The year started with division, anger and fear. The outrage of partisan politics is pouring fuel on the fire already burning at an alarming rate. These fires burn hottest on social media.
The witness of the church no longer is constrained to a church building or a single community, but also now happens on the social media accounts of individual Christians.
The world can see our true hearts, our uninhibited selves in what we post or share online. The truth is the world sees more of the church’s witness on Facebook than it sees on its own city block.
The question going forward for us is: How do we faithfully obey the great commandment and fulfill the great commission with our online presence?
In a year that promises to be marked by political fights and division, how can we be the church faithfully in our individual witness online?
Here are three social media practices we can keep as followers of Jesus to be better witnesses to the world in 2020.
Be slow to speak
One of the hardest practical commands we are given in the Bible is to be slow to speak and quick to listen. The immediacy of social media and the outlet it gives for us to voice every single opinion we have is doing great damage to our souls.
We don’t have to have an opinion on every matter. Even when we do have an opinion, we don’t have to voice it. There are times we can and should be silent.
When someone posts something on social media we don’t agree with, we can pause for a moment before we respond.
We can ask ourselves: “Is this helpful? Does this show the patience and love of God? Am I seeking God’s glory or my own in posting this comment?”
Don’t react to everything. Scroll past, and move along. Be slow to comment.
Pursue what is true
Social media is filled with information, stories and memes that are completely untrue, don’t tell the full story, are missing the nuance needed, or are biased to the point of being unhelpful. Just because we see it on social media doesn’t make it true.
We are called to be people of the truth, to pursue truth and proclaim truth. Before we share a story, a pithy statement or an image, we should stop and first see if what we are sharing is factually true.
We are called to be bridge builders, peacemakers, men and women of the truth. Anger and fear thrive where truth is lacking. Don’t share anything without double-checking its veracity.
Love first and be gracious
If you were to step back from your own social media presence and look with the eyes of someone seeking Jesus or even someone looking for a new church home, what impression of Jesus and your church would you get from your social media activity? The world will know us by our love, Jesus says of his followers.
We downplay our online presence. We act like it is no big deal to share a hateful meme or to write a demeaning post. We explain it away because those we target are celebrities or politicians.
But words matter, and treating all people with dignity and respect because they are made in the image of God and loved by him matters. If we will post derisive things about a politician on Facebook, what do we say or think about the person in the pew next to us who may have voted for that politician?
We must strive for more grace, and we must speak—online and off—with more love. We must be better, church. We can be better.
I realize social media is not real life, but it is a place where we speak and where we are witnesses for the gospel. May God, by his grace, help us be faithful to show his glory and his love through our social media presence.
This year is going to be a year of political division and anger. We, as the church, have an opportunity to show another way, a kingdom way, and we can do so in our neighborhoods and in our networks.
Zac Harrel is pastor of First Baptist Church in Gustine, Texas. The views expressed are those solely of the author.