Maybe you’ve “liked” one of InterVarsity’s prayer requests on Facebook, or one of International Justice Mission’s remarkable announcements about rescuing young women from slavery. Maybe you’ve changed your profile photo immediately after a mission trip, shared an inspiring video, or done one of those “one ‘like’ = one dollar donated!” campaigns.
There’s nothing wrong with any of those things.
But the fact is that Jesus didn’t just say to “like” our neighbors. He said that the greatest commandments are to “love the Lord your God” and to “love your neighbor as yourself” (see Mark 12:29-31).
Moving beyond “likes” is a daily struggle for me between the countless organizations I follow on social media and the fact that I’m currently managing social media for an urban ministry. But clearly social media is here to stay, so let’s use it well. I think there are two main ways to approach loving our neighbors in light of social media.
Social media can be redeemed.
We can redeem social media by using it for educational purposes. Facebook is a good way to find cat pictures and cartoons, sure, but it can also be a good way to discover worthwhile news stories, blog posts, and upcoming local events such as guest speakers, awareness campaigns, and service opportunities.
We can also redeem social media with encouragement. I’ve actually heard people jokingly (or not jokingly!) say, “Facebook is my love language!” or even, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn; hashtag with those who hashtag” (see Romans 12:15). We don’t type out #prayerrequests or #failmoments for nothing; we want to be heard and understood. So, by all means, show virtual support to your friends!
Given how frequently many of us check social media on mobile devices throughout the day, I’m convinced that if we’re intentional, technology can help us integrate faithful living into our everyday lives. Consider praying for the post-er or post topic every time you “like” something on Facebook—perhaps a twenty-first-century way to “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Take note of—and take action on—articles, prayer requests, and involvement opportunities that get posted online.
Sometimes, however, we have to remove ourselves from social media in order to engage with the issues it’s educating or encouraging us about.
Interestingly, “unplugging” is identified as a spiritual discipline in Adele Ahlberg Calhoun’s Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, which says that “unplugging recognizes that personal beings are created for personal interaction by a personal God. We need to be in the presence of each other.” It’s easy—which means the degree to which it’s going to be meaningful is limited—to just have 140-character interactions, but we’re called to take on the character of Christ and spend time with the living, breathing characters around us.
When I started working in my current role as the social media manager for a non-profit, it was admittedly several weeks before I actually met one of the families we serve. It’s so tempting to use the fact that my job keeps me at my desk all day as an excuse. But in reality, I keep myself at my desk all day. We have the choice to emerge from our bubbles of work and school, to eat meals with other people rather than alone, to ask people how they’re really doing and do our best to engage with them.
Actually, more than having the choice to engage, as Christians we are called to do so.
What about you? How do you redeem social media, remove yourself from it, or use it in a different way altogether?
Julia Powers is an InterVarsity alumna who studied English at The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA. She now lives in Dallas, TX, works at a non-profit, and writes at juliapowersblog.com.