A Christian online presence: dangers, aims and the space in between

There is a ‘me’ online. God-willing, for the Christian our online presence is not so different from who we are face to face with others. We do have an online presence. And what we post or write carries the extra seriousness of standing as a testimony for or against us. In this sense it simply follows what our spoken word does when it travels. These posts, these links, these online elements, they all add up to who we are online and for Christians they should fall within the desire to have a holy presence before a watching world. In my struggle with sin and in an attempt to maintain a Christian witness I’ve found remembering certain dangers and aims to be of aid. And in between these  dangers and aims lie acres of space.

 

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The dangers

The majority of dangers revolve around ‘me’. It’s when what I post will build my name. It is sheer self-advertising, self-promotion. ‘Look at me, look at me.’ What I have? Who I have? Perhaps I’m trying to build a following, a flock who will hang off of my every word, who will hold me up as the most witty or sage or whatever.

Perhaps it is some version of building our identity where we promote what we want people to think of us: our skills or creativity, or niceness or well-travelled-ness, or street smarts. Perhaps we don’t quite know who we are and so we attempt to build it online. We hope that if only people believe that, then I can make and mould who I am through how people see me. We force our identity.

Possibly the most conniving of all is the humblebrag.  Have you heard of it? Tim Challies gives a lesson in humblebrag 101 here. The humblebrag draws attention to him/herself but in a roundabout way cloaked in humility. It is self-attention grabbing wrapped in deceit.

There are a couple of aims that can provide a filter for these present dangers:

The aims

Edification and evangelism are stable starting points. God willing not too banal for some, it might however be a bit of a false distinction. Nevertheless, these are decent filters to sift through what we’re about to ‘enter’.

  • Is it edifying?

In other words, will it build people up, in particular Christians? Some reminder of God and his ways towards us in Jesus; a link to an article that is likely to be encouraging; thanks in a culture of complaints and criticisms; a Scripture verse (? I realise some Christians find this tacky. In most cases I don’t share that view). A post or a comment or a link which is good or sincere or holy or of beauty. If I’m on struggle-street to find something that might be edifying then perhaps I should simply put the lid of my computer down.

  • Does it evangelise?

Obviously there are cringe-worthy ways of doing this. But what this might rather entail is something which gets people thinking about life, and more in particular what God has done in Jesus. A link to an article that challenges or gets people thinking; a Scripture verse; or a thoughtful question (yes, again, all kinds of potential cringe here). Tact, wisdom and creativity are key here. The options are as wide as our imaginations, and God-willing done with our head securely on our shoulders.

If any of this sounds rather mechanical or planned… Well why shouldn’t it be, to a certain extent? It would be good for the words which exit our lips to be thought through – why less so for the words we post online? This is especially the case as they are words which are repeatable and reviewable at a click. They deserve thought. And if we can’t think through what to say then perhaps we should refrain from that comment or that link. The world might even be a slightly better place for it.

 

Is this all pedantic? What about simply posting something you enjoyed? Or some quip or video that is bound to grab a few laughs? Well, there is space between the dangers and the aims.

 The space in between

Having something like these particular dangers and aims in our mind might encourage us to at least consider what we are about to do online. And within this framework there is freedom – in between the aims and the dangers there is a wide open land. There is space for a photo of your food; a proud mommy moment of their kid; the odd overshare of some experience.  But we’ll need the wisdom switch ‘on’. People don’t really need to know where I am every moment; they don’t need to know every thought that races through my brain (I can’t help but wonder if ‘in a multitude of status updates, sin is not lacking’ – plus do I really consider myself that interesting?). Still there is space for bits of this, with discretion. A hilarious youtube video, a music clip you really like – freedom here to post that. The celebration of your local sports team, or the latest special offer – there is space for that. Not everything has to have the pointed edge of edification or evangelism to it. However, wisdom will keep a check on whether what we’re posting or commenting is sliding towards self-attention or whether they will potentially be unhelpful for others – do we need a million photos of you kissing your gf or bf seared into our brains through our newsfeed?

 

We have an online presence and as Christians it demands a thoughtfulness that flows out of our relationship to the holy Father of Jesus. I say all of this aware that I say the above online, in a post and under a blog that carries my own name 🙂 Consider them the simple thoughts of a guy attempting to live under Jesus in cyberspace.

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