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Social Media: You're Not a Community

Everybody wants a community. It is the way God made us. We want people surrounding us who have similar likes and thoughts, are in a similar place in their lives as we are in ours, who have interest in what we do and vice versa. We tend to think of a tight community as people who think and act just like us.

In an ironic effort to connect people virtually, social media has actually chipped away at our society’s understanding of community. I can’t tell you how many groups I’m in—mom groups, health groups, coffee groups—and how often people say, “I’m so thankful for this community!” But those aren’t not communities. They’re just groups of people who are in a Facebook group together, who don’t know each other and who just respond to each others’ posts about a mutual topic or lifestyle. Is that what community is? Doubtful.

When God created the church, community was in mind. A group, or body, of believers, connected under grace by the same experience—that once they were dead in their trespasses and sins, but now they were made alive. The greatest beauty of this body is that they were and have always been far from being just like each other. They are, by nature (gender/ethnicity/experiences/circumstances/social status/financial status) different, yet they come together under one name: Jesus Christ. This community created by God wasn’t strengthened by shallow praise and “likes,” nor did it flourish because of blind acceptance to any and all lifestyles. It withstood the early persecution of the church. It held tightly those who bore Christ’s name as they served each other in love. It was strengthened and purified as people pointed out each other’s sin and pulled others in to restored fellowship with God. Throughout the centuries, this community has lived and died for one other.

On one hand, social media gives us only a careful, curated picture of others’ lives. It shows only what the author wants us to see, so we are incapable of knowing what may truly be going on. Posed pictures of smiling faces may not show the ugliness of pornography ripping a marriage apart. They don’t show the interpersonal problems between two once-friends, nor how one’s addictions to food, or drugs, or video games, or any number of others is ruining all personal relationships. Yet a community can’t function in shallowness. True community has to break down the superficial and get into hearts or else it goes nowhere. The bonds of those who have seen the worst of each other, the lowest of the lows, the ugliest of the ugly, and loved and pushed through and spoken truth to make things right and care and stayed, those bonds are unbreakable.

On the other side, social media offers us the frustration of watching others normalize and publicize their sin. Friends who live around the world show glimpses into their very different lives, and often confront us with their unbiblical lifestyle choices, their posts filled with untruths or secularized counsel, or their lackadaisical Christianity. Therein our hands are tied. Do we publicly rebuke on a post, and how will that affect our own testimony? If we are not in their lives day in and day out, do we show true love and care by saying something, even in a private message when we haven’t spoken to them for months otherwise? The church’s commands for the restoration of someone in sin (Matthew 18; Galatians 6:1) can’t be followed through on a screen. Social media has watered down the church’s very sobering responsibility of making sinfulness right before God by disconnecting us too much to know how we’re supposed to do that. It can lead to overwhelming frustration over many people virtually, to the point that we might not even want to deal with the sin of those who are physically in our lives.

Social media isn’t all bad. But it is the poorest substitute for community that has yet been invented. We cannot function within a screen. And we should not raise another generation to be most comfortable behind one. Community, as God intended it and how our hearts crave it, must happen in person every day.

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