There are certain times of the year on the Christian calendar that always gets a few members of our conservative reformed evangelical tribe a little worked up.
I understand that there are dear brothers and sisters of mine that are rightly concerned about churches, movements, and leaders who undeniably have a large influence on the local church landscape.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t have some of these same concerns or reservations. However, I’ve made it a personal policy not to criticise or engage on a platform like Facebook.
Now I’m sure that there are those who will rightly disagree with me on this one, and I’m happy to be shown my blindspots or to agree to disagree. But here are my reasons why I keep any concerns and criticisms away from social media platforms:
1. I’m called to shepherd my church and not yours
God has called me to pastor South-West Evangelical Church. He hasn’t appointed me to pastor all Christians who follow me on social media (in my case there are thousands), or even pastor those with whom I’m involved in parachurch organisations like RICE.
I’m not called to be the theological thought-police for your church, your members, your denominations and what you choose to align yourself with or attend.
If there are those in my own flock who I am concerned about, then my job as their shepherd is to correct privately, not air criticisms publicly. I can see very little reason for me to use a social media platform to level my concerns, however legitimate they might be.
2. Social media doesn’t allow for sufficient nuance
It’s simply impossible to put out short social media posts with sufficient nuance, especially when they’re typed out in haste or in reaction.
Very few churches or leaders that I see criticised on social media are entirely without merit. Most I would consider my brothers and sisters in Christ with whom I will share eternity one day. Do I really want a blanket statement without sufficient nuance to (at best) oversimplify their ministries, or (at worst) defame my brother or sister in Christ?
3. My leadership and influence need to be carefully exercised to promote my godliness and the godliness of others
Jesus tells us in Matt. 12:36 that “everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.” I want to take that specific call to godliness seriously.
My influence on Facebook as a Christian leader needs to be exercised with my godliness in mind first. I am ever so wary of my proud heart that wants me to be seen as the ‘theology guy’ whom everyone looks up to. Criticising other churches and leaders can be a nice little short cut to that status. I need to guard my heart.
Then of course there are the comments. Not only do these kind of posts threaten my own godliness, it does very little for the godliness of those who put in their own two-cents worth in the comments section. While I’m not responsible for some of the atrocious things that Christians can write in response to a range of controversial issues, I also don’t want to be the one who inadvertently gives a platform for them.
4. Outsiders are not served by family controversies
If I’m a non-Christian, I’d frankly be (at best) a little shocked at the trajectory of those posts and threads, or (at worst) completely turned off Christian things because of what I would perceive as theological nit-picking.
5. I can easily and unintentionally wound the weak
There are Christian brothers and sisters who have been positively impacted by a lot of these churches, movements, and leaders. There are some among them who will push back at my criticisms, and rightly so. There are more among them who will stay silent but be wounded by these criticisms because they both respect and value me as a leader, as well as these people I’m criticising.
Again, I’m not saying that there aren’t significant issues worth examining and critiquing. However, I don’t want to use a grenade to deal with problems that take the careful precision of a surgical knife. I don’t want to wound and discourage even one of the ‘little ones’ that might be hurt by what I write.
6. Criticisms on social media often polarise rather than promote discernment and wisdom
What we should be aiming for is wise thinking and wise living.
Let’s be honest, when have you seen these kind of posts actually achieve anything really positive? My impression is that those who agree with me will agree more. Those who disagree with me will continue to disagree, and perhaps get a little angrier in their disagreement. And in the end, very little actual listening and genuine debate happens, for we all know how ineffective social media is to promote these things.
Instead what we should be aiming for is wise thinking and wise living. We want God’s people to be discerning and able to do faithful theological reasoning themselves. That doesn’t generally happen through authoritative people telling you what they think and implicitly telling you what you ought to think. It happens in the context of conversations and relationships, with Bibles open and hearts bent in seeking God’s wisdom through prayer.
7. I don’t want to win the battle but lose the war
There are going to be times when I need to stick my neck out and write something in criticism against someone or something. There are going to be times when it matters, really matters. I know that ‘what really matters’ is a judgement-call, and clearly those who post things that I wouldn’t post have judged those occasions differently to me.
But I am wary of my words becoming ‘white noise’ when more is lost than gained, especially in light of the points I’ve already raised. When it does matter, and I do ‘speak up’, I don’t want to be so easily ignored because I’ve become predictably ‘that guy’ who is always poking my nose into every controversy.
Now I know it’s a little ironic that I’ve aired my thoughts on this matter through a blog that will be posted on Facebook. I’m more than happy for some push back and disagreement to come, and I’d welcome my brothers and sisters to help me see what I’ve perhaps missed. Might I suggest, however, that it’s done in the form of a response blog, rather than in the comments section?
Now please excuse me while I go back to posting about the Tour de France.
Photo: West McGowan; flickr