Social Media Sabbatical…continued
I’ve persevered in my social media sabbatical for over 4 weeks now. I’m still loving the freedom of it and not being a part of that realm for now. But I recently had a situation come up that caused me to think a little deeper about this form of “community”. In the midst of a (rather serious) illness, a friend utilized social media as her outlet for informing her “community” that she was ill and in need of prayer. In good Christian response, several believers who saw this responded with prayers and offerings of help. My friend also reached out to me personally via text (which I was grateful for). But it caused me to think about all the times I’ve seen people (including myself) use FB to communicate to others regarding my trials, tribulations, and sufferings. Personally, I’ve often had many people respond with prayer and promises of aid, for which I’ve been immensely thankful. It seems that in this digital age and culture, this has become the “norm”. So how do I, as a Christ-following believer who longs to share His love with the world, stay in touch and relevant to the world around me - with or without social media?
It is understandable that people utilize social media to spread their news and needs. That is one of it’s beautiful benefits. It gets a word out quickly and efficiently, like casting a wide net. But is it the only means of sharing? In general, do people in our society only utilize social media (and it alone?) for communicating needs? Is it because of the wideness of its net and the quickness of its response? Is this what God intended for our lives? Is this Biblical? Is this us living in reliance upon His provision and His timing? Is it also, in some part, due to its no-strings-attached nature with no demands and requirements. I’m not sure of the answers to all these, but I do have a few thoughts.
The New Testament model for loving on and caring for believers is within the auspices of the church (ekklesia in the Greek). Fellow believers in Christ who joined with a local body of believers pledged to give of themselves and their possessions in order to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those people. Yes, we are to love and serve the world at large. But we are called to a higher level of service to those with whom we worship. We are accountable to them, and they to us. The same cannot be said of the entire world. In light of this, when they are sick we are entreated to care for them. When they are without, we offer provisions. And we receive the same in return when we stand in a place of need.
So how does social media play into all this? Not all the Christ-followers in my FB friend list are a part of my “ekklesia”. Some are, but most are scattered throughout the globe or are a part of another ekklesia. I’m not saying that believers from different congregations cannot or should not help one another out. But to whom should I go when I have a need? Who is responsible for helping me when I need it? Who has the Lord appointed and provided? Whoever can type back the quickest? Whoever is trolling social media at the time? (Since I’m in a FB sabbatical season, I’m currently not privy to anyone’s digital pleas for help.) I surmise that it is much easier to "exist" in a profile on social media than it is to be an active member serving in a local church, no doubt. Is it the desire to be free of the entanglements of unlikeable people, loud preachers, music that's not our style, and services that start too early (or too late)? Maybe. However at its foundation, Christianity is not a call to a life of ease with no strings, demands or requirements.
I believe the truest answer to how we should show the love of Christ to those around us and experience the community we were created for is the ekklesia with which we are enmeshed. The people we sing next to each week. Those we frequently sit in a room with and soak in the truths pouring from the pulpit. Those we’ve pledged to help raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. And those who’ve pledged to help us do the same. Those we’ve witnessed make wedding vows. And those with whom we’ve combed through Scripture side by side. Those we’ve rejoiced with as they took steps of faith. Those who've lovingly held us accountable when we’ve strayed in the past. The beauty of the church, local and tangible. When I’ve done life with you and walked side by side with you through seasons of joy and heartache, I want to help you when that little baby is sick and fevered. I long to bring you a meal when your wife is recovering from surgery. We’re happy to mow your grass while your husband is traveling. Even if we aren’t the fastest at typing a response :-) While relying on Social Media members for help instead of an ekklesia may be easier in some temporal regard, there is much to be missed outside of the community of a local church - including regular worship (as taught by Christ and the New Testament), mission trips (or even missionary commissioning!), doctrinal training, small group Bible studies, a safe harbor, an opportunity to put hands to the plow for the advancement of God's Kingdom, and so, SO much more.
It’s kind of similar to the way neighborhoods work. When you have a neighborly need, you don’t normally call a friend who lives 2 hours away to ask if you can borrow a cup of sugar. Local and tangible, remember? God knew we needed this in His design for our lives.
So what’s a happy medium? Where’s the balanced view? Perhaps a church who uses social media to communicate with its members. Instead of a phone tree or email distro list, members post and respond to needs on a monitored posting site (with some level of accountability to help sort out people who aren’t actually attending, serving, or growing and offer them help instead as a new believer or seeker). Perhaps making sure that individually we are reaching as far into our ekklesia as we are into the digital community when we stand in need. And that we are reaching out to those in our ekkelsia to be the hands and feet of Jesus, seeing to it that their needs are met and not expecting the digital community alone to do the work that Christ called (and established the church) to do.