This Is Not A Show

Sometimes being a Christian, and being a leader, is really weird. Especially in the age of social media.

For many of us, we feel a pressure (or a temptation) to be “out there” all the time, modeling our faith and promoting good projects online. Our Instagram is full of inspiring graphics, our Twitter packed with encouraging thoughts, and this is all part of our ministry. It is indeed a redemptive use of social media.

And yet.

All this being in the public eye, constantly under a spotlight of our own making, it doesn’t just share our faith. It also distorts it.

I began to notice this distortion a couple years ago, when I detected notes of dishonesty in my writing. It’s not that I was intentionally lying to my readers, but I wasn’t being honest with myself. I wrote what I thought people wanted to hear. I wrote what I thought would inspire. I wrote a neat and tidy version of my life, which didn’t dive much past the surface.

Soon I noticed it in my tweets and Facebook posts too. I was so thirsty to stay relevant and maintain my platform, that I put myself out there before doing the slow and careful soul-work of examining myself—and more importantly, asking God to examine me.

This is what social media does to us. It turns us into performers. We perform our faith for a watching world, often with the best of intentions. But without even realizing it, we begin to fit our lives into a particular narrative, filtering both the good and the bad through a storyline of positivity and supposed authenticity.

Ironically, the result isn’t authentic at all. Instead it’s a superficial version of ourselves. And if left unchecked, this temptation can morph into a full-on pandering for fame.

In her book A Beautiful Disaster, author Marlena Graves puts her finger on this problem, writing,

We simply cannot live our whole lives in full view of others…Without the discipline of silence and solitude, we play to the crowds, always performing yet never being quite sure of ourselves. We become puppets on a string, easily manipulated by circumstances and the flimsy whims of others.”

Social media turns faith into a show, and it ends up shaping our entire spiritual lives, both online and off.

So, how do we use social media without it using us?

Here are three practices that have especially helped me:

1. Take a social media fast.

Whether it’s a week, a month, or the forty days of Lent, set aside some intentional time away from social media. In that quiet, where we “don’t have to impress anyone” as Graves put it, we can take a good hard look at how our souls are really doing. This time away also helps us to remember what it’s like to live for God when no one is looking.

2. Practice the discipline of secrecy.

This idea comes from Dallas Willard, who defines “secrecy” as abstaining “from causing our good deeds and qualities to be known. We may even take steps to prevent them from being known, if it doesn’t involve deceit.”

The goal of this, he explains, is “to help us lose or tame the hunger for fame, justification, or just the mere attention of others.” In short, rather than merely wish away our selfish ambition, we kill it with intentional hiddenness.

3. Embrace your hiddenness.

Sometimes, “secrecy” isn’t something we seek out, but something that is thrust upon us. Perhaps you aren’t as successful as you want to be, your name not as important as you dreamed, or you feel unseen by the people you look up to. In that place of obscurity, which can feel so painful and long, consider welcoming it as a gift. In that darkness, you discover who you really are, uncover your idols, and learn what your faith is really made of. That is a kind of self-knowledge we all desperately need.

In Matthew 6:6, Jesus has this to say about secrecy: “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” Two thousand years before social media, Jesus knew the temptation of the public eye. As long as the crowds are watching, something inside of us will play to them. For the sake of your soul, and the integrity of your leadership, make sure the substance of your faith is not online.

Sharon Hodde Miller

Sharon Hodde Miller is a writer, speaker, pastor's wife, and mom of two boys. In addition to recently completing her Ph.D, her first book will be released later this year with Baker Books, and she blogs at SheWorships.com. You can connect with Sharon on Twitter.

Join the discussion

Crystal March 7, 2017 at 10:13pm

Thank you for the encouraging word...reminders of where we truly find our significance. It's what Father God sees,..what He thinks that really matter. The best kept secret is the secret place.
I believe what He pours into us from there always bears lasting fruit with the one..more than man's approval.

Goodness-Mercy March 7, 2017 at 8:20am

So much truth in these words. Thanks so much for sharing.

Deb Ringler March 6, 2017 at 4:56pm

I thought your article was spot on. I am a speaker and try to stay current, but have also found it challenging to stay authentic and not become what I think would interest others. I think I am definitely due for a social media fast.

Thea March 6, 2017 at 9:32am

Thank you for writing such a beautiful piece and giving us something practical to try. I removed myself from social media for a year as I felt I had to perform, and my measuring stick told me I was under performing compared to others in my circle. I knew this was unhealthy. I had to remove the temptation of comparison and performance and just fall into the arms and solitude of our Father. I have now come back on social media with better awareness of my weaknesses and can recognise them before it starts to sink in and affect my spirit.

Susan Gruener March 5, 2017 at 9:28am

Amen! Some great truths here!
Thanks for this Sharon!

Jenny March 5, 2017 at 6:11am

Social media has been the unfortunate cause of much pain recently. It seems so silly, too. While reading this article I immediately wanted to share it - instead I removed Facebook and Twitter apps from my phone and iPad. A fast is beyond needed. Thank you for the article. It spoke volumes to me in so few words.

Michelle B March 5, 2017 at 5:53am

I love this article! There is beauty in secrecy and something alluring in mystery. Sometimes, reading every detail, thought, activity and motive is downright boring.

Krystle March 5, 2017 at 2:10am

Great article Sharon. Your words are very much needed in this time. Social media certainly can cause some bad habits to take root without us knowing. I try to be intentional about who I follow but, I still fast from it so that I can be sure to be present in life and experience the joys of life. Thank you for confirming the strength in hiddeness as well in a certain amount of secrecy. When I'm working on a big project I keep it to myself. My family feels left out when I reveal it. But I enjoy focusing and hearing from God during the process. Thanks for the great tips.

Christine March 5, 2017 at 2:10am

Thank you for these timely words. After being at the forefront of church ministries for many years and then relocating across the country, I suddenly felt unknown, as if my past were erased. This new anonymity drove me closer to identifying with Jesus, who "made himself of no reputation," Phil. 2:7-8. It has been an extended time of sweet refreshing, strengthening and resting in God's love and sufficiency. His grace is more than enough.

Kate Redmon March 1, 2017 at 2:24am

Love this, thank you! It is beautifully written. I have often found it necessary to fast from social media, if only for a day or weekend. I also make sure that every morning, I spend time in the word and prayer before I check any social media sites.