Ministers and Social Media
How to Be Prophetic Without Being Partisan
Pastors have influence beyond the pulpit. In particular, their social media usage has the ability to shape people’s minds and hearts. The question is, are we using this influence well?
Two statements from the apostle Paul sharpen the focus of this question. The first comes from Acts 20:27, where Paul told the Ephesians, “I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.” (Other translations speak of “the whole counsel of God.”) The second comes from 2 Corinthians 6:3, where Paul wrote, “We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited.”
The question we must ask ourselves, then, is this: Does our social media usage address the whole counsel of God without putting stumbling blocks in people’s way?
This question is especially important in an election year. Like many pastors, I have strong opinions about politics, which I share online. My motto could be, “I have a blog, and I’m not afraid to use it.” During a presidential election year, I want to use my voice to influence the vote. Perhaps you have this desire too. It is the desire to speak and act prophetically in our culture.
Does our social media usage address the whole counsel of God without putting stumbling blocks in people’s way?
Unfortunately, what feels prophetic to us often looks partisan to others. A prophet prioritizes the interests of the kingdom of God. A partisan prioritizes the interests of the Democratic or Republican party. When God’s kingdom gets reduced to the political shibboleths of one party or the other, we have put partisan stumbling blocks in the way of people who are trying to get to Jesus.
Here, then, are some suggestions about how pastors — and other church leaders — can use social media in a prophetic, not partisan way. I’ve drawn these from reflection on Scripture as well as from reflection on my own social media successes and failures.
First, tone. People evaluate how you say something before they evaluate what you say. Many posts on social media go unread because their tone is angry, mocking, condescending and the like. In his new book, Love Kindness, Barry Corey argues that when Christians speak in the public square, their message should be characterized by kindness. Kindness is neither aggressiveness nor niceness. Rather it is a “firm center” with “soft edges,” biblical conviction combined with personal civility. The Bible connects kindness with change in Romans 2:4: “God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance.” Pastors can do no better than follow God’s personal example.
Second, source. My Facebook friends span the spectrums of religious belief and political opinion. I have friends who are hardcore atheists and devout Christians, socialists and libertarians and everything in between. That makes my Facebook feed interesting to read. One of the first questions I ask when reading one of their posts is whether it is well sourced. If a friend uses a bogus statistic, cites a discredited study, tells a tall tale or links to some whack-a-doodle website, I ignore the post. After all, you cannot form a good opinion based on misinformation or disinformation. Knowing this, work hard to use only reputable sources of information in your own social media.
Third, reasonableness. I have found that people who disagree with my political opinions will nevertheless listen to me if I make a good case for my point of view. A “good case” is biblical, logical and fair-minded, so I ask myself the following three questions: (1) What does the Bible say, explicitly or implicitly, about this issue? (2) Given that the Bible requires or prohibits a certain behavior, does it logically follow that politicians should pass a law about it? Sometimes, yes; take murder for example (Exodus 20:13). Other times, no, however. How exactly could the Law even begin to outlaw envy (Exodus 20:17)? (3) Have I taken into account the other side’s arguments about this issue, stating them fairly, responding to them comprehensively? If people feel you are not listening to their point of view, they will not listen to yours.
It would be a shame to win an election battle but lose a spiritual war.
Fourth, wholeness. Some Christians emphasize “liberal” issues, such as immigration, poverty and racism. Others emphasize “conservative” issues such as abortion and marriage. The Bible addresses them all. It teaches us both to protect life (Exodus 20:13) and to love the immigrant (Deuteronomy 10:18–19). It teaches us both to honor marriage (Hebrews 13:4) and to care for “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40). It teaches us to “make disciple of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), since we “are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). When we consistently and exclusively post about the issues on only one side of the political spectrum, we demonstrate that we have been captured by partisan ideology rather than captivated by a holistic understanding of the Bible.
Fifth, emphasis. Do I make the gospel great on social media? “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). I must confess that I have room for improvement here. A person reading my Facebook posts might come to the conclusion that I am a Christian with a well-sourced, reasonable, holistic understanding of politics, which I (usually) communicate with a kind tone. I’m not sure they will come to the conclusion that God loves them, though. What messages do your social media communicate through what you say and what you leave unsaid?
This election year, I plan to speak prophetically to the issues facing our nation. I hope my social media usage is kind, well sourced, reasonable and holistic. Most importantly, though, I hope my use of social media leads many people to Jesus. It would be a shame to win an election battle but lose a spiritual war.
This article first appeared in the February-March 2016 issue of Influence magazine.