In this first installment of #MissionMonday, we are going to think about the goal of the church (making disciples) and the place of social media. in that process. I often wonder what Paul and the other apostles would have thought of our world today, with it’s great technology. Judging by what they wrote, I have a sneaking suspicion.
If you have read much of this blog, you will have noticed a frequent theme: change. Those of us who have encountered the gospel and have been born again are new creations. The gospel brings change to a person’s life. We are to believe, think, and act differently than the world because we are different. If, then, we are different, why would we use the world’s methods in accomplishing god’s stated purpose for us?
Now before you click the “close” button on me, let me explain. There’s a difference between using the world’s means and using its methods. The means that we use are those things that are simply available. Some of those means include word of mouth, books, newspaper, television (*gasp* I know), radio, and now the internet and social media. In and of themselves, none of those things are evil. They are simply tools.
The worlds methods, then, are how those tools are used. What strategies are employed to deliver the message? What message is, in fact, delivered? These are the questions that must be asked when talking about methods. What we are going to do, then, is ask some questions, look at how the disciples and apostles spread the message, and hopefully draw some principles out. Of course, the biblical world of Jesus and Paul differs markedly from ours today. However, the same principles, we will find, still apply in the modern age.
“Friends and Followers, lend me your ears.”
Today, there is the tendency to reach the widest audience possible in the shortest amount of time. Given that the platform we use tends to cost money, that makes sense. But there is another trend embedded in that. It is the trend that pushes us to gain “friends” or “followers” quickly, so that within 6 months someone might have 10,000 followers. And that trend exists outside of social media—it exists in our churches also. Bigger congregations, bigger buildings. When does the desire to spread the gospel cross over to “get more followers for my ministry to show how influential I am”?
Jesus constantly tried to weed out His followers by reminding them what His call was really all about. He started with 12, and by the close of His public ministry, He had maybe 120 followers who were true “disciples.” Since God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4), no doubt Jesus desired that all would follow Him. But, He would not compromise His message to see that happen. If He were on earth today, I don’t think He would be trying to amass hundreds of friends on Facebook or followers on Twitter, just to say “look how big my following is!” He would instead be sticking to His message, and as it was back then, many would turn away from Him. He certainly would not, I believe, play the games that abound online: “follow me and I’ll follow you back,” “for each follow I’ll [fill in the blank].” We should, after all, be careful of who we “follow,” and what it says or portrays about us.
Is it okay to have a lot of followers? Certainly. As ambassadors of Christ, we should pray that the message reaches far and wide—as many as possible. And we should pray that they receive it, embrace it, and act on it. But the goal must remain the same—to truly see people be saved and become disciples—followers of Christ, not me.
What kind of gospel?
If the apostle Paul walked our streets today, I believe he would be appalled at how we “sell” the gospel. By “sell,” I mean that we use slick advertising, cool and colorful banners and signs to get people’s attention to get them into church. When/If they do make it to our church, we give them a feel good, ego stroking message that tells them of God’s love, but neglects to call them to abandon themselves to the cross. Our church sermons and groups are about learning to live a life of blessing and teaching people how to make the gospel relevant to today. The gospel will always prove relevant, and does not need any help from us.
Paul reminded the Corinthian believers: “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:1-5). We would do well to heed Paul’s call. Preach the gospel. Keep it simple. It’s the Spirit’s job to convict and convince. Our job is simply to be a witness and teach.
When that person comes to a meeting of the church, then, what should he or she be hearing? The gospel. Not only the call to come to the cross and be saved, but also a call to surrender their lives to the cross on a daily basis. Within the gospel lay the answers to every human question and condition. Preaching the gospel is about making disciples—those who follow Jesus and become like Him.
Those of us who have a following—whether through TV, radio, books, or an online presence, must evaluate our motives and our ministry. Am I doing this to gain approval or recognition? If God declared that He was moving me into a new season, a new place, with no online presence, would I be willing to forsake that which had been established? Does my online ministry cause me to feel more important, or does it cause me to diligently seek His face, knowing that I am a shepherd of a flock?
Let him who ministers do so by the Holy Spirit and His power, whether it be in the online community or whatever place the Lord has placed him. May we each be sensitive to the position He has placed us in, as a steward who will one day give account to the Master when He returns.