Facebook, Jesus, and Your Church
(Anti-) Social Networking Etiquette
by Pastor Bob Enyart [BE on FB; RSR on FB]
Denver Bible Church
As at ten thousand other churches, use of Facebook, online forums (like TOL) and email affect the fellowship at Denver Bible Church. Consider these pastor’s tips for etiquette regarding online demeanor, the percentage of a congregation that “friends” one another, email use, and public ‘counseling.’
Online Demeanor & Your Church Witness: People are so much more polite to one another in grocery-store checkout lines than behind the wheel in traffic and on Internet forums. It’s not that automobiles and the web are sources of bad behavior. (Of course the horrendous temptation of pornography floods the Internet and every family should protect itself with a filter like Net Nanny and with a film filter like VidAngel. See also kgov.com/filter.) Though as Jesus said, a man is not defiled “from outside… [but] what comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts… pride, foolishness” (Mark 7:18, 20-22). Of course healthy evangelism and discipleship include debate and confrontation, and some have tried to water down Christianity, and unintentionally advocate being nicer than God. But the relative anonymity of online forums daily brings out bad behavior in millions of web users. When Christians and others put on their “web face” and post on Facebook, it is so easy to be abrupt, sarcastic, and plain rude to people you would treat in person with great respect.
Recommendation: when possible, immediately or very quickly, bring disagreements and rebukes offline and in person, and avoid unnecessary taking sides and “piling on.”
Percent of Congregation: Sixty percent of churches in America have fewer than 100 weekly attendees and at the other end of the spectrum, one hundredth of one percent of churches (only 40 of them) have an attendance of more than 10,000. In a small church, if a dozen families “friend” one another, their Facebook posts, for example, appear on the web pages of most of the members in the church, and as a result, whatever they write has apparent approval of the church. For example, imagine a church member posting a joke about the murder of an abortionist, or a positive review of a movie he saw that weekend, even though the film had seductive immorality. If the member belonged to a large fellowship, his post would not seem to have the inherent approval of the whole church. Whereas, in a small church, as the percentage of attendees who “friend” each other increases, the presumption of church approval for each “posting” increases. (By the way, movies with sexual nudity harm everyone, and no one should recommend such films; Mark 9:42; 1 Cor. 6:18.)
Recommendation: regardless of the size of your church, ask God to help you avoid being a bad influence; consider "unfriending" those who lack wisdom in some post, not as a condemnation but as a way of limiting the distribution of that post; don’t flaunt the liberty you have in Christ; and realize that you are an ambassador of the Lord Jesus.
Email: Don’t be a Christian spammer. The world doesn’t need Christian thieves, Christian drunkards, nor Christian spammers. Increasingly, automatic filters delete emails with non-descript subjects like: “Read This,” “Don’t miss,” etc. Forward emails only after careful thought. If you forward a false rumor, you are responsible for harm it may produce. Check out questionable stories before sharing them, otherwise you will lose credibility, and that will harm your testimony. Don’t put the burden on your friends to check out the truthfulness of the email you send. You check it out first. And if it’s not worth your time to personalize the subject, it might not be worth your friend’s time to open it, which now he must do just to find out the topic. Consider being similarly helpful by describing a link in an email rather than sending just a raw link. Also, if you email a group of people, use "Bcc" (blind carbon copy) to "hide" their identities because otherwise, you will be distributing their email IDs in a single, easy-to-copy list that will possibly multiply the spam they receive and might even facilitate harmful emails going to a wide group.
Recommendation: learn to recognize and avoid spam; don't spread rumors; and be thoughtful of your recipient's time.
Public Counseling: an Internet forum hardly even qualifies as a poor man’s counseling couch. If someone reveals online their own destructive beliefs or behavior, a proper response will often depend on your geographic locations. If you will never meet this person, who perhaps lives half-way around the world, and you decide according to biblical standards to correct, confront, or rebuke him, you may have to do so publicly. (Of course, you might have more success if you minister through a private instant message or email.) But if you regularly see this person you care about at church, twitter-like counseling can easily be the result of laziness or even cowardice, leading to online rather than in-person dialogue. As Jesus said, “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone” (Mat. 18:15-17). As much of the New Testament consists of epistles, Jesus could have said, “Send him a letter.” But He did not. And of course the Lord’s instruction applies to private sin. Public sin and wrongdoing by leaders often requires public confrontation as occurs in Scripture. For otherwise, such misapplication of the Lord’s teaching would effectively insulate generally inaccessible leaders of large ministries from accountability to their flock.
Recommendation: don’t twitter away your opportunity to minister to a brother in need by unnecessary public rebuke; counsel your brother in person.
Online, as with all human interaction, we need God’s wisdom to honor Him through our words and deeds. Please ask God for discernment and to help you love Him and others. Bad behavior, even if somewhat unintentional on your part, can inflict great harm on another. Seek the Lord in everything and you will be a blessing to your physical and web neighbors!
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