It’s hard to know how to go about this well because there aren’t a ton of good examples. Social media today is all “Look at me! Look at me!” I think the technology itself, hand in hand with the spirit of our time, has led to this. Facebook grew into an international phenomenon mainly based around the opportunity to voice our opinions and share our lives (often quite personal aspects of our lives), and receive feedback from friends and the general public. Instagram took this a step further, creating a social media world entirely centered on image and stories told from the first person, propelling the selfie culture forward.
The temptation this creates is to live out our social interactions based on a polished and superficial version of ourselves and a need to constantly promote the more interesting aspects of our lives, with images that impress the Instagram audience.
How can we set a different example? What would Timothy have done if his social interactions and sphere of influence had been set in this context?
In 1 Timothy, chapter 2, Paul gives Timothy some guidance about how men and women should carry themselves in public. Interestingly, he focuses on visual aspects. Image was an issue even back then! I think various things said in that chapter are tied to cultural aspects for the Church in that time period, but there are principles we can apply today.
Men are challenged to pray, to be holy, and not to give in to arguments and anger. Women are encouraged to be modest, decent, and to care more about inner beauty, “dressing themselves” with good deeds. I think Timothy’s Instagram would have been a platform to encourage good works and things that really bring change, rather than how cool he might have looked squatting while wearing the latest fashion.
Moving into chapter 3, the focus turns to those in leadership. But who are the leaders of today? This generation doesn’t give as much attention to titles and positions, but rather levels of influence. Having over 10K followers is more likely to earn you respect and a voice than having an official title. If that’s the case, then influencers who follow Jesus need to listen to Paul’s wisdom for Timothy and watch how they portray themselves publicly:
If anyone wants to provide leadership in the church, good! But there are preconditions: A leader must be well-thought-of, committed to his wife, cool and collected, accessible, and hospitable. He must know what he’s talking about, not be overfond of wine, not pushy but gentle, not thin-skinned, not money-hungry. He must handle his own affairs well, attentive to his own children and having their respect. For if someone is unable to handle his own affairs, how can he take care of God’s church? He must not be a new believer, lest the position go to his head and the Devil trip him up. Outsiders must think well of him, or else the Devil will figure out a way to lure him into his trap. (1Tim.3:1-7, The Message)
Whatever the platform of influence we have on social media today, it would do us good to put these same criteria into action. “Well-thought-of” refers to reputation, which we often pretend not to be concerned with. But to Paul and Timothy, this really mattered. They cared about the example they and other influencers were setting, understanding that with influence comes the responsibility to care about others and the impact you’re having on the world around you. And that starts at home, being attentive to our kids and faithful to our wives or husbands, cool and collected, accessible and hospitable to our friends.
I like this one: “He must know what he’s talking about”. We definitely need more of that on social media feeds! We would have a better effect on the world around us if we read up and thought more carefully before blurting out our thoughts online. Another interesting one - “...not overfond of wine” - would probably lead us to post fewer pictures promoting the consumption of alcohol. But all of it seems so relevant to our social media context - “...not pushy, but gentle, not thin-skinned, not money-hungry.” If we had these principles in our hearts and minds as we interact with posts and comments, there would be less offence and bickering, less fury and thoughtless comments, and less ostentatious selfies.
It's not easy, and I feel like we’re all learning as we go along. But I long to see influencers using the new and dynamic channels of communication to point people to Jesus and to reflect His character. Social media affords us both a challenge and an opportunity. In a world of windows looking into the day-to-day of our lives, where personal perspectives and stories are highly valued, we have a real opportunity to influence, if our lives model what it means to follow Jesus with our words, attitudes, and actions.