I readily admit that I fully enjoy engaging fellow believers on social media, in particular in various forums and discussion groups on Facebook. The back and forth discussion is often riveting, challenging, informative, and when done responsibly, a great tool for personal spiritual growth and the growth of others. What believer would not desire to share the truth of God’s Word or to dig deeper into the things of God, especially “nerdy” theological loving types such as myself. Of course that little aspect of responsibility is the issue and what things are being neglected, issues that quite often are far more important than winning a debate or sharing that one final brilliant theological discovery. Let me share with you some points of concern I have realized in my own life concerning this issue that were brought to my attention by my rather perceptive daughter as well as some recommendations for properly balancing time spent on social media or theological discussion.
In an age where access to social media is everywhere, be it smart phones, laptops, Kindles, Nooks, or iPads, it is easy to get drawn into the online environment. Long gone are the days when your connected your computer to the dial up modem, went out for dinner and then came back home to finally log on to the internet. Today we have instantaneous access to all manner of technological wonders. Who knew 10 years ago we could access the internet or watch television, movies, or listen to music on a thing called a smart phone? Honestly, there is nothing inherently wrong with technology. A smart phone or other technological device in and of itself is nothing more than a device. Without turning that device on, nothing will happen. Without engaging that device, nothing will happen. This means that a decision must be made on the part of the individual as to the good or bad that will come from utilizing that piece of technology. It also means blaming the availability of technology is a rather poor excuse, given you have to actually turn on the device to use it capabilities.
Now as someone who is an advocate of using technology to spread the good news of the gospel, having conversations with fellow believers across the globe, reading godly books and reviewing them, as well as writing blog posts and sharing the helpful writings of fellow bloggers or theological works past or present, I humbly admit that from time to time I get sucked into the world of technology. Again, there is nothing wrong with technology, studying God’s Word, or sharing the gospel. The issue is ensuring one’s engagement in those aforementioned activities is not done at the expense of other things also commanded by God as having a great deal of importance.
This leads me to what my daughter brought to my attention and that is “You are always talking about God on Facebook or reading about God and when I want to go to the pool or do things, you do not seem to be interested.” Wow! That was a shot right to the mid-section and rightfully so. Admittedly, I was defensive right off the bat in my response which went something along the lines of “Well you just want to go swimming at the wrong time.” Bad form Mike….bad form. After thinking about the wisdom my child shared in her complaint, it hit me that too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Let me explain what I mean by that statement.
Sharing the gospel is most definitely something that should be the focus of every believer. As we have discussed thus far, technology has afforded us the opportunity to share that message through social media. The unfortunate side effect of social media is it becomes very easy to justify to ourselves typing that one last response on Facebook, reading just one more chapter, writing one more paragraph for that blog post we just have to get out for dissemination today, or sharing with our family the specifics of that ridiculous individual on that forum who just can’t get it right on a particular issue of theological importance. The reasons are many as to why we justify those actions to ourselves including the fear that if we do not post something in response to Rachel Held Evans’ latest tirade or if we do not confront a particular wrong point of doctrine at that specific moment in time that suddenly the very fiber of the universe will unravel. In my case, the desire to take that route has led to the neglect of something just as precious and that is time sharing the gospel in my own family by my own actions or in this case the lack thereof of setting a godly example of what proper balance looks like.
As parents and especially for those fathers out there, we are absolutely commanded by God to “Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up (Deut. 11:19)”, an imperative that speaks of declaring the things of God to your children all day and every day. What does that look like on a daily basis and how do talk about these things day in and day out with our children and in our families? What connection does that have to social media? All valid questions and let’s examine each one individually.
There are a number of ways in which parents can share the truth of Scripture with their children on a daily basis. Some involve the actual sitting down in a family or one on one setting to include the opening the Word of God and prayer. Such an approach is often called “family worship” and there are a number of great books available (see below) that outline some suggestions for doing quality, purposeful, and consistent family worship. In fact, I highly recommend family worship be instituted on a consistent basis. In the words of Dr. Joel Beeke:
“Heads of households, we must implement family worship in the home. God requires that we worship Him not only privately as individuals, but publicly as members of the covenant body and community, and socially, as families. The Lord Jesus is worthy of it, God’s Word commands it, and conscience affirms it as our duty.”
While family worship is a must, there is also the equally important aspect of sharing the truth of Scripture by demonstrating godly living as parents through our own actions. This piece is truly where the rubber meets the road for most of us. In our minute by minute actions, are we reflecting what righteous behavior looks like to our children? Are we demonstrating by our own actions how to love God and love others? That is after all the essence of what all of the commands in Scripture are rooted is it not? I will let that sink in for a second. Okay…time’s up!
