The Christian and social media is a relationship we must face fair and square. Its Impact in our lives and Christian faith is huge and keeps growing by the day.
In the last two weeks our Television stations have brought up saddening stories of young people who committed suicide after posting Facebook messages. Worldwide research has now confirmed that social media contributes to the rate of suicides across the world.Friendships have been formed between underage children and would be paedophiles on social media. Relationships have sprouted, grown and followed up with meetings which have proven heart breaking.This much we can say, social media is increasingly becoming a major concern. Iam not prepared to call Facebook and other social media platforms ‘silent monsters’,but I can understand why some have felt that strongly about social media.
But mine in this little piece is to offer my observations as a user of social media and one who interacts with those who use these platforms positively and not so positively.Here then is the good,the bad and the ugly sides of social media.
Social media creates pressure for anyone,regardless of how noble your intentions were in entering this space. You soon realize it is a place where vanity plays out and people massage the egos. Every profile picture is flattering, most of them highly edited to smoothen our rough edges,block out those blemishes and present a perfect impression of ourselves. High end smartphones have become a must have,not so much as a tool of essential communication,but as an accessory to this raging battle to look ones best.A young man recently asked me for a soft loan to hire a tractor to till his farm.Next day I saw him with a smartphone and he was all selfies and facebooking. It is what his peers are doing and it is what that age group expects of him. Instagram and Facebook among other platforms has become the place where people compete for beauty, glamor and economic show off. Relationships are glamorized on social and even where there are dysfunctions, they are buried beneath carefully edited selfies.
Not many know that these are fake lives, people dressing their fantasies in the language of reality. This make believe life gets to a point where frustration builds because others are showcasing what one cannot attain to.Feelings of inferiority and failure sets in.Suicides is one of the products of this growing Facebook trend.
The emergence of keyboard warriors
We find many today who in real life are shy and timid,hardly able to express an opinion.Yet on social media,these same Individuals have an opinion on very matter.They are bold,opinionated and even extremely combative. It is on these platforms by reason of detachment from real people, where men and women tend to be very insensitive to one another. Families communicate through WhatsApp and Facebook groups. There are women who would say the o ly time they heard the words “I love you” from their spouses was via a social media app or sms.People seem to gain the courage they otherwise do not have.
An addiction which is yet to be seen as one
It is telling that in a poor country like Kenya, statistics show that up to % have some sort of a smartphone. Recall the young man who borrowed a loan to farm and ended up buying a smartphone instead. It is now a mist have for many. Research indicates again that very productive hours are wasted by many in the workforce to social media engagements. I believe it is Finland which sought to regulate the use of smartphones at work-this was the rationale.
I have seen posts from married women I know on Facebook in very unholy hours of the night. What does that say about the marriage situation? How do we explain the situation of someone posting the pastor’s sermon on the Lord’s day as it is being preached? That happens in real time. Wouldn’t that person need be on facebook to be able to post those events in real time? Is that person really being part of the service or merely a reporter of it?
Then one has to manage the tricky balance between the necessity of using technologies and staying true to one’s core convictions. We now have Bible apps on smartphones so that when the preacher asks us to turn to a certain book, we turn on our smartphones and God knows what else we do with them in the pretext of reading the Bible.
So this is no doubt an issue which is live for our times and we must acknowledge that much harm has come to the cause of Christ and spiritual welfare of many from social media
CAN IT BE A TOOL FOR INFLUENCE OR EVEN GOOD?
No doubt, social media is the new mission field and anyone ignoring it does so out of sheer denial of reality. The large percentage of the enlightened population wakes up and the first thing they do is go to their Facebook, tweeter, Instagram and other social media platforms.This is where the people are, this is where they spent a good amount of their time.This is especially true for the younger generation which constitutes by far the largest segment of the world population. The titanic global conglomerates and A-list business brands are leveraging the unprecedented power and reach of social media. Political campaigns across the world are winning or losing hearts (even elections) on social media. Therefore to shy away from engaging this massive sector is in fact to narrow your mission field unreasonably.
To a spiritual man all things are spiritual. That includes social media and our engagement with it.I believe as with everything else, there can be right and wrong use.Take the larger Internet space for instance. It is here cheap and easily accessible pornography can be accessed, hackers have used network algorithms to exploit and steal from many. Allegations have been made in the USA that Russia used social media platforms to meddle in American elections in 2016.We know for fact that Cambridge Analytica by the admission of their CEO influenced the Kenyan elections in 2017.Bad things happen on social media because of its acknowledged massive power and reach.
But this is one side of the story. Young people are growing their businesses through different social media platforms. Groups have been formed on platforms like WhatsApp which enhance fellowship between people who would otherwise find it hard to have any kind of interactions at all. The Internet has enabled me by way of email to communicate instantly to a ministry partner the other side of the world. Because of the internet we can have a facetime communication across continents. One of the blessings of platforms like YouTube for me has been the ability to be at multiple lecture halls at the same time.It has consequently made work much easier for me as a Bible teacher and maximized by reach. Apps have been developed which make life much easier and enjoyable.
