6 Ways to Equip Your Church to “Do Good” on Social Media
Most pastors have several moments each week when they shake their heads in sorrow at something they’ve seen a church member post on social media. The last year—in which churchgoers spent less time in face-to-face fellowship and more time than ever in “fellowship” with the social media mob—has made the problem worse. What can church leaders do about this? Clearly an urgent frontier in 21stcentury discipleship is the area of media habits and online behavior. But where do we start?
My new book, The Wisdom Pyramid: Feeding Your Soul in a Post-Truth World (Crossway), is an attempt to offer a rubric for shaping better habits in the digital age. What the “food pyramid” is for our physical health, the “wisdom pyramid” is for our spiritual health—guidance for what to consume and not consume, and in what proportions, in order to avoid sickness and become healthier. If you recall the food pyramid, you’ll remember that the top category displayed the least important and most hazardous foods: fats, oils, and sweets. “Use sparingly!” the pyramid said. Can you guess what sits atop the wisdom pyramid? The internet and social media. It’s OK in small doses, but if it’s a staple of your diet it will assuredly make you sick.
As unwise and toxic as these spaces can be, they’re now an unavoidable part of life. Instead of calling our congregations to trash their smartphones, disconnect internet access, and live off-the-grid, pastors have to find ways to shepherd them to health and wisdom in the digital age. After all, they’ll be on social media whether we want them to be or not. So we must help them live wisely—and Christianly—in these spaces.
To that end, here are six suggestions for how believers can bear good fruit on social media.
1) Visit but don’t live there.
This is by far the most important tip because so much of our grief and foolishness simply comes from the inordinate amount of time we spend on social media. Many of us have flipped the wisdom pyramid and made social media the foundation of our diet. No wonder we’re sick. When we live on social media, our perceptions of the world become skewed and our spiritual health goes haywire. Like the dessert category of the food pyramid, social media is best consumed in small doses.
2) Go with a purpose. Avoid aimless scrolling.
One of scariest dynamics of the internet age is how conditioned we’ve become to go on social media simply out of habit, not because we have a compelling reason. When we have 30 seconds in our car, stopped at a red light, we pull out our phones and start scrolling. When we’re waiting for the subway, or just for our latte in the coffeeshop, we do the same. But when we aimlessly scroll, we’re passive and vulnerable to wherever the algorithms want to take us. With no real purpose in mind, we’ll click on anything that looks interesting. The digital wanderer is asking for trouble. Don’t open your phone without a plan.
3) Quality over quantity.
Cal Newport’s advice in Digital Minimalism is wise. He calls for “a philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.” In a world where your time is scarce and everything is vying for your attention, don’t be a passive consumer. Be happy to bypass most of it, trusting that a smaller amount of excellent, curated dishes recommended by people you trust will be better for your diet than a vast amount of hit-or-miss, haphazard snacks shared by strangers.
4) Slow down!
So many problems on social media come from speed: haphazardly (often destructively) reported news; uncritically shared fake news or conspiracy theories; hastily written hot-takes with little to no nutritious value. More often than not, carefully considered “cold takes” are more helpful, even if they get far fewer clicks.
Speed is also treacherous when it comes to posting your opinion on social media. It rarely accomplishes more than fanning some rapidly spreading flame. We often jump on a social media bandwagon before we realize it has a broken axle. Take time to vet the truth and consider the wisdom of something before you share it. Consider the likely impact of your words before you post. Remember Scripture’s wisdom: “Be slow to speak” (James 1:19).
5) Diversify your exposure.
A big reason we’re in a crisis of truth is that the infinite real estate of information encourages communities and echo chambers to form around and find “evidence” for any given ideology. Social algorithms aggravate the problem by feeding us more of what we like, further entrenching us in bubbles of preferred reality. One way Christians can fight this is to intentionally seek out sources and voices that don’t merely confirm your bias. We ought to populate our feeds with sources representing a variety of perspectives—politically, culturally, geographically, racially, and so forth—taking advantage of the internet’s platforming of voices we might not otherwise have opportunities to hear.
6) Share what’s good.
Too much of our activity on social media is destructive rather than constructive. What would happen if more people used social media to celebrate the good rather than to add to the noise with hateful tweets and trigger-happy rants? What would happen if we used our platforms to praise others rather than for promoting our own views and signaling our own virtue? What if we spent more time publicly honoring people we do know than publicly shaming people we don’t?
The internet can be a bleak, discouraging, often dark place—but it can also be a place where truth is discovered, beauty is celebrated, and goodness goes viral. Pastors and Christian leaders should model behavior that looks more like the latter, and they should shepherd their congregations to do the same.
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Editor’s note: This article has been partially excerpted from Brett’s new book, The Wisdom Pyramid: Feeding Your Soul in a Post-Truth World.