If we were honest, I would submit most would admit a large failure in that area of our lives as leaders of our families. With that said, admitting failure in this regard is a good thing because it demonstrates the realization of our neglect. The next stage is the need for repentance followed immediately by a paradigm shift in our approach to life. Children are sponges and as parents, they look to us for guidance not to mention the fact they will more often than not mimic our behavior. Watch the following music video as an example of how that works:
See how that works? The bad part of the video was the little boy repeating the curse word he had watched his father use. A better part was the little boy mimicking his father praying. The best part of the video was the realization by the father that he is setting an example for his son to follow, a realization resulting in a change of behavior. That is the place we must all get to as parents, namely what will likely be a drastic adjustment in how we live our lives.
For those parents who find themselves overly drawn to social media under the guise of sharing the gospel, or individuals such as myself who spend likely far too much time involved in reading and reviewing books, writing blog posts, or developing our personal or ministry related blogs, the allure of social media can impact our ability to share the gospel in our own homes. I know this is a reality because of the complaint shared by my daughter to me about my own misplaced priorities. I would submit many others are either in the same camp or are running the risk of placing a higher priority on outward ministry to others over and above ministering as a parent or spouse to their wife and children.
We cannot neglect our families for the cause of Christ. Such an approach is antithetical to Scripture. There is a thing called the off switch on every technological device. You can log out of Facebook. That last comment can wait. That blog post can wait another day. That book you are reading can be put back on the shelf for a few more minutes. That meeting can be rescheduled. What is more important than to “Train up a child in the way he should go so that when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6).
The Puritan J. W. Alexander once noted:
“The father of a family is under a wholesome influence, when he is brought every day to take a post of observation, and say to his own heart, “By this single means, in addition to all others, I am exerting some definite influence, good or bad, upon all who surround me. I cannot omit this service needlessly; perhaps I cannot omit it at all without detriment to my house. I cannot read the Word, I cannot sing, I cannot pray, without leaving some trace on the tender mind. How solemnly, how affectionately, how believingly, should I then approach this ordinance! With how much godly fear and preparation! My conduct in this worship may save or may kill. Here is my great channel for reaching the case of those who are submitted to my charge.”
As I think back to the words of my own daughter to me concerning my over emphasis recently on matters relating to social media, I am struck by those words from J. W. Alexander, specifically “I am exerting some definite influence, good or bad, upon all who surround me. I cannot omit this service needlessly; perhaps I cannot omit it at all without detriment to my house.” That means that everything I do and say is being picked up on by those in my household, in particular by my daughter. She is watching every move I make and everything I say. This means the example I am setting is forming her perspective on parenting, life in general, and what a relationship with God and others looks like in practice. Uh-oh and God help me all wrapped up into one!
Now keep in mind changing our habits takes time and effort but by all means take the time and the effort to make the needed changes. This is serious business. Repent of misplaced priorities and cry out to God for help in leading your family in the manner in which Scripture commands. Take the time to institute things such as family worship which can be as simple as reading a Bible verse, talking about what God is saying in that verse, singing a song, and praying. This is not about having a 90 minute church service at home each night. It is about consistent time as a family, time spent in communion together and with God. Also recognize that social media can wait more often than not. Do not be so consumed with matters of ministry or the desire to fire away that post or Tweet that you neglect the raising of your children or get into a situation where you are not reflecting a godly example as a parent.
I leave you with the sound words of J. C. Ryle:
“Fathers and mothers, I charge you solemnly before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, take every pains to train your children in the way they should go. I charge you not merely for the sake of your children’s souls; I charge you for the sake of your own future comfort and peace. Truly it is your interest so to do. Truly your own happiness in great measure depends on it. Children have ever been the bow from which the sharpest arrows have pierced man’s heart. Children have mixed the bitterest cups that man has ever had to drink. Children have caused the saddest tears that man has ever had to shed. Adam could tell you so; Jacob could tell you so; David could tell you so. There are no sorrows on earth like those which children have brought upon their parents. Oh! take heed, lest your own neglect should lay up misery for you in your old age. Take heed, lest you weep under the ill-treatment of a thankless child, in the days when your eye is dim, and your natural force abated.”
 Dr. Joel Beeke, Family Worship (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2002), 11.
 J. C. Ryle, The Duties of Parents (Choteau: Old Paths Gospel Press, 1888), 36-37.
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