Ep. 110: Social Media to the Glory of God
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Like most things in life, social media can be used really badly or really well. If you use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. to gain approval and acceptance, or to proudly show-off your seemingly perfect life, then it’s probably not helping you or those around you. But, however, if you use social media to equip and serve others, then that’s awesome. Social media is a medium or a tool by which God desires us to use for his glory and the good of others. Chris Martin helps use think through this.
With me today is Chris Martin. Chris is an author development specialist at LifeWay Resources. He’s a writer himself as well and he also heads up LifeWay Social. So it’s good to have you on the show today, Chris.
Thanks so much for having me Isaac. It’s really fun to be on.
Firstly, tell us a bit about yourself. Who is Chris Martin? Perhaps a short version also of your testimony. That would be cool.
Yeah, sure. So, I’m originally from a town called Fort Wayne, Indiana. It’s in the extreme sort of North East corner of Indiana and I grew up there. My wife also grew up there. We met in the eighth grade and became friends and now, had a great, my home was really great growing up. My parents were believers and had had me going to church from a young age and, I think, you know, to kind of a splice in my testimony as I just kind of talk about myself generally.
I think, you know, I prayed the sinner’s prayer when I was in about fourth grade. I remember the pastor at my church talking about what it meant to become a Christian but I felt like there had to be this sort of step-by-step process and it felt like he never really told us exactly what that was and so I remember being very frustrated because I wanted to make sure I got it exactly right and didn’t mess anything up and so I always hesitated to become a Christian because I didn’t know exactly what it meant.
I usually kind of say I prayed the sinner’s prayer when I was in fourth grade so if you tend to think that’s a time of becoming a Christian, that might be what it means but, I don’t, I don’t think I really, truly believed that Jesus died for me then, even though I said that prayer and maybe lead a Christian life and went to church and all of those things. I was a good kid because practically it just makes more sense to be a good kid. You don’t get grounded for hanging out with your friends when you’re a good kid. You don’t get in trouble. So, I was a good kid kind of just out of a selfish, practical sense.
And so I really think it’s around my junior year of high school that I came to acknowledge God as actual Lord of my life and I started to live with a sort of eternal purpose in mind. So, I would usually point to my junior year of high school as to when I actually became a Christian and started to let the Lord lead me rather than just kind of say, “Oh, yeah, I want to believe this because I don’t want to go to hell,” kind of an idea.
So, yeah, I grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I went to Taylor University for college. It’s a small Christian school like a Wheaton College but in the middle of corn fields in Indiana. Both my wife and I went there. I got the degree in biblical literature there and then was looking for a place to go to seminary. Was looking at a couple of places kind of around Indiana and was looking at like Trinity and Southern and then a job came open at LifeWay Christian Resources, which I really didn’t know a whole lot about but, I knew the guy who was hiring for it, Ed [Stester 00:04:05]. He needed a social media guy and, I had read his blog during college and found him on social media and really liked what he had to say so, I applied and said I could live in Nashville and do my seminary degree from like the Nashville distance learning campus for Southern or something like that and so, that was September of 2013, just a few months after my wife and I got married and graduated college.
So, in September 2013 I got the job at LifeWay. We moved down to Nashville, which neither one of us had been to Nashville before outside of when I came for my interview. So it was kind of scary. We were like seven and a half hours away from all our family and so we’ve been in Nashville since 2013 and I’ve had a couple different jobs at LifeWay since then and, I blog personally at a site called, millennialevangelical dot com and I coach author’s, church leaders, Christian non-profit leaders on, basically anyone who wants to use their social media platform to glorify God more than glorify themselves. I come alongside them and coach them.
So, sometimes that’s authors because of my role at LifeWay. Sometimes that’s churches or Christian organizations that are just sort of non-profit or, mission organizations. So, that’s kind of the long and short of what I do and then I actually graduated from South Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary with my MDiv in May of last year. So yeah, so I’m done with my MDiv now.
