by Alli Patterson
Sophia is the Greek word for Wisdom, and Propel Sophia seeks out the voices of truly wise women and asks them to share worked examples of how they express faith in daily life. Pull up a chair at Sophia’s table, won’t you? There’s plenty of space. Learn more here ▸
“Go and make disciples.” Jesus’ instruction was clear, but how do we do that when we have to go online for more and more of our spiritual life? Are Instagram, Facebook and Twitter really places to share the gospel, teach, or see real fruit? Or are we just posting Bible verses and positive vibes so we feel good about the time we all waste scrolling?
I’m not complaining about positive quotes on my feed: I’ve been tempted to quit social media because of the nastiness and division. But I’m still there because, like it or not, many of our relational patterns now include stories, posts or tweets. I still want to send heart emojis when my friends’ kids are born. As a lover of words, I also know the Spirit can use well-placed, well-timed words or images to intercept someone with truth that lights up a pretty dark place. We each have enormous digital reach but I want us to use it on purpose.
So What Would Jesus Do… with a smart phone? Jesus was not on Instagram or Facebook, but he did have friends and followers. So what we can do is revisit the realm of relationship in his life that is most like our current social media world: the crowds. Mark’s gospel continually depicts the crowds that showed up around Jesus as his ministry grew. He didn’t shun them: he engaged them with wisdom. His behavior with crowds may just help us find the boundaries of social media in the life of faith.
So how’d he do it?
Jesus engaged crowds to share his message but never in search of a particular response. Sometimes the crowds were delighted; sometimes furious, but Jesus wasn’t in search of affirmation or popularity. He had a mission and crowds were part of it, even knowing in the end they’d be the ones yelling “Crucify him!” (Mark 15:13-15). As I post on Instagram I often stop and ask myself “Why am I posting this?” If the answer is image or likes or if I’m crushed by the haters, then I’m not doing my Father’s work online. (Feel free to hold me accountable @theallipatterson). Jesus engaged crowds for His Father’s purposes, no matter the reaction.
Crowds always have needs, gathering in search of what might fill emptiness, hunger, anger or illness. In a crowd, Jesus focused on real needs - never spewing words and walking away. Jesus often met them right then; healing or passing out food or wine. Jesus didn’t save the good stuff for “better” people. Today’s social media can be a veneer where people seem less than fully human, so looking past others in pain is easy. One way I try to engage is to type prayers in response to comments on my Facebook page. When someone commented about taking her own life, I responded with real resources instead of just kind words. Jesus always gave crowds what was good, helpful and - above all - real.
Jesus loved when people pushed through the crowd for more of what he had. Crowds sit back and receive: disciples risk and follow for more. Jesus knew that true disciples were buried inside the thousands, ready to risk and move in faith. Mark sometimes used crowds as the backdrop for a display of real faith; like the group of people who so badly wanted healing for their friend that they dug a hole in the roof (Mark 2:4) to reach Jesus! Risk is an essential component to any display of faith, and being singled out of a crowd can be just that. Thousands scroll by my social media posts, but I try to focus on the names curious for insight or authentic in questions. I just invited an online “stranger” to join study I’m leading (Yes, safely and appropriately). I did it because she continually rose above the crowd, seeking more of Jesus. Jesus was always willing to receive someone who wanted him badly.
Jesus embraced the relational limits of his humanity, never attempting intimacy with the crowd. Instead, Jesus gave himself fully to only twelve men who produced more fruit than all the thousands combined. Embracing our relational constraints is the best way to long term fruitfulness as it leads us to commit to just a few true disciples. Our ever-expanding online audiences do not mean that we have unlimited capacity for relationships. Depth is necessary for real fruitfulness, which is the call on the life of all believers: “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:8). I try to think of my phone at its best when it’s a tool that facilitates face to face connection, like running together, wine by the fire, or Zoom chats in a pandemic. Used unwisely, phones and social media will steal the margin we need for deep, mature relationships.
So, let’s engage the crowds. Let’s freely give what’s real if we do, believing the Spirit can use absolutely anything to bring someone to faith. But the crowds will drastically limit the impact of our lives if we don’t pursue fruit. Crowds are crowds. Let’s be sure to “go and make disciples.”
Alli Patterson is a recent grad of Dallas Theological Seminary and Teaching Pastor at Crossroads Church in Cincinnati, Ohio where she lives with her husband and 4 kids who run 5ks and eat Mexican food with her. She is passionate about speaking, teaching and writing to help others know Jesus through ‘lightbulb moments’ in his Word. Follow her on Instagram or join her community of listeners at IKR?! Podcast.