In this excerpt adapted from Facing Leviathan, Mark Sayers grapples with using social media as a means to communicate the gospel—and challenges readers to consider who should control how far and wide our influence goes.
According to an increasing number of marketing experts, leadership today is all about “building platform.” It is expected that by working hard at sculpting your public profile that you can have “reach,” influencing huge swathes of people. When I studied advertising at college, we were told by our lecturers, all ex-ad men, that the key was to rise above the “clutter,” to create advertisements that stood out in a loud and crowded marketplace.
This advice was given to us as students who would soon be working for companies, yet now such advice is given to all individuals. We are told that the world is more competitive, more crowded than ever before. Therefore we must create a platform to stand out above the crowd and make our voice heard in order to get our message or product into the hands of the right people.
I totally understand this idea; I write as someone who has crafted advertisements. I write as someone who writes books that I believe in. Yet I also realize that there is a danger in all of this. There is a line that can be unwittingly crossed today when it comes to understanding what it is to lead. We can start to forget where our message begins and where we end. We can forget that we are communicating the gospel and end up broadcasting ourselves.
Like sexuality or money, being “known” by a large group of people is not a sin in itself; it is made holy or unholy by virtue of whether or not it points toward God. I myself use Twitter, I have written a blog, and I have witnessed how such technologies can contribute to ministry. Yet I also understand the danger that they can present to one’s soul especially as it has the potential to rouse the deep monster within.
You see, at school I struggled tremendously. My unrecognized battles with my mental health made school quite difficult. I often had terrible grades. I began to believe that I was hopeless, that I was unable to complete tasks that others found easy. I believed that I was stupid. I remember one time in high school I was sitting in class working on an assignment on Shakespeare’s Macbeth. While the other students seemed to move easily through the assignment, my mind became a web of knots, my palms began to sweat. My lack of self-confidence in my ability overtook me.
The bell for the end of class sounded and all of the other students were allowed to go home. My teacher asked me to stay until I finished the assignment. As I sat there, for the first time a sense of confidence overtook me. The play seemed to open up, I sensed themes and narrative arcs, I understood the characters and what Shakespeare was trying to achieve. My self-doubt disappeared and a stream of words flowed from my pen. Overjoyed that I had finished what I thought was a genuinely good piece of work, my teacher then accused me of cheating, reading through the textbook to find the passages that she believed I had copied. I was utterly devastated. A sense of injustice burned in me. The freedom and confidence that I had felt whilst writing was destroyed. This sense of hopelessness would follow me to college and to seminary.
This persistent sense of hopelessness reared its head one day on Twitter. I had tweeted my observations of a recent event in the news and had forgotten about it. My friend emailed me telling me that a leading overseas newspaper had reprinted my tweet, commenting that my text was the most intelligent response to the incident in question. Automatically, my cursor went to the tweet button, so that I could let my Twitter followers know what this newspaper had said about me. The next second I came to my senses. I asked myself, Why on earth do my followers need to know what this newspaper said about me? What good does this do the promotion of the gospel? Does this encourage others? Does this get my books into the hands of people who will be grown in Christ by them?
The only reason why I would push the tweet button is because deep down I feared that I was hopeless, that I was not smart enough, not good enough—that somehow this newspaper making this comment proved my intelligence. I was about to boast because of an unresolved issue that I had not truly brought before God. I was not communicating the values of the kingdom—in fact, I was contradicting them. I refrained. As I looked at my Twitter feed later that day, I saw multiple well-known Christian leaders retweeting compliments that others had given them. There is nothing wrong with receiving compliments from others; encouragements are fantastic things that can keep us going in our leadership.
Yet when it becomes the norm to let everyone know the nice things people are saying about us versus the messages we create for the kingdom, then we have a cultural problem.
Our time and culture of platform and self-promotion forces us to ask some hard questions. Would we be willing to believe that God chooses how far and wide our influence goes? Are we happy to allow God to be our PR agent even if it means a life of unrecognized service? 1
Pick up your copy of Facing Leviathan: Leadership, Influence, and Creating in a Cultural Storm on Faithlife Ebooks, and check out other ebooks filled with scriptural insights on how to serve God and the people in the local church.
Taken from Facing Leviathan by Mark Sayers (©2014). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.