I have a love/hate relationship with church signs- particularly those with the classic changeable marquee. On the one hand, they provide congregations with a highly visible, inexpensive means of promoting its opportunities in the community, and can often double as an easy way to share brief snippets of biblical truth with passersby. Unfortunately, it seems that somewhere along the way, it was mandated that at least 75% of church sign usage be reserved for cringe worthy content that is cheesy at best and offensive at worst. A quick Google search of “cheesy church signs” reveals that the problem may be more serious than we ever thought possible.
There is a small church- and you’re about to see why they’re so small- near my home that takes church sign abuse to a whole ‘nutha level. A few months back, they set out to share with our community their take on the social media craze with this gem…
“Get off Facebook and get your face back into the Bible.”
Seriously, it said that. For several weeks. To the thousands of people who drove by every day.
Now I have to admit it made me laugh- more than once. I’ll also admit that somewhere behind the blunt, biting tone, there is some truth to the message. But at the end of the day, I’m not sure this sign achieved its intended effect of getting drivers’ “faces” back into God’s Word. Why not? Because the potential of the message was lost in the presentation of the message.
It is interesting- and somewhat ironic- that this sign addresses social media, because in many ways, the marquee has much in common with it. I admit it’s a weird juxtaposition, but I think there’s something to it. Consider the connections between a church’s sign and an individual’s (maybe your) social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, etc) feeds…
A church “speaks” to passersby through its sign…an individual “speaks” to online “passersby” through his or her posts
A church sign provides the congregation with limited space to communicate…an individual has limited space (140 characters or less, anyone?) to communicate through his or her social media posts
A church sign can be utilized to communicate great truth and helpful opportunities…an individual can likewise utilize his or her social media feeds to communicate valuable things into the lives of others
On the flip side, a church’s sign, when utilized improperly, can become a waste of time at best and an offense to others at worst…an individual’s social media feeds, when not managed rightly, can do exactly the same thing
To summarize, social media- much like church signs- have the potential to be used for great good, great harm, and everything in between. So if you communicate online- and since you’re reading this via Facebook, Twitter, or my blog site right now, I’m assuming you do- it’s vital that you consider what message you’re sending day to day to your web based “friends,” “fans,” and “followers.” More directly, as you ready yourself to tap out your next update, it is essential that you consider how your relationship with God ought to inform your online communication. Or put more cleverly, it’s time to ask- What would Jesus tweet?
Jesus was a communicator- and a masterful one at that. Living in the 1st century, He communicated His message orally, primarily through preaching, teaching, and storytelling. Over 2,000 years later, communication technologies have advanced considerably, leaving me to wonder how Jesus might share His message if He lived and taught today. While I suppose we can’t be certain, I think He would utilize social media- as a supplement to, not a replacement of preaching and teaching- to spread the Word concerning who He is and what He came to do. As His followers, I’m convinced we ought to do the same. So what does that look like practically? A few thoughts and suggestions…
Think before you type. Not everything that comes to your mind needs to be shared with your online community. Seriously, the world will not stop turning if you don’t update your Facebook status 17 times an hour. So be selective in what you share, asking questions such as…
Will this post build others up, or does it have the potential to needlessly offend?
Will this post have the potential to add value to others, or will it waste their time?
Is this post needlessly self-promoting or self-glorifying?
Will this post direct others toward thoughts and actions that are true, pure, and God honoring?
Consider your position- and your audience. This is a universal communication principle, but it certainly applies online. It is vital that you consider who you are in the “real world”- and especially who your community considers you to be- as you communication online. For example, I am a pastor, so when others read my posts, they receive them as the words and thoughts of a pastor. I have to take great care to steward that influence well. No matter who you are and what you do, so do you.
Ask for accountability. Just as we can be blind to our own tendencies in “real world” communication, we can likewise be painfully unaware of how we come across online. Find one or two trusted, godly friends who can provide you with honest, unfiltered feedback on your posts. If you are married, one of these should absolutely be your spouse.
Save a place for face to face. This principle isn’t original to me, but it’s well worth repeating. Social media is a tremendous tool for connecting and communicating, but it should never stand alone. Let it be a supplement, not a replacement, for real, flesh and blood, face to face relationships.
Let Ephesians 4:29 be your guide. Paul’s words here are instructive for all speech, and I think especially online communication. It is clear enough not to warrant much commentary-
“Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
Communication is a gift and an opportunity, and the advent of social media has afforded everyone- including followers of Jesus- with a whole new means of sharing information, inspiration, and encouragement. But with this opportunity comes great responsibility- and one that we must take very seriously. Let’s not shun social media as evil, but let’s also think carefully and biblically about how we are utilizing it as a communication medium, minimizing “noise” and maximizing impact. To do anything less is to squander a unique and potentially powerful privilege.
Now, get off Facebook and get your face back into the Bible. And when you return, allow what you’ve read there to inform what you post here.
Todd Blount has the privilege of serving kids, students, and families as Family Pastor at Fellowship Church in Prairieville, LA. He is native of south Louisiana and a graduate of Baylor University (B.A., Communications) and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div., Standard). He has been married to his beautiful wife Kerri for five years, and they have two crazy kids, Tristin and Jude. You can find Todd on twitter (@toddmblount) or read more of his thoughts at his blog, toddblount.blogspot.com