Twitter, Social Media, and True Influence

I have always been a late adaptor when it comes to technology and social media. For example, I waited several years before joining Facebook. When I finally joined back in 2009, one of my college friends joked, “Welcome to 2006, Dan!” Well, after several years of holding out, I finally decided to give another social media sensation a try – Twitter. Someone invited me to join so I thought why not give it a try? Long story short, I closed my Twitter account after only 1 week and 6 “tweets”.

I was surprised by all the random people who signed up to follow my account. Why did these people want to follow me? As I looked into their accounts, I noticed that many of them were following thousands of other people. Sure, they had thousands of followers themselves, but I found it curious that they were following so many people on Twitter. Obviously, they weren’t truly “following” them, which means it was more about self-promotion than anything. “I’ll sign up to follow you, and then you sign up to follow me, ok?” That’s the kind of game they were playing.

To be sure, not everyone on Twitter is like this. I’m sure that some people use Twitter for noble purposes. It certainly doesn’t encourage sustained critical thought (a maximum of 140 characters per tweet), but for some, it is a useful tool for sharing information and I am not necessarily suggesting you close your Twitter account. However, as the digital age continues to transform our society and particularly, how we communicate, there are few things we need to keep in mind as Christians.

First, be careful not to let the technology rule you. Social media can be a great time waster. I remember reading a blog post by a Christian leader announcing that he had just reached 20000 tweets. It doesn’t take long to produce a tweet (or Facebook post), but I can’t help but think this guy wasted a lot of time on his way to 20,000 tweets. Although you might think the world needs to know what you had for lunch, the truth is, no one really cares, regardless of how many followers or friends you have. Be careful not to let social media (or anything) take you away from what is most important.

Second, measuring one’s influence by the number of Twitter followers, or Facebook friends, or blog hits-per-day is not a good measuring stick. Stats and numbers can be very seductive and we must not fall into the trap of equating them with influence. Most of the time, we never really know how God used a particular post. There are times where people comment and join the conversation, but most of the time, the best thing we can do is surrender our work over to God and say – use this (whatever it may be).

Third, our influence is often best realized in one to one relationships. For example, two people studying the Word of God together can be flat out powerful (check out Acts 8:30-35)! In the Gospels, we see how Jesus modeled this with the disciples. If anyone ever had the ability to draw a crowd, it was Jesus. On occasion Jesus did preach to the masses, but his main focus was investing in the Twelve, and to a lesser extent, the 72 (Luke 10:1). For Christian leaders today, there is the temptation to focus more your social media network than on discipling a few people in your church. As you crunch the numbers, there is a very simple reason we are inclined to think this way. I can reach hundreds with a blog post (for some of you thousands), while I can only reach 2 or 3 or 4 in one-to-one discipleship. So which is a better stewardship of my time? Well actually, unless you are John Piper or Albert Mohler, the best use of your time will be in one-to-one discipling and in focusing on your weekly preaching and teaching responsibilities. As the maxim goes, we have to have a big enough vision to think small.

Fourth, find time to get away from the computer and social media and all the distractions the world offers. As a late adaptor, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that I don’t yet have a mobile device like an iphone or an android. I just have a plain old cell phone and it serves me well. However, I still struggle to pull myself away from the computer at times. If you have a curious mind, the internet can be a serious distraction and it can have the effect of tuning out the voice of Jesus in your life. Don’t rely upon the internet or social media for your information feed. Instead, develop a rich devotional life with daily time for just you and God, without the distractions of the outside world.

Fifth, if you are going to tell the world something via social media, blogging, or some other form of media, make sure it is something worth saying. There is a lot of information floating around in cyberspace and if you are going to add to it, make sure it’s edifying. Every once in a while, our church has a testimony time and sometimes I encourage our people to follow the ABC’s of sharing. It should be Audible, Brief, and Christ-centered. I think this fits for our discussion here. No point in wasting your time or someone else’s either. And if it’s not Christ-centered, then it’s really not that important.

I quit “tweeting”, but I haven’t given up on blogging (obviously), Facebook (at least yet), or of utilizing of our modern communication mediums. If you are a pastor, my advice is to focus on the things that Pastors have always focused on – prayer, the Word, and on training up the next generation of leaders (2 Timothy 2:2). By all means, use modern technology to accomplish that, just make sure you are not “used” by the technology.

Discipleship in the 21st Century

The digital explosion has changed the world forever. There are now about 2.3 billion people who have access to the internet and over 800 million people who are on Facebook. There are countless gadgets and devices now on the market that 15 years ago would have sounded silly. Even something like a blog (weblog) would have sounded like a strange concept back in the 90’s.

It’s amazing how the internet has shrunk the globe. It never ceases to amaze me the people who find their way onto this blog. In just the last week alone, there were visitors from the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Cambodia, Taiwan, Brazil, Poland, Iceland, Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines, and Ghana, in addition to North America. Obviously, the internet has been used for a lot of very bad things, but God has also used this tool for the furtherance of the gospel.

Let me give you an example of redeeming technology for the purpose of discipleship. Recently, a good friend of mine by the name of James had an idea. He wanted to be able to study the bible together with some brothers in Christ, one of them being yours truly. The problem is that James lives in Calgary, I’m in Ohio, and our friend Bruce is in Vancouver. James’ solution to this problem was to open a blog and download the Psalms onto the blog. Our plan is (we are just getting started) to read the Psalms together, comment on what we are learning, and sharpen one another in the Lord (Proverbs 27:17). This is a really simple idea, but it can be effective. Any time Christians use technology to draw them into the Word of God, it’s a good thing.

Just so you know, I am not in favor of the growing digital church (multi-site) movement. If you are not part of a church, then join a solid, Bible-believing, gospel-centered church. It’s great to have brothers and sisters around the world in Christ, but these  types of relationships should never substitute for involvement in a local church. The Bible tells us, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

There are all kinds of ways the digital explosion is being used to spread gospel truth around the globe. I praise God for that and I pray that the people of God would continue to find creative ways to practice discipleship. Whatever the medium, the bottom line is this – we must sit at the feet of our Master (Luke 10:39) and listen to His teaching and be empowered by His grace (Titus 2:11-14).