Being Honest About the Limitations of Social Media Relationships

Being Honest About the Limitations of Social Media Relationships

Photo: ©NATEE MEEPIAN from Natee Meepian’s Images via Canva.com

Social media draws from our hearts a mixture of likes and dislikes—all at the same time. We are thankful for these media platforms because of our ability to reach others easily, quickly, and helpfully. We struggle with these platforms because of the many inherent problems. For example, a lack of self-control, no social discretion, perpetuating isolation, and other addictive issues, which makes a little honesty about their limitations appropriate.

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Building Others Up

My first reaction is my gratitude for our social media platforms because of the redemptive possibilities of technology. There is an echo of omnipresence in these platforms. Virtually every day, somebody from somewhere around the globe is expressing gratitude for the Lord’s good work through this ministry.

Most Christians understand the virtual possibilities of redemptive communication and restorative help that they can participate in for the Lord’s fame. They embrace Paul’s attitude and practice when it comes to social media practices. You can nicely sum up his philosophy on communication by what he said in Ephesians 4:29.

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

A Downside of Common Grace

Because we live in a fallen world and we’re imperfect people, there is always a downside or “backside liability” when it comes to the common grace gifts from the Lord (Matt 5:44-45). It’s for this reason that every believer should take the time to reflect on how they enjoy these good gifts; in this case, I’m addressing social media. Here are a few helpful questions for you to consider.

  • Do you spend too much time on social media to the detriment of your spiritual life or your family? Are you addicted to a particular medium?
  • Are you easily tempted to say things harshly on social media when you would never say those things to the person’s face?
  • Perhaps you would say those things unkindly. Thus, social media is an accurate reflection of your heart. Do you need to change as you see your heart reflected on social media?
  • Are you tempted to present yourself in a way that makes you appear better than you are? You maintain a carefully edited image of yourself in cyberspace. The duality between who you are and your representative is hypocritical, and you are okay with it.
  • Would it be prudent for you to “go on a fast” from your favorite social media platform or deplatform yourself altogether?

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Don’t Be Like Me

Realizing that each person’s life is different, it is unwise to mandate how everyone should live in the “gray areas.” What is right for me may not be best for you, and vice-versa. There is grace that covers our uniqueness and seasons of life. Wise and humble folks recognize these realities and rejoice in each other’s freedoms and choices.

I would be sad if you adopted my preferences as your own without talking to God or discussing what you need to do with a close friend. You must resist being a puppet or parrot when the Lord is beckoning you to live your life before Him primarily and according to the most effective way you can impact others (Matthew 22:36-40). Thus, I trust you understand that I have a different experience than yours.

I’m going to share a few practices that have served our family well for years. These ideas are not in stone, but they do represent where we are today and reflect the most useful ways we can love God and others without drowning ourselves in cyberspace or the expectations that others believe we should adopt.

Friends Need Time and Contexts

It is exceptional for me to engage anyone on social media. I treat our social media platforms as a one-way monologue where folks can freely access our resources for their benefit and so they can share with others. Social media is not a dialogue community for me because I don’t have discretionary time to give to folks that I can’t build relationally in real time and real space.

Because of the enormous amount of time it takes to get to know a person, social media is restrictive and artificial, which cripples the very thing you need to do with a person to know them. For me, social media is a business-ministry opportunity to spread God’s fame, but when it comes to my need for maturing in my sanctification, it’s unwise to invest in such a medium.

This view is similar to how all businesses function. For example, when you visit Walmart or your favorite restaurant, your goal is not to become besties with the wait staff or the owner. Perhaps you will do that, and if you do, you will create many more contexts to build those relationships. You could not get to deeply know or connect with them with infrequent visits to their business.

Loyalty to Our Supporters

Then there are those who support our ministry financially. I do not take our supporter’s generosity to my family and me lightly. They give us money because they appreciate what I do, and they want to partner with us so we can continue to do this type of ministry globally. Their kindness is a massive blessing from the Lord.

Our supporters have a community where they hang out, which is our website. We have invested thousands of dollars into building and maintaining a meeting place for those who support us. They are the ones who paid for it, and that is the place where they expect to find me each day, as well as our team.

While social media folk receive one-way dialogue, those who give us money receive two-way communication. Our supporters get the best from our team and me. It is humbling that anyone would value what I do, and it speaks highly of the grace of God in that He would bring all of us together to partner in such a way as to make His fame great.

It’s an Integrity Thing

But it’s also an integrity thing for me to stay off social media as much as possible. Imagine if someone gave you money and expected you to be responsive to them when they had a need or question. Like a pastor paid to serve his congregation, it would be wrong for him to work for another group of folks rather than the ones who pay him (tithe) to help that local body.

