Christians and the quest to influence culture through social media

February 17th, 2011

“How can Christians use social media to influence culture?”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard variants of that question at Christian gatherings and conferences over the last decade. As blogging, social networking, Twitter, mobile texting, and other services cropped up in turn, Christians—always eager to share the Gospel with the world around them—have wondered how to “use” these “tools” to change culture for the better.

I’m certainly sympathetic to this general goal, but these phrases are clearly the vocabulary of the broadcast media era, when television and radio transmitted the Christian message to millions around the world, to great effect. But unlike traditional broadcast media, social media feels less like a tool that can be aimed in a particular direction, and more like a general background against which we go about our everyday lives and conversations. Now everyone is a broadcaster, and no central authority manages the message.

In the back of my mind, I’ve always wanted to ask, “Instead of trying to figure out a magic formula that will transform social media into the perfect evangelistic tool, why don’t you just be a Christian who participates in social media?”

These thoughts came to mind while reading a roundtable discussion about Christians, blogging, and the internet. Blogger Jared Wilson, asked “Can social media truly have a positive influence on Christianity?”, responded with this sharp insight:

Obviously I am interested in some level of influence, or else I wouldnt post my thoughts in public forums for others to read. But the context of thinking of social media as a tool to influence others and here I think of self-appointed marketing gurus, some of the pastorpreneurial tribe, and anybody who obsessively monitors their stats and rankings seems so strange to me…

Can social media have a positive influence on Christianity? Yes, locally and worldwide. But probably not… in that sense of heavy influence. But social media edifies me when Im reading the right people…. all of us here probably receive messages throughout the year from folks who say a particular post or tweet encouraged them, addressed some concern of the day, etc. So use of social media that glorifies God whether its reveling in the gospel, reflecting on a Scripture, or just in the spirit of Christian camaraderie being silly among friends can be a positive influence in someones need of the moment. Our days go by fast; our needs change. I would think a short-shelf-life medium like Twitter might be keenly appropriate for encouragement in that context.

When you approach blogging, Twitter, or other networking with this attitude, your social networks become an extension of your normal communication—which, if you’re a Christian, will be influenced by your faith and desire to share the Gospel. I think that’s a very practical way to “be a Christian online,” and is more likely to positively influence your “audience” than trying to implement a noble-sounding, but vague, media strategy. Among other things, it simply feels more authentic—who wouldn’t be a little suspicious upon learning that their Christian friends were trying to “use Facebook to reach” them?

Where have you seen Christians having a positive influence through blogging or social networking? Were those Christian influencers guided by a strategy, or simply “being Christians?”

Contemplating Winter

February 16th, 2011

Cold, wet and dark are three of my least favorite things, and winter has them in spades. This winter though, I’ve been attempting to find God’s handiwork in the season rather than just being upset that it’s not spring yet. Needless to say, it’s been a very enlightening experience.

Appreciation of Creation is a way in which we worship the Creator. It’s almost trivially easy to do in spring, summer and fall; the colors and smells draw us into a celebratory and worshipful mood. To find praise-worthy elements of winter has meant being purposeful about noticing the world around me.

One quick example: call me dense, but it took me until this winter to really realize how serene a heavy snowfall can be. There are few sensations as relaxing as standing in a freshly blanketed field looking around at the world covered in a white sheen. This year, the snow was even enough to force cities into a rare and well-needed quietude. Just being able to soak in the silence and sit in the awe of the expansiveness of God’s Creation has been wonderfully refreshing.

What about you? Do you take time to thank God for all of the seasons? Is there anything you find praise-worthy about winter?

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Introverts and Extroverts at Church

February 15th, 2011

I’ve been slowly reading a book called Introverts in the Church by Adam S. McHugh. As an introvert myself, I’ve found it to be a fantastic book. Every few pages there’s some anecdote that has me nodding along and saying, “Yes! I’ve been there!” I’m also finding that whenever I mention this book in Christian company the introverts in the room start to perk up and want to know more.

