The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense. – Proverbs 10:21.
So all media is social. And Christians should be engaged in what goes by that name. But let’s face it. We aren’t doing it very well. I don’t mean that we don’t do it very often. I mean that we often contribute more to the noise than we do to the conversation.
And here’s why:
We are talking to ourselves.
This has to do with language of course: we tend to use the language of the church, terms and phrases that we ourselves only understand through long use and practice. But I mean more broadly that we are only talking to other Christians anyway. Our Facebook friends and our Twitter followers are more like us that they are like anyone else. And there is a reason for this:
We aren’t listening.
James says we should be “swift to hear.” My sense is that even when we are speaking to non-Christians, we have something to say before we understand what they need, and so we offer the wrong cliches for the wrong problems. At the wrong time. A couple of key words generate a couple of buzz words. And our timing is off too.
For example, sometimes we should pray for people without telling them we are doing it, especially when they are in some crisis where our saying so at that moment sounds condescending, trite or even useless. As Solomon said, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” Just like in real life, we have to learn to say the right thing at the right time for the right reason.
There is a difference between a great talker and a great communicator. This difference is that the communicator listens more and connects better. She reads her audience, whether it is one person or many. And this is a skill many Christians seem to have in real life but lack online, partly because our online audience is more diverse than those we encounter in our face-to-face world.
And partly because we can’t read their non-verbals. And they can’t read ours, our best emoticons not withstanding. So in the absence of any relational context, our efforts are handicapped before we start. But they could work if we were willing to create the relational context. This takes real time and real effort in our face to face relationships, and even more time and effort in a medium that creates the illusion of presence and encourages a quick and effortless response. The reality is, we have to work harder when we are online.
And there is another reason we are failing:
We are not hopeful.
If we post mostly our horror at the latest horror, in politics, entertainment, education or healthcare, we belie our faith. Of the things that endure—faith, hope and love—rage and fear are nowhere to be found. Non-Christians have pain and fear of their own; they have no desire to carry ours.
I’m not saying there are not horrors in the world. And there is no suggestion here that we project a pollyanna approach to life. Transparency is critical to meaningful human interaction. I’m just saying we should not be afraid of the horrors. Or talk about them all the time. We should rest in the sovereign goodness of a merciful God. And people should be drawn to that peace and confidence, not the despairing call of those who cry wolf day after day.
The New Testament says we are ambassadors, with a message of reconciliation. I’m sure ambassadors have their own opinions, but they don’t always get to say so. They are circumspect, reflecting as much as possible their confidence in and deference to the One who sent them.
It’s a metaphor to consider before we press POST.
About Wally Metts
Professor of Communication, Spring Arbor University Online
Wally Metts is an award winning author and editor, he has contributed to dozens of periodicals and been instrumental in the development of several major programs at the university, especially those related to online learning. He is a fifth-generation Floridian, an elder at the Countryside Bible Church in Jonesville, MI, and a home school dad.