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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Raising Great Commission kids is important in faith development

Jesus once told his disciples, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs” (Mt. 19:14 NRSV).  Although we know that Jesus has a special place in his heart for children, it is rather difficult for us to include children in a life of faith in creative and positive ways.

In the most recent issue of On Mission SBC magazine, Brian Haynes points out that godly parenting includes the act of teaching children how to participate in a Great Commission lifestyle. No one is too young to start partnering with God in ministry for the sake of His kingdom.

This is rather difficult to do in this day and time.  Family schedules leave little free time; churches often segregate families into age groups on Sunday mornings.  Homework, sports, or other extracurricular activities have replaced family devotions around the fireplace each evening.

We may not be as stern as the disciples, shooing children away from Jesus; but we do indeed fall short of helping our children experience Christ on a weekly basis.

We Americans have certain rituals in place to help our children grow in the faith.  Sunday school comes to mind.  Also, we stock up on faith-based books and toys from the local Christian book store.  Some churches still make a children’s sermon a part of their weekly worship.  Children’s fellowship on weeknights expose our little ones to missions.

In a techno-pluralistic world as this one, however, we need to start expanding how we teach our children about faith formation and their relationship with God.  If we only rely on the tried-and-true habits of yesteryear, listed above, we’re only giving our children a part of the Christian story: We are teaching them that Christianity is something that you do.  At church.  In a small group.  Usually for only one or two hours a week.

We realize that our missional walk with Jesus is not a Sunday and Wednesday event only.  We also realize that we are called to “be the church” and be “on mission” wherever we find ourselves: at work, in our communities, while we exercise at the local gym.  Are we teaching our children that they are not excluded from this call to missional engagement on a daily basis?

In our family, we try to help our children see God everywhere they go by asking them to pray for the people at school and in their community.  Every day, we ask who they would like to pray for, and we follow up those requests by asking how they might have seen God working in the lives of others the next day.

My son, as young as he is, is just as responsible for maintaining his relationship with God as his older sister.  When he has trouble sharing with his friends, we often associate sharing with the radical hospitality that Jesus showed to his friends too.

Speaking of radical hospitality, how do our churches communicate to our children that they are a part of our local Kingdom movement?  At our church, we try to balance family worship (the first half of our Sunday service) with age-appropriate discipleship (children go to small groups with a volunteer teachers during the sermon).

Another way we show radical hospitality is to help children become a part of our liturgy at worship.  Sometimes we print children’s activities on the front of our worship bulletins (rather than having separate children’s bulletins) that relate to the day’s scripture lesson; I find that adults enjoy doing the activities just as much as the children.

Other times, we have children do scripture readings, singing, and special prayers.  Some of them may be learning how to read, but watching a child try to articulate a verse in front of the congregation is more of a blessing than having a well-spoken adult do it for the umpteenth time.

God’s heart remains with our children throughout church life.  It is important that we encourage them to participate in God’s mission, no matter how old or how young.

Being a People of Vision (part 1/4)

“Being a People of Vision” are sermons from the “People of Vision” series currently going on at Trinity Baptist Church, Conyers, GA.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. . . Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy.”  (1 Peter 1:3-5, 8-9)

“Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all you hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed.  Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance.  Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves to all your conduct.”  (1 Peter 1:13-15)

I.

This past Christmas my daughter received a certain Star Wars puzzle as a gift.  Like her other puzzles, this one seemed simple enough.  The pieces–only 100 count–were large.  She asked for my help, as is custom with every new puzzle.

As we began to work, we noticed that this puzzle was quite different than her others.  This one had two pictures on it depending on how you looked at it.  If you looked at it from the right it showed one picture; if you looked from the left it showed another picture.  If you moved side-to-side, the pictures combined a little unfolding drama that worked like one of those old nickelodeon machines.

I suggested that we put the borders together first, so we started hard at work.  Ten minutes into the puzzle, we realized that the border did not fit as expected.  It didn’t take long before we learned that we had to follow one perspective or the other to put the puzzle together.  If we looked at it from different angles, the pieces just wouldn’t fit properly.  That puzzle took us nearly an hour to put together.

There are so many times in our life when we feel like we are wrestling with a puzzle that just doesn’t seem to fit together.  Consider the many pieces in our life: family, career, finances, faith, and recreation, to name a few.

Sometimes we have a perfect fit–we connect!  Other times, we seem to lack a coherent picture of what this puzzle is supposed to look like, so we can’t figure out how to make the pieces work together.