One thing that this book is instilling in my heart is that the church direly needs people spanning the spectrum of personality type. Right now the Church—in the United States at least—seems to prize the extrovert personality as the one true personality type. From what we call the ideal pastor down to how we teach people to evangelize, it’s primarily an extroverts game. It’s a shame though because that philosophy in turn makes it harder for some of the Church’s members to feel they can utilize their gifts effectively for the kingdom.

I don’t have a grand conclusion (after all, I’m not done with the book), but I did want to ask a few questions while they’re fresh on my mind.

For everyone: think about how your church practices openness to the variety of personalities walking through the door. Take a basic example: the time before and after church. Do you create a place for the contemplative person to prepare for worship? Or is it set up like a mixer? (If you’ve never thought of this before, have you ever wondered why some portion of the congregation tends to show up late and leave early?)

For the introverts reading this: what are some ways you feel like the church has supported you? We could come up with negative stories all day long, but I think it’s important to call out ways in which the church has been successful.

Which Bible verses speak most clearly about love?

February 14th, 2011

It’s Valentine’s Day—something you almost certainly couldn’t avoid remembering, either because of reminders from your significant other or incessant advertising on the internet, TV, and radio. Valentine’s Day may be an artifical, commerically-driven holiday, but in the end it’s hard to argue with the concept of taking time out of your regular schedule to express appreciation for your loved ones.

So whether you’re spending Valentine’s Day with a significant other, hanging out with family and friends, or ignoring the holiday altogether, we hope you’ll do some thinking about love—not only romantic love, but the Christlike love that we’re called to show to everyone around us. To help you focus in on the uniquely Christian understanding of love, our sister site Bible Gateway has put together a list of the most popular Bible verses on the topic of love.

It’s a good list—but also a fairly familiar one if you’ve spent much time in church or reading the Bible. Most of these verses are explicitly about love—defining it, explaining how to demonstrate it, and encouraging us to practice it. They’re the verses that pop up when you put “Bible verses about love” into a search engine. But certainly our Christian understanding of love does not begin and end with a handful of individual verses—we learn about Christlike love all throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. What other Bible verses or stories speak clearly to you about the nature of love? If you were to compile your own list of Bible verses about love, which other verses might you choose?

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When is the last time you thought about what you think about?

February 11th, 2011

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 10:5 that we should attempt to bring every thought into captivity. And as Oswald Chambers writes in his My Utmost for His Highest devotional, when we give our minds over to Christ we can stop being impulsive and instead “be used in service to God.”

Is your mind stayed on God or is it starved? Starvation of the mind, caused by neglect, is one of the chief sources of exhaustion and weakness in a servants life. If you have never used your mind to place yourself before God, begin to do it now. There is no reason to wait for God to come to you. You must turn your thoughts and your eyes away from the face of idols and look to Him and be saved (see Isaiah 45:22).

Your mind is the greatest gift God has given you and it ought to be devoted entirely to Him. You should seek to be bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ . . . (2 Corinthians 10:5). This will be one of the greatest assets of your faith when a time of trial comes, because then your faith and the Spirit of God will work together. When you have thoughts and ideas that are worthy of credit to God, learn to compare and associate them with all that happens in nature-the rising and the setting of the sun, the shining of the moon and the stars, and the changing of the seasons. You will begin to see that your thoughts are from God as well, and your mind will no longer be at the mercy of your impulsive thinking, but will always be used in service to God.

If it’s been a while since you’ve done so, take time today to quietly sit in a distraction free environment and catalog all the thoughts that are cluttering your mind. You might be surprised to find out what you’re devoting your mind to. This process can help you root out of the causes of stress or worry in your life, which then gives you an opportunity to seek resolutions or to give the worry over to God.

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Wait! Responding wisely to setbacks

January 28th, 2011

Earlier this week, Chris wrote about his reaction to a major disappointment in his personal life. He talked about his frustration with unfriendly “neighbors” and his efforts to replace that frustration with prayer and love.

