by Brian Hobbs
I first became exposed to Facebook when I saw a college student intern in our office using it in 2005. At the time, I thought nothing of it, as Facebook was originally a forum for college students. In fact, members had to possess an email that ended in “.edu,” which I did not.
Today, there are an estimated 750 million active users, including teens, young adults, middle aged and senior citizens, throughout the world. It is a communications platform on which the average user is spending hours a week.
It is changing the way we work, play and live. What’s more, according to a recent Baptist Press news story, a 2010 survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers showed that Facebook is being cited as a cause for divorce, including 66 percent of cases that involve online evidence.
So how are Christians to respond to this social media revolution? In 2009, popular author and pastor John Piper talked about his dive into the world of Facebook and Twitter. He himself acknowledged the dangers of such media and said that some groups do not like them because:
“These media tend to shorten attention spans, weaken discursive reasoning, lure people away from Scripture and prayer, disembody relationships, feed the fires of narcissism, cater to the craving for attention, fill the world with drivel, shrink the soul’s capacity for greatness, and make us second-handers who comment on life when we ought to be living it.”
I would only add to Piper’s list in that these social media can create “friend inflation” whereby we think we have more friends than we actually may.
That being said, Piper believes, as I have come to believe, that these media can be harnessed for good, rather than merely despised.
I have carried that philosophy into my new role as communications director for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. We recently launched a Facebook page (visit Facebook.com/OklahomaBaptists to “like” our page), to create a place where Oklahoma Baptists can connect and find out the latest ministry happenings.
Further, there is a mandate for Christians to take the Gospel everywhere. If there were a country consisting of as many people as there are on Facebook, would we simply ignore it?
That being said, I do think Christians need to exercise good judgment with this communications tool. While we want to be busy spreading the seeds of the Gospel on Facebook, we do not want it to become a time trap or a temptation.
Some good questions to ask yourself are: “Do I spend more time in prayer and in the Bible each day, or playing games and chatting on Facebook?” and “Who exactly are my friends?”
If we are honest with ourselves, our answers might scare us.
My personal Facebook habits are rather odd, especially for someone in the communications field. For starters, I was quite late to join the Facebook scene, in 2010. Next, my only “friends” are men or married couples with a joint account, excepting my wife. Her only friends are ladies.
I also take a regular break from Facebook—what some would call a fast—to make sure it does not take over my life. While these guidelines may not be for you, I would suggest you consider some restrictions and rules of thumb in your household as how to wisely use Facebook.
Finally, while I am not exactly an admirer of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, a self-proclaimed atheist, I do recognize the genius of his invention and business. And I am thankful he has provided a platform in which Christians, if we rightly play our part, can spread the Gospel to places it has never been and to people who would never think to darken the door of a church.
In sum, I think there are ways we can be in the Facebook world without being of it.
Conventional Thinking by Brian Hobbs, director of communications for the BGCO, is a new column that will run periodically in The Messenger.