The Power of 140-Character Opinions

How did we function before smart phones? Last week I went to Nashville for the SEND North America conference followed by the ERLC’s The Gospel and Politics conference. On Tuesday, there was a major technology issue in the southern region, which resulted in ATT being shut down for hours leaving many people without phones, the conference center without wifi and stores being unable to function without credit card capabilities. As travelers, my team and I were left somewhat stranded since we were relying on our Google GPS app to tell us where to go in an unfamiliar city, and my job as the social media guru was temporarily put on hold until the network was back up and running.

ATT had been out of service about three hours when we were suddenly plugged back into the world. We were sitting in the waiting area of a restaurant and all at once I noticed the row of people next to us pull out their cell phones. It was instant. Pleasant conversation turned to lit-up faces looking downward at a tiny cellular device. Almost instantaneously the background chatter silenced as the vocal conversation shifted to text message, Facebook and Twitter type. I’m not without fault. The instant ATT was alive once again, my phone buzzed for about 20 seconds solid with Facebook and Twitter notifications, text messages, and a once again full inbox. I had been disconnected from the world for only a few hours, but it felt like an eternity! So much to catch up on.

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As you read this you are probably guessing the direction I will head. You are thinking that I will talk about the importance of turning off the cell phones, having real life conversation and to advocate for the shift within the millennial mindset. Those things may be important, but I am also aware that the online world is never going away. What I’m concerned with today is the conversations that we are having in the cyber world – what we are saying about ourselves, how we are speaking to others, and the image that we are portraying for Christians as a whole.

My entire job is spent online. My title: Associate director of social media and digital marketing. I am the first one to admit that I have my eyes stuck on my phone far too much, but it’s the world we live in and frankly, it’s how I get paid. It’s unrealistic to ask people to stay off of Facebook or avoid Twitter altogether, and to be honest, I don’t think that removing ourselves from those conversations is the best thing to do either. But there is proper and appropriate behavior on social media – standards that we should hold ourselves to as Christians and stewards of His Word. I would even venture to say that our cyber behavior is as important as the way we handle ourselves in person.

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On one hand, the input that we are able to have in in worldwide conversations via social media is a blessing. We are able to express our opinions to potentially millions of people from anywhere in the world. We are able to be a part of the conversation instead of simply reading bleeding black ink from a newspaper in our driveway. My grandparents would have never dreamed the day would come when you could read a live feed of 140 character opinions during a Presidential debate. But on the other hand, this power of instant published opinion can be dangerous, and we have a responsibility to be wise with our words and thoughtful with our permanent marks within the cyber world.

At the conference last week, president of the IMB (International Mission Board) David Platt said, “I don’t know one person who has come to know Christ because they lost and argument on Twitter. I don’t know one person who has come to know Christ because they were humiliated on Facebook.”

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There is a boldness that comes out of people on social media. They say things on their Facebook page that they would never say in person. They lash out on controversial issues and aggressively (and way too often passive aggressively) express their opinions in a way that is unkind, unfair and un-Christlike.

“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Proverbs 12:18 (ESV)

“Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.” Proverbs 13:3 (ESV)

As Christians, it is true that the Gospel is our standard. We should stand up for what we believe in and speak to issues that are not of Gods Kingdom. But if our goal is truly to win people to Christ, we should pick our battles. Our words have power and they simply put, can lead someone towards Christ or can just as easily drive them away. We need to be considerate of others, passionate about our calling, and aware of the power of our language.

“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.” Ephesians 4:29 (ESV)

“Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.” Proverbs 21:23 (ESV)

There are currently 311 million active Twitter accounts and approximately 500 million tweets posted per day. May our contributions be encouraging, uplifting, and in all circumstances, a reflection of a heart that points directly to Christ.

“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.” Matthew 15:18 (ESV)