Today’s devotional at Lifetime Guarantee Ministries, written by the late Anabel Gillham, deals with a very similar situation. Think about the last time you encountered a serious setback or disappointment in your life. How did you react? Anabel, reflecting on a huge personal disappointment that caught her by surprise, lays out the different ways we can respond in such a situation:

Well, we have options. (1) Go in the bathroom, close the door and cry hard. Wait. (2) Go to your room and collapse on the bed feeling like you’ve just been hit by a truck. Wait. (3) Retaliate and cause bigger problems. Wait. (4) Stuff it and feed your ulcer. Wait. (5) Tell yourself the truths that we’ve learned together and make yourself listen! He is with me. He loves me. He can handle this (I sure can’t!) He is with me. He loves me. He can handle this–one hand tied behind His back. Wait. (6) Get busy. Whistle while you work or sing while you suffer. (I whistle. My singing leaves a lot to be desired.) Wait. (7) Do something nice for someone. All the while fixing your thoughts on those things that are true and good and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely. Dwell on the fine, good things in others. Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about. Not just one time–over and over and over, etc. Wait. (8) Ask Him to tell you what to do. Ask Him to give you His thoughts on how to handle this unexpected crisis–and listen. Wait. (9) Thank Him for taking care of this crucial episode that burst into your life quite unexpectedly–having one goal–to incapacitate you or destroy you! Wait. (10) Go back to #5 and do it all over again.

I am presuming that you caught the word, “wait?” Spewing out those impulsive, angry, defensive, hurtful words on the tip of your tongue–no! Regurgitating rash, condemning statements to anyone around you–no! God tells us, “Be angry–but sin not. Meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still” which means wait (Psalm 4:4).

Obviously, there are many different ways to respond to life crises, and different situations call for different responses. But whatever the response, it’s important that we not sin by acting rashly and emotionally. The next time you’re insulted, disappointed, or provoked, don’t indulge your instinctive reaction. Wait.

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. —Psalm 37:7

Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly. —Proverbs 14:29

Today’s Devotional: Prayer in the Face of Frustration

January 26th, 2011

I’m going through a a disappointing situation right now. Without getting into the details, a personal situation I was excited for has gone from hopeful to unsalvageable over the past week. To say I’m frustrated would be an understatement.

However, like many frustrating circumstances in life, it has provided daily (often hourly) opportunities to test my commitment to Jesus’ famous words in Matthew 22:37-40:

“Jesus replied: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

It’s easy to love God when life is full of blessings. Likewise, it’s easy to love your neighbor when everyone is being friendly. But what about when your expectations are dashed and your neighbors are decidedly unfriendly? What I’m re-realizing through this experience is that prayer is incredibly necessary. I’ve been praying for God to take my worry and replace it with His grace and His peace. And, unsurprisingly, whenever I can rise above my own issues enough to lay them before God, He has been faithful in answering that prayer.

Perhaps you’re in a similar situation. Have you taken time to pray about the situation? What would it take for you to exhibit God’s love to the people involved?

Driving ourselves to distraction

January 25th, 2011

Text messages. Twitter. Facebook. iPhones, iPads, video games… the list of distractions in our lives goes on and on. These aren’t bad things in and of themselves, of course—but I’ll be the first to admit that with so many opportunities for distraction at hand, I spend a lot of time checking email or catching up on Facebook that I might once have spent doing something more productive.

In this devotional at Delve Into Jesus, Michael Lane admits to the same impulse, and considers the example of a friend who decided to opt out of of these digital distractions entirely:

I can relate. I don’t own an iPad, but I do own an iPhone so I know first hand exactly what [my friend] Peter is talking about. It’s the first thing I reach for in the doctor’s waiting room or while waiting for others to arrive to a meeting. That’s reasonable, I suppose, but lately I’ve found myself reaching for it in the car at long red lights or when I’m watching television with my wife. That’s not reasonable, and it’s gotten me into some hot water.

