Influence

 the shape of leadership

Above Reproach on Social Media

Before you post, consider your what, why, and how.

George P Wood on September 27, 2021

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Recently, I posted a link on Facebook to an article about a controversial event, along with a tart comment on it. My wife texted me almost immediately: “Can you take down that post? Why would you even put it up to begin with?” Good husband that I am, I quickly complied.

Then I started thinking about my answer to her second question. Though controversial, the event was noteworthy. The article about it was well-written and closely argued. And my comment, biting as it was, was on point. I felt I was being prophetic. On the merits, then, it made sense to post both the article and my comment.

My wife, however, saw through the merits to my motivation, which was not good. I had not posted the article to inform readers or to inspire action. Rather, I had posted it in anger, to pick a fight with people who disagreed, and to demonstrate my own moral superiority to them. I was acting like a jerk online, and my wife wisely told me to knock it off.

If my social media feeds are any indication, I am not the only Christian who needs to knock it off. More worryingly, I am not the only minister. Too many of us make intemperate comments or denigrate people on the “other side” of issues. We then turn around and post sermon videos, worship songs, and Bible memes that talk about God’s love for everyone. The juxtaposition is jarring, and it hurts both our reputation and the Church’s.

Social media can be a tool for advancing the mission of God in the modern world. By double-checking our what, why, and how before we post online, we go a long way to living above reproach and to leading people closer to Christ.

Ministerial reputation is a big deal. In 1 Timothy 3:12, Paul writes, “Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach ….” Those last two words translate the Greek adjective anepilēmptos. According to Donald Guthrie, that word means “not only of good report but deservedly so.” Ministers need an earned reputation for moral character.

Paul goes on to list other character qualities overseers need in verses 2–7, but he ends as he began — with reputation:  “[Overseers] must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that [they] will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap” (verse 7).

Why is reputation so important? Because good reputation — whether the minister’s or a church’s — reflects good character and leads to good results. As Jesus puts it: “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Conversely, bad reputation — either the minister or the church’s — reflects bad character and leads to bad results. As Paul warns hypocritical religious folk, “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Romans 2:24, cf. Isaiah 52:5).

I believe ministers should use social media prophetically, that is, for the purposes of  “strengthening, encouraging and comfort” (1 Corinthians 14:3). If the example of the biblical prophets is any indication, “strengthening, encouraging and comfort” sometimes means offering a kind word to the distressed. Other times, however, it means saying a hard word to the disobedient.

The crucial question we need to answer is how to be genuinely prophetic online without being obnoxious jerks. To answer that question, consider the what, why, and how of your social media posts.

What. Philippians 4:8 encourages us to think about “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy … .” This is also a good checklist. Is my post good, true, and beautiful?

Why. Christ commissioned His church to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). As church leaders, we are representatives of that mission in our personal lives and professional duties. Before posting, then, answer this question: Will this draw people nearer to Christ, or push them farther away?

How. Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). The Golden Rule gives us a good way of knowing whether we are keeping the Great Commandment. “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). In the Digital Age, we should ask ourselves, “Are we tweeting unto others as we would have them tweet unto us?”

I firmly believe that social media can be a tool for advancing the mission of God in the modern world. Like any tool, however, it can be used or misused. By double-checking our what, why, and how before we post online, we go a long way to living above reproach and to leading people closer to Christ.

 

This article also appears in the fall 2021 issue of Called to Serve.

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