We Are All Publishers Now

Long before audio/visual equipment was invented, Ellen White knew how to do the figurative mic drop better than anyone.  

Regardless of how you view Ellen White, this quote stands as a powerful and relevant reminder of the solemn task we have been charged with. I encourage everyone who is on social media to read her Counsels to Writers and Editors.

Social media is the ultimate equalizer; it gives a voice and platform to anyone willing to engage.  –Amy Jo Martin

Social media has eased entry into the world of telling stories, sharing ideas, and expressing thoughts to a wide audience. It used to be that if you wanted to tell your story to a broader audience, you had to buy your way in through costly traditional media.

Social media, at its very essence, is people connecting with people to create a collective human story. We all want to be heard, and we all now have a platform for public speaking.

You can have hundreds, thousands, even millions of people viewing your messages. But, as so often is the case, the person we need to set boundaries with is ourselves.

Your personal social media is a great opportunity to share your story and contribute to the collective conversation. It can serve as a powerful witnessing tool, revealing what God is accomplishing through you and your work. But…

Would someone know you are a Christian based on your social media? What values are you reflecting? Would your audience like Christians based on your behavior online?

I once listened to a powerful sermon in which the speaker asked, “If you were pulled into court today, is there enough evidence in your life to convict you of being a Christian?” Well, what evidence does your social media provide? Is your use of social media driving people away from the church or toward Christ? Think about it.

Social media is public by nature and has blurred the lines between your work for the church and your personal life. This can be a good thing. Follow principles of responsible use and be a living testimony to others. Be a light among the quagmire of negativity online.

Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)

We were all taught in primary school to T.H.I.N.K. before we speak. It is not enough for something to be True; it must also be Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, and Kind. Every opportunity to share is an opportunity to either advance or hinder the kingdom of God. People should use social media; it is a powerful tool. After all, the appeal of social media is that it reflects a basic human need, and that need is to connect and share. As disciples, that means connecting with each other and God as well as sharing the gospel.

The trouble with quotes on the internet is that it’s difficult to determine if they are genuine or not.  –Abraham Lincoln

It is likely that you have friends or followers on social media that are not Christians, or are questioning and struggling with their faith. As a member of the church, you are always representing the church. This is especially true for pastors and others in leadership roles. It is of vital importance that we maintain a high standard of ethics, striving to always be honest, professional, and kind. This means always verifying questionable content with credible sources before sharing, honoring the privacy of others, respecting intellectual property rights, and never releasing confidential information.

Your posts can have a much greater impact and reach than you imagine. We recognize and value diversity of opinion within our community, but as an employee or member, your followers may confuse your opinion with the official position of the church. While this is most likely not your intention, be mindful to:

  • prevent confusion by avoiding posts that conflict with your ministry’s official positions on matters
  • observe principles of impartiality
  • avoid topics like politics where emotions can run high and can result in inflammatory or inappropriate language.

Many discussions are significantly more productive in person. It is generally accepted that 93% of our communication is non-verbal (Mehrabian & Wiener, 1967; Mehrabian & Ferris, 1967). Online communication strips away the context of tone and intention. Many comments online are misunderstood without this context and provoke controversy and conflict instead of positive discourse. When asked why they left the church, a sizable portion of former members cite something that was said to them or how they were treated by other members. My question to you is this:

How many people are you willing to drive out of the church to make a point or to “win” your argument?

Public figures have the potential to magnify division and take thousands out of the church. For those of us on an individual level, we may discourage someone from ever considering Christianity. We talk about a life lived as a reflection of Christ but turn into devils on social media. People say things on social media that they would never dare to say in person.

We absolutely respect and value different perspectives among our members and leadership. But as representatives of the church, we must not use our public speaking platforms as a sounding board for the problems we see in the church, in leadership, and our country. We are a family; let’s resolve our internal issues privately. It would be considered obscene to go knocking on doors and to begin your evangelistic effort by lambasting the very church you are asking people to join. So why do it online? We must protect our church family and frame all of our digital communications with the salvation of others in mind. Social media is a powerful tool for sharing the gospel; let’s use it wisely and err on the side of caution.                                                                    

The power and efficiency of our work depend largely on the character of the literature [message] that comes from our presses [social media profiles]. Therefore, great care should be exercised in the choice and preparation of the matter that is to go to the world. The greatest caution and discrimination are needed. Our energies should be devoted to the publication of literature [posts] of the purest quality and the most elevating character. Our periodicals [Tweets and updates] must go forth laden with truth that has a vital, spiritual interest for the people. ―Counsels to Writers and Editors, Ellen G. White

Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences. Carelessness in speech can and will inhibit our ability to accomplish our mission. When we turn people away from the church, we are not only working against ourselves, we are working against God. You can also get your ministry or self in legal trouble. In many cases, you may endanger your job and reputation. This can all be avoided by simply using discretion and focusing on the positive, such as what God is accomplishing through your church or ministry. Let’s not fall into the trap of using the negative and sensational to get attention online when God calls us to focus on what is good and holy.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable―if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.  (Philippians 4:8)

We all have the same goal. I truly believe that social media is a vital tool for accomplishing our mission in the 21st century. Young people are leaving the church at a startling rate. They spend 7 to 12 hours a day behind a screen. Up to 9 hours of that time is spend on social media. What messages are you sending them? We must take the gospel where they are, and not where we want them to be. But when our actions and our speech contradict each other, we only have ourselves to blame for the rising egression.

I hope that this article changes how you view social media. Let’s work together to get the job done and go home.

Jamie Schneider is the digital strategist for the North American Division