On Twitter it seems common to know more what users are against than what they are for. Sometimes, I get the sense that everyone is a watchdog not only for themselves, but ostensibly on behalf of everyone else. Now I understand the importance of good doctrine and protecting sheep from wolves, but what I do not understand is when people within the Church expend so much of themselves in policing on social media. Below are some reasons I keep my “following” column to a minimum.
1. Geographical Distance: One of the benefits of having moved so many times, and having lived in many different cultures in the U.S. and overseas, is that I’ve had a good amount of my ethnocentrism stripped away. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the Northeast with its mountains, rivers, and rich bed of American history. It will always be home to me. But I’ve realized there are some ways we Northeasterners “do church” that simply can’t compete with the Deep South. In the same way, there are some detrimental patterns in the Bible Belt that simply aren’t issues for churches up north.
These geographical differences result in dialect, mindset, humor, historical, and cultural differences. This sets social media users up for a whole host of possible blunders or miscommunication. I think there is a reason Jesus commanded His disciples to go from Judea to Samaria to the ends of the earth; He was saying, among other things, “You’re most equipped to do ministry first locally, and as you learn you go, and as you go you learn.” I’m simply not interested in what a grudging person in Virginia has to say about a pastor in Idaho. Nor am I too much interested in what a seminary punk in Washington has to say about a rural pastor in Maine. They’re not speaking the same language and probably aren’t even trying to.
2. Relational Distance: The Internet has closed the geographical gap in some ways, but I’d argue that reach and ministry are two different things from a user’s standpoint, and we ought to note that difference even just personally. Thousands of people who listen to Matt Chandler on podcast would consider him their pastor. But Matt actually is my pastor; he knows me and is covenanted at The Village Church with me. So while he may reach people across the world, when he stands account as pastor of The Village Church, he stands account for his ministry to me.
When Twitter users troll pastors and leaders with whom they have no relationship, and no intention of building relationship, it is not helpful, nor is there a precedent for it in Scripture. “Well of course there isn’t,” you say, “face-to-face was the only option when Scripture was penned.” Well then, I say, close that gap as much as is within your power. You have an issue with someone? We have the gift of modern transportation—use it. Using social media to continually push back on someone is cowardly.
3. Spiritual Distance: If you have an issue with another user on social media, and all I see is you pushing back on them repeatedly, I’m going to assume you have not done your best to close the gap of which I spoke above. Because of that, I’m going to assume you are not interested in true communion within the Church, but only your pet doctrine or peevish point. In this case, your seasoning is not welcome in my steak.
Titus 3 gives pretty clear directives for what to do with those stirring up foolish controversies, so I’ll try to push back in a tender way, then perhaps a bit more firmly, but third strike and you’re out. Your salvation is not in question and your brotherhood is always welcome, but I simply am not going to submit the health of my soul to someone who seems to be only interested in self.
The Social Media Pulpit
With these three considerations in mind, I guard my “following” column on Twitter pretty carefully. I do not think I have to only follow those with whom I agree, but just as we would not expect someone to walk into a room where stones are being tossed in every direction by those who should be my family, I’ll do you one better: I’m not going into the house.
A fellow blogger received some pretty heavy hits recently and when she asked me if I thought she should continue to engage those throwing stones at her on Twitter, my counsel was simple: Preach the Word with joy and continue walking the path set before her. Standing at the crossroads and arguing ad nauseum does no one any good, and no one moves forward. Instead, I advised that she take the path in front of her with joy and the Holy Spirit, inviting others to follow to a more full likeness of Christ.
If you use Twitter, you have a pulpit. So, “Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching (2 Tim. 4:2).” Be known for what you’re for, rather than what you’re against, and always be long-suffering even in your shortest replies.
Note: I want to just say that I don’t use these same considerations for blogs/articles. I take them into account, but my criteria for discerning which sites to read is more robust and full. I am mainly addressing Twitter in this. In other words, I’m using 800 words to describe what should happen in 140 characters.