I like to post pictures of my kids and family, delicious food I enjoy with my wife, a few quotes from Christian books I’m reading, and an occasional funny Christian meme on social media. But I rarely engage in online debates. Whenever I open Facebook or Twitter for my daily source of encouragement (I’m joking), I sometimes find myself angry reading a post or tweet that is theologically questionable or easily debatable. My initial instinct is to respond immediately, but most of the time I avoid responding online because in my experience I know those conversations are generally counter-productive and a poor stewardship of my time. I have yet to see someone’s convictions change through debates in a comment section. As a local pastor, here are five reasons why I generally avoid quarreling online.
1. The Bible commands me not to be quarrelsome.
The apostle Paul told Timothy to warn his congregation, “Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers” (2 Tim. 2:14). Instead, Timothy was to be an approved worker “rightly handling the word of truth” because irreverent babble “will lead people into more and more ungodliness” (2 Tim. 2:15-16). Paul exhorted God’s servants to “not be quarrelsome, but kind to everyone” (2 Tim. 2:24). Am I quarrelsome because I love winning arguments and want to have the final word for my own personal satisfaction of being right? If being quarrelsome is a distinctive in your online behavior, you may be unfit and even potentially disqualified from the pastoral office.
2. The Bible commands me to be an example.
Isn’t it sad to see worldly and sinful divisions take place online among Christians, especially Christian leaders? I am not against speaking for an issue on social media because the reality is that many of our members are being discipled and catechized online. Christians should combat false teaching with good and wholesome teaching. It requires wisdom on how and when to do it.
However, there is a difference between contending for the faith and engaging in foolish controversy (Tit. 3:9). Proverbs 26:20-21 says, “For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases. As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.” Sadly, we often see some pastors start more digital fires with their quarrels in the name of Christian orthodoxy. Dan Darling, in his book A Way with Words: Using Online Conversations for Good, exhorts us to examine our motives before we post because “there is a delicious temptation to approach doctrinal disputes, even genuine fights for the faith, with less-than-pure motives.” (57) Many of our members are watching what we post online and pastors need to be reminded we are to be examples and models of good works (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 2:7; Heb. 13:7).
3. The Bible commands me to shepherd the flock.
God will not hold me responsible for every Christian online, but my family and members of my local church on that final day of judgment (1 Tim. 5:8; Heb. 13:17). It is easier to argue online with someone you don’t know, than shepherd real life people in the local church. The apostle John desired to be with God’s people in person when he wrote, “Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 Jn. 12).
Many members in my local church don’t know the latest controversy in the evangelical world or trending Christian celebrity scandal, but they are faithfully serving and seeking to provide for their families through their vocations. Darling comments,
“Perhaps the most significant lesson I’ve learned is how social media, especially Twitter, creates a kind of digital bubble, where the elite gather and can, in some ways, be walled off from the rest of the world. According to a recent survey, only 22 percent of Americans are on Twitter, and only 10 percent of Twitter users generate 80 percent of the content. In other words, only about one of every fifty people is really spending a lot of time on this medium. So those of us who regularly do should recognize that the opinions and the ideas we find here are not necessarily reflective of the population as a whole—or the flesh-and-blood people in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and churches.” (90)
4. The Bible commands me to exercise self-control.
Proverbs 25:28 says, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” I’m sure most of us would agree that we probably spend more time on social media than we should. I wonder if many pastors quarrel online because we are addicted to our phones and we love the instant self-affirmation of likes, hearts, and re-tweets.
Ministry is hard work and pastors don’t often see immediate fruit serving Sunday to Sunday, year to year (2 Tim. 2:6; 1 Cor. 3:5-7). Social media can create the impression that we are making an impact for the kingdom through instant online affirmation, when in reality we are just being affirmed by the algorithms of the people who already think like us. Proverbs 25:27 says, “It is not good to eat much honey, nor is it glorious to seek one’s own glory.” I know my own sinful tendency to want affirmation from my own theological tribe and peers. Darling again provides helpful advice,
“The internet can make us smarter, but it can also be the equivalent of eating junk food three meals a day. Christians who live in this age have to resist the wrong impulses of either being drawn into endless rabbit trails of information or withdrawing completely.” (17)
5. The Bible commands me to be humble.
Social media is designed to be a medium of self-expression. Pastors are not to seek vain glory, but in humility to count others more significant than themselves displaying Christ-likeness (Phil. 2:3-5). Pastors are not to seek building an online platform for themselves, but whatever promotes the glory of King Jesus who became a servant to suffer for the sins of His people and establish his heavenly kingdom (Phil. 2:6-11; Matt. 6:33).
I am thankful for my wife, elders, local church, and a few trusted pastor friends who know me way better and deeper than any online friends or followers I have. A healthy exercise is to regularly ask my wife and church leaders if they find me quarrelsome in private, public, or online. I should be able to receive their concerns with humility rather than self-defensiveness if they do.
I am not saying we never contend for the faith nor refute false teachers online. There are clear commands in Scripture and godlier and smarter men who already do that (1 Pet. 3:15; Jude 3). What I am saying is that twitter and social media may not be the best avenue and place to do it. We must distinguish between foolish controversies which does no good and contending for the faith when there are real people whom I am accountable to can be harmed. I will avoid quarreling online most days because I need to get back to preparing my sermon, loving my wife, playing with my kids, and loving church members over a good meal.