This week, we heard news about a group of individual investors, brought together through Reddit, a social news website with all manner of topics and subtopics available for mutual discussion. They undertook a risky and interesting social-financial experiment: they bought up a bunch of shares in low-stock-value companies, raising their value.
The hope, initially, was to cash in and make a quick buck.
But what has happened as a result of this is that the Wall Street and Bay Street establishments have been put on notice: social media can have a powerful influence on the way things have always been done.
This isn’t really new at all, of course; it’s just new in its application.
Social media have been influencing societal trends for years, and the huge organizations that largely own social media – Facebook (which owns Instagram), Google (which owns YouTube), Twitter, and even upstarts like TikTok – know this all too well, and they use their power over these platforms to influence people toward the views that their owners hold.
Analogously, they have replaced the church in western society in terms of their influential role.
It used to be that if people wanted to know what to believe about any number of issues, they turned to their local church pastor, their parish priest, or their denominational policies.
But even within the church, that doesn’t much happen anymore.
People are most influenced by that with which they spend the most time. And for most people, that’s social media.
A couple of thoughts come to mind as I ponder this heavy, stinging reality.
First, we don’t want to isolate ourselves from the world around us, so we don’t want to tell people to avoid social media. (In reality, it’s pretty hard for most of us to avoid anyway.) We’re not seeking to create monastic communities of our churches.
But what if we sought to be influencers ourselves, as followers of Jesus, by sharing biblical perspectives on social media?
I have to admit that I find this hard to do, because the feedback that comes is often pretty harsh, and I just don’t want to deal with the drama. But at the same time, if we have a wide circle of social media connections, we can speak into the lives of others and be influencers in our own right when we stand up for what the Scripture says is true. Even if other people choose not to believe it with us, at least we have given them another perspective to think about.
The other thought that comes to mind is that if we are going to share what our faith says about various issues, we do well to study what the Bible says about it. And that means digging deeper in the Word to understand how Scripture applies to these life situations – beyond what the preacher says during worship.
The result is that you end up spending more time reading the Bible than you do reading your Instagram feed. And I accept this as a word from the Lord to me, since if I’m honest I probably spend a lot of time on social that I could be spending in the study of God’s Word.
If that reversal happens, I’m pretty confident that my posts will be of greater depth and higher quality than they are now, and that my witness for the faith will be clearer. Maybe the same will be true for you.
So equip yourself: make sure you own a Bible that’s in a translation you find simple enough to read, and in a print size that makes it easy to read (don’t discount that last part!). Perhaps acquire a study Bible that has notes in it, prepared with scholarship that seeks to help you apply the Word in helpful, contemporary ways.
But don’t leave it on the coffee table; pick it up and read it every day. Or use an app on your phone, if that works better for you.
Don’t bemoan the waning influence of the Christian faith in society; be that influence.
“[I]f someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way” (1 Peter 3.15b-16a, NLT).