We’ve all been to a theater. There are dark, thick curtains hanging around a stage, with large cushy seats for the audience. As you take your seat, you hear the orchestra warming up. The performers backstage get ready with hair and makeup. They practice their lines. They look in the mirror to make sure they look “just so.” They have a role to play. The curtain rises and the performance begins.
Allow me to tell you about one of my recent “performances.”
One Sunday this past February, my entire family wore Kansas City Chiefs gear to church. Our hometown team was playing in the Super Bowl and I couldn’t wait to watch the game with them later that day.
During the service, as worship began, I kept finding myself thinking about the picture I wanted to take of my family to share on social media. How would I frame that post? What would I say to demonstrate how excited we were about the Chiefs playing in the championship game? I mentally wrote several drafts of Instagram captions during worship.
I caught my mind wandering to the future social media post and couldn’t believe I was so focused on it. When our pastor began the sermon praying that we would be free from distractions, I knew I needed the Holy Spirit to keep me focused. I was so bent on thinking about what others would think of something I would say later that day on social media.
You see, I was stepping up on stage. Or rather, in this instance, I was backstage, getting ready to perform. I wanted to present myself to my audience—my followers—in a certain way. I wanted to show them that I was loyal to my city, the Chiefs, and that my family was excited.
None of those things are bad in and of themselves, but I’ve come to realize that many of us often view social media like a theater and that can be harmful. There are two main components to a theater—the stage and the audience. You may use social media like a stage on which to perform, as I did in the previous example, or you may see it as a place to take in entertainment. However you use it, I want to encourage you to see social media for a different purpose, one centered on making much of Christ. But first, let’s determine how you are currently using social media.
For those who view social media as a stage: is your performance on social media all about yourself? Do you even realize you are performing? As you consider what you post, do you carefully craft words and angle the camera just so it blocks out that pile of laundry? The temptation to perform on social media is great. I understand. It seems to be the perfect channel for showing the world a version of yourself that others will approve of and give praise to.
Perhaps you aren’t on stage. Instead, you are in the audience, watching the performance, but never engaging. You may prefer to hang back in the shadows of the darkened theater. No one is looking at you, you’re just there to relax and enjoy the show. You may love watching the drama unfold. Perhaps you’re mindlessly scrolling through Instagram feeds and making snap judgments about a friend’s choice of outfit or you could be growing envious of that influencer’s seemingly perfect family life. You are mostly an observer on social media. The audience member may seem like an innocent party here, but even the audience member must carefully consider how they are using social media. If your scrolling is causing envy and discontentment, your attention is being drawn away from Christ and onto things you don’t have.
For the performers on stage, you must remember that you are called to draw attention to Christ. We are made in the image of God and we’re made to reflect him. If that is true, and it is, then what we reflect on social media matters greatly.
This doesn’t mean you never post pictures of yourself or your family. But it may mean that your posts need a pre-post filter. Before posting, examine your heart. Are you about to post something for the sole purpose of drawing attention to yourself or because you are yearning for the praise of men through likes and retweets? If so, maybe you don’t need to post. Instead, remember that God is your audience and he’s already completely and utterly pleased with you because you’ve placed your trust in Jesus for salvation from your sin. You don’t need to earn any approval from social media because you already have all the approval you need in Christ. Before posting, you may also want to explore why it is that you’re seeking attention from your social media audience, and what unmet need may be driving that desire.
When we see social media merely as a stage to perform on, it’s harmful for both the performer and the audience member. We are forgetting about the real Drama taking place all around us. All around us, God is on the only stage that matters and He is doing amazing work.
Social media is a great tool to see what God is doing through people and in people all over the world. Social media is not the problem; it’s how we use it.
God works through imperfect people to accomplish his work of caring for the earth and the people living on it. The Holy Spirit is moving in the hearts of people from small-town Iowa to Saudi Arabia.
When audience members get sucked into the drama unfolding from the stage of social media, they are giving praise and glory to something other than the One who designed them for so much more.
When performers use social media solely as a way to feature themselves, they are drawing attention away from the One who created them.
We exist to glorify God. Therefore, it reasons that as we interact on these very public platforms, we have to ask ourselves if our activity there is bringing praise and glory to God, or ourselves.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Fall ’20 edition of Midwestern Magazine. The full issue will soon be available online.