Let me ask you:  Do you know that God has a purpose for your life?  Do you know that God gives us meaning and fulfillment when you are connecting with that purpose?  That God has a vision for you to use as a template to put those scattered pieces together?

The next few weeks, we are discussing vision.  Today, we are talking specifically about the vision that God has for your personal life.

II.

Let’s define vision:  A vision is a picture or an image of the future.  It’s not “what is;” rather, it is “what could be.”   It’s an image–it gives an impression with definite details, a coherent picture.

Consider these various visions:

God’s vision for Israel: We get a picture of Israel’s future in Genesis and Exodus: “I will bring you to a land flowing with milk and honey…”  God gives Abraham and Moses specific details–an image–of what life will be like in the Promised Land.

The book of Revelation: Paints a vivid portrait of what Christians can expect in the End Times, as John envision and describes a “new heaven and a new earth.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision: MLK envisioned a society–“I have a dream where all men are created equal.”  He went on to paint a picture of what that might look like: “I dream of a day where little black boys and black girls will hold hands with little white boys and white girls.”  That’s a vivid image of Luther’s vision for the future.

III.

God has a vision for each church, but it’s hard to have a vision in community if it is made up of people who don’t have personal vision for their own lives.  If you can’t imagine where God will have you in one, five, or ten years, then this church will have a hard time figuring out the vision for that future as well.

Today I ask you to build a personal vision for you and your family.

When we paint a vision, I recommend that we start with a few elements from 1 Peter for our palate:

V. 3-4:  Our first element is that we must include a vision in which we are born again and confident in our place as children of God and heirs of a “living hope.”

When we envision the future, it must include a hope that is to come–hope of sharing in Christ’s resurrection–but also hope in a road set before us in this earthly life.  A life in which Christ’s Spirit is present, rich with blessing, and filled with joy and peace–1 Peter 1:8 describes an “indescribable and glorious joy.”

Let me give an example of how hope can help us in our vision:

When I envision my future, my wife is a part of that picture.  I tell my wife all the time that I can’t live without her.  So my hope is that in the future we will be together.  If that’s the case, then divorce or separation is not a part of God’s vision for my life.

Even in our fiercest conflicts, divorce is not an option.  We have a living hope in our future that shapes the decisions and actions of our present.  Hope starts to connect those puzzle pieces into a coherent picture of our marriage.

IV.

Another element is to “prepare our minds for action” (1 Pet. 1:13) now for what is to come.  This is not some “power of positive thinking” jargon, nor is it merely an attitude.  Peter is describing an active, living faith that takes steps now to prepare for our future.

In our Dave Ramsey FPU small group, we get a clear vision for an end result: debt-free living.  When Dave teaches us how to get to that vision, he does not tell us to simply wish it to happen.  Instead, he gives what he calls “baby steps”–clear, definitive action goals that allow us to live into that vision.

When it comes to God’s vision, we take “baby steps” to grow into that vision.  Perhaps we are to take marital counseling; maybe it is to start attending Sunday School or a home Bible study with a friend.  Whatever baby step we choose to take, it usually requires “discipline” and “obedience,” which brings us to our next element–

V.

Our last element for painting a vision is to pursue holiness.  Holiness is such an archaic word, and we have trouble defining what it means.  Literally, holiness means to be “set apart.”  When it comes to vision, however, holiness draws the boundaries for our vision.

Holiness–God’s holiness–defines the boundaries for a vision-oriented Christian life.  It helps us to avoid having a double-image for our vision–conflicting pictures in which we choose between the desires of our flesh and the desires of the Spirit.

When we make holiness our boundary, and we obey God’s word for our life, we start to care about things that God cares about.  We start to spend time with people that God spends time with.

What does God care about?  Who does God spend time with?

I don’t care who you are or what you do for a living, the vision that God has for your life must include God’s deepest concern–those individuals who have yet to know Him.  Your vision should in one way or another include the Great Commission of Matthew 28.  God cares about the lost and marginalized, the poor and oppressed.  God spends time with the lost–Remember who Jesus spent most of his time with?  Sinners and tax collectors.

You see, when we get a vision for our life, and we start to bring all of those scattered puzzle pieces together, the picture that starts to form takes on a certain shape.  For the Christian, the shape of that puzzle–the glue that holds the pieces together–includes your vocation as a minister and missionary of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Our vision should include a type of lifestyle where we are helping others see God’s love and experience the salvation that God offers in Christ.   Look at 1 Peter 2:9:

“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness and into the light.”

So what is your vision?  For you?  For your family?

I hope that over the next few months you and your loved ones will pray about that and make it a priority in your spiritual walk with the Lord.