No one can deny the popularity of social networking. It’s everywhere. It’s the cloud we breathe all the time without even thinking about it. If you’re like most people, you get anxious when you’re more than eight steps from your phone, and you think you feel it buzzing in your pocket even when it’s quietly lying on the table. But is social media useful for small groups?
I believe you can’t have a healthy small group without being about social media. Apps, gadgets, and social networking websites are optional, but social media is a phrase that captures the very reason why small-group ministry exists. Let me explain.
Media simply means information or data. Media is content—the message. Social is merely a word we use to describe the way media travels: from person to person, relationally. Small groups are all about people getting together in relationships around a message. So social media is the very DNA of small-group ministry, with or without the Internet.
If you believe that both content and relationships are at the core of any great small-group ministry, you’re already well on your way to using social media more effectively for ministry. We just need to establish a good philosophy of how technology relates to ministry.
I believe that modern social networking tools have the power to unite us around causes, connect us with new people, and extend the reach of important messages people need to hear—including the gospel. And I’m convinced that social media has tremendous potential to improve group life and small-group ministry. Here’s how:
The Apostle James said it best. The tongue is like a fire, or perhaps poison. When not under control, our mouths can destroy lives, especially our own. He went on to say, “If we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.” (James 3:2 NLT)
Thankfully, James was a practical dude. He didn’t just point out the problem, he gave us a simple solution. In a single sentence, James summarized the wisdom pretty much everybody on the planet needed to hear about communication.
Be quick to listen…
slow to speak…
and slow to get angry.
– James 1:19 NLT
There it is. Your three-step plan to changing every relationship you have in an extremely positive way. Think back to the last argument you had with your spouse, or friend, or parents, or whomever. Replay that argument with three new rules in place:
And then listen some more. Instead of thinking of your response while the other person bears their heart, what if you actually suppressed your own desire to react and just listened. Really tune in. Keep the mouth shut a little longer. Breathe deeply and calm the nerves. Hear the heart. Mentally repeat what you’re hearing so it gets your focus.
Then, listen even longer.
Plan Your Words
Having really listened, what if you took two seconds before reacting, even if you’re right. Consider the weight of your words (because words can be very, very heavy can’t they?), especially words like always and never and idiot. And words like sh… you get the picture.
When I’m preparing sermons, the hardest part of all is trimming and cutting what isn’t essential to the message. I hate to eliminate good material. We do the same in arguments. Oh, this is good… I HAVE to say this… this’ll nail’em! Slow down. Then slow down some more.
You’re right. Anger isn’t bad, in and of itself. It’s a God-given emotion and has its uses. Like when ISIS beheads people, Boko Haram kidnaps little girls, and unborn lives are destroyed by the abortion agenda. But James makes a pretty important clarification. Our anger never seems to lead where we want it to in what should be a friendly fight. He says, “Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.” (James 1:20 NLT)
Anger can produce action on behalf of the oppressed, but it never produces righteousness in our hearts. When it comes to our relationships and friendships, our anger pretty much just hurts people, including ourselves.
So, here are the ground rules for your next confrontation.
Listen a little bit more.
Plan your words.
Eliminate some words.
I’m pretty sure your next fight is going to go better than the last one.
The following is a brief excerpt from my new book Rewired: How Using Today’s Technology Can Bring You Back to Deeper Relationships, Real Conversations, and Powerful Ways to Share God’s Love available at a bookstore near you.
Silence has a tendency to ruin things—not everything, mind you. We often need to cultivate silence in our lives in intentional ways for the health of our minds, bodies, and spirits, especially in this day and age, when so much clamors for our attention.
But we were made by our Creator to connect with others, and intimacy is a deep and abiding need of every human heart. We need to know and be known.
And so, it is time to speak. It is time to connect. It is time for us to emerge from our cocoons to engage the rest of the world in a silence-shattering conversation about eternal things. Silence fosters oppression, but you can speak up for those without a voice. Silence traps people in shame, but your voice can communicate grace to those trapped in sin. Silence endangers and threatens to destroy delicate relationships, but you can say the words needed for healing. It’s time to speak.
Not only is it time to speak, it’s also time to get loud. I believe we have something of eternal value to share. The gospel is worthy of a hearing in the public square and the private coffee shop conversation. And here’s the good news: it is altogether possible that our culture’s renewed emphasis on social networking and personalization may help create the capacity to fight the problem of silence more effectively.
