2020 has been rough.
A few things have been particularly challenging for me in youth ministry:
- Not being able to be around kids as much.
- Not being able to have traditional clubs.
- Helping kids navigate a pandemic
- Having things get canceled last minute.
But ultimately, none of that compares to the difficulty that some have faced of a family member, friend, or even yourself getting COVID-19.
But there have been a few things that have gone well this year. One of those is that I have had much more time to eat popcorn and binge on entertainment. Although I’ve watched Hamilton on repeat and have made it through almost all of the Great British Baking Show (highly recommend) I kept hearing about a Netflix documentary called “The Social Dilemma” so I finally watch it.
The Social Dilemma addresses a very real problem in the social media industry that ultimately revolves around the acquisition of personal data and the ways in which social media companies use that data, sometimes unethically. While I’m not an expert in the subject, I can say that after watching the documentary I did ask myself a question:
“Is having social media worth it?“
For a Young Life leader, having social media seems like it’s kind of a given. I mean, after all, Jesus was incarnational. He went where people were and for us, that means going into the deep dark abyss that is Tiktok, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube. Because of this desire to be where kids are, I realized that while I face a personal dilemma in regard to social media, I also am faced with a ministry dilemma as well.
So, what are we supposed to do? As ministry leaders are we called to be on social media or should we reject social media because of its unethical practices? I think the answer to the question is pretty simple…YES.
Yes. We are called to be on social media and meet kids there. To step into their digital world and let Jesus shine through our presence on those platforms.
But yes, that requires us to have a basic understanding of what social media companies are doing and must lead us to at times reject some of the more nefarious practices of those companies.
I have come up with a solution that I think is easy, helpful, and may protect our friends, our families, and ourselves from being exploited by social media companies. It is a threefold process and it isn’t all that different from how we would address other cultural issues we face in ministry.
HOW TO HANDLE SOCIAL MEDIA AS A YOUNG LIFE LEADER
1. Educate Ourselves
The first step in having a more responsible relationship with social media is for us to educate ourselves on the practices of social media companies and observe how our social media usage is affecting us personally. For this step, I would recommend watching “The Social Dilemma,” looking up resources by Tristan Harris, and then prayerfully observing how we are using (or abusing) social media platforms. Self-reflection in regards to social media usage can be difficult, but if we look at our screen time report it probably would reveal some of our blindspots.
2. Educate our Friends
Once we have done our homework and started to form our views on ethical and responsible social media usage, I think it’s appropriate to educate our friends about how social media is designed to capture as much of their attention as possible and how it has the potential to form their habits as well. We are not shy in discussing things like alcohol, drugs, and pornography once we have earned the right to be heard in our ministry circles. Social media, because of its addictive properties, can be very similar to those other vices and we should be informed and clear with our friends about how it is potentially affecting them.
3. Be Accountable To Each Other
Finally, once we have educated ourselves and educated our friends it’s helpful if we find someone who we can be accountable to in regards to our social media habits. I believe that Christian community is a gift because it helps us to find people who will speak in truth and love about the ways that we are living our lives.
As a leader, we should be ready to seek out a staff person, another leader, a brother or sister in Christ, or a pastor and give them permission to call out the sin in our lives. If we are not careful our social media usage can become idolatrous and destructive, and therefore at times may need to be addressed.
For the kids we minister to, we can be the Christian accountability that they need in their lives. We must be cautious to speak in truth and love, to be firm but full or grace, and to always have their best interest in mind.
For many of us and many of friends social media is becoming a barrier to the “life to the full” that Jesus is calling us to. As long as there is social media that is bent on making money from our attention, we will face the dilemma about how to approach it in a Christ centered way but with education and accountability we can do as Paul suggested in 1 Corinthians 10:5 and “take every thought captive.”
In doing so, we can navigate this dilemma, and we can reclaim it as a tool for Gospel proclamation, not a barrier to it.