As people increasingly turn to online social media for communication and community, we’re still learning how to best communicate online with each other. Christians should exemplify grace and kindness in our online interactions, just as we would in person. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. Instead, a cursory glance at the social media interactions of Christians reveal that Christians fail to represent Christ well.
Completely avoiding social media may be unrealistic. Especially during a pandemic, our online interactions can feel like some of our only interactions with other people. While recent advances in technology allow for global online connectedness, our interactions in this online environment have not improved.
We often treat social media technology as a platform to advance our positions or to tear down the positions of others. We reveal our true selves since we feel free to express our full thoughts and opinions in an environment where there is relative anonymity. We may not have a close personal relationship with the recipient of your online responses (they could be hundreds of miles away or in a different country). Because of this distance and our innate desire to convince others to our position, we find ourselves quick to post and respond but slow to consider what is wise and loving.
Christian accountability is an important part of discipleship. We often hold our Christian brothers and sisters accountable for inappropriate words or acts because we wish for all of us to look more like Christ. Unfortunately, I do not think the same level of accountability is held for our online interactions.
I am not just referring to online accountability about looking at inappropriate material online, although clearly that is important. Instead, I am suggesting that all Christians and specifically Christian leaders need to have accountability for themselves and for their brothers and sisters in online interactions. Just as we would address an offensive or inappropriate statement said aloud by a Christian brother or sister, we should do the same if we saw that same statement in an online written form.
Our sanctification demands this level of accountability and the watching world needs to see better online interactions by those who call themselves Christians. Here are some initial questions to ask yourself and others as you seek to grow in Christlikeness in your online interactions.
Why are you posting?
Consider your reason for posting. Are you posting or responding out of pride or genuine concern? Are you posting because you believe your position must be known? Must you post or respond in the first place? It can be wise to take a moment and consider your reasons for posting before your words are displayed to potentially thousands of watching eyes.
How is your tone?
Carefully consider the tone and rhetoric of your post. Even if your information may be correct, is your tone rude and harsh? Are you willing to make someone else feel intellectually inferior just to prove your point? We often do not think carefully about how our tone through online text is received on the other end.
Are your words grace-filled and encouraging?
Are you aware of what you are posting online and have you considered whether the post exemplifies grace and kindness? Is your online presence healthy and encouraging for others? We should often reflect and examine our online posts and interactions via the lens of scripture.
What is your flock posting?
Pastor, minister or Christian leader, are you aware of what your church members post and whether their online interactions would be considered sinful? If you saw the same interaction in-person, would the interaction warrant an intervening conversation between the two parties?
This is not a call to constantly know what your members are doing online, but we cannot blissfully ignore how our congregations interact with others on social media. Many users have experienced hurtful online interactions. If our social media usage truly reveals our true selves and how we think of others, then it may reveal sinful patterns that need to be addressed.
How is social media shaping your people and institution?
Are you aware of the impact that social media can have on individuals and institutions? Social media has become one of the primary platforms with which to engage a large audience with ideas and garner support for a particular point of view. These platforms constantly barrage its viewers with an overabundance of information. We cannot ignore the massive cultural impact of this technology on people, and especially those in our churches.
Pastor, minister or Christian leader, we can no longer sit on the sidelines and assume that our congregations use technology well. Although doing so can be confusing and complex, we must take the initiative to learn about our technology and how it affects us. We must also develop online accountability for ourselves and for others. Social media can be a wonderful tool, but it can also be a danger to our souls and our interaction with others if we are unaware of how we daily use it.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Eddy Wu is a doctoral student in Christian apologetics and culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., where he also works as the IT operations manager.)