It’s so cool. When I came across, you know, just to listeners as Chris was sort of talking about this idea of helping coach authors and things like that in regards to social media for God’s glory, I started my LifeWay Social and when I came across LifeWay Social I was super pumped to see it because I was like, “Man, this is a need, right now, I think among lots of Christian leaders and Christian authors who want to maximize their, you know, I guess their influence but there’s a really fine line,” which this is kind of what we’re talking about here. It’s a fine line when we’re talking about your influence and popularity and, you know, gaining sort of this followership, in a sense.
So, anyways, I’m really thankful for what you do helping kind of point authors and Christian leaders and hopefully all of us listening as well to really use your social media to God’s glory.
So, anyways, for the majority of millennials, Chris and, I think you’d agree and even more so with gen-setters, that sort of next generation after millennials. Social media is second nature. Not only is it second nature but, it seems to be this craving for it. There’s this satisfaction with it. There’s the feeling like they just can’t live without it. So, the first question is pretty simple, I think. Why do you think so many millennials and generation z-ers look to social media for this kind of fulfillment?
Yeah, I think ultimately it’s routed in just the human need for approval and human need for a desire to be liked by other people. Generations of people, American’s and non-American’s, throughout history, have had a desire to be approved by other people. That’s taken many different manifestations over history and, you know, you could cite all kinds of ways that we seek approval from other people.
I think in 21st century, Western civilization whether it be the United States, Canada or, anywhere else where social media is really present, I think social media has become that way we seek to be approved by other people.
So for millennials, you know, like, I was born in 1990. I’m 27 years old. My dad worked at IBM growing up, which if you’re not familiar is a big like computer company in The United States. And in the 1990’s were like the kings of the personal computer world. I mean they, most people had IBM computers and so, I grew, there was like a computer in my home from as early as, you know, earlier than most people even used computers today outside of like tablets and stuff. I remember playing like Sesame Street hiding go seek games on a computer in like 1995.
All your friends wanted to come over to your house probably …
Exactly, yeah. And so for a lot of millennials and now gen-z’ers like, we just grew up with this stuff. We’re what Neil Prinsky in his, I think or, Dan Prinsky says in a journal article from 2001, we’re “Digital natives.” You know, we, you know, some people have said well now gen-z’ers are true digital natives.
I think they’re maybe more like the mobile natives. I mean we’re, millennials are kind of digital natives and that we grew up with computers in our home. We grew up with the internet in our home. And that, you know, I just finished writing a book and it’s about to be released called, “Ministering to Millennials” and, it’s really about helping pastor’s and church leaders better understand, reach and equip millennials for ministry and the kind of hinge, really, the cornerstone of what makes millennials different from every other generation in American history that I have found, is the internet.
The prevalence of the internet is everything. It’s what distinguishes us from everyone else and it makes us different from everyone else. It’s what makes us think we can change the world. People in 19, you know, an American growing up in Des Moines, Iowa in 1960 was generally going to grow up thinking like other people in their community. They’re going to think like people that they go to the grocery store with and go to church with and, they’re obviously going to look like people in their communities because, most people back then weren’t engaging, most people in Des Moines, Iowa weren’t trading ideas with people in Brooklyn, New York in 1960. It just wasn’t common.
And so, but now, you know, I grew up getting on internet forums and playing video games with people from all over the world and I was being exposed to Buddhist ideas and atheist ideas long before someone in 1960 was. And so, I think, you know, your questions focusing specifically on why do we have this sort of craving for pleasure and satisfaction. I think really, that is ultimately routed in just the human desire to be liked.
Instagram provides that in all kinds of ways and, so I think, you know, I think ultimately it goes back to that but, it provides a sort of dopamine hit. A sort of drug hit that when we see that red notification signal on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, other platforms. When we see that one or that five light up and it’s like, Oh man, people are paying attention to me. Sometimes it’s negative, sometimes it’s positive regardless people are acknowledging I exist. And that’s a really powerful feeling and, I think, you know, the millennials engine, gen- z’ers feel that but, I see a lot of people my parents age be just as addicted to it too.
Oh totally, yeah, I agree. I’m just, you know, commenting on the fact that of, you know, the dopamine hits of the little red marks and I think we can all agree, when we see that notification up in Facebook and you’re so excited and you click it and it’s just like a reminder to an event coming up, you’re like, “Oh, dang. What is this? That’s not what I was looking for.”
