Is Social Media Really THAT Important?

No.

Oh, did you expect me to say yes? To sell you on the undeniable need for developing a social media platform? To convince you that if you don’t start tweeting, your influence is going down in flames? Let me elaborate.

Social media is important. It matters so much that I wrote a book about using social media to share the gospel. I think you should buy it, read it, and pass it along. And yes, people, businesses, churches, and other organizations that ignore it are certainly in jeopardy of becoming obsolete. But it’s notall-important.

As a Pastor, I sometimes find myself lamenting my own emphasis on it. Unhealthy churches that use social media well will probably remain unhealthy unless they dig into some much deeper factors. And leaders who get sucked into the celebrity culture of social media without a firmly grounded character will lose their passion for Jesus and for real friendship and instead give into their addiction to the applause of mere acquaintances.

I want to help churches and organizations in the area of social media. I really do. I’m working through my blog here, through pastors.com, and with Lifeword Media to offer help, especially to fellow pastors who see the need to grow in this area. But sometimes, I must admit, I feel a little drowned by it. I’m a big believer in the power of personal branding, and I’ve managed to do a good job of branding myself as that Pastor who knows about social media. And on some days, I regret this.

Why? Because social media isn’t my first love or my greatest passion. So let me open up for a minute about some things I’m way more passionate about than being successful in the online world.

I love Jesus. I love walking with Jesus and deepening my walk with Him. Some of my best days are days when I don’t tweet or post or host an online discussion. They are days when I have an unusually large amount of time alone with the Father, where no one sees and no one follows me.

I can look back at a season of my life when I woke up in the morning and checked email and Twitter, then had a quiet time with God. I’ll just say I don’t ever want to go back there again. Let my testimony be a warning to you – seek the King first.

I love my family. On a recent trip to Chicago with my bride of 17 years, I didn’t work. And other than a few photos of interesting things, I just spent large amounts of time talking to the love of my life. And tucking my kids in at night and saying prayers with and over them is not a moment that my social media following is privy to.

There have been moments when social media has been too large a focus for me. While there’s a place for it, my family should never have to compete with it for my attention.

I love the church. I love to see churches get healthy, become purpose driven, and reach new people. Social media helps, but it doesn’t fix a broken church. If I had just one hour with the average Pastor to discuss the question, “why isn’t my church growing?,” social media would occupy the last ten minutes of that conversation.

We would spend most of that time on having a biblical ecclesiology, a scriptural and healthy leadership structure, a process for disciple-making, and well-defined core values. Every church should be using Facebook, but it’s a near-the-surface relational tool that must be supported by a healthy body.

I love preaching. And I believe that preaching is WAY more important to the life and health of the church than social media. Before offering tips for using Twitter to reach out to community leaders, I’d rather talk about preparing and delivering Christ-centered, gospel-saturated, relevant sermons that move the church and its people forward in their faith.

God has chosen the foolishness of preaching to shape the life of the church for two millennia. Just as the printing press, radio, and television help to extend the ministry of the pulpit, so can social media. But none of these mediums will ever replace the power of a well-delivered sermon.

I love theology and church history. One of the problems that we, who love social media, hesitate to admit is that when we are soaking in the world of social media, we are giving undue emphasis to contemporary thinking while often neglecting to nurture our connection with our roots.

In other words, there is so much being written and published right now that we forget all the stuff written back then. Right now, I’m reading through Calvin’s Institutes (and I’m not even a Calvinist) as I seek to understand the theology of one of church history’s most prominent influencers.

Social media makes leaders overnight, like mushrooms, whether they deserve the voice it provides or not. But theology and church history makes leaders over the long haul, with character and deep roots and rich fruits.

Chances are, if you know me only by virtue of the “online” me, you know I’m pretty into church communications and organizational effectiveness. But you who want to know the real me, need to know that my love lies elsewhere in things that are timeless and meaningful and can’t be praised enough in 140 characters or less. And if you’re just getting into the world of social media, heed my warning, don’t let it consume your love, your attention, or your affection more than the things that matter most deeply to the heart of God.

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Brandon Cox
Brandon Cox is Lead Pastor of Grace Hills Church, a new church plant in northwest Arkansas. He also serves as Editor and Community Facilitator for Pastors.com and Rick Warren's Pastor's Toolbox and was formerly a Pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. In his spare time, he offers consultation to church leaders about communication, branding, and social media. He and his wife, Angie, live with their two awesome kids in Bentonville, Arkansas.

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