The Ten Commandments for Christians on FaceBook and Twitter

December 10, 2008 by  
Filed under Just for fun

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In a very short period of time, social media websites like MySpace, FaceBook and Twitter have begun to change the way the world connects and socializes, and for Christians, the way we fellowship and even minister to others.

Tens of millions of users log into these networks daily. According to Wikipedia, FaceBook has over 132 million users and MySpace over 117 million. Twitter, one of my favorites, is only about two years old and already has well over three million users and it’s growing exponentially.

So how are Christians responding? In FaceBook, many groups have been created to reach and help Christians network. There are way too many to mention, but a few examples are;

  • 100,000,000 Christians Worship God (over 700,000 members)
  • Christian Bloggers Network
  • 1,000,000 Christian Parents Raising Disciples For Christ
  • FaceBook For Pastors
  • Pastors and Ministry Leaders
  • Culture Shapers on Digg

The number of Pastors who are now connecting with their congregations and communities through FaceBook and Twitter is growing rapidly. Whole congregations and groups within them are using these sites to increase communication, extend ministry efforts and even to plan events. Social networking has become a valuable social tool that is being used by ministries, churches, Christian authors and bloggers and individual Christians around the globe.

The purpose of this blog isn’t to challenge the validity of Christians using social networking sites. I believe that anyone who’s used them can instantly see how these tools can be tremendously beneficial. Nor am I here to decry the abuses of these tools. No matter how beneficial something is, some people will misuse it. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. What I’d like to do is sound a different alarm.

This is a blog to all Christians everywhere who are using social networking or who are looking into it and my message is simple; please look at your social networking strategies and methods through the lens of scripture and Christian character before you implement them.

Let me explain, when you approach a stranger on the street or a newcomer at your church, there are certain things that you do to make sure that you are perceived as a polite, considerate, nonthreatening individual. Most of us know how to do this because we’ve practiced face to face conversation in our homes and in public for years. Unfortunately, many Christians who dive into social networking don’t know how to do that same thing online. Why? Because although common sense, kindness and good manners are always necessary, the rules for approach and interaction are different in the online world and also different on each social networking site. Without this understanding, we can end up unknowingly offending others and making some or all of our efforts ineffectual.

I have observed and learned a few things through trial and error and by watching others more experienced than myself, and I would like to pass them on. Hopefully, my efforts will help more Christians be more effective and less abrasive while using social networking sites to reach and connect with others. Once you’ve read my tips and ideas, feel free to comment and add things that you’ve learned. When we’re Kingdom building, we can all work together and help each other.

The Ten Commandments For Social Networking Christians

1. Thou shalt not worship and/or social network on too many sites.

When I first started social networking (SN) I went and joined every SN site I heard of and/or read about, Amazon Connect, Xing, Linkedin, FaceBook, MySpace, Twitter, Digg, StumbleUpon and others. I would have joined even more but I ran out of room in my life.

Here’s what I learned, in order to do well on a SN site, you need to actually jump in, learn about the site, play by their rules and become part of the community. If you don’t, then to the people who are regulars on these sites, you’re like a complete stranger who’s walking through their neighborhood expecting attention without investing anything of yourself. At first you’ll be watched, as everyone politely waits for you to learn and get involved, but if you keep it up, you will be ignored and perhaps even resented. That does not reflect well on you as a Christian.

Here’s a suggestion. Google information about the different SN sites. There are a ton of blogs out there that will tell you what each site does, who uses it, how it’s good for networking, and what the best ways are to get involved and see results. Once you’ve done your homework, pick two or three that will work for you and start getting involved, learning and investing yourself in them.

I decided to focus on FaceBook and Twitter. I find them enjoyable and a great way to network with other Christians and to get exposure to my blogs. I’m also still involved in StumbleUpon, Amazon and Linkedin but only as supports for my FaceBook and Twitter efforts. Your plan and choices will probably be different than mine because what you do, what you want to accomplish, and what you will enjoy may all be different.

