To begin, there is the slight irony that you’re perhaps reading this via social media. Also, at one point, blogging was a type of social media, so maybe I have not totally quit social media. Also, full confession, I’m still relatively active on Goodreads and I think I have a Google Plus page? Setting all that aside, let me put the rest of my cards on the table. I still assist in managing our church social media accounts. Therefore, my exodus from social media is not all-encompassing. Yet, I think I can still safely say I quit social media.
I was first introduced to social media while working in the corporate world. I worked in the communications department and as social media became more popular, the company was debating whether to be active in those spaces. I never had joined Facebook. But Twitter and Instagram seemed intriguing so I signed up and began to delve into the world of social media.
Twitter was the primary platform I used. I enjoyed connecting with other pastors and church leaders. It was helpful having a single stream by which I could learn about new books and other relevant topics being discussed in the Christian subculture. I was introduced to blogging through Twitter and made some friends in the process. (Not “friends” in the Facebook sense, but friends in the good old-fashioned manner of eventually meeting them face-to-face and having an actual conversation.) Twitter became the starting point for those friendships. These friendships and the introduction to blogging connected me to new ministries and to get involved in things I otherwise would not have.
Instagram was more of a platform for me to post pictures of my daughter for friends and family to see. It was also a place to post random pictures of interesting places I was at and things that seemed funny at the time, but later made me wonder why I had posted that picture. Other than friends and family in my life, usually I just connected on Instagram with people I already got to know through Twitter.
You may have already heard about Tony Reinke’s book Twelve Ways Your Phone is Changing You. I have not yet read the book, but have read several reviews and heard Tony speak on the book a few times. I will refer you to this book and other resources he has published on the broader topic of the impact of smartphones and social media. In the years I spent on social media, I began to notice patterns in my usage. These patterns were better pointed out by my wife, as I did not always notice them. Plain and simple, social media kept me glued to my phone. I would take breaks from social media for a month and sometimes for a few months. But each time I got back on, I would return to a similar pattern.
After taking the longest break from both platforms I had ever taken, I decided to quit. That sentence does not do justice to the process that took place. I will outline that process towards the end of this post.
Let me begin by sharing a few things that I will miss (and already do) with quitting both of these platforms.
What I Will Miss
As I write this, I have been off of social media for about a month. So in talking about things I will miss, I already miss them. To be very honest, it is rather sad that I am talking about missing things on my phone, but is that not a picture of how our culture has changed? We normally talk about missing people or maybe a place, but social media is neither person nor place. Nevertheless, here they are:
- Information – In some ways I feel so out-of-the-loop now. I liked being able to be up-to-date on what was going in the subculture my “Following” list provided for me. I had curtailed it in such a way that it could give me all the relevant information I felt I needed.
- Books – I nearly giggled with glee when I would learn about a Free Book or Book Giveaway. Fill out this survey for a free PDF of this new book. Yep! Tweet, Instagram, or Share this post to be entered to win this book or 6 volume set. Yep! Aside from my love of free books, I also liked having access to the announcements of upcoming books or books recommended by those I followed.
- Theological and Cultural Issues – During the Trinity debates of recent blogosphere history, I lived it all out in real-time as different sides posted their responses and rebuttals. When each new article, podcast, or soundbite was churned out I could have immediate access to it all and think through the issue as it unfolded.
- Music – I love music and being able to hear from the various artists and bands I enjoy was great because then I could be aware of a new album, tour, or whatever.
In short, being off of social media makes me feel like I am missing out. It makes me feel like I am sitting at home while everyone else is at the party. So why would I want to feel like this?
Why I Quit
As I was saying, I took a pretty extended break from social media earlier this year. During that time I was working on a chapter of my D.Min. thesis. My focus is on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book Life Together. I have read this book several times before I started digging through it for my thesis and a particular theme in it did not strike me before as it did this time. In the first chapter of the book, Bonhoeffer is trying to stress the importance of Christian community. These lines jumped off the page:
“…visible community is grace.”
“The believer need not feel any shame when yearning for the physical presence of other Christians, as if one were still living too much in the flesh. A human being is created as a body; the Son of God appeared on earth in the body for our sake and was raised in the body…and the resurrection of the dead will bring about the perfected community of God’s spiritual-physical creatures.”
“…the nearness of a fellow Christian [is] a physical sign of the gracious presence of the triune God.”
“It is easily forgotten that the community of Christians is a gift of grace from the kingdom of God, a gift that can be taken from us any day––that the time still separating us from the most profound loneliness may be brief indeed. Therefore, let those who until now have had the privilege of living a Christian life together with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of their hearts.”
What Bonhoeffer is trying to get across is the grace God gives us in relationships, in others, in real people with us. We would be mistaken if we thought this was some type of postmodern yearning for simple, worldly community. That type of community is built on affinity only and is generally self-serving. For Bonhoeffer, “Christian community means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ.”
So what does this have to do with being or not being on social media? Well, for me when I began on social media and when I began blogging, I was a bivocational pastor, about which I have written before here and here. I had no consistent congregation, because I was doing pulpit supply in a few places along with other ministry. I was processing my call to ministry. Social media and blogging became outlets and connection points for me in those times. When I had things to say, I blogged or engaged with others. When I was looking for a “community” of like-minded guys who were trying to do some of the same things, I found it on social media.
Now, I am a full-time pastor. I have a congregation to which I both belong and am able to serve. When I have things to say, I talk to them. I have like-minded people to walk through the Christian life with. The theme Bonhoeffer teased out made me realize my change in vocation did not just change my audience, it changed me.
The negative side of all the connecting and engagement on social media was that it developed a terrible habit of comparison. Quite honestly, it looked as though I was not the only one that struggled with this. Inasmuch as Instagram can be a struggle for many as phony or fluffy spirituality is displayed therein and unhealthy comparison abounds, a similar phenomenon exists for many pastors. Look who mentioned their blog post. Look where they are featured now. See who asked them to speak there. Oh look, he’s doing a PhD there, with him. Look at all his followers. And on and on it can go… I was dreadfully guilty of this comparison, feeling that I needed to live up to this unspoken standard of a contemporary, thirty-something, evangelical pastor. I was worried that I was not measuring up to what I saw others doing and it was poisonous to my heart and my ministry.
What Bonhoeffer reminded me of is the priority of place. A friend (who I met through Twitter by the way), Joey Cochran once said something along the lines that social media is an affront to God’s omnipresence. God can be everywhere, I cannot. God knows all things, I do not and cannot. Social media, as Cochran argued, makes me think that I can. I have a place and a people, both of which as a pastor I must prioritize. So I quit social media to prioritize the flesh and blood people in front of me, who are to me a gift of God’s grace and in God’s mercy I am to be a gift to them. In the process, I put aside something that became a source of temptation to sinful comparison.
Maybe the first thing you need to do after reading this is nothing, because social media is not a problem for you. Praise God! I have no desire to present social media as the bogeyman. It is not. The problem for me and you is our hearts. (Mark 7:20-23) If nothing else, I want to make plain the importance of the people that God has put around us: our families, our church, those we are hoping to reach with the truth of the gospel. We like to eat local and shop local, but I do think we could all stand to exist locally. I don’t mean that as some sort of ethereal way of thinking about ourselves, but simply that we acknowledge the people around us and the place we’re in as first in our affections and attention.