SO HOW SHOULD A CHRISTIAN ENGAGE WITH SOCIAL MEDIA?
This is the question which should exercise our minds.We know social media like all things in a fallen world can be a tool for good and bad in equal measure. I will attempt to offer a few thoughts to help the Christian think through their engagement with this massive platform
1. Recognize that it can be used by the enemy and your own flesh to unprofitable,even sinful ends.
This is a fact which applies to almost anything else which belongs to this world.The presence of sin and sinners in the world will ensure that the same thing will always have good and bad aspects. I find this acceptance to be useful for self regulation and censorship on social media. I have often put out a post which i felt at the time was Intended for a good end. Later I would realize it was just me flattering my ego, engaging in self justification or trying to prove a point. Even when I posted pictures from a ministry event,I would sometimes look back at them and see the motivation wasn’t holy.
So let’s beware of the two great enemies we battle everyday; Satan and self.
2. Appreciate that you are a Christian person even on social media.
Some have sought to create a dichotomy between their faith life and the social media. They seem to infer that on social media they have license to put Christian conduct on hold for a while and can let go and let loose. The pseudo-anonymity that comes with social media tends to cast off restraint which belongs to genuine Christianity . I heard a term which has now been associated with social media. They speak of keyboard warriors. These are people who have incredible courage to face anyone (i including authorities) behind the computer or phone keyboards. They are on a warpath and would insult,ridicule and attack anyone. Sadly the keyboard warrior phenomenon is to be seen among so called Christian’s on social media.
You are a Christian at all times and in all places.All those fruits of the Spirit mentioned In Galatians 5:22 must be evident even in your engagement son social media. As a Christian must not be full of self,well regulated under self control, gentle, kind and truthful among other virtues, so must such be brought to the social media platform. Recently we had a Television evangelist dragged in court for speaking recklessly about a journalist, using such strong words as could be construed to constitute a death threat. He is struggling in court right now.
3. You are a witness of Christ even on social media
We have highlighted the massive reach and Influence of social media. This platform for the Christian person is a mission field.God has created that platform for you to bear testimony of His wonderful Grace. When you start to think like that,you will see how those brags and boasts about this wonderful birthday party, and the other nice cake you baked or the great car you bought the other day start to appear rather out of step with your calling as a representative of Jesus Christ.The fabulous life you display contributes to another’s low regard for self and their condition. You start to think of Biblical principles like in 1 Corinthians 8,9 and 10. A dear sister on Facebook once told me how helped she was when I posted about famine and hunger killing people in Northern Kenya. Her response was that she had her eyes opened.
We should strive to break free from the restricted view of social media as merely a place to socialize and flatter one another with likes and more sharing. This happens when we find ourselves within the ‘eco-chambers’ of social media, posting recipes and showing off nice delicacies to each other, when many die of hunger.
Just so I am not misunderstood, the Christian person can post things like that from time to time. It is part of the reason it is called ‘social media’. What we are saying rather is that the Christian man or woman will be measured and restrained in such posts. They will also not make their whole lives and interactions on social media all about them and what they did or which party they attended. The constraints of kingdom life and representation apply to our engagement on social media. We do not have such a time in our lives when we are not witnesses for Christ
We are at all times to be light and salt of the earth (Matthew 5:12-16).We are ambassadors for Christ (II Corinthians 5:19-20).That charge does not permit for moments when we are relieved of its demands and whenever we find ourselves engaged in those activities which either undermines or do not enhance that charge,at that time we are being unfaithful in our witness of Christ.
4. Mind the Image you project out there
This was the advise I gave few weeks ago to a young university girl in our Church who came under the Influence of social media.She is no doubt a very beautiful girl and does know how to dress to emphasise that beauty. However I was concerned that this was all people got see about a girl who otherwise had good education and a good mind in her head. The stereotypes of our world are such that people can hardly see beyond what you advertise.People see you as trite and shallow if all or most of your posts are about shallow and trite matters. I have seen posts of pastors on Facebook and formed an opinion that they were insecure about their ministries, seeking validation. When I met them I was sadly proven true. It is almost for a given now that the man or woman who keeps expressing lavish praises for their spouses and posting utopian pictures hardly have that kind of life in private. It is almost an unspoken yet accepted fact of social media life that this is where we cast reality far from us and Indulge our fantasies.
5. The internet never forgets
Lastly let the Christian person remember that the Internet never forgets. What you post even after being taken down will exist somewhere in some form or shape.So be sure you want to have that thought, idea, picture or impression associated with you forever before you post it online.
May the Lord bless our engagement with social media and help us to use it for profitable ends and for His glory. Amen.