Recently, I was reading an article on Reverend Pete Phillips who is the director of the Codec Research Centre for Digital Theology at Durham University in the UK. In this article he discusses an experience he had ten years ago at the Durham Cathedral.
In 2008 Phillips arrived in Durham and was removed from the city’s cathedral for reading the Bible on his mobile phone while in the pews. Phones were not allowed in the holy place, and the individual who eventually escorted him out did not believe that Phillips was using his phone for worship.
Since then Durham Cathedral’s phone policies have drastically changed to accommodate the technologically and socially advancing culture of our time. People today are allowed to use their phones in Durham Cathedral as they are in many other Churches without facing the same consequences that Phillips did ten years ago. When asked to comment about the changes, Phillips said, “The attitude has changed because to restrict people from their mobile phone today, is to ask them to cut their arm off.”
THE SOCIAL MEDIA GENERATION
Today, we not only allow phones to be used during services, but we designate individuals to access and post on social media pages during services and even hire staff members whose only job description is to run Church social media pages (not that there is anything wrong with that).
These measures are proof of the tech-related updates the Church has undergone over the years. The rise of social media and smart phone usage are significantly changing the way 2 billion Christians today worship. Not only is the way we worship being impacted, but so is our view and understanding of our faith as well.
It’s important to note that this post is not against social media or technological advancement. I’m not here to condemn any of it. In fact, the Church has gained much from it. We can all acknowledge that it has been used as an effective tool to spread the Gospel faster to places and people that physically cannot be reached immediately. It’s opened up doors for many believers around the world to become connected, unified and share information. It’s helped the Church gain better awareness of the culture and trends surrounding the society it’s a part of. It also has created a platform for many believers to spread Godly influence outside of Church walls. All in all, we can conclude that the benefits are plenty.
However, the power of social media culture and the advancement of smartphones have not only come along with many benefits, but also with some dangerous effects that we seem to overlook.
TWO MAJOR EFFECTS
In today’s post, I want to carefully address two of the top effects I have observed. In doing so, my desire is to: 1) Help bring awareness to a serious danger we’re facing and 2) To re-evaluate the measures we are taking as followers of Christ to preserve the values, principles, and very foundation of the Church.
I am not against or suggesting that we avoid social media or technological advancement. I am simply cautioning us to know how to use these tools without allowing the secular culture they carry to distort or influence the values and principles of the Church.
1. BIBLICALY DIVORCED “TRUTH”
This is huge. And perhaps the MOST problematic area.
In a day where social media has given everyone a platform to “preach” many of those who are not equipped by the knowledge of the Word are utilizing this platform to spread incorrect biblical teachings that hinder healthy spiritual development and understanding.
Either we have folks “preaching” TO our emotions or FROM their emotions while dismissing the truth of the Word; or we have folks preaching incorrect biblical understanding altogether.
The problem is double sided. On one side, we have GROUP A)
This group of people are not planted in their Churches and aren’t being fed by trusted Spiritual authorities of their Church (who are actually called and trained to feed them). For some, they could be church hoppers who lack the discipline in being rooted in one place. While for others, it could be that they are new believers who aren’t intentional in finding a Church community to be plugged into. Nonetheless, they are not being spiritually developed by those brought by God to equip them with the tools they need to be mature and anchored. As a result, lack of consistent spiritual development coupled with lack of discernment and maturity prevents them from identifying what is inconsistent or divorced from the truth of the Scripture. This causes them to eat up anything they are being fed via social media “church.”
On the other side, we have GROUP B)
These are folks who have not submitted to the growth process they need before the can be trusted with the position of feeding others Spiritually. Most often due to issues of pride, arrogance, stubbornness, or intimidation of other Spiritual leaders they avoid submitting under someone for the purpose of being groomed and mentored. In their mind, they know it all and don’t need anyone to “teach” them. They will use social media platform to speak and influence many prematurely. They may still motivate you and even sound good with their words BUT it will be absent of the Holy Spirit and absent of any substance that comes from the Word of God. It will make your emotions feel good, at the cost of starving your spirit.
When you put those two groups of people together it becomes the blind leading the blind. You get disaster, confusion and a whole lot of incorrect and inconsistent beliefs. And this begins to create a divide even within the Church between “social media Christians”, and “Church Christians”. Ultimately, making the Word of God seem like it’s contradicting itself.
