Every day, I turn on my phone and scroll for wisdom. Sometimes it comes from friends that are friends in real life. Other times it comes from my carefully curated experts.
There are some I go to for political analysis, and others for parenting advice. There are experts on theology, sexual abuse, and the commentators on racial division. They’re knowledgeable and instantly offer Biblical advice or encouragement.
But is this really what’s best for me or the church?
Not too long ago, if you had a parenting question you would call your mom. If you wanted a book recommendation, you would ask a friend, or if you had a question on a difficult passage of Scripture, you would wait to talk with your pastor or Bible study group.
Then the search bar arrived with its instant, reliable answers. The rise of social media makes the availability of information even faster as we can now turn to a host of people we have personally vetted to feed us answers. It is true that the internet is a wonderful tool in our day and age that enables us to gain wisdom and see the global church of Christ with incredible clarity. Still, there is an underlying danger when we start to use social media as our go-to for expert information. This pattern hinders not only our own growth but the growth of Christ’s church in several ways.
One of the ways it hinders our growth is by robbing us of opportunities to learn through humility. When I’m in a tough spot with my young children, I’d rather send off a quick post to my homeschool group on Facebook than call an older mom in my church who has walked this path before me. I make all kinds of excuses, but in reality, I’d rather receive instant encouragement from strangers than become vulnerable and teachable in the community God has given me. The truth is it’s easier to turn to our friends on the internet for advice or even confess our sinful struggles because we do not live, worship, and learn alongside these saints each week. We feel safer and protected in our online bubbles, but our attempts to save face actually hinder our spiritual growth.
Often times the means of greatest growth and grace in our lives is not through the cheers of distant acquaintances, but through the humbling counsel of the people who know us the most. Of course, we can still use the internet for advice and even for friendships, but are there some conversations we aren’t having with saints in our local church because we fear to be vulnerable? Proverbs tells us that with humility comes wisdom (11:2), and three times in Scripture it is repeated that God gives grace to the humble (Prov. 3:34, Jas. 4:6, 1 Pet. 5:5, ESV). The cost of laying down our pride is worth the blessings of growth and grace we will receive in return.
THE BEAUTY OF THE BODY
Another way seeking all our answers online hinders our growth is by limiting our ability to see how the body of Christ works. There is a distinct difference in the way we feel the church through social media than through our local church down the road. I could ask my favorite author for a book recommendation, but their answer would not be as encouraging to me as when my pastor handed me a giant theology book and said, “Here you go, eat it one bite at a time.” While I have learned much from my favorite authors, they don’t know me like my pastor. He is the one who sees me each week and has heard my questions and what I’m passionate about. He knows how busy I am with three kids, which projects my family is working on, and he’s both challenging and encouraging me in a way that no far-off Christian writer ever could.
As brothers and sisters we are called to serve one another (1 Pet. 4:10, ESV), to encourage one another (Heb. 3:13, ESV), to teach one another, and to hold each other accountable (Col. 3:16, ESV). While these commands can be carried out on the internet, they begin and flourish in the local church.
What if along with racing to see those end-of-year book lists we stopped an elder and asked what book he recommends? What if we asked a godly teacher what reading plan she was going through? As we purposely take these questions to those around us, it blesses them as they are allowed to pour into us, while at the same time showing us the accountability of the body of Christ. No longer are we faceless avatars, but fellow laborers in our community. We assume the role of a saint who not only wants an answer but a chance to form deeper relationships in the body of Christ.
THE RISE OF CELEBRITY
Finally, seeking all our answers on our smartphones contributes to the Christian celebrity culture that continues to ravage the body of Christ. It’s easy to believe our favorite authors, the wittiest podcasters, or the famous pastors on our phones have it all together, that their words can be trusted the most. But the reality is that behind that screen they are the same, sinful, flawed, and gospel-needing people like those sitting next to us in the pews. We must remember it is not because of any special skill or importance that some are elevated, but it is because “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose” (1 Cor. 12:18, ESV). Christ is the head, and he has made each member of the body in need of each other. Moreover, Paul tells us that the parts that seem weak are indispensable, and we should bestow the greatest honor on the parts which seem less honorable (v. 22, 23).
When we start to use our social media groups as our primary source of advice, we see Paul’s definition of the body of Christ upside down. We don’t see each other in desperate need of grace, but we instead elevate certain members and forfeit the value of the “lesser members” sitting next to us. This warped sense of the body of Christ feeds our own pride and eventually sets us up for crushing disappointment when any of our esteemed leaders show their faults. We can and should benefit from the wisdom of public leaders, but we must make sure to prioritize and esteem the local church members God has given us. When we do this, we protect not only ourselves, but also those very leaders in the public eye.
FINDING THE BALANCE
God is sovereign over the internet and our online relationships. We don’t need to pull the plug completely, but we do need to examine the balance we’re striking. There may be some tweets we shouldn’t send and some conversations we can wait to have face to face. In doing this, God strengthens not only our own congregation but the entire body of Christ.
Next time you’re tempted to ask your phone to function as your church, think of who in your church might be able to answer the same question.
Brianna Lambert is a wife and mom to three, making their home in the cornfields of Indiana. She loves using writing to work out the truths God is teaching her each day. She has contributed to various online publications such as Morning by Morning and Fathom magazine. You can find more of her writing paired with her husband’s photography at lookingtotheharvest.com.