Perhaps part of his pay was for doing things outside that local body, which is fine if it does not impair his care for his flock (Hebrews 13:17). Each pastor and congregation should work through the most effective means of being a church to each other while strategizing the most useful ways of reaching their communities. The operative word is integrity.

In this case, there are only so many hours in a day. Therefore you must prioritize your life to your most vital relationships and responsibilities. A functional assessment for you is to think through where you spend your best “relationship time” and whether there are things in your life that keep you from building into those individuals.

No Un-busy Christians

I’m like most people in that I’m always busy. I’m never un-busy. (No believer should be un-busy.) There is never any downtime in my life unless I choose to push away from my work and take that time, which I do. Lucia and I are intentional about guarding our personal and family time.

In my world, when I’m not working, the work never stops. The work piles up while I’m away, and there is always more to do than I have time to accomplish. Therefore, I have to choose my time priorities. And the way I manage my time reflects how I think about God, His Word, myself, and others, especially my family. When it comes to my time, social media is way down on my priority list.

  • How about you? Where does your favorite social media platform rank on your list of priorities?
  • Does God get your best time?
  • If you’re married, does your spouse come next?
  • Are there any children? Where do they rank?
  • What about those relationships in your real world?
  • How intentional are you at building relationally with those who can know?

Dividing Your Demographics

Jesus taught to thousands of people (Matthew 5-7), but He gave His best time to only a few (Luke 11:1). He understood the wisdom of dividing people into demographics that gave Him the most useful way of transforming the few while not neglecting the many (Matthew 14:13-21). In His humanity, twelve was a handful to train, as it would be for anyone (2 Timothy 2:2).

It is possible to provide care for thousands of people, but that type of training does not reach the level of what a person could do with a small group of learners. I think about our social media platforms similarly and don’t stress because I cannot develop all those followers the way that I can with the smaller numbers who come to our training center (website).

Each week, I’m freely pouring forth thousands of words, graphics, and videos all over social media. We’re reaching hundreds of thousands of people from every corner of the world. It’s stunning, amazing grace to be able to impact so many lives with our resources. And it’s unrealistic to think that I could or should do more than that.

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Working Within Limitations

Currently (2020), we have more than 13K+ on Facebook, 2K+ on Twitter, 1400+ on Instagram, and 7K+ on LinkedIn. There is some overlap in that some folks follow us on multiple platforms. Do you remember when Matthew said that there were 5000 people, not counting the women and children (Matthew 14:13-21)? I want you to think about the implication of our social media numbers with Matthew’s words in view.

We can easily reach more than 100,000 people in any given month, which we do after you factor in the friends and families of those who follow us. Imagine the enormous pressure that I could subject myself to if I believed that I should be responsive to those people in a similar way to those who are part of our community, which is 7K+ currently, counting all our free members.

If you don’t have a way of vetting the seriousness of the requests of those who want a piece of you, it won’t be long before there are no more pieces of you to give. Some people live this way, though. They say “yes” to anyone and everyone without thinking through the lack of wisdom of catering to people the way they want you to help them.

You Can’t Help Everyone

Christ was masterful at knowing His demographics and not caving to their requests in the way that they presented their wishes to Him. The rich young ruler did not get what he wanted the way he desired it (Mark 10:17-27). Mary and Martha had to rethink how manipulating Christ was not their best play (John 11:14). There are many more who tried to bend Christ to their preferences.

Do you have a way of discerning the seriousness of a person’s request while providing them the best means to access your help? I’m not suggesting that you ignore anyone. We never turn anyone away, but we never permit people to control how they are going to receive help from us. This position is Christlike: always ready to help but never willing to allow others to demand how you will do it.

Some people are too insecure at this point, and they react in one of two ways. They either become the puppet to the demands of others, or they respond with harshness and anger after they permit the “requesters” to push them to the limits. In both cases, they take on the role of a victim because of their lack of courage.

Call to Action

  1. When you hear me say that I never turn anyone away, but I don’t always meet their requests the way they want me to, what goes through your mind? How could you apply that concept to your life and friends?
  2. Are you a puppet when someone asks you for something, always jumping to their request? Are you an uncaring or distant person because cynicism has crept into your heart?
  3. What is one thing that you can change about yourself to where you can help more people but not permit their wishes to overwhelm you?
  4. Back to how I began this article, are you addicted to a social media platform? Do you waste time on social media? Could you be doing better work in the Lord’s service if you fasted or amputated social media?
  5. Jesus would not turn people away, but He also knew His priorities and limitations. How are you doing with your priorities and limitations? Be specific with my question. Think practically. Will you talk to someone about this article?
  6. Do you over-extend yourself to the detriment of your spiritual life or your family?

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