In my last post, I discussed some harmful effects of unrestrained and purposeless social media use. These were all things I saw in myself while taking a 6 month break from it. Since reintroducing these noticeably addictive apps back onto my phone, I was disheartened to see that I began to struggle with all the same things. In a matter of days I began to default to looking through Instagram multiple times a day, even when there was nothing new there. Like a moth to the flame, I was drawn back again.
Seeing this brought an awareness for something I had not had in regards to social media before: purpose. I had no meaningful why to social media, which fueled the mindless, habitual scrolling. But as a Jesus-follower, I am never permitted to be mindless in any area of my life. I am to “run in such a way that I may win, exercising self-control in all things.” (1 Corin 9:24-25) In all things. This includes Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
While many may recognize the need for limits on social media, few will effectively set or keep them without establishing a purpose. Without purpose, all limits on social media will feel arbitrary and often be disregarded. Purpose determines where the boundaries go and why they are there. Not only does this remind you why you limit yourself, but also gives you a larger reason to resist the urge to break those boundaries in the moment you are tempted.
So after my 6 month break, I began to do a complete overhaul of my approach to social media. Let me share 3 major areas of change, that by God’s grace, I have been striving to implement.
1. Be opened handed. “All things are lawful but not all things are profitable, not all things edify.” (1 Corin 10:23) In some cases we need to define why we use a certain social media app, and in other cases we need to decide if we need to use a social media app. Sometimes, the potential temptations and downsides to an app may outweigh any possible benefits. As Paul understood, even though some things are technically ok for us to engage in, it isn’t always profitable. And if not profitable, why do it?
We are running the race to win, right? “Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” (Heb 12:1) There is a difference between sin and weight. Even though something might not be sinful, it may be weighing us down from running the race well. If a certain social media app falls into that category, lay it aside with joy! Delete it from your phone and delete your profile and “fix your eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” and run the race of faith for the advance of His Kingdom with all your might.
2. Determine the purpose. “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corin 10:31) Here is one major and overarching purpose already given to us for all things. Even the basic functions of life, eating and drinking, are to be for God’s glory. So we must conclude that social media falls into this as well. This means that whatever purpose you set for certain apps, it must fall under the category of for the glory of God.
But we must remember, having purpose is what drives the setting of boundaries. So naturally, as we determine purposes for things, limits will come with it. With these things in mind, let’s discuss a few potential purposes (and limits) for our social media apps.
Purpose 1: Fellowship. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Corin 12:26) It is a function of the body of Christ to mourn together and rejoice together. It glorifies God for us to operate like a smaller part of a whole, and this is one way we can do that. This is a totally legitimate, God-glorifying purpose for social media.
Limit 1: How many people you follow. The issue here is that we are often following more people than we are truly capable to do life with. A subtle lie of social media is you can keep up with everyone all the time. This is not healthy or actually doable. We have limits. So the first question must be, who do you fellowship with in real life? Who do you actually see regularly, and pray for often? Follow those people.
In my case, I decided that the purpose of Instagram for me would be mainly fellowship. Therefore, I unfollowed everyone that didn’t fall into one of two categories in my life: part of my local church body or part of my inner circle of friends. By inner circle, I mean friends that I intentionally invest in through frequent times together (in person or on the phone) and that I regularly pray for. If you decide fellowship will be the purpose of some social media app, then you may consider unfollowing those that you don’t fellowship with in real life.
Purpose 2: Work/Ministry. “Obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, … work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” (Col 3:22-23) You may have a job that requires the use of social media. My husband is a perfect example of that. In the entertainment world, social media is becoming the number one marketing strategy. For him to be as effective as possible with the business that God has put him in, he does social media. Even while taking a month long sabbath last year, he scheduled posts to his social media sites in advance to go out that month.
This also applies to many ministries. When I was working at our church in youth ministry, Facebook was a major part of my job. Most of our students didn’t have email addresses, so we communicated entirely through Facebook. We alerted them of changes to our schedule, social gatherings, and many other things this way. Many ministries use social media today as a form of communicating to those they minister to. If you are employed somewhere or minister somewhere that uses social media in their business strategy, then do it heartily! Do it to the best of your ability, for the sake of glorifying God by being a hard worker.
