Social media—carefully & considerately used—can do much kingdom good
Social media is like anything else—a good thing that can be corrupted for the not-so-good. Texan Editor Jayson Larson recently sat down with three people (Bart Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church of Farmersville; Leah Holder Green, Bible study curriculum director at Second Baptist Church in Houston; and Andrew Hebert, pastor of Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo) who are active in digital spaces including social media, blogs, and the like to discuss this question: “How can Christians exist in digital spaces like social media and still maintain their Christlikeness?” Or is that even possible? What follows is an excerpt of that conversation:
Jayson Larson: Let’s start with what I think is an easy question: what are some general examples where each of you are seeing social media being used for kingdom good?
Bart Barber: I think our Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is higher and we’re all more encouraged about it because of the daily cascade of tweets from churches saying, “We exceeded our goal! We’re really excited about what’s happening.” And then in response to that, something that really has never been possible before in Southern Baptist life—missionaries on the field and the president of the IMB replying to church after church after church [giving] direct and immediate feedback …. That’s amazing, and I think it points to the general benefit of these social media accounts.
I’m going to go ahead and lay out a thesis here: I think that the only reason why social media can accomplish the bad that it does is because of the good that it does. I think the bad’s a corruption of the good. I think there was a moment in Baptist history when for various reasons, the ability of our local associations to connect pastors into friendships and to connect people outside of their local church into relationships … was probably becoming lower than it’s ever been in the history of our fellowship of churches. At just that moment, this online forum comes in. Honestly, I’ve got a lot of friends when we meet at the annual meeting who say, “Well, how do you all know each other?” Then I have to say, “Well, we met online.” So I think that there’s a way that these platforms are helping people connect and feel that they have friends and relationships and networks within our convention that otherwise were not there.
Leah Holder Green: Well, I tend to agree with Bart’s thesis. As I was pondering this, I was thinking “kingdom good” is anything that allows us to promote and represents the rule and authority of God throughout the earth. I’m aware of a number of people’s YouTube channels, [people] who use their Twitter accounts, use their Instagram, Facebook to do just that—to promote the word of God, the truth of God, and his rule. And because social media tends to be global in nature, they literally are promoting the rule and authority of the living God in all the earth, oftentimes with the click of a button. So to that extent, I definitely do believe there is practical value to the kingdom for social media.
Andrew Hebert: Leah, I think that’s a really profound way to put it. I’m going to agree with Bart’s thesis, as well. If you go to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, one of the most beautiful things about that largest business meeting in the world is the fact that anyone can come to a microphone and say something. And that’s also the most terrifying thing because anyone can say anything from a microphone. … [Social media] does provide a microphone to some people which elevates some voices that need to be elevated and can be very encouraging in those spaces. But it also opens a microphone to some people who can say anything and do say anything. So I do see some benefit. … I cultivate who I follow very carefully. So I tend to follow those accounts that are going to be edifying, the people who are going to say encouraging things and godly things and biblical things.
JL: How can we disagree with others on social media but still stay within the biblical boundaries for how we ought to interact with other believers and one another?
LHG: Well, as cliche as it may sound, we should do so in love. Jesus said that all the commands can be summed up into basically two—it’s essentially love God and love people. I think anytime we are interacting with others on social media, it should reflect that we do have a love for God and a love for people. It serves as a good litmus test for me: if it’s not loving, don’t post it. And sometimes something can be true, but not loving. Or it can be factual, but not loving. And as I was really pondering this, I thought strongly disagreeing with something that someone has posted on social media does not mean that social media is the best or wisest platform [for you] to voice that disagreement. … In a nutshell, if the response or words aren’t laced in love for the believer, they’d be better left unsaid.
JL: Is it too silly an idea to think that there ought to be times when we tell ourselves we’ll just put down our phones and walk away before we
respond in an unloving way?
LHG: No, that sounds very wise to me. It makes me think of the 10-second rule that I think they taught us in elementary school. But I think that sounds very wise. I think if you’re typing anything with high emotions, I mean, I would say this even for texting, I just think you should take a step back, calm down, definitely pray.
AH: If you think about John 1, which describes Jesus as being full of grace and full of truth, I think sometimes we can be so full of grace that we forget the truth, and so full of truth that we do it without grace. I think that provides a really good roadmap for how we engage, whether it’s on social media or face to face. We want to be truthful people, and we want to care about the truth and speak the truth, but we also want to do it in love. … I think that [we can disagree with] one another with civility, charity, kindness. If I wouldn’t say this to your face, I should not say it on social media. Operating in good faith, assuming the best about the other person … I think all of those are general guidelines that can help us disagree agreeably. I’m okay with online disagreement, actually. Bart and I have had some push and pull on some issues through the years in ways that I have felt like are very healthy and doesn’t make it awkward to see Bart the next time I see him. But for him to say, hey, you haven’t considered this perspective or here’s something you might want to think about—that disagreement is very helpful and very healthy and thought-provoking, but it’s always done in kindness and charity and an assumption of brotherhood and relationship.
JL: What are some guidelines that you personally have … your personal “do’s and “don’t” when it comes to whether you’ll respond to something or not on social media?
AH: I think in general choose your battles carefully. You just don’t have to engage on everything. [Also] I think for me, I try to stick to the issues rather than personalities. This is a Southern Baptist audience so I don’t mind leaning into this a little bit. But right now I’m serving on the sex abuse task force for the SBC. And over the course of the fall, there was a significant issue at play with the executive committee. I felt compelled to engage on social media on that issue, but I tried very hard to keep it to the issue and not to any one person. That was a hard line to walk, but I feel very strongly that, in general, I try to be objective and deal with the issue instead of making it personal.
BB: The most helpful thing that I do is to think to myself about the fruit of the spirit—against such things there’s no law. Those nine things [love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control], if they’re all present, they have become my rubric for evaluating what I do online. And if they’re all present in what I do, then I feel like I’m in pretty good shape.
LHG: I am in full-time ministry. I serve students and women. I know I still have people looking to me and being influenced by what I say. And so, because of that, one thing I generally ask myself is, “Is this helpful? Will me posting this be helpful and edifying in any way?” And then if I do happen to do that … I tend to be, I guess, a little bit more risk averse. I tend not to chime in on the hot topics very often. But if I do decide it could be helpful, I ground whatever I say in God’s word. And I try to stay away from name-calling.
JL: What’s a biblical principle or a passage or a scripture that you would use to encourage others to apply to their own lives as they navigate the world of social media?
BB: I threw it in earlier—it’s the fruit of the spirit passage (Galatians 5:22). I think that’s a good one to apply.
AH: I’ll give you two. Luke 6:31: “As you would have others do unto you, do unto them also likewise.” And then Colossians 4:12-13: “Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another. If anyone has a grievance against one another, just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive.”
LHG: First Corinthians 10:31 says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” So that would include posts, tweets, retweets, and all of that. Do all for the glory of God.