Let’s face it: Social media is the language of our generation. Within the last decade, technological advancements have exploded to provide us all with instant access to seemingly an infinite amount of information right at our fingertips.
This information that we take in deeply affects the way we perceive not only our own lives, but also the lives of those around us. It causes us to compare and contrast, to evaluate and reflect; even to adapt and chameleon-ize ourselves to become someone we are not. In essence, we become mask wearers.
Often we overcompensate in our insecurities and make great leaps like a trapeze artist on a tight rope. Inadvertently, our aim is to solidify our reserved seating at the cool-kid-table. Ridiculous as this may sound, we unknowingly do it all the time. However, what does this unnerving pressure to fit in at the cool-kid-table propel us to do? It haunts us to reconstruct our thinking and dress ourselves up to meet its criterion: the various current fashion trends, suave friend groupings and lingo; we even go as far as to reach for an idealized picture of perfection with a quick double tap on our glossy phone screens.
The fear of not being relevant or hip enough motivates us to paint pictures worthy of the world’s, and Church’s approval.
So here’s the good news. Social media can create authentically beneficial and healthy constructs of community. It connects friends, family members, et cetera and builds relationships locally as well as cross-culturally. It really is an amazing phenomenon of postmodernity! So there is a method to the madness, a stream of positivity, if managed discerningly.
However, there is some bad news. Social media can, and often is an unrealistically biased projection of highly celebritized, Hollywood-esque highlight reel moments of life and yes, even ministry. For instance, Instagram has tendencies to contribute to these negative nuances. Let’s propose a question or two. Think about this: If Instagram was the only perspective of the church’s status to an alien world, what might they think about us? Furthermore, what do you think the outsider’s perspective would be regarding the genetic coding of what makes a “successful” church ministry? Guess. Their answer may sound something like this: big churches with big budgets and maybe a famous pastor or two who can win a crowd over with a drop of their hat and a few nifty one-liners.
As a Millennial myself, this is often what I fear we young ministry students can anticipate as “ministry” if we are not careful. Now, just to be clear – these things are not inherently bad things! In fact, we rejoice in the successes of our local churches when the gospel is preached, people are saved, and disciples are made for Jesus. Yet even so, these rare cases that blow up our feeds seem to cast looming shadows over the faithful unknown pastors who serve in the trenches without a glimmer of recognition.
The truth of the matter is this: most churches do not have big buildings, exorbitant budgets, or famous pastors with a plethora of unending resources.
Yet, this is the information that we take in each and every day. We only get served the best moments of social media’s “ministry”. Moreover, the illusion that successful ministry is synonymous with public notoriety and thousands of followers on Instagram becomes the status of our approval and validation! It’s crazy how easily this occurs in our minds. Inasmuch as this is true, I think that if we were truly honest, we would agree that highlight reels are only truly appreciated to the fullest when the entirety of the “game” has been played out. Yet, as we have discussed, highlight moments are what people project. It’s just what we do. It’s our human nature; or at least, our natural propensities. I can certainty empathize with this current dilemma here. For example, in high school I never would have submitted highlight reels to college coaches of me missing all my shots on goal, misconnecting all of my passes, or getting my ACL torn at the end of practice, it’s not what they want to see—it doesn’t sell. It certainty is not trendy or attractive. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t authentic or real.
Analogously, when is the last time we saw pictures of the altar calls that no one responded to, or the people who were prayed for and were not healed, or the diligently, well-prepped sermons that no one was able to seemingly identify or connect with. Well, never! Who would want to boast about such things? Yet the list goes on, and we know it does. We know this because ministry is hard. It is a gear that never stops grinding. The rubber never leaves the road because the road only ends when we meet Jesus in eternity. Jesus never said it would be easy. In fact, he said quite the opposite.
We need to be reminded that Jesus has called us to obediently carry our crosses; not idolize fantasied personifications of someone one else’s ministry platform.
Ministry is more than standing on big platforms with microphones that amplify our voices. In fact, that may be the least important part. It is the call to obediently serve Jesus through our faithfulness to his people. It’s not for notoriety. It’s not for public praise. Be assured, Heaven will be populated with men and women of God whose names we have never heard of; of church leaders who never made the tabloids or our Insta feeds, and of believers who served Jesus faithfully without a twitter shout out or a retweet.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian and pastor said this about our call to Christ, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” You see, dead people only have true highlight reels because their story is over. Their moments are more valuable because they fit within the narrative of their life: the trials, the successes, and the in-betweens. Likewise, we are dead people made alive again in Jesus, learning to follow his call.
Our wins and losses are navigated in him; he is our joyous strength that empowers us to be faithful in and out of season, no matter the cost.
So next time you are scrolling through your social media platforms, remember this: Jesus has called you to serve him faithfully exactly where he has you. Remain obedient. Commit to faithfulness. There will be days where everything seems to go right and days where everything seems to go wrong – and when they do, remember who it is that you are doing it for in the first place.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (London: SCM Press, 1948/2001), 44.