I’ve recently completed a short course from CCEF on biblical counselling, and as one of the final pieces of work we had to complete a self-counselling project, reflecting on how part of our lives intertwines sin and grace, produces good fruit and evil thorns, and how in that we can grow in Christlikeness.
So, what to choose? In what ways could I improve? (There is, by the way, a list. A long one)
I chose to look at social media, and the impact it has on my inner life when I encounter it. Now I’m not going to be regurgitate what I discovered about myself in the process (too boring), but I think the way I use Facebook and Twitter is not unusual. I hope this helps.
First of all you should know I have boundaries: I’m only on Facebook and Twitter, and even those, relatively rarely. I don’t post pictures of breakfast, and I don’t live my life online. I’m sure that’s a generational thing, but it means I don’t have a permanent question about what to post next. So why not Instagram, too? Time, basically. That and the fact that my postings are mostly to be read, rather than photos.
Second, some of you will have spotted (because you’ve tried) that I don’t accept that many friends requests on FB – basically, you have to know me in 3D before I’ll befriend you in 2D, and while I have no problem with lots of people following me on Twitter, I follow relatively few – and those that I do follow I choose with care, and prune regularly. John Piper’s tweets always encourage me; your cat photos, not so much.
So, with a personally-curated feed of encouraging Christian leaders and friends, giving me constant reasons to keep going, what could possibly make it unhelpful?
My sinful heart, that’s what.
It’s really good to hear that so-and-so has written a book, is planning a conference, or is planting a church. That’s really encouraging – in isolation. But a constant stream of such posts makes me envy other people’s achievements, on a daily basis. Not good.
And everyone’s church and ministry look photoshop perfect, with a glam filter fitted. We don’t see the boredom in the congregations faces, the rejection letters from publishers – we just see ‘My book comes out in three weeks – totally pumped!!’
Because that means we are discontent with our ordinary, humdrum – but God-given ministries. Why has God put you here and not there, with these people and not those people? Because your gifts exactly match what is needed – these are the good works you are saved to do (Eph. 2:10)
Follow lots of people like that, and reality slips away from you. It looks like everyone is planting a church every week, or whatever. This is the ministry version of ‘everyone-else-seems-to-be-on-the-holiday-of-a-lifetime-so-why-am-I-stuck-in-the-office?’ syndrome.
And then we start to imagine that if we only tried a bit harder we’d be able to repeat the results of Matt Chandler, Nicky Gumbel or whoever. It’s really hard to remember that the famous pastors – the ones with mega-churches and mega-book deals – are the utter freaks. Yes, they are gifted, devoted, faithful people – but they are highly unusual people, and often the product of non-repeatable circumstances. Get a grip, we need to say to ourselves – we will never, ever, speak at that conference, grow a church to that size, or plant that many churches. Touch reality.
Yup – of course it’s a time waster. Mental chewing gum. We all know that, and battle to switch it off.
Why do we battle? Because it’s not really chewing gum – it’s Pringles for the mind. You know the slogan for Pringles – ‘Once you pop, you just can’t stop.’ Apparently it’s a chemical reaction built into those little monsters, which creates a craving for another one, and another, and another.
So it is with the stream of social media. Scrolling down gives you another set of the ‘new’, ‘interesting,’ ‘relevant’ – or even the dreaded clickbait (“Bill Hybels just preached a sermon – people are FREAKING OUT over point 4!”). The folk who have written the algorithms to make the stream function, know how to capture and hold our attention, with constant bits of such micro-trivia.
Now note this: this is true even when the people we are following are trying to give us good stuff to read.
This is true even when the people we are following are giving us good stuff to read.
And so we eat Pringles for the soul, and it’s not good for us.
Put those four together, and you’ll find what’s at the back of your mind while you’re reading all that stuff – not just an awareness that you should be doing something else (which is probably true), but that you should be better, different, on all fronts, simultaneously. We should preach like Tim, evangelise like Rico, counsel like Paul, pray like John, exegete like another John, lead like yet another John – and on it goes.
Seriously? Of course you should do all those tasks better than you do, and any one of those experts can help you. But don’t give yourself the guiltless. Not even Rico can lead like Bill. Tim can’t counsel like Paul. And the Johns aren’t interchangeable either.
If there’s one thing more stupid than measuring yourself up against a freak, it’s measuring yourself up against a whole team of them, simultaneously.
Even worse, we take to competing with the people we read, on their – or rather, the social media’s – terms. Our facts also get the glamour-glow, our churches also have the blemishes removed.
At which point we are becoming, once again, dangerously Corinthian.
When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. 1 Cor 10:12
And so we end up moving around, not focussing at length on one area of our ministries, because of the others that need attending too as well. Our souls don’t put down roots in our unique gifts and place of service, because we want to be like that person over there. Or him. Or her.
So why don’t I switch it off? Well I’ll come back to that in another post.
But the deepest reason that that wouldn’t help, is that the issue reveals something of the heart, and what it reveals would be as true even without social media. Don’t you think the Christian leaders at the council of Nicaea envied each other from time to time? Don’t you think the Christians at the time of the Reformation felt overwhelmed at the sheer number of books being published? Our experience has a heightened intensity to it (although let’s not flatter ourselves – we may have even more to read, but most of it really isn’t that worth reading. It’s just the publisher’s adverts that make you think it is), but it’s not different in kind.
So I’ve been honest (partially – there’s still a lot I discovered for my project that you have no business knowing, thank you very much), so now it’s your turn.
What else have you discovered Social Media does to you?