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Despite the flaws of social media, it can be a powerful force to share God’s amazing love over the long run. Our witness can be deeply powerful when our unbelieving friends see our continued faithfulness year after year and our hope of glory in the midst of pain (Colossians 1:27).
But that doesn’t mean everything we share on Facebook contributes to this witness. In fact, there are some types of updates we Christians share that, for the most part, do more damage than good.
Here are five status update traps to avoid:
Imagine, if you will, your unbelieving friends tap into their Facebook app, and the first update they see is you complaining (again) about that pastor you love to complain about. You know the one. You mention, for the third time this week, another thing he taught that is heretical, and you make sure everyone knows it.
First of all, we absolutely must call out false teaching. Jesus laid the groundwork for this when He rebuked the Pharisees and scribes for their hypocrisy (Matthew 23). Paul and John weren’t afraid to point out many false teachers in their letters. So, that’s not the issue.
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The issue is that your unbelieving friends don’t know all this. What they see, instead, is one Christian attacking another Christian for what seems like a minor matter. Such updates make it look like we spend most of our time beating each other up instead of doing that “love thing” we claim to do. (Think about how Pilate and other Roman officials responded to the complaints the Jews brought against Jesus and Paul. They didn’t see the difference; they just saw what looked like petty jealousy and bickering to them.)
Calling out false teaching is much better done in personal settings with other believers or in a private way with someone who isn’t a believer—and usually when you have time to really explain. The context is very important here. Slapping it all over Facebook makes the church seem hypocritical and hyper-judgmental.
Trust us. We get it. Someone talks about you behind your back or lies to your face. It makes you mad. You want to vent, but you don’t necessarily want to give all the details to everyone. So, up on Facebook goes a passive-aggressive post that you hope the person sees.
Maybe they will, or maybe they won’t. Either way, this isn’t what Jesus meant about us approaching that person privately to discuss the problem (Matthew 18:15–18). More than likely, you’ve made your innocent friends feel like maybe they were the ones who hurt you in some way, but they don’t know how. Now they’re paranoid.
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If you need to vent, do it to someone you trust in person so that they can bear your burden (Galatians 6:2). Don’t post that vague status update.
Requests for prayer can be very tricky matters on Facebook. For one thing, always-on Internet means that we can now get updates in seconds. That adds a new level of responsibility, especially in tragedy.
When something bad happens, we want people to be praying for those involved. That’s a good thing. But if we post an update about it on Facebook as soon as it happens, there’s a very good chance that family members and close friends who haven’t been notified yet could get the news through cold digital bits along with lots of strangers. That makes it even worse—especially if they don’t know all the details. At that point, our prayer request doesn’t bring the comfort we’re supposed to bring (1 Corinthians 1:3–4).
It’s much better for us to hold off on the post until we’re sure everyone knows the news (but see the next point). If you need to get prayer warriors going, text or call them directly.
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Another potential problem with Facebook prayer requests is TMI (too much information). Most of the time, we like to be specific about what we’re asking prayer for, and there’s nothing wrong with pointing to a specific need (Philippians 4:6)—in the right setting.
Not every single one of your hundreds of friends needs to know all the details about a sickness, relationship struggle, or other personal matter. In fact, those details could cause problems later for the people you want to help. (Remember that whatever you post on Facebook will likely be “out there” forever—even if you think you deleted it.)
It would be much better for us Christians to gather together in person and pray for these needs. Grab friends and family who know the details and pray right there with the people who need it (James 5:16). If they don’t live close by, use FaceTime or Skype.
Court rulings, elections, and world events can certainly get us mad and make us want to take to social media to explain just how mad we are. But no cause should be more important to a Christian than the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19–20). Court rulings and elected officials come and go, but making disciples lasts forever.
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When we post our anger on Facebook, we can—unwittingly—give our unbelieving friends the idea that what’s most important to us is politics. They may think that being a Christian means having a certain set of political opinions—not a life-changing relationship with Jesus. Worse yet, they might take you up on your offer to stop listening to you by unfriending you. That’s one less Christian witness in their lives.
That doesn’t mean we should never post on controversial topics. Instead, it means that we must weigh our words very carefully and speak the truth with gentleness (1 Peter 3:15). Lashing out or making threats to unfriend does not qualify. (If someone in particular bothers you, you can always “unfollow” their updates for a time.)
You’ll probably get mad at something that happens, and maybe an unbelieving friend will post something about it that drives you to distraction. But—and this is big—they aren’t saved. They’ve been blinded by the god of this age (2 Corinthians 4:4). Show them grace. They need it—even if you’re sure they’re wrong.