It is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses to the church door at Wittenberg in 1517. Few individuals in history have leveraged technology as effectively as he did. The effect of his action was amplified by social media, or at least by the printing press.
All media is, in some sense, social. The printing press had only been around 66 years when he wrote his “blog post” about indulgences, but within seven years, by 1525, 30% all the printed material in Europe had been written by Luther. He used cartoons, bar tunes, and pamphlets to get his point across, all written in the common tongue. And his ideas went viral, at least by Medieval standards. In fact, when the Pope threatened to excommunicate him in 1525, he said it was “to cut off the advance of this plague and cancerous disease so it will not spread any further.”
It did of course. Luther would certainly have had a Facebook page, and since his time Christians, including the Catholic church, have also adopted radio, TV and film. Now what we call social media is even more personal.
While technology added speed and scale, social media adds important one-on-one conversations. I regularly text a student in India, a pastor in Nepal, and my son in Chicago. The printing press felt no less amazing to Luther. And while social media can annoy a lot of people, it can also bring about needed change. Luther clearly managed to do both.
Christians can use social media for kingdom work, and for everyday work as well, since that is where most of the conversations are. Since the first web page was published less than 30 years ago, and now there are over thirty trillion of them. And over half the population of the world now has a cell phone.
There are unprecedented opportunities for saying things that matter as well as saying things that are stupid. So you want to say things that are important and true. At the top of his thesis Luther wrote, “Out of love for the truth, and the desire to bring it to light.” Certainly, there is truth to be proclaimed. But without love, the Apostle Paul warns us, words are nothing but noise. And there is plenty of noise.
The challenge of breaking through the noise with civility and grace is one reason to consider graduate work in communication at Spring Arbor University. With a Christian perspective on leadership, we offer courses in creating content and using digital media strategically, as well as a professional development seminar that includes personal conversations with experienced mentors. These experiences can help you be more effective. And more gracious. This will come in handy if you want to start a reformation of your own.
- Wallis C. Metts Jr. Program Director, Master of Arts in Strategic Communication and Leadership