Anyways so, like I already said, the point of all this is that we want to come to an understanding, to this kind of place where we can use our Facebook our Instagram, our Twitter accounts for God’s glory and, I think in some ways, even just that, saying we want to do this for God’s glory almost sounds a little bit ambiguous. First of all what do we kind of mean when we say we want to do anything to God’s glory?
Sure. So what I say, what I mean when I say it is, you know, it’s really easy to build a sort of online platform and first, before we go any further, I know the word or the phrase online platform is like a dirty word or a dirty phrase to some people. Get over it. There is no better word to use so it has to be the word that we use because we could say, online presence. We could say whatever you want but, building an online platform, I think, is a pretty neutral enterprise outside of our sin, which tames everything.
But I think building an online platform to the glory of God or for, like I sometimes say, for kingdom good, really looks like this. A lot of people build an online platform to promote themselves. Whether that be promoting a book or promoting an event or promoting something else about themselves it’s all about getting attention, fame, fortune or something like that and at some point, you know, if you’re an author or whatever, there are seasons in which you, to do due diligence for your publisher, you need to promote a book or you need to do this or that, it’s not bad to do that but, some people get on social media for the sole purpose of selfish acclaim. Of acclaim, of attention that makes them feel good, look important and get richer, something to that effect. I think that’s problematic and I’ve seen too much of that in Christian circles.
When I talk about using a social media for the glory of God or using social media for kingdom good, I’m talking about using social media in such a way that serving others is more of a focus than serving yourself. So, I see social media as simply another avenue, a 21st century avenue to use the gifts God has given us to serve other people.
So when I’m coaching people to use social media, when I’m coaching Christian leaders in whatever sphere they’re in, author, pastor, otherwise, I am saying, God has given you a gift whether that’s to write or to speak or to have knowledge about how to disciple your children or to know how to better do world missions from The United States perspective, or whatever. God has given you some sort of knowledge, talent, gifting that you’ve been using in physical manifestations, which, whether you’re writing books or leading a church or speaking around the world or whatever, social media is just simply another avenue for you to do that.
So, if God has given you another avenue in which you can use your gifts to serve the global church, how could you turn that down? We’re not, you know, when I work with authors and really Christian leaders in general on social media I tend to find people on one of two ends of the spectrum. Either they don’t engage in social media at all because they’re too afraid of being self- promotional and I see it as being an inherently self-promotional enterprise or, on the other end of the spectrum, all they’re interested in doing is being self-promotional and that first person is not engaging because they don’t want to be that second person, right?
So usually the people on one of two ends of the spectrum. My goal is I try and coach Christian leaders to use social media for kingdom good is not to encourage them to promote themselves all the time or to completely abstain unless, you know, they have to, you know, put some sort of protection to avoid sin. If there’s a way for them to engage in social media in a way that helps them use their gifts God has given them to serve other people and ultimately make much of him, then I think we’re kind of obligated to use the gifts God has given us because otherwise we’re just squandering them and using them for ourselves or, not using them at all.
Right, yeah. That’s good, that’s so good. And, how would you, for someone to understand that social media is an avenue, a medium for kingdom good or, the glory of God to be actually used in. How would you convince someone or just, you know, reveal to someone that social media actually is a new medium? Because I think that’s where the hard part is for a lot of us. It’s just, its this new thing and we’ve just seen a lot of maybe bad in regards to it so we’ve got blinders on, we can’t see it as being used for good.
Yeah, I mean, I would point, you know, someone who has trouble seeing it being used for good, I would point to dozens of examples of how it has been used for good. The ministry of desiring God. The ministry of the gospel coalition. All of these different global ministries that have inspired people to go into ministry or have helped people get through difficult situations or have helped pastors lead their church through difficult times or, cultural moments that they didn’t really know how to navigate. All of these resources that we’re blessed with through these major International organizations or other smaller folks who are just kind of doing it out of their own houses or whatever.
I really think there are dozens of ministries and opportunities we have to learn from other people around the globe and to better understand who God is and what he has done for us that wouldn’t exist if we just kind of stayed away from social media completely.
