In February 2013, Pro Bowl defensive backs Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis got into a heated exchange over Twitter. What started as trash talk between two competitive players turned when Revis said that his business manager had more followers than Sherman, followed by the comment “sit down young pup & wait your turn.” Instead of their stats, team record, or even contract value, the size of the Twitter following was Revis’ ammunition.
Many times in student ministry, this same kind of comparison happens as students seek to find their value and identity in the number of followers or “friends” they have. In their minds, these numbers validate their relational worth by providing them with a sense of significance based on the quantity of people who appear to be tuned into their lives. And they also tend to yield pride or pain when compared to others’ numbers.
Facebook has caused us to redefine the word “friend” from “someone we know who is a part of our life” to “someone who clicked yes on their iPhone.” For example, I have 1,512 Facebook friends and 594 Twitter followers. Katy Perry has 50 million followers, the Biebs has 49.5 million, and strangely @Jesus only has about 600,000. But of all those numbers, how many convey a meaningful and relational connection? And what do these numbers mean? How does this all apply to student ministry?
Social media-worship is a cheap substitute for our students, who are made to derive their full value, worth, and satisfaction in and through Jesus. Whatever we place on the throne (rightly occupied by King Jesus) will never satisfy us to the extent that only He can. Pointing to and depending on our “number of friends” falls short when we consider the facts that Jesus has called us friend, and that He has given us a new identity in Himself. John 15:15 makes it clear that we have been brought near to Jesus in a real and powerful sense that is so much deeper and greater than being involved in a social media friend network. Because He has called us friend, we have confidence to stand firmly in the tide of the world. We have the joy to know that we have been adopted into the most amazing family, and we can celebrate that our name is on the only list that matters. Our identity – who we are – flows from the fact that we are in Christ, who has lavished on us all the riches of Himself. When my students have doubts about who they are because they don’t measure up, I point them to Ephesians 1:3-14 and ask them to circle everything that describes who they are in Christ.
Focusing on deriving value from social media distracts our students (and us!) from that which really matters. Paul calls on us to focus on things above, not things here on earth (Colossians 3:1-4). And for us as student ministers, that means encouraging our students to avoid focusing on things that won’t matter in the perspective of eternity. It means inviting them to something greater, and helping them to recognize that their social network isn’t an end: It’s a means. Jesus described His followers as salt and light, and our students can be as bright and salty on Facebook as they can in a coffee shop. Jesus has called us to re-examine every aspect of our lives and to recognize that in everything we do, we have the opportunity to provide something that all of us need but few ever acknowledge. Our presence on social media doesn’t have to revolve around acquiring the most friends or followers, but can instead focus on leaving a Gospel imprint that invites people to repent and find true life, hope, and purpose in the Living God who is Jesus.
Let me close by offering the words of Psalm 103. As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him. Whoever is huge on Twitter today will become passé next month when someone else comes along. Popularity, followers, and temporary things will come and go. So, instead of placing so much of our emphasis on those, let’s reveal them for what they are and plead with our students to treasure something far greater – someone far greater – for a cause greater than getting retweeted.