About a year ago, I sat down with some friends of mine in a virtual roundtable to speak on the benefits and downfalls of social media and blogging for Christians. What a great way to introduce Project TGM!
These men who have experience with popularity in the blogging and social media world (with 4-to-5-digit Twitter followers and top 200 Christian blogs) joined me to discuss. It is my aim that this discussion would help you personally and the Church as a whole consider the Kingdom implications of blogging and social media.
BLOG: Kingdom People
BLOG: Gospel-Driven Church
In an age when everyone has a presence on the internet, should Christians consider blogging? And if so, what should they aim for?
What should we aim for? Generally speaking, the glory of God and the good of the church. That’s general, you say, so not so helpful. But to get more specific would require me to make rules that might not apply to all blogs. Some blogs are intended to be challenging for church leaders. Other blogs try to provide helpful book reviews to people who want to read more. Some blogs are personal commentaries sprinkled with insights into the Christian life. Other blogs link to good content on the web. I think a Justin Taylor has a specific aim quite different than say, Tim Challies. Justin is more a curator of content, whereas Tim is a creator of content. The specific aims are different, but I think both guys are trying to serve the church in their own way.
*BRANDON SMITH: The ultimate aim, as Trevin so perfectly stated is “the glory of God and the good of the church.” To me, this even includes the Christian who isn’t necessarily blogging about Christianity. If a Christian wants to start a sports blog, family blog, or random photos blog then they should do so with clear Biblical ethics and practice.
There is a cultural myth that states that God is separate from our work, hobbies, etc. There is nothing further from the truth because God is the God of our ENTIRE lives, not just our “spiritual” life. With that in mind, whatever we do on a blog or social network should still reflect Christ and not place you below reproach. Are you perfect? No, and that isn’t my point. But, it goes without saying that blogging in a way that is sinful or causes your brothers/sisters to stumble is not wise.
*JARED WILSON: I agree, and I really like Trevin’s emphasis on how the blog world is not a big deal. I encourage bloggers, especially those who are well-known to somewhat well-known, to have close friends who simply don’t care. They don’t read, aren’t interested, don’t care. I would encourage this extra especially to well-known Christian bloggers who pastor churches or have book deals or what-have-you. Surround yourself with people who are unimpressed by anything that happens online. Maybe find some who don’t even own a computer!
*STEVE MCCOY: Blogging can be kind of whatever you want it to be. A Christian may want to start a blog in the hope of generating revenue for their kids’ college education by putting up good online deals for pots and pans. Whatever, have fun, make some cash. But I’m guessing you mean a “Christian blog” in which someone says God-stuff. Fair enough.
In an article from Fast Company, the assertion was made that social media (and Twitter in particular) is not an effective tool for influence due mainly to the short shelf life of status’ and massive amount of users. Can social media truly have a positive influence on Christianity, both locally and worldwide?
*JARED WILSON: I may be a terrible person to ask this question, because I don’t spend much time thinking about how much influence social media has. I suppose if I were trying to be a professional blogger (or tweeter) or made a daily connection between my blogging/tweeting and promoting my writing, I would. But my basic reaction to the Fast Company appraisal of social media’s lack of influence is: okay.
*STEVE MCCOY: Yes, no question. It’s just a tool for communication and relationships. Tweets pass away, but Twitterers remain. Each tweet I read impacts me, develops some aspect of my relationship with the author, etc. Couldn’t we be answering this same question about phone calls? For me social media isn’t about permanence of what is said but the permanence of those saying it.
In the debate over “Christian Hollywood,” there are two sides: Those who believe that any sort of fame for a Christian is idolatrous or prideful and those who believe that fame is good if used as a platform for Jesus. Is fame something that Christians should avoid or embrace?
*BRANDON SMITH: “Christian Hollywood” in and of itself is nothing new to the church. Men like Charles Spurgeon donned billboards in England and the duo of George Whitefield and John Wesley preached to packed churches and pastures. Today, however, it is definitely at its height. With media the way it is, Christians can become famous through books, podcasts, blogs, megachurches, and getting on CNN like John MacArthur, Rick Warren, and Al Mohler. We also see role models such as Tim Tebow rise up in pop culture representing Jesus, and representing Him well. In all of these examples, there has been an extremely positive impression left on Christianity as a whole, in my opinion. Of course, the flip side is watching the painful fall of pastors’ public ministries which no doubt fuels the detractors of Christians in the limelight.
The question really comes down to motive. Joining “Christian Hollywood,” wherever you define that line to be, is something that should absolutely not be aimed for. Some of the most idolatrous people that I have met are those trying to get famous. It’s dangerous to even think of it as “fame;” I prefer the operative word “influence.” There is certainly nothing wrong with influence if your motives are to see the lost saved and the church edified. We are all sinners with the tendency to think we “deserve” something and we want to be recognized. This part of our insecure pride is probably unavoidable, but the temptation is manageable if you rely and lean on the grace of God alone. We could all go the Kirk Cameron Fireproof route and smash our computers or avoid technology like the Amish, but I think it’s much more helpful to pray and beg the Spirit to break our egos.
In relation to blogging, Twitter, Facebook, etc., I think Jared made a great admission in an earlier question when he stated, “Obviously I am interested in some level of influence, or else I wouldn’t post my thoughts in public forums for others to read.” If you own a blog or frequently post on social networking sites, then the chances are that you desire to be heard. I don’t think that this desire should be demonized, but you should be sensitive to what is driving this desire. Is it to be the next John Piper and see your name on books, or is it to use your God-given writing talents or theological insights to see the Kingdom advanced? I always remind myself of this: God has given me X number of blog readers, Twitter followers, Facebook friends, and other contacts in order to glorify Him and fulfill the Great Commission in whatever small or large way He has granted me to do so. I would be remiss to prostitute His gifts for my own gain.
*TREVIN WAX: Brandon, I agree that there is nothing inherently evil in thinking you have something valuable to say. Everyone who ever preaches or teaches could be accused of pride if that were the case. Dave Harvey’s Rescuing Ambition has been helpful to me in thinking through the ways that ambition can be harnessed for the glory of God. Yet, I must admit that however much we try, even our best motives are tainted by sin. If we think they aren’t, we deceive ourselves. So blogging (like teaching, preaching, writing, etc.) must take place within a context of continual repentance, with the added hope of stewarding wisely whatever amount of influence God gives us.
*STEVE MCCOY: I think it’s complicated. Some famous Christians are shaming Christ and others are making Him known. Some are getting rich off books for selfish reasons and others are providing resources that are changing lives. Fame seems to be associated with pride, yet some of the famous Christians who have influenced me most are known because they are generous and humble and speak with a sense of God and eternity.
What are some practical ways that social media and blogging can benefit churches, church leaders, and their audience?
*JARED WILSON: My experience mirrors Steve’s fairly closely except for his last statement on receiving visitors based on web-based information. I live in an area where very few adults are on social media. Many are on Facebook, particularly teenagers, but virtually no one’s on Twitter. There is a sizable minority here in rural Vermont who aren’t on the Internet or don’t even have a computer. And then among those over 30 who access the web, they are rarely on any kind of social media.
Cross-posted from Modern March.