The point Peter was trying to make is that we’ve lost our respect and desire for quiet, introspective thought. It’s so easy to fill our minds with information or tap into entertainment that there is no longer a need to ever be without it – not in the car, not in our bedrooms, not even when we’re camping or on vacation. Every moment of the day, regardless of where I am, I can check my email, watch a podcast, update Twitter or read the news. The vast majority of the time, there is not a single email, news story or social networking update that comes even close to affecting my life, but I read them all anyway. At the very moment when I sense that I am not listening to something, reading something or doing something, I instinctively reach out for anything that will occupy my mind and keep me from… well from what? Boredom? Silence? My own thoughts? Not being productive? I’m not sure, but I think it’s some combination of these fears.

Lane is concerned about the effect of this boredom and distraction on our prayer lives. Lane isn’t saying you should get rid of your iPhone or stop using Twitter—he specifically notes that he isn’t ditching his phone or blaming the technology. But he does challenge us to use our time deliberately, and to avoid using our fancy tools as simple meaningless distractions. The next time you reach for your phone/game/iPad, ask yourself: are you doing it because it’s important, or simply because it’s a habit and you’re bored? What else could you do that would be more personally—and spiritually—rewarding?

Today’s devotional: Conform to Christ, not other Christians

January 24th, 2011

Is there a “Christian personality,” a set of personality traits that a Christian should exhibit? Certainly, there is a well-defined set of moral values that should define the Christian life—love, kindness, self-control, and others. But beyond sharing those core values with fellow Christians, should we adopt a specific type of personality as well?

Looking at many of today’s well-known Christian leaders and pastors, you might get the impression that to be an effective Christian means adopting their personalities: outgoing, unrelentingly cheerful, always optimistic. Not so, says Blaine Smith in this devotional—becoming a new person in Christ doesn’t mean sacrificing your individuality:

Ideas abound in so many Christian circles about the ideal Christian personality, and this is a major reason for our confusion. While it may not be taught explicitly that one personality type is more godly than another, stereotypes persist nonetheless. Many Christians assume that leaders, and other strong believers whom they admire, are closer to having the perfect Christian personality than they are themselves.

As a new Christian, I simply assumed that the extroverted leaders of our church college group, with their football coach temperaments, were displaying Gods personality standard. I disdained my own personality, which seemed too mild and reflective compared to theirs, and did what I could to emulate the personality style of these leaders whom I esteemed.

Our confusion about individuality also results from certain theological misconceptions about what it means to a have new life in Christ. Scripture teaches that we are new creations as Christians. Were urged to deny our old nature and die to ourselves, in order to be fully alive in Christ. From there, its an easy jump to thinking that we must deny what is unique about our own personality and individual potential, in order to be Christ-like.

Blaine cites Martha (the sister of Mary and Lazarus) as an example of a Christian whose unique personality was evident even after her acceptance of Christ. In fact, our personal quirks and interests can point to unique ways to serve Christ. Christ wants us to conform—but to his image, not to the specific personality traits of other Christians.

Today’s Devotional: Stating Not Arguing

January 21st, 2011

Perhaps I’m alone in this, but when I encounter someone who disagrees with me my natural inclination is to argue with them. After all, they’re wrong!

A.W. Tozer challenges us in this devotional that when it comes to matters of defending God our only responsibility is to positively declare God’s truth. With that act, we put the burden of persuasion upon God, who is far more capable than you or I:

The answer to the question, “Where did I come from?” can never be better answered than by the Christian mother who tells her child, “God made you!” The great store of knowledge in today’s world cannot improve on that simple answer! The scientist can tell us the secrets of how matter operates, but the origin of matter lies in deep silence, refusing to give an answer to man’s question. … Our chief business is not to argue or to persuade our generation. With our positive declaration of God’s Word and revelation, we make God responsible for the outcome.

Are you in the midst of an on-going argument with someone over issues of God and faith? How would taking Tozer’s advice change your approach to the disagreement?

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