I’ve got a few friends who stay, I think, I should say, social media isn’t for everyone. It shouldn’t be engaged in if, you know, I have a couple of friends who don’t use social media anymore, at all. They’ve kind of, they still write, you know, they’ll still write a blog because they feel like the Lord has given them the gift to write and they want to bless people with that but, social media really became a stumbling block for them.
I think if you do go to social media for this constant dopamine hit of a faction from other people and affirmation from other people and you don’t go to it as a means to serve other people then you probably need to take a step back and do some self examination on that. Do some hard, look at your own heart, ask some other people to hold you accountable on that because if social media is ultimately going to be a stumbling block to you, it’s not worth serving other people to be a stumbling block, right? I mean, those guys shouldn’t go to a strip club to do evangelism. Like you don’t go to some place that’s going to cause you to sin just because you feel called to use your gifts in a certain way.
In the same way social media really, you should not be engaging in social media if you find yourself constantly sort of lusting after this affirmation of other people. But, and I have definitely been at that spot at certain points in my life but, if you can go to social media with the primary goal of using your knowledge or speaking ability or writing ability or whatever to serve the church and encourage the church or educate the church, I think you should engage in it.
So, I think, I think there are some social media monks or whatever who should stay away. You know, I don’t think you’re a bad person if you don’t engage but I think if you don’t find yourself, you know, sinning and looking for this affirmation that should really be filled by God then I think you should find a way to find social media to serve.
That’s good. That’s really good, Chris. Now, say a young 20-something comes up to you. He says, “Hey, Chris, I want you to coach me but I’m not an author, I’m not a writer but I use Instagram and I use Facebook like all my friends and my family do but I struggle with, you know, using it for affirming my own value and my worth. So, coach me.” What are some practical ways now, for everybody that you would give to us to help us when we’re not, you know, we’re not an organization or anything like that, we are just a single person, we live Jesus but we also struggle with, you know, seeking our own glory on social media.
Yeah well I would say stop using it until you can kind of maybe get your heart in a right place where you say, “Okay. I’m going … ” I say, “Stop using it until you have a plan.” I think too many of us are using social media without a plan. We’re using it unintentionally. You know, we’re just mindlessly scrolling or mindlessly looking stuff up or trying to find old, you know, friends or people that we used to like or liked us or whatever. I mean, I think people can use social media in all kinds of destructive ways if we’re not using it intentionally.
And so I think if you’re using social media just as a sort of like affirmation machine, you know, to try to get people to love you or to try to feel better about yourself, you need to stop and delete the apps.
But I think, you know, from there, if you can, or, you know, and maybe if you have self control, you don’t need to delete the apps, or whatever but, if you can’t find yourself using social media for any purpose outside of selfish gain, you need to stop and, I think you should kind of step back and say, “Okay. Before I let myself re-engage with social media, what’s my plan? Why would I start using social media again?”
So, I’ve had some friends who have taken a long break from social media and have decided to come back. And, they come back with a clear objective of why they’re using social media. Sometimes they’ve, you know, completely started a new Twitter account because they’re like, I use this Twitter account for selfish gain and I don’t want any of the followers that I gained with what I was saying so I’m going to open up this new thing and start all over, basically and sort of start with a fresh start. So like I think whatever it takes, take a step back, whether you completely get off or you just kind of, you know, say I’m only going to use it one day a week or whatever. Take a little bit of a break. Come up with a plan and say, okay, you know, I have, I have a lot, you know, the Lord’s gifted me to talk about student ministry, let’s say.
You know, let’s say you have some experiences in student ministry and you say, “I want to use my social media presence for the kingdom of God by helping others do student ministry better.”
So you decide I’m going to start a blog about how to do student ministry and I’m going to re-setup my Twitter account and only start, you know, start sharing content that helps people better do student ministry. I’m going to open up my Facebook page and I’m, you know, you set up whatever Instagram, whatever social media accounts you think are appropriate for the audience you’re trying to serve and you say, “I’m going to start providing content that isn’t about me, isn’t about how awesome I am or, how cool my life is, or how attractive I am or whatever it is but, I’m going to start creating content that’s helping people do student ministry better.”
