A Pastoral Posture Toward Social Media by Andy Stoddard
My undergraduate degree is in chemistry. My desire was to be a doctor, but the Lord had other plans. I’ve sometimes wondered, “Lord, if this was you plan, couldn’t you have led to me to an easier degree?!” But maybe God did that so I could learn one fact that I actually think about a lot: darkness doesn’t actually exist. Darkness is simply what it is not; it is the absence of light. When light enters into the darkness, the darkness no longer remains, because darkness cannot exist where light is.
This must be significant when we think of how many times in the Gospels that Jesus either called himself Light or said that his followers are to be a light. This is a world that has significant darkness to it. As Christians, it is our job to be light, God’s light, in those dark places.
One of the places that may seem the darkest today is social media. All we have to do is look around Facebook or Twitter or any of the other social media sites to see our worst impulses. Name calling, mocking, divisiveness, so many areas of division and darkness. I have many friends who have gotten off social media completely, and I can’t say that I blame them. The Bible warns to us avoid such pointless division. (Titus 3:9 – “But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.”) So we should all log out and delete our apps, right? Maybe. But maybe not.
As a pastor, as I’ve seen more darkness and division on social media, instead of giving it over to the darkness completely, I’ve felt compelled to shine a little light, especially in the days of COVID, where my friend list will be the largest congregation I preach to. And that is what I’m doing: I preach. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I preach a little different. I may think of it as preaching, though to the average person on social media, it may not look like that. But just like every sermon I preach, I’m trying to point to Jesus, and I do the same with my use of social media. It just may not look or seem like a sermon. Frankly, I think that says more about our sermons than it does about my social media usage.
With my social media presence, I try to do a few different things.
- Be transparent. First and foremost, I try to be transparent. About the only compliment I really appreciate is when folks tell me I don’t act like a preacher. What that means is that I just act normally. Folks aren’t used to their preacher acting like a regular person, and we preachers don’t always put down our guard enough to act like normal people (which we are). So, I make fun of myself. I talk about music or wrestling. I make fun of friends. I admit when I’m tired or sad or angry. I post authentic things that are actually happening. It is real. So, when I talk about Jesus, that is the same thing. Real.
- Don’t take myself or life too seriously. I want to make people laugh. I believe we’ve all just gotten too self-conscious. I want to “preach” without being preachy or condescending. I never, ever, ever, want to talk down to anyone. We should point to truth with a twinkle in our eye. Many of us have forgotten how to laugh or lost our joy and our ability to find joy in life. I want people to laugh again.
- Help people think. This may be my main goal. I try to never tell people what they have to do, or even what they must believe. I remind them of what Christians believe, or what the Bible says, or what our church teaches. I try to help people do their own theological reflection. If you and I impulsively react to everything nowadays, then no one thinks. One of my goals, especially on complicated and controversial issues, is to help people to think for themselves, in light of what Scripture and church teaching show us.
- Focus on grace, grace, and more grace. The world is so hard today. We need beauty, we need grace. We need hope. We need peace. I want us to do what Paul wrote in Philippians 4:8 – “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” I want to help us focus on what is good.
John Wesley would go where the people were and preach to them. He preached in the fields, in the streets, wherever they were. That’s how I try to see social media. I want to shine a light: provide some biblical commentary, some laughter, some realism, but always, hopefully, a little light.
The world is dark today and has always been. But there is and has always been light and beauty. That’s the space we should operate from. We have an obligation to shine light on social media and all throughout our lives. We have a call to be salt and light in every area. May it be so.
Featured image courtesy Jon Tyson via Unsplash.