It doesn't matter whether Christians are part of the conversation or not, social media brings out the best and the worst of the online community. Social media has become the tool for people around the world to share cat videos, memes, theological opinions, and political agendas. The flip side is there are also times when we actually use social media for social good, and to love and support others.
After having been immersed in social media on a daily basis, because of my full-time job and also blogging, there are a few common practices that I've seen in a number of Christians who use social media. These may not be true of you at all times, but with an open mind look at your social channels and ask yourself if you are good at these first two things, and bad at the last one.
1. Christians are good at being experts on everything.
Apparently the average Christian has a deep understanding of extremely challenging Bible passages, predict with 100% accuracy who Jesus would vote for, are able to judge the hearts of well-known pastors they've never met, and can expertly handle any parenting situation. Some Christians exhibit a wealth of knowledge on pretty much every trending Facebook topic, or at least every trending Facebook headline without actually ever reading the entire article.
The last time I checked, God is the only one who knows everything about everything. Even if you do know a great deal on a controversial topic, ask yourself these three questions:
"Will commenting on that post actually change anyone's mind?"
"Will someone see Jesus through me interjecting my opinion?"
"Does this have a better chance of causing unneeded divisiveness rather than improving a situation?"
Remember, just because we have an opinion, doesn't mean God wants us to share it. Romans 12:3 tells us not to think too highly of ourselves. One quick look online and it is clear that some Christians don't apply this verse to their posts on social media.
2. Christians are good at taking an extreme view that is entrenched on one side or the other.
Those who exhibit this trait believe that there is only black and white. Are you conservative? Then you are cold-hearted and don't love people or Jesus. Are you liberal? Then you are wishy-washy and don't love God and don't take the Bible seriously.
The truth is that there are uncomfortable gray areas that we must learn to live with. Sometimes the truth isn't found on the edges, or in stinging 140-character bullhorn statements, but it's found in soul-wrenching conversations that cause you to honestly look at your own beliefs. If your ultimate goal is to help lead people to Jesus, then your extreme tweets will just come off as arrogant and unreasonable. There were two extreme religious groups in the New Testament who were always at each other's throats. Jesus did not join either the Pharisees or the Sadducees.
3. Christians can be terrible at loving others who hold different views.
Speaking the truth, just because someone thinks differently online, is not an excuse for causing pain. We let words fly because we feel we the need to defend God and the Bible. Guess what? Last time I checked, God doesn't need us to defend Him on our social media channels. He doesn't need Christians proclaiming that a homosexual wedding is sinful, that guns should be illegal, or that a specific candidate is who He wants in office. What God does want is for us to ask others good questions, listen when people are hurting, and pray for them when they are without hope. Christians should be known more for what they are for instead of what they are against.
How we love people, both online and off, demonstrates how much we love God. God doesn't command Christians to always prove that they are right, but He does command them to always show love to others. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul proclaims that we can speak like angels, move mountains with our faith, and give everything to the poor, but if we don't love others these acts mean absolutely nothing. In today's terms this means you can dispense all of the, or what you perceive as truth, on other people's Facebook posts, but if you are not loving those people it means nothing. These posts are just noise that people instantly tune out.
Those three issues above are pretty normal social media behavior for our entire society today. The problem is that followers of Jesus are called to be different. We are literally set apart by God for a holy purpose. God does not let us turn this purpose off for a few minutes when we open up Instagram.
When we post words, pictures, or videos on social media we don't just represent ourselves, we are at all times representing Jesus, the Church, and other Christians. Take a long, honest look back at your last ten social media posts. Do your posts accurately represent Jesus? Are you part of the arrogance, extremism, and noise, or are you sharing Jesus' love to a world who is in desperate need of it?