Limit 2: Off-the-job usage. It’s easy to stay “plugged-in”, even off the job. But this will likely cause mindless overuse and give space for the many problems discussed in the previous post. If social media is mostly associated with a job, staying on after hours can fuel a workaholic tendency, inhibiting proper rest and a healthy home life. If you can, use these apps on your computer while you are at work, so when you go home you aren’t tempted by the app on your phone to be online.
Purpose 3: Outreach “I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel.” (1 Corin 9:22-23) Social media can be a great way to become “all things” in this online culture and possibly save some. But what does it really mean to do Facebook or Twitter for the sake of the gospel. More than preaching to everyone from behind a screen, I think social media should be a tool to help you share the gospel in real life. For example, you could start a Facebook group for those in your neighborhood. This could become a natural way to get to know those who live near you and form a real friendship beyond being Facebook friends. Hopefully, as you get to know your neighbors in a “over-the-dinner-table” type of way, doors will open for the Gospel to be shared and salvation to come to your neighborhood.
Limit 3: Don’t just keep it online. The temptation of this social media purpose is to never move to in-person conversations. Why? Because it’s scary to talk about the Gospel (which is naturally offensive) to someone’s face. How are they going to respond? But when you are preaching the Gospel from the comfort of your home via a computer, you are alleviated from the risk of someone’s rejection in person. A great question to ask yourself regularly is this: Am I speaking of spiritual things more online than in person? This should never be the case. If we are going to boldly proclaim the Gospel online, we must be willing to do that in person as well.
I am sure there are more God-glorifying purposes for social media than I listed here, but I believe these are the 3 major categories most of our purposes will fall into. Whatever you decide, ask yourself, am I doing this for God’s glory or my own? This will often weed out most of our self-serving motives.
3. Be Deliberate. Whatever purpose you determine for your social media usage, be sure to be deliberate about when and how you engage in it. These websites and apps are designed to keep you continually plugged in. So if you come aimlessly to them, you will likely spend more time there than you planned. Here are a few suggestions to make sure we aren’t “running aimlessly, as one beating the air.” (1 Corin 9:26)
Determine when to check in. Pick one or two times a day to check in to your social media apps. (Yes, I know, I said 1-2 time.) During your lunch break, at the end of your work day, right after breakfast. Whenever it is, try to only get on once a day and get into a routine. This is usually plenty often enough to fulfill most of the purposes we determine and keep us connected. But it will eliminate mindless, continual checking in through the day, and this is often the most damaging aspect of social media use. Of course, if work or ministry is your determined purpose, this will look more like being committed to not check in when you are off work.
Set a time limit. If you need to, set a timer on your phone. Haven’t we all had the experience of looking up and an hour has passed while we have just been wasting time on our phone? Choose an appropriate amount of time to spend checking in (15-30 min is probably enough) and set a timer. When the timer goes off, commit to shutting it down and joyfully engaging in all God has for you in real life.
Turn off push notifications. If you don’t know what I mean, there is a setting on most smart phones that sends alerts as soon as any activity happens on your social media apps. Like getting a text message, you get alerts sent to the forefront of your phone when someone has commented on your status or posted a new picture. This contributes to one of the worst problems with social media: it continually turns our focus to an online (and not real) world and we miss out on what really matters. Honestly, I think there are very, very few instances where push notifications are a good idea. (If you don’t know how to turn these off, ask a friend, or google it.)
I am so far from getting this all down. I have checked into my Twitter and Instagram apps way more than once already today. But I don’t want to stay here. In a desire to run the race of my life with purpose and conviction, these are goals I am striving for: being open-handed, having God-glorifying purposes, and being deliberate in my usage of social media. I need God’s grace daily to help me walk these things out. And I pray that we, the body of Christ, would not miss out on what God is doing in our own lives and around us because we are being mindlessly entertained. May we never be distracted from what matters most: the advance of the Kingdom of God through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.