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.
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.