2. LOSS OF REVERENCE
Then there is the second and scariest effect of social media culture in the Church– loss of reverence.
It’s scary enough to know that our generation is hardly familiar with the word itself.
About a year ago I went to speak at a Church on the topic of being set apart. While sharing my message, I paused to ask if anyone in the congregation could define the word ‘reverence’ for me. Out of a crowd of about 150 adults not one person could correctly define the term. There was immediately a wave of shock and fear that came over me as I faced this reality. This was a room full of career driven, educated adults who for the most part had spent a majority, if not all of their lives, in Church. These weren’t new believers. Yet they were unable to define perhaps the most important attitude that is needed toward God. I remember going home that night and being disturbed to the point of tears. I began crying out to God, “Lord! Have we really become THAT generation?”
To add to that, a while back I was scrolling through my news feed when I came across several different pages that were dedicated to mocking the Church culture. There were countless of videos and memes that poked fun at certain prayers and worship services; mocked people who were praying in tongues; and made fun of praise break dances.
Don’t get me wrong– I understand in most of these cases it’s innocent with no malicious intent. After all, many of us (myself included) get a good laugh out of it. But do we realize how that culture is harming the Church? Do we realize the magnitude it has in affecting the way people view faith? Slowly but surely the fear of God starts becoming a foreign concept and Church becomes more of a joke than a reality.
With the power that social media has to influence a mindset and set global trends, imagine the way people view of faith; God; worship and overall Church is being affected. Since we have grown comfortable and even found humor in Church mockery via social media culture, the line of reverence toward God is slowly getting blurred for ourselves, and for others. So much so, that I have talked to individuals who walk into an actual Church service and have a difficult time connecting with God due to the mindset that’s been set in place from such influence. This IS happening.
HOW DO WE FIX IT?
In addition to these two major effects, there are also additional problematic areas such as dishonest lives; lack of genuine relationships; competitiveness, jealousy, and so much more of a negative impact the social media culture has had on the Church.
So the question then becomes, how do we fix this?
1. STAND ON HIS WORD
The leading reason why there is room for outside influence to affect the Church culture to this degree is because we are not well aware of, and anchored in the Word. The Church culture should be influencing social media culture. The Church culture should be influencing our society. The Church culture should be transforming our communities. But when we don’t know the Word enough, we can’t use it as a weapon, as a shield, as a filtering system, or as an anchor in our lives to remain grounded and focused. And what we fail to do individually will eventually affect the Church as a whole.
The verse in 1 Peter takes us back to an important reminder of who we are and what we have been called to do. We are chosen. We are royal. We are holy. And we have been called to declare Him. When we each understand the power God has deposited within each one of us and begin to walk in our identity through Christ, we then as a Church become those who influence rather than those being influenced.
2. DO NOT CONFORM BE TRANSFORMED
We will never be doing God or His Church a favor by compromising the Word and conforming to worldly patterns. Something about our generation is so fixated on fitting in, following trends, and appeasing others so that we can make the Gospel “popular” or “cool” to others. The truth is, we are losing them and ourselves in this process. The Gospel doesn’t need our “seasoning”, it’s the seasoning the world needs.
The word “conform” literally means to be molded or stamped according to a pattern. The verb is passive, implying that if you don’t actively and intentionally resist this age, you will be conformed. When Paul speaks of the “world” he is referring to the mindset of this age. Being conformed to this age refers to having the same type of thinking as this age. However, he goes on to say “but be transformed.” The word “transform” comes from the Greek word metamorphoo, which is the root for the English word, “metamorphosis.” We see this process often times take place with a tadpole transforming into a frog or a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly. That process and stage of transformation is exactly what the scripture is calling us to.
Where are you on the conformity to Christ growth chart? How much room are you making for the Holy Spirit to transform you? Entertaining both worlds in your heart will not produce progress of godly transformation.
Transformation begins with saturating yourself in godly thinking. Saturation in godly thinking means exposing yourself to God’s Word; to godly influences; to godly teachers; and making every effort to yield yourself to the work of the Holy Spirit within you.
As we discipline ourselves to grow in the understanding of His Word, and yield ourselves to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, we then begin building a powerful Church that can withstand the influence and effects of social around us, and the pressures of conforming to the patterns of the world.
Christina Girma Hanfere