2. Thou shalt not make your mission an idol.

God has called us to make disciples and that’s about people. For God so loved the world that he gave… so that… Ever notice that John 3:16 puts ‘people’ first, ‘giving’ second, and ‘purpose’ third?

I’ve caught myself running into my social networks with one thing on my mind, get traffic to my blog, find parents to minister to etc etc, running headlong, ignoring people to supposedly accomplish God’s purpose. When I find myself doing that, I stop and get off my computer and pray. Not only should our hearts be right, but social networking is not nearly as effective if you don’t stop to connect with others, listen to them, talk to them, check out what they’re doing and show genuine interest in them. If you don’t demonstrate that you care, you will be seen by many as just another spammer and/or narcissist and your witness and efforts will be ineffective.

Here’s a suggestion, on a sticky note write, ‘People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care’ and stick it where you can see it while you’re on your computer. You don’t have to be everyone’s best friend, that’s impossible, but it doesn’t take much to stop, care and be interested. People first, giving second and purpose last.

3. Thou shalt not misuse the social networking sites (it gives God a bad rap).

This one is simple, play nice and play by the rules. Each SN site has rules about what you can and cannot do. Read the rules and stay within them. Others who follow the rules will think less of you for trying to bend them. Each site also has many unwritten rules or courtesies that have been developed over a period of time by it’s regular users. For example on Digg, you can Digg your own content but the regulars of Digg frown on it and may work to bury your content if you keep it up. Take it slowly at first and learn the rules. If you’re not sure about something ask, and when you’re told, do your best to fit in.

Having said that, SN sites are changing all the time because people change how they use them. Once you’ve been on a site for awhile and understand how it works, you may get creative ideas that work within the system and maximize your results. There’s nothing wrong with that, just be careful that others see it as a clever idea and not a way around the rules.

4. Thou shalt remember to relax and enjoy.

Remember, and this is important, social networking online is much the same as it is face to face and many of the same rules apply. For example, ‘All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy!’ When someone looks at your contributions, status updates, tweets, posts, notes etc and see that they are all (or mostly all) about business or ministry or whatever your purpose is, you become dull and uninteresting. You’re also unwittingly telling everyone that you’re only here for self promotion. Not good. Relax, let your hair down and have fun on these sites as well. I have so much fun on Twitter, sometimes my wife has to remind me that I should be writing. Be real, relax, have fun, be social, when people get to know you a little better they’ll be more likely to be interested in what you do.

A word of caution. One of my twitter friends (@jplosier) wondered if I was going to talk about being vulnerable and sharing personal things on SN sites, so I will. You should never pretend to be someone that you’re not and you should always be honest and transparent. There’s nothing wrong with saying you’re having a grumpy day and asking others to pray. However, as a minister of the Gospel, if you are having serious struggles, you should have mentors or peers who you go to for help. Turn your computer off and go and talk with someone face to face.

5. Honor your Father & Mother by remembering that they taught you to be humble.

My friend and Marketing teacher, David G. Johnson once told me that the most powerful word in marketing is the word ‘YOU.’ The Bible teaches that we should not be boastful and that we should not be focused on ourselves. So the most important word in ministry is also ‘YOU.’

There is nothing that will turn others away quicker (in real life and online) than someone who is, or appears to be, stuck on themselves. I don’t believe that I’m stuck on me, but I believe I’ve come across that way online at times and it’s somewhat understandable. When you’re networking, you want people to know who you are and what you’ve accomplished. So you put it out there thinking that it’s innocent enough because your motivation is to build trust and therefore be able to help more people. Unfortunately, it usually doesn’t work and you come off as a braggart. (I know, I learned the hard way.)

Here’s a suggestion, put your bio on your website and/or on linkedin and let others find out what mighty things you’ve done when they’re interested and go looking. The quickest way to get people interested in you, is to be interested and focused on them, do that and eventually they’ll wonder who you are.

Also, if you just signed a book deal or a million dollar business contract and you simply must share the news, craft your announcement humbly. There’s a difference between these two tweets or updates: “My agent just signed a HUGE deal with Harper Collins for my new book!” or “Wow, I’m blown away by God’s grace, he’s letting me write another book.’ Take the humble road and if other’s are interested, they’ll press you for more details.

