Have you ever seen someone post something on the internet and think, "I can't believe you said that?" It comes from people you know well. They're good people. They're your neighbors. They're your co-workers. They're your friends. (Maybe they're you... yikes!) But when you see their tweet or their Facebook post, you feel like whoever wrote that isn't the person you know. Something weird happens to us when we are online. It's like those Snicker's commercials when they say "You're not you when you're hungry." That's how I feel when I see some of these posts online. "You're not you when you're tweeting or Facebooking or commenting on someone's blog." I feel like we all need to take a deep breath and eat a Snickers.
Seriously though, this is a big deal. This next section is written to a very specific audience. It's for people who call themselves Christians. If you aren't a Christian, then you are off the hook here. You still may find this helpful, but it isn't specifically addressed to you. If you are a Christian, then hear me out for a minute. The place where you arguably have the greatest amount of influence and the greatest amount of opportunity to demonstrate who Jesus is and why he is worth following is online. Think about it. You can interact with hundreds of people online. You can connect with people all over the world in an instant. What you post and comment on reaches more people online in a day than you may reach in a year of everyday life. This is an amazing opportunity for you to demonstrate the way of Jesus.
Yet for so many of us, we are the worst versions of ourselves online. We say post things or make comments that we would never say to someone in person. It can get so ugly which is really heartbreaking because when we do this we destroy our witness. People who aren't Christians see what we say and how we behave online. They don't have to be in the direct line of fire from our nasty comments in order to be affected by it. When we act like this through the week and then post about how good church was on Sunday, we reinforce the belief that we are phonies and hypocrites.
So how do we fix this problem? What does it look like to be a Christian online?
There's a verse from the New Testament book of James that's stuck with me for years now. As a youth pastor, I taught on this verse often. It's also a verse I've been working on for years myself. I'm not perfect here. I can admit that I've been guilty of being reactive or out of line on social media. But I've said for years that if every Christian would just work on this one little verse and get this right, it would completely change how the world sees us. Here it is:
I love that James calls attention to this verse before he gives the instruction. He says, "take note of this." It's like he's saying, "Hey pay attention here! Don't miss this. Especially if you are going on the internet." Then he goes on to give us three little commands that are huge in their application.
1. Be quick to listen.
This is so huge, especially when it comes to social media. Facebook and Twitter are designed to be about you. Don't get me wrong, they are about others too, but they make it so that you feel like you are the priority. What you have to say is more important than what other people have to say. That's why the space for you to post something comes at the very top of the page, above everyone else's posts. It's tough for many of us to log on and just listen. But when it comes to demonstrating the love of Jesus, one of the best things you can do is listen more and listen better.
2. Be slow to speak.
This is also an incredible challenge online. As soon as you log in, you are invited to "speak" by posting, updating, commenting, liking, etc. Have you ever tried to get on your Facebook or Twitter account and not say anything? For some of us this is easy. For people like me, this is almost impossible. But a sign of maturity in Christ is the ability to be slow to speak, to hold your tongue, or in this case, your typing fingers.
3. Be slow to get angry.
A while ago I instituted a "24 hour rule" for myself when it comes to responding online when I'm angry. If I am angry about something, I won't comment or reply to a social media post or email for 24 hours. This has helped me tremendously. Most of the time I find that I'm not even angry about it the next day. I'm over it. And 100% of the time I'm glad I waited. Even if I still need to reply, the difference that a day makes is amazing.
I'm not saying that following James' instructions here will solve all of our problems online, but it will definitely go a long way and point us in the right direction. My hope is that this blog post will encourage you and challenge you. It might sting a little bit, but that's o.k. The bottom line is if you are a Christian, you have a responsibility to represent Christ everywhere you are, and that includes online.
Feel free to comment below with other thoughts or insights, but make sure to keep it Christlike :)
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