I had my own radio station when I was a kid. My broadcast equipment included a microphone, mixer, and a tape deck from Radio Shack. I even used my initials as call letters: WRAD. By age 10, I sent a cassette several states away to Grandma. She was my number one (of one) fan, my audience base, and my underwriter, all wrapped into a single person. By age 11, I began to tinker with a kit that used the cold water pipes in my house to broadcast a weak AM signal to the neighborhood. I was amazed when caller number one — “Beth” — dialed in to say she loved my station. At that moment I was an actual broadcaster, hooked on the feeling and rush of reaching an audience, and, like any 11 year old kid, cared about it very deeply… until I began to care about something else very deeply. I don’t remember what distracted me. Probably something shiny.
In my adulthood I ended up doing actual radio on an actual morning show. For five years straight I’d roll out of bed and roll into the studio, talking about whatever mattered in the world and/or whatever didn’t matter but was mildly entertaining. I was an actual broadcaster again, and this time on an actual FM station that could be heard in multiple cities. It was so neat when the grocery store cashier asked me if I was actually him — the guy from the radio! Oh, the discounts were plentiful (not really).
Broadcasting as a medium has drastically changed since I was behind the mic. These days, everyone can be an international broadcaster. Take your pick: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs, podcasts, Instagram, Vine, etc. I could easily find 100 mediums online with which to broadcast pretty much whatever I want to — within reason, of course. I have a blog, I tweet, and I make the occasional video. No, I’m not on the radio, but I am an actual broadcaster. But then again, you probably are, too. When we post pictures of lunch at that awesome Thai place, or make a passing comment about the weather, or share ideas from Pinterest with our friends, we are doing so as broadcasters.
Though He covered a multitude of subjects, Jesus didn’t specifically mention the proper stewardship of social media in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5). The teachings of Jesus weren’t reported in the daily paper, be it print or online. Nevertheless the news about Him spread everywhere. After all, when people encounter God in the flesh, they tend to talk openly about it. If the Crucifixion were to take place today, it’s likely someone would’ve tweeted about it, though maybe not enough for a national hashtag to trend. Of the 500 or so people who saw Jesus after the resurrection, chances are that many of them would’ve updated their Facebook status — with ALL CAPS. If the original apostles had a Tumblr account, one would have to ask whether Peter would’ve just posted the letters to the church online for everyone to skim.
I often wonder what would’ve happened if Jesus and His followers had today’s social media at their ancient fingertips. What would they post? How would the Gospel accounts be enriched? What else would’ve been preserved? The limitations of papyrus meant that only the highlights are divinely left in (John 20:30), whereas digital records are virtually inexhaustible. Compared to our current bandwidth, the methods used to preserve and transmit the story of salvation were rather limited. They didn’t even have MySpace, for crying out loud! Imagine the inspiration of a weekly prison podcast from Paul. How many more would’ve been baptized? How many more churches would’ve been planted?
Then again, I have to wonder if the gospel would’ve been lost amidst tweets about world events, celebrities, politics, celebrities, opinions, share if you love Jesus posts, rants, celebrities, and celebrities. Maybe God knew exactly what He was doing in sending the Son at just the right time in human history where the gospel could go out in Holy Spirit power to affect people in such a profound way that multiple generations would continue to spread the good news, not because of a cursory glance at a screen but because they experienced the transcendent in the margins of their lives. Sadly, most of my margins are being consumed by… you guessed it… social media.
Come to think of it, it’s a really good thing that Jesus came when He did. I’m glad to have a faith that has been handed down, supported by scripture, and verified by the presence of God in my own heart and life. It’s amazing that the events of 2,000 years ago can be so powerful. This is made possible, of course, by the one who says be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10). We are overwhelmed by our self-enabled chatter. We’ve gone from one medium to a million, and all this broadcasting is rather overwhelming. How do we make the most of it?
Jesus came then to a world of archaic data preservation and broadcast. Followers of Jesus exist now in a world of advanced technological wizardry where the impossible has become possible. The disciples experienced Jesus then in the daily stuff of life, telling only whoever they encountered about a lesson, an experience, a miracle. Disciples of Jesus now have ways to use technology to share a lesson, an experience, a miracle with anybody who’s watching online. See the pattern? Jesus doesn’t tweet, but His disciples of today do. Jesus didn’t blog, post, text, ‘gram, or anything else they come up with next week… but His disciples do.
I’m a disciple. Maybe you are, too. Before we broadcast another tweet or post another whatever, consider this:
- Let’s use technology as a subset of our existence as followers of Jesus. We don’t serve technology. We serve Jesus. May our participation in social media reflect the same. No, we don’t have to go all Ned Flanders. But, as we broadcast, we must do so as people in the world but not of it. Yes, we should be real, but not negative. Have you noticed how much people complain online? It’s like Philippians 2:14 — do everything without grumbling or arguing — is suspended as soon as they log on! I suppose shouldn’t complain about it. Authentic joy should be the unseen thread in every post.
- Let’s get our identity from Christ, not from a ridiculous (albeit fun) personality profile that finds out what Disney princess we are or what our middle name means in Romulan. All that stuff messes with our sense of self. We are children of God (Philippians 2:15) in a world gone awry, and we of all people should know who we are! By the way, most of those short online personality profiles reveal a much deeper longing. The people of our world are aching to find their true identity, which can only be found in Jesus Christ. Tough question alert: can He be easily detected in you?
- Let’s consider the uncanny public appeal that Jesus had. Massive crowds followed Him. Children ran to Him. People bore their souls and were remarkably vulnerable. You might think “well, I should craft my online persona to match His” or, even worse, “what would Jesus tweet?” Jesus didn’t use 9 hacks to a better online presence, nor did He care about clickable links. In fact, His only strategy was this: spend time daily with the Father. Whatever He said, whatever He did, wherever He went… all of it poured from a single inspiration: His Dad. That’s how we should live and, as a result, participate in social media, too.
We have at our disposal a miraculous array of social media tools to spread the word about the real miracle: Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. May every message we broadcast have this simple Truth at its core. Amen.