The battle over who we want to be versus who we are can be difficult.
When it comes to sending a message, sensibilities and technologies change, often intertwining to reveal where our culture currently lies. A message is communicated at faster speeds and greater distances. Together, they show what we value and what we don’t.
Or do they?
This isn’t the first story or column I’ve written about social media, and it won’t be the last. Through them we see timelines from posts by our friends and connections. Those timelines are generated by algorithms through the companies owning those platforms, predicting what we’d most like to see. Some would argue those timelines are more determined by what those companies want us to see, but that’s a different topic.
Social media as we know it started in 2004 with MySpace, and then not long after, Facebook. A little over ten years ago it became apparent how important the medium was going to play in journalism. So, it also became important to learn about the various platforms and how to use them in getting out your message.
That era of learning hasn’t stopped since, and I don’t know if it ever will. Social media has brought a lot of good and bad since then. It very much aligns with what you hear about lottery winners: getting a lot of money doesn’t change you as much as it amplifies who you already were.
I say social media works for good because I see it all the time. At The Index, we’re able to publish more stories of how churches are presenting the Gospel and helping their communities. We share posts from pastors and churches through our platforms, hoping our readers will connect with them and be encouraged.
Where I question social media comes from when I spend an inordinate amount of time on those platforms. To be fair, the culture of each one is different. Instagram, to me, seems to be the most positive (except that I realize I’m extremely boring and evidently go nowhere). Facebook comes across as a massive shouting match. Twitter is part shouting match, part competition on who can be the snarkiest.
None of them match reality.
I know this can’t be just me. Talking with people face-to-face or over the phone (Remember talking over the phone?) gives us an advantage social media just can’t replicate. We get nuance and a more complete picture. We get body language and tone.
We also, and perhaps more importantly, get a closer look at where people really place their focus. I’ve never had a discussion with a pastor in a church parking lot that included the our-denomination-hangs-in-the-balance subjects you find on SBC Twitter.
Instead, those discussions cover the wins and setbacks of ministry. They include issues such as addiction and family breakups – not only in the community but their church. We talk about concerns over aging congregations and getting young people involved. These are discussions not limited to demographics, either. They are carried by churches urban and rural, large and small.
I’m not saying there aren’t real issues to be discussed on social media. But often those issues get overblown. In my experience they don’t reflect the reality on the ground in terms of importance. I talked to a longtime SBC leader recently about the convention and topics of the current day. He’s been around a long time and seen a lot. He’s served as a pastor as well as on the local church, state, and national levels of the denomination. I asked where he thought all of these hot topics and arguments were taking us.
The most important thing, he told me, remained the health of the local church.
It’s been said that to get a good idea of someone’s values, take a look at his or her checkbook and calendar. The same can be said for our social media activity. Take that and cross reference it with your church’s prayer list. The results can be revealing.
Technology isn’t going away. And like any other advancement, it can reveal who we really are. Let’s pledge to make it reflect a more accurate picture of the Gospel, and ourselves as those who proclaim it.
Scott Barkley serves as editor of The Christian Index.