And that’s the other thing too. When I’m coaching people, the first question I ask, really, I’ve got to give you the, I think of it like a big diagram. So, when you’re building an online platform for the glory of God or for kingdom good, how do you want to think about it? When you’re trying to use social media to serve people. There are three questions you should be asking yourself.
The first question is, who is my audience? That’s really just kind of like a census, demographic discussion. Are they male or female? Are they ages 13 to 23 or 23 to 33, you know, who, you know, like what people would fill out on the census, you know, are they from these areas, do they look like this? Do they talk like this? What are they typically interested in? Just kind of like a demographic understanding of who your audience is. That’s the first question.
The second questions is, what are the felt needs of that audience? So if you’re creating content to help people with student ministry, if we keep that idea going, okay so your audience is typically going to be, you know, maybe 25 to 45 year old student pastors, okay? So then the needs of that, the felt needs of that audience are going to be understanding of how to connect with the people that are half my age. Understanding how to preach better. Understanding how to lead community groups. Not really feeling adequate for being in the past or, you know, all of these felt needs that a student pastor has. List those out, you know.
Third circle is how has the Lord gifted me? What has the Lord gifted me with, you know, sometimes, you know, there might be two columns in that list. There might be, he has gifted me to speak but not really to write and he’s gifted me with the knowledge of how student ministry works well.
So then maybe what you’re doing is you decide to create a YouTube channel instead of a blog because you’re not really a good writer but you’re a good speaker and you’re good in front of the camera and so you create a YouTube channel on how to do student ministry better with the focus on reaching 25 to 45 year old student pastors who have this set of needs.
If you think about it, of those, two of those three circles are others focused, not self focused. It’s who am I trying to serve and what are their needs? Only one of those circles is focused on who I am and how the Lord has gifted me, which ultimately isn’t even about me, it’s about how the Lord has gifted me.
The Lord gives those gifts to use to serve others not to just use for ourselves. And so I think when you’re building an online platform, when you try and use social media to serve other people, whether you look at that as a platform or not, if you’re having trouble with constantly seeking affirmation, take a step back and then when you re-engage, if you decide to re-engage say, “Okay. Who am I trying to serve? What are their needs? How is the Lord gifted me and, how can I use this social media platform to be intentional about serving those people instead of serving myself?”
That’s so good, Chris, thank you so much for that and I, as you’re saying that, I’m just thinking culture tells us to start an Instagram account or Facebook account because you’re supposed to and that’s what you have to do but, you’re saying, start an Instagram account to serve the world for God’s glory, which is a huge perspective change …
And I think, I should be clearer too, you know, I’m talking about when you’re trying, when you have a message, when you have a gift you’re trying to use. I don’t believe it’s wrong to have an Instagram account just to keep up with friends or to share goofy, like, I’ve got an Instagram account and I just share pictures of my dog all the time. But, you know, I don’t have a problem you know, I don’t delete the app from my phone because I don’t judge my self worth based on a picture of my dog gets 15 likes or not. You know, like …
Not even a little bit?
No, no, no, no. It’s okay. I know my dog is cute. If you can’t figure that out that’s your own problem. So, I don’t think it’s wrong to use social media for connecting with friends and things like that, you know, but I think if you’re finding self worth in it there’s a serious heart issue that you should probably get worked out by taking a break from social media than continuing to mindlessly engage.
That’s awesome. Thank you so much, Chris, for your wisdom and time today, I really do appreciate it. If you’re interested, by the way, if you’re listening, in LifeWay Social, which I mean Chris just sort of gave us a peek into some of the stuff that he does helping ask questions and think through the ways you use social media, maybe you do have a message and you want further help and you really enjoy what Chris had to say, check out LifeWay Social and even if you don’t want to get actual formal coaching, there’re blogs there that is free resources for you to take so definitely go there. LifeWaysocial.com you can check that out. And also, Chris mentioned about this new book that’s coming out sometime this year, you said?
Yeah, yeah. It should be coming out in the next couple of months. I don’t have the exact date but yeah, Ministering to Millennials, is what it’s called.
That’s awesome, I know that for some of you that’s going to be very interesting so we’ll keep updated on that as well. But anyways, thank you so much Chris. Hope to have you back on the show again soon.
Yeah thanks. It was good talking to you.