Editor’s Note: this resource was originally targeted towards Christian women and some of the specific applications reflect this clearly. However, the principles discussed here are applicable to anyone, male or female, who desires to have an impact for Christ in their digital sphere of influence.
Social networks (like Facebook) have allowed us to maintain and invest in more relationships that ever. We are able to reconnect with people we’ve lost touch with, keep tabs on friends and even speak into someone’s life when they are in the crux of a crisis. But sometimes this new way of maintaining relationships can bring challenges to representing Jesus that we never anticipated. There’s a whole new virtual world where we need to figure out what it looks like to walk with integrity, speak the truth with kindness and love authentically. Does your Facebook life cause others to experience Jesus more deeply? We’ve put together some tips, – DO’s and DON’Ts – that will help you make your Facebook habits tools for furthering the Kingdom.
- DO use FB as a window into the souls of those God has put into your life, and then use it to challenge and encourage them. If your friends, nieces, nephews, children, friends of your children have allowed you to “friend” them, watch to see what is going on in their world, especially those things they may not tell you in person. Today, my sister read something my son posted about a book he was reading and she challenged him to think biblically about that book. It was a simple sentence with great impact.
- DON’T let FB feed your natural tendency toward comparison. We women have enough trouble with that game! Remember that everyone’s FB persona is a very selective snapshot of their lives. It’s easy to create a persona on FB that is picture-perfect. It’s not like I’m purposely trying to deceive my FB friends but my FB life is not always the real deal. On FB, I post funny moments or family adventures or profound quotes or fantastic new recipes. I do not post scrubbing toilets or mommy’s screaming fits or chicken-nugget dinners or grouchy morning exchanges. I’m not necessarily hiding those moments but they’re certainly not what I’m going to post about on Facebook.
- DO be consistent on FB with who you are in “real” life. If your goal, as a follower of Christ, is to be an encouragement to others, then be an encouragement on FB. If you are striving to live a life of thankfulness, then let that shine through on FB. You don’t have to preach to others, but post those things that reflect the person you are becoming in Christ. Post what God is doing in your life so that others will see Jesus more clearly. Choose your words just as carefully as if you were sitting across the table from a friend, listening to her heart’s needs and striving to meet those needs.
- DON’T give a running commentary on your emotional life. It’s funny that we as women can experience hundreds of emotions in a given day. We may wake up feeling depressed or may start the day frustrated with our 3 year old and be ready to pull our hair out. When we publish a comment about these valleys on FB for our 500 friends to see, it somehow makes it more real, and more permanent. In real life, God often intervenes and allows us to see how truly adorable our 3 year old is, covered in our new B & BW’s lotion and suddenly, we’re not as frustrated with him anymore. It’s much harder for God to encourage our hearts and bring us out of that valley when we have dwelt on it enough to post it as an update. Also, the next time I see my friend Kayla in the grocery store or at church, all she remembers is my last post about being really frustrated with my little guy. I’m past it, but she isn’t. This can really impede progress.
- DON’T abandon your filter. We sometimes get rid of the filter that God has put on our speech just because it isn’t in person. How many times have you gotten into a tiff with someone because of a misunderstood email or text? Happens all of the time. And it is worse with FB because it is so casual. I have recently been struck by the language that some of my teenage son’s Christian friends use on FB. I have lost a great deal of respect for some of those students although I have never heard them speak that way in person. While, as women, we may not use profane language we may, as we quickly throw out comments on FB, speak in a way that we would not speak face to face with another person.
- DO be wary of false intimacy that can be created on FB. Facebook is snapshots. It’s not the whole story. It was never meant to be a replacement for actually doing life with the people around you. If you invest heavily in your virtual world to the neglect of the real-life people in your church or neighborhood, you’ll have a very shallow pool of true friendships. The give-and-take of conversation can’t be recreated on FB. Nor can the hard work of knowing another’s heart and treasuring that trust.
- DON’T leave your friends questioning whether they are the cause of your angst.Have you ever read a negative comment from someone on FB complaining about their friends or co-workers when you are one of those friends or co-workers? And have you wondered if it was you, if you were the cause of that pain? If you are feeling hurt or disappointed by someone’s words or actions, don’t post it on FB for all to see—pick up the phone or go see that person and work out your conflict one on one. We are called to live honestly with others and vague comments on FB do not accomplish that goal
- DON’T air your grievances about your church, your pastor or your church leaders on FB. You have “friends” who may be hurting in their relationship to Christians or Christ who will pick up your comments and use them as an excuse to stay distant from Christ. Again, do not say on FB what you would not announce in public. It is a public forum and a woman who follows Christ needs tokeep in mind that her words have greater impact on real people in their real world than she may ever imagine.
- DON’T dance with danger. The stories of women (and men, really) who are in a hard place in their marriage and decide to “friend request” an old flame from high school are all too common. In Women’s Ministries, we hear about them all too frequently. An online conversation starts, then there’s a phone call and pretty soon an invitation to dinner is on the table. You think this is uncommon? It’s not. I spend on average, about 10 minutes a week on FB. A few months ago I accepted a friend request from someone I went to high school with (never dated.) He sends me a message saying he’s moved into a neighboring town and is recently divorced and would I like to get together for dinner!! Hello!!! No, I don’t want to go to dinner with you! Needless to say, I didn’t respond and don’t respond to any conversation initiations in his direction (I don’t “unfriend” because many times that is more damaging than silence).
- DO set a timer when you go online. Facebook (and other social media platforms like it) will steal your time away. I think most of us would be surprised at the amount of time we spend online. Facebook can be a fun tool in your relationships but make sure it doesn’t take over. If you are spending a lot of time in the virtual world, ask yourself why? Why I am so compelled to check Facebook? Is it fear of missing something all the “cool kids” are doing? Is it a replacement for taking risks in real relationships? Is it feeding an unhealthy relationship that I’m hiding? Is it to avoid getting other things done on my to-do list? Perhaps identifying the real need will help you redeem that time in a better way.
- DON’T let yourself get caught up in a conversation or thread that is toxic. In my experience, political and religious debates don’t go well on FB. FB just isn’t the place to discuss, for example, the pros & cons of unfunding Planned Parenthood. The people who are most likely to comment on your link are usually so entrenched in their position that no real dialogue takes place. The dialogue that does take place, usually turns ugly because it’s always easy to throw rocks at people you don’t know. Your heart usually gets lost in the process. Not to mention all the time that you waste checking back to see if anyone else has commented.
- DO control your news feed. If you have friended someone that tends to post negative things or has a political agenda that gets your all fired up, you don’t have to hurt their feelings by unfriending them. Instead, simply unsubscribe from their posts. It might seem obvious but sometimes we just need reminded: Facebook does not control you; you control Facebook.
About the contributors:
Barb Larson: Barb is the Director of Women’s Ministries at Heritage Evangelical Free Church and a speaker with Shepherd Project Ministries. God has used her and her family of six as missionaries in West Africa and France before she came to Castle Rock, CO, where she currently ministers. Visit Barb at www.shepherdproject.com/barblarson/
Shannon McKee : Shannon fell in love with writing in Mrs. Jamerson’s high school lit class. For now she does it in the gaps – between serving alongside her pastor-husband, mothering her two tween kiddos, and running social media for a local PR firm. She is a contributing writer for The Better Mom and blogs on her personal site, www.inamirrordimly.net
Coletta Smith: Coletta is a pastor’s wife and mother of two daughters. She spent ten years in youth ministry and now serves as the Director of Events at Shepherd Project Ministries.