In the 2018 United States House of Representatives primary elections in New York District 14, a 29-year-old woman from The Bronx left the world stunned when she challenged ten-term incumbent Congressman Joe Crowley for the seat – and won by an astounding 15 percentage points. At that point, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was being outspent by 18:1 and her political campaign was focused on door-to-door campaigning as well as a heavy presence on Facebook.
Against all odds, she went on to beat Republican nominee Anthony Pappas at the general elections with 78% of the vote and became the youngest woman to be elected to the United States Congress. In an interview with The Intercept, she was quoted as such: “You can’t really beat big money with more money. You have to beat them with a totally different game.” That game, as political commentators and analysts came to understand, is social media.
With 4.7 million Twitter followers and 3.7 million Instagram followers, it’s clear that “The Social Media Titan” of New York played the game well in both the personal and professional arena, engaging audiences through her vulnerable and relatable content, something that all other candidates failed to do. I could easily cite a dozen other examples of how great social media engagement leads to success, but I don’t think that anyone needs convincing that social media is the pre-eminent driver in today’s society in the way that it interacts with its members - democratising communication world-wide. This leads us to the more important question: How do Christians live a life of worship through social media?
Though its power is undeniable, the prospect of using it in a way that glorifies God and furthers His kingdom might be daunting. There’s no question that social media has a bad reputation for being cold, addictive, and for self-glorification. I relate to this because I always favour a one-to-one conversation over a cup of coffee compared to seemingly shallow exchanges on social media.
But we must understand that social media is not the be all and end all, but the gateway that leads us to that one-to-one conversation over a cup of coffee.
This is your new outreach ministry. The thing is, you don’t have to be a superstar or influencer to make impact. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of making meaningful connections over social media that have led to genuine friendships and yes, opportunities to share the gospel and share lives. It’s about getting people through the door where they can then feel genuine warmth, isn’t it?
Like it or not, social media falls under the big branch of communications, and to communicate what the church stands for – the core message of the gospel, amongst others – while being theologically accurate at the same time is a torque that Christians will always have to wrestle with. Which leads me to the next point:
Don’t be slaves to social media. Be stewards.
Yes, stewards. The church needs gifted communicators who can relate biblical Christian faith to contemporary life. In Mark 16:15, Jesus calls his disciples to go into the world and preach the gospel to every creature. Isn’t it cool that we can now reach 'every creature' with an image, an Instagram story, a shared link?
We all know that with great power comes great responsibility and of course, there is the tendency to fall into the trappings of social media addiction and get caught up in comparison. My advice is to understand how your social media usage affects you and to place healthy boundaries for yourself. Most importantly, lift it up to God and ask Him to help you communicate in a way that glorifies him.
Be wise about what you post on social media; some things are best left to face-to-face conversations.
In an age where everyone has an opinion on everything and are poised to pounce on anyone who disagrees, one must be vigilant on what to say and when. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at a comments section on a Facebook or Instagram post about politics, theology, or anything else and been disappointed by the response it has elicited from Christians – often rude, condescending, and holier-than-thou.
Don’t be reduced to keyboard warriors that engage in a militant manner because it does not do justice to the Lord. You will not win the world over through combative communication. Instead, we should be discerning on the occasion and platform to speak – online or offline – and to trust that God will help us communicate with clarity and authority each time. And lastly:
Be authentic in the content you create.
Now more than ever, the world is responding to authenticity. It’s how Ocasio-Cortez unseated seemingly unmovable candidates and it’s how you’ll reach out to your family member, your friend, your community. Like moths to a flame, we can’t help but be drawn to authenticity because it’s something that our souls have yearned for since the beginning of time.
Put simply, your online personality should reflect your offline personality. My prayer is that every Christian would understand that there is no actual divide between the secular and the sacred, and that every piece of content you put out – whether it’s an image of nature, a poem, a dance video, or a 140-character statement – can glorify God if it carries the values that He holds dear: Beauty. Honour. Vulnerability.