4 Ways to use Social Media for the Gospel

By Joe LaGuardia

Over the past two years, many church visitors found us by our website.  Our online presence is a major draw for our guests, second only to personal invitations.

If that is the case, then it stands to reason that churches, especially those concerned about fulfilling Jesus’ Great Commission, need to think intentionally and “missionally” about the use of social media.

The use of social media is not for the church leadership or administration alone.  Every person in the church must think critically about how social media may harness the power of evangelism and testimony in a world that has entered the digital age.

Meredith Gould, author of The Social Media Gospel, states that a church-wide approach to social media has to do with a church’s philosophy of ministry.  If a church is teaching that each person is a minister called to share the gospel, then the use of social media must come under the lordship of Christ.  No word published should be without some spiritual scrutiny.

There are several models for social media usage that might guide churches–and Christians–on the appropriate use of online communication.

Santa Clara University professor and journalist Elizabeth Dresther, for instance, argues that Christians can keep in mind the acronym, LACE, when online.*

The L stands for listening.  She argues that Christians can use social media by listening to others and assessing the emotions and needs behind the opinions and posts that people often publish.

Ask yourself: What are the concerns that people express in social media?   Do fears, prejudices, or anxiety seem to be a common theme?  How might God’s Word address these fears and empower friends to “love thy neighbor” rather than disparage the unknown?

The A in LACE is attend.  We Christians are asked to be the presence of Christ for others; this can happen in person or online.  Our comments and contributions on social media platforms can attend to people who need encouragement.

C is for connect.  Our digital world gives the illusion that we are relating to each other intimately and in real-time.  Yet, people feel more isolated than ever.

A recent article in the New York Times by Adam Grant revealed that people are less likely to make friends at work because people spend time on online or on phones during breaks instead of talking to co-workers.

We must keep our connections authentic and vibrant.  We cannot settle on being a voyeur in the lives of others, keeping people at arm’s length.  Connecting to people is the intentional act of moving past the “like” button.

The E stands for engage.  Engaging others online for Christ encourages that we share words of edification on our profiles and in emails.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (1 Thess. 5:11)

Are we promoting the cause of Christ and challenging people to think in new ways with our communications?  Are we building an alternative community with quality content and thoughtful reflection fitting the Christian faith?

Too often, our engagement is limited to promoting political or theological views that reinforce our embedded beliefs.  Status quo can be dangerous in this setting: if Christian engagement does not inspire transformation and conformity to the image of Jesus, then why share it in the first place?

We all know that social media is a powerful tool in keeping up with friends and family.  It even has the power to shape our day if it exposes us to a heartbreaking story of a loved one in need or bombards us with offensive opinions that linger in our minds well after the computer is turned off.

Likewise, it can be an effective tool for Christ, for it has shown that it can influence people to mobilize and get excited about a cause, religious or otherwise.

Although the Bible did not originate in a digital world, its principles are just as applicable.  We are still commissioned, whether in person, at church, or while surfing the world-wide web, to share the Good News of Jesus’ love, make disciples, and, ultimately, baptize all in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

“Digital Media–It’s All About Relationships,” in Bearings for the Life of Faith (Autumn 2014): 4-8.

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Rugged Diamorpha inspires a rugged faith

DIAMORPHA diamorpha smallii

DIAMORPHA
diamorpha smallii

By Orrin Morris

Many artists are fascinated by the sunrise and sunsets in the Rocky Mountains. Shadows, silhouettes, cloud formations among peaks, and bright reflections provide spectacular scenes to draw and paint.

We live in a unique area, too. We are surrounded by the largest number of granite outcroppings in Georgia. Within the area from Stone Mountain to Panola Mountain, to the Georgia International Horse Park, and on to Loganville there may be as many as 100 outcrops.  Granite was created by magma and thus contains many different combinations of crystals. A wide range of plants grow atop or in close proximity to the outcrops. However, early settlers found farming very difficult.

The thin layers of soil were sandy, thus causing major crop losses during dry weather. Furthermore, large sections of a person’s farm could not be used and runoff from heavy rains washed trenches through adjacent plowed fields.

Was poverty the norm? According to urban observers, the answer was “yes,” but to the locals, the norm was adaptation, and survival techniques abounded. Rock quarries and gristmills dotted the area making the most of the natural resources.  But churchgoers found the Biblical account of creation hopeful.

Genesis 1:12 reads, “And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.”

Survival was possible because God said it was good.

Our wildflower for today will soon appear on most outcrops and will inspire a faith that has survived in times of both poverty and plenty: Diamorpha.

The diamorpha is red in February and March but when it actually blooms, the flower will be white.  During the winter, patches of diamorpha appear in the indentions atop the granite outcrops in our area.

One Sunday in February, I visited a nearby outcrop and inspected the red patches where thousands of 3/16-inch ball-shaped plants awaited longer daylight and warmer breezes. By April, a second visit revealed white blooms had begun to appear, as sketched.

