and death lies within our tongues. We have been given a great privilege to have such an influential platform in social media. Let’s use it responsibly. Stay tuned for the next point entitled, Stop Complaining.
[i] 1 Corinthians 14:10, King James Version