The good news of Jesus is life changing, and if new tools have been handed to us that provide the power to spread the message farther, then let us speak with enthusiasm. Jesus said it this way: “What I tell you now in the darkness, shout abroad when daybreak comes. What I whisper in your ear, shout from the housetops for all to hear!” (Matt. 10:27).
Let’s break the silence!
Many of the Pharisees were probably great teachers and skilled speakers. I’m sure many were charismatic, skilled communicators. But by the time Jesus arrived on the scene, the Pharisees, on the whole, were killing the culture around them spiritually. Jesus had a lot of work to do just to unwire people from the performance-driven, legalistic trap of pharisaism.
I’ve been guilty of preaching like a Pharisee before, and as I review my sermons from the past, I cringe a bit as I peruse certain periods of my ministry when I placed undue burdens on my listeners in the name of “preaching the Word.” I’m writing out of my own past tendencies (and present tendencies I’m still trying to snuff out) as well as out of what I observe across the landscape of evangelical preaching.
The following tips will work to draw a moderate-sized crowd. A pulpit characterized by negativity and belligerence will draw a moderate-sized crowd of masochists who draw energy to go on another day by being beaten up spiritually. But it won’t make Jesus-like, craveable disciples. So use them at your own risk.
How do you preach like a Pharisee?
Preach Your Opinions Instead of the Absolute Truth of Scripture
Exalting your own opinions about extra-biblical issues as though obedience to them is equivalent to obeying Scripture is dangerous. It creates the very burdens on the backs of people that Jesus came to remove. It also hurts the trust of your hearers. Consider my hero, W. A. Criswell who once promoted segregation as a biblical mandate only to repent and change his policy later. His opinion about a cultural issue caused many to question his credibility. Thankfully, he had such a high respect for the authority of Scripture that he changed course, publicly and with apology. Besides, you’re probably wrong more than you think you are.
Promote Moralism Over Grace-based Living
Your role is to present biblical truth, allowing the Holy Spirit to transform the lives of your hearers with the power of God’s revelation. Your role is not to make people behave. Repentance has to do with changing the mind and belief system so that behaviors follow, but when we promote better behavior, we put the cart before the horse and fail to exalt the grace that enables us to live differently.
Make People Feel Guilty Enough to Make Short-term Commitments
Guilt is a terrible motivator. Yes, we sinners must come to grips with our sin by means of the conviction of the Holy Spirit, but it is the Holy Spirit’s job to bring that conviction. I can get people to give more money, sign up to serve in a ministry, or go share the gospel by making them feel guilty about not giving or doing enough. Or I can empower them to give, serve, and share by inspiring them with hope. God dangles rewards in front of us in eternity as motivation for action rather than feelings of guilt over our sinful past. I owe Him everything, but He doesn’t remind me of that. He simply challenges me to go forward in hope and for the pure enjoyment of Him and His grace.
Beat People Into Skepticism
Jesus once told the Pharisees that they had a tendency to make people “twice the child of hell as they were before.” What did He mean? People had come to the Pharisees, as religious leaders, to find the ultimate fulfillment God could offer. What they received was a long list of rules that were impossible to keep. After their repeated failures, they would finally turn away in disgust and it would be a long time before they listened to another religious leader again. Sound familiar? My heart breaks for the victims of spiritually abusive churches that have little understanding or compassion for the hurts and problems of people in pain.
Dress the Part
If you wear a three-piece suit and cuff links because you’re into that sort of thing or because it appeals to the community you’re trying to reach, more power to you. But if you just like to wear the “preacher” uniform and appear lofty and ministerial, repent now. I get a bit nauseated when I see a leader who has that “preacher strut.” I won’t describe it – you’ll know it when you see it. It’s usually the result of my desire to impress my peers outweighing my desire to connect with the lost. This is not a rant against “dressing up.” It’s just a warning against trying to “dress the part” of the superior religious leader.
More than ever, a skeptical, broken world needs our authentic, truth-saturated, grace-based, Spirit-filled message of the cross and the resurrection. And they need to see it embodied in our lives as much as they need to hear it proclaimed from the podium.