Seductress or Servant: Managing the Addictive Power of Social Media

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Shame. That is what I felt when I finally came out of my fog of denial and admitted to myself how deeply I had let the roots of social media to grow into my sense of self. Shame and revulsion. Something had to change. I had begun to chase the fix that came with every retweet, share, “like” or “favorite.” I found myself getting anxious if I posted something that didn’t generate much response. This dis-ease could be compounded exponentially when paired with the fluctuating traffic on my blog which I tried to drive through social media. I awoke one day to the fact that I had become a social media addict in need of an intervention and rehab. I was neglecting my family and ministry for artificial connections with cyber-ciphers who created the illusion of relationship without the demands of incarnational interaction.

How did it happen? Slowly. I was reluctant to get involved in the Facebook phenomena and even slower with Twitter. I saw it as dangerous and narcissistic at first and did not get on any social media until well into 2009. Even when I got on, I used it sparingly until I had a “legitimate” reason—serving God.

In 2010 I left congregational ministry for the para-church world. All of a sudden I was in a new world without a regular group of people showing up for stuff I planned to say and do each week. How could I get the word out about what we were doing at Missions Resource Network? How could we fulfill our mandate to equip churches to serve the mission of God if they didn’t know we were here or what we offered? How would prospective missionaries know we offered training or care if they never heard of us? Social media looked like the perfect platform: a readymade tool for promoting legitimate ministry.  And it was and is.

The marketing experts who train people like me who work for non-profits say you have to be in the social media. People don’t give to causes or organizations anymore. People give to people they trust who are advocating for values and causes they embrace.  To get their support, you have to establish yourself as a thought leader. How do you do that? Blogging, I was told. OK, I didn’t have time when I was preaching and couldn’t afford to waste the few ideas I had on a blog then, but now I had no other place to share what was bubbling up inside me and I was used to writing out thoughts every week.

Blogging was natural and easy. I was told the strategy was to get people to go from your blog to your organization’s website or to bring you in as a speaker. But how do you get people to your blog? Social media. And, you can’t just post your blog on social media, you have to be out there regularly and attract a following by being engaging, funny, and sharing useful stuff that isn’t always about your ministry. Got it. Create a social media presence with a following, move them to my blog (which must also be personal and vulnerable)), and then move readers to your website and your ministry. That will open up ministry opportunities and potential donors.

It made sense and it worked. I enjoyed it, a lot, too much in fact. What I didn’t take into consideration is what regular engagement on social media could do to me. It is addictive, especially to a praise junky like myself. I liked the attention without the demand that goes with congregational ministry. I found that being vulnerable and confessional was too close to narcissistic obsession for me to resist.  I learned that my addiction to attention cultivated as a preacher could become even unhealthier online. Next thing you know, social media and blogging began to pull me away from the people I loved and pulled me away from being the man I wanted to be.

So, what do I do about that reality that I need social media and blogging to advance my ministry in our current culture? I’m still working that out, but I’m more careful now.

  1. I had to stop blogging for a while. I took a hiatus of several months and stopped posting to my former blog which had generated something of a following. After several months away, I did start blogging but on a new site that is less personal and more ministry/missions focused. I want to be the guy holding the camera, not the guy on camera.
  2. I took Facebook and Twitter apps off my iPhone and iPad and stopped leaving them up on my desktop. I intentionally make myself go through several steps to get to them so it is a bother. In addition, I’ve set boundaries around my usage both in terms of frequency and content.
  3. I stopped carrying my iPhone around with me at home. When I walk in the door, it goes on a little desk in our kitchen by my wife’s. None of us have our phones on us at home. We restrict our 11 year old daughter’s use of hers to the weekend. I don’t check my phone unless I have a specific reason and then only rarely. No just browsing social media to see what’s going on. Even phone calls and texts can wait until my family is attended to appropriately.

I can testify that my family life is better now. I am a more fully present, loving husband and father who spends more time attending to others instead of wondering what people out there think about this or that. Prayer and peace are richer and more frequent.

I am thankful for social media and related internet outlets that make sharing, learning, and finding information easy. However, I found that my love of attention and capacity for self-deception require I be extremely cautious about how I use them. They are like alcohol. They may not be inherently immoral and may have some good uses, but they are profoundly dangerous and can cause you to make a fool of yourself and can even destroy your life through abuse quicker than you imagine. And, it is really hard to know when enough is enough. Good boundaries are essential if you are going to partake. So, use with caution.

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