I’m sure you’re leveraging social media to further your ministry. If you’re not, you should be.
Jesus hung out at wells because wells were the social gathering places in ancient communities. He knew He would connect with people there. Social media is today’s digital “well.” It’s where our people are, so it’s where we need to be.
But for all the good that social media can bring to our ministries, there are dangers. And pastors seem to be especially susceptible to some of these pitfalls.
Here are a couple of interrelated social media dangers that pastors face:
1. Social media can make us needy.
Countless pastors troll social networks on Sunday afternoons, looking for posts and tweets about what happened at church that morning. They’re hoping to find someone who wrote, “What a great message this morning! It absolutely changed my life! Best sermon EVER!”
Okay, that might be a little over-the-top, but you get the point. Many pastors are scrolling social networks every Sunday, hoping to receive some kind of affirmation for their efforts.
Some pastors even take it a step further. Instead of searching for posts or tweets, they’ll write their own. “Tell me how today’s service impacted your life.” And then they lurk, waiting to pounce on any positive comment that comes in. It appears spiritual on the surface, but it’s really a (very) thin veil for a pastor’s insecurity. What posts like these are really saying is, “I need your approval.”
As Dr. Sandra Beam recently shared with our church, affirmation on social media (likes, comments, retweets, etc.) elevates the levels of neurochemicals like oxytocin and dopamine in our brains. It feels good, and it’s as addictive as a drug. And like any drug, the more “hits” we take, the more we want. Once you start seeking affirmation and approval on social media, it can become an actual addiction that’s quite difficult to break.
Social media is a good place to connect with people in your church and in your community, but it is a terrible place to seek encouragement and affirmation. Are we really going to seek our value in something as fickle as a Facebook comment or a Twitter reply?
Social media is really just the symptom, though. It can unveil a much deeper disease: we’re looking for our identity in places other than in Christ.
Pastor, please listen to me: you are God’s beloved. As my friend Brandon Kelley wrote, “You are of infinite worth to an infinite God.”
That should be enough for you.
If we are constantly seeking affirmation and approval from people, it reveals that our identity in Christ is actually NOT enough for us. And that puts us in a perilous place. When Jesus is no longer enough for us, the door for our destruction doesn’t just swing open. It’s ripped off the hinges.
In Luke 10:20, Jesus told his disciples, “However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
Jesus knew His disciples would do extraordinary things. Even demons would obey them. Let’s be honest…that’s pretty cool! But Jesus didn’t want His followers to rejoice in those things. He wanted them to find joy that their names were written in heaven.
In other words, Jesus doesn’t want His followers to find their joy, their fulfillment, and their identity in what they do for Him. He wants them to find it in who they are in Him.
We have been adopted into God’s family through the blood of Jesus Christ. Our names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. If that’s not enough for us, something is very, very wrong.
In Christ, we have all the acceptance and approval we’ll ever need, which means we can stop looking for it on Facebook.
2. Social media makes comparisons easy.
Staples used to advertise the “easy button.” Staples would make all your office needs easy. Just push the button, and you would have it. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.
Social media is like the easy button for comparison. Just push the button (or tap your phone), and a world of comparison will be at your fingertips. And that comparison has the power to destroy you.
Log onto social media, and here’s a sample of what you’re sure to find:
- A famous church celebrating the thousands of salvations from this weekend’s services.
- A local church celebrating another record attendance.
- One of your church members sharing another sermon from a famous pastor. (This person has never shared even ONE of your sermons.)
- Church leaders who appear to be related to King Midas. Everything they touch seemingly turns to gold.
Meanwhile, you feel like you have nothing to tweet about. You just had another Sunday where attendance was down. Not one person gave their life to Christ. Giving is down. Volunteering is down. The only thing that is up is your frustration.
Ministry has frustrating seasons like that. But when you mix comparison with frustration, you’re drinking a lethal cocktail.
If you believe social media, you’ll begin to think that every church is growing except yours. Every pastor has it figured out except you. God is blessing every ministry on the planet but yours.
None of this is true. It’s all a product of comparison fueled by social media.
The truth is, bigger does not mean more blessed. The most gifted, well-known leaders have horrible days of doubt and discouragement. When you scroll social networks, you are seeing the highlight reels. You’re not seeing the difficult realities that every church leader faces. If you knew what that well-known leader was actually dealing with right now, you might not want to trade places anymore. Stop comparing your real to their reel.
JR Vassar wrote, “If not for social media, more pastors would be content with their small but significant influence over a local congregation and community.”
Pastor, what you do is significant. It matters. Whether you had 50, 500, or 5,000 people in attendance last Sunday, what you do matters. No matter what size of church you serve, are playing a small, but vital part in God’s grander plan.
Be grateful for what God is doing in larger ministries.
Be grateful for what God is doing in smaller ministries.
Be grateful for what God is doing in YOUR ministry. There are amazing things happening in your church. But if you want to see them, you must first remove the blinders of comparison.
Lance Witt wrote a wonderful book called Replenish. If you haven’t read it, go to Amazon and order it now. Seriously. Do it right now. It’s like a salve for the soul.
In the book, he wrote this passage that rocks me every time I read it.
When gratitude and sonship fills your heart, it spills over. Without competition or comparison or insecurity, we are free to bless others. We can tell them how much they matter to God. We don’t have to turn the conversation to us, and we don’t have to grab for the spotlight. We can allow others to succeed without envy because our identity isn’t wrapped up in achieving. We are God’s children. And that is enough. (bold mine)
How freeing would it be to drop the comparisons and competitions, and start celebrating what God is doing in other churches? Our identity is found in the finished work of Christ, not in the unfinished work of our particular ministry. We are God’s children, and that really is enough!
There’s a reason I wrote this post. It’s because this is one of my greatest ministry struggles. Honestly, I wrote this for me. I’m glad you read it, but I wrote it for me.
I often wrestle with overwhelming feelings of inadequacy. I compare myself to other preachers, all of whom are better leaders, writers, and communicators than me. I compare our church to other churches who are growing larger and faster than we are. I compare what God is doing in other ministries with what I believe He is NOT doing in our ministry. And the obvious result of all this comparison is a near-crippling bout of discouragement, anxiety, and inadequacy.
And it’s 100% self-inflicted!
If I would look for my identity in my Father instead of on Facebook, none of this would happen. If I would focus on what Jesus has done for me instead of what I can do for Him, my whole mindset would shift. If I would focus on the lives that are changing as a result of what God is doing in and through our church, I would stand in awe.
If I look at what others are doing, I’ll feel like a loser. But if I look at what Jesus has done for me, I’ll remember that I am loved.
I needed this reminder. Maybe you needed it, too.
Mike Edmisten has been the Senior Pastor of Connect Christian Church in Cincinnati for 12 years. He and his wife, Nicki (who is way out of his league) have two boys (13 and 10). Outside of family and ministry, Mike is passionate about Cincinnati Reds baseball and FC Cincinnati soccer. You can connect with him on Twitter @MikeEdmisten.