Diamorpha, also called elf orpine, when springing to life, causes stems to rise 3 inches. The light red stem has deep red 1/8-inch leaves that alternate for about 2 inches, after which branching occurs. The tiny leaves are oval-shaped, thick and have the appearance of little hot water bottles.  Along and at the ends of the branches, tiny white blooms (1/4-inch) form. These have four petals, eight stamens and a pistil. When the buds first open, four of the stamens are attached to the center vein of the petal. The pistil looks like a fuzzy white ball in the center of the bloom.

As the flower matures the stamens seem to pop loose, scattering pollen. Within a day or so the pistil splits into four seed cases (carpels). Shortly after this the petals drop and the plant dies.

Throughout summer and fall the tiny stem stays erect to hold the seeds aloft. The granite becomes heated and the summer showers that occasionally fill the indention with rain quickly evaporate. The tiny stems gallantly hold the seeds high to prevent their germination.

As winter approaches, the stems collapse and the seed cases discharge the seeds. The late fall and winter rains cause the seeds to sprout what appears to be tiny red balls and the cycle begins again.

As the economy has shifted from agriculture and cattle to manufacturing and service industries, the outcroppings offer us a useful venue for nature excursions and study. Some, like the one I frequently visit, unfortunately have been sites for dumping garbage and other waste.

God did not just create the world and walk away. He is still at work, lovingly watching over His creation. Not even a sparrow falls without His awareness. (Luke 12:5) More than that illustration, God watches over us and surrounds us with love. We would do well if we were better stewards of these outcrops.

Enduring through persecution

Paul in prisonSt. Paul had his fair share of persecution.  The book of Acts records how Paul, persecutor–turned–evangelist, founded churches and suffered as a result.  The book concludes with Paul in jail, his fate hanging in the balance.

Founding a little church in the Macedonian city of Thessalonica was especially difficult.  Acts 17 states that he preached about Jesus in the synagogue and won only a few converts; the rest gathered an angry mob and accused him of treason.  He barely escaped to Athens.

The Bible contains two letters that Paul and his fellow ministers, Timothy and Silas, wrote to the new church in Thessalonica. In the letters, Paul expressed concern as well as praise for the church’s perseverance.

He sent Timothy back to the church in order to encourage them “so that no one would be shaken by these persecutions” (3:3a).

Paul, however, takes an odd turn after that.  Rather than encouraging them to rebel or retaliate against their foes, Paul reminded them that persecution was a part of what it meant to be a Christian.

“You yourselves know,” he wrote, “that this is what we are destined for…we told you beforehand that we were to suffer persecution” (3:3b-4).

The church needed reminding that when they chose to follow the crucified Lord, they too promised to follow him even unto death.

Even Jesus did not shy away from this truth: “Those who do pick up their cross and follow me cannot be my disciples” (Luke 14:23).

Over the past year, I have heard many Christians claim they are being persecuted for their faith.  Some say that persecution comes from an over-extended government bent on imposing morally questionable legislation, while others argue that persecution is a result of the loss of Constitutional rights.

Yet, when compared with Christians in the rest of the world–many of whom face exile, death, torture, rape, and exploitation directly due to their faith in Christ–it seems like what we call persecution is merely an inconvenience more than anything else.

According to Halee Gray Scott writing for Christianity Today, nearly 100 Christians are martyred for their faith every month, and two-thirds of the world’s nations discriminate against Christianity as a general rule.

According to Scott, “We’re incensed when a millionaire is suspended from a reality television shows for expressing his faith in a coarse manner…But we turn our heads and avert our eyes when the blood of the martyrs, our fellow Christians, cry out to us from the ground.”

I agree with Scott, and I would add that we spend too much time trying to retaliate against those who seem hostile while neglecting to repent for some of the things we say and do in the public sphere.

In the midst of persecution Christians have the greatest opportunity to reflect the best of the Gospel: Even as recipients of hostility, we share the love of a non-violent Lord who declared that compassion, forgiveness, and inclusion–not exclusion or divisive speech–are holy actions that represent a holy, merciful God.

While rejoicing in spite of hardship, we bear testimony that God’s purposes for us will triumph even over death itself.  We bear witness to a heavenly call in which we are not commanded to fight back, but to forgive and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Paul wrote that the Thessalonian church communicated “the gospel of faith and love” (3:6).  Theirs was not a campaign using worldly tactics, but of living out the Good News in which Jesus was King of kings and Lord of lords.

They exchanged protest signs for faith, letters to editors for planting seeds of mercy.  They included people in their fellowship rather than exclude others who did not share their particular vision of the world.

I’m still not convinced that Christians are persecuted for faith in this great country of ours.  The world is doing exactly what the world always has done, it cannot do any other.  But Christians who claim to follow Christ have the choice to do what is right, say what is wholesome, and advocate on behalf of the oppressed rather than the privileged few.