Oh, also remember that it’s not just your words that show others your humility. Any action you take online that gives people the impression that you think that you’re more important then they are may result in them thinking that you are stuck on yourself. For example, if you use Twitter and someone follows you, follow them back. Having a lot of people following you while you’re only following a few doesn’t make you look important, it makes you look stuck on yourself. Jesus was the greatest person who ever lived. God in the flesh, and our example. He never once turned anyone away who honestly sought him out.

Unless someone is obviously a spammer, or is trying to peddle pornography or something like that, follow them, befriend them, connect with them, return their messages, say hi. It doesn’t take much but it tells everyone that you care and that you believe that we’re all equal in God’s eyes. (And yes, I know that Jesus kept twelve close, seventy not as close and then the larger group of disciples a little less connected. However for the most part, SN is not about your closest group of friends, they’re the ones you see off-line.)

An exception to this is if you’re setting up a network for the purpose of communicating with your church or ministry group only. If this is the case and if the SN site allows it, ‘close’ the group (or spell it out in the bio line if you’re on Twitter) so others understand that it’s for a limited group and don’t think that you have an ego problem.

6. Thou shalt not try to murder trolls.

According to my son (who has to catch me up with the lingo from time to time) the word ‘troll’ used in an online context refers to someone who enters websites, forums or SN conversations with the sole intent of stirring up trouble, being belligerent and turning polite conversations into arguments.

Many times Christians get drawn into conversations with these people thinking that they can reach out to them and change their minds. Unfortunately, the more you enter into the conversation, the ruder and more opinionated the person gets. Finally, the Christian gets so agitated that they often become rude and/or condescending themselves. I’ve witnessed this many times and the testimony of it is not good.

Thus the saying, ‘Don’t feed the trolls’ was popularized. Which means don’t let them draw you in to the argument because they feed off controversy and their goal is to start a fight. Peter said that we are to be ready to give an answer for the hope that lies within us, but I think Peter was talking about sincere questions, not the rhetorical and adversarial ones that are posed by trolls.

If someone is sincere and interested, and even argues with an openness, and you have a Bible based answer, then engage. However, if you detect a belligerent person seeking a fight, be polite but disengage. One more point here, if you’re not ready and prepared (studied) to answer a question, just say so. Too many online Christians engage the trolls and they don’t even know how to answer the question or defend their Faith. The troll scores another point.

7. Thou shalt not commit social guffaws.

This one is simple, remember you’re an online representative for Jesus. Be mannerly, be polite, be thoughtful and be appropriate. Do not engage in any conversation with anyone that your Pastor couldn’t listen to and approve of. If a conversation with someone from the opposite sex starts to go the wrong way, politely end it.

8. Thou shalt not steal the ideas and/or content of others.

Another simple one, we who preach ‘though shalt not steal’ should not be stealing online. If you use someone else’s content, do it with permission and if necessary, with payment and always with proper credit. Let me push it a little further. An online friend of mine, Deb Burton (@debburton on twitter), did an awesome blog where she turned the 10 commandments on their head and wrote them in a positive way, ‘Thou shalt…’ instead of ‘Thou shalt not…’ So I’ll borrow her inspiration (with proper credit) and say, ‘Thou shalt respect the property, ideas and content of others and treat them in a way that you would like your stuff to be treated and also give honor where honor’s due.

9. Thou shalt not attempt to mislead others, even by omission.

Honesty is the best policy. Please, please be upfront about your mission and purpose with everyone. Whatever you’re doing, for whatever purpose, admit it right up front. If your purpose is to sell something, say so. If you’re looking for clients, say so. If you want people to read your blog, ask them to. You can still have fun and connect with people, but if you’ve been upfront about your purpose from the beginning, then when people get to know you and they need the service you supply, they’ll consider using you. So relax and have fun, truly care and be social but be completely upfront about your purpose.

10. Thou shalt not covet the sites, talents and traffic of others.

If when you read someone else’s material, or you look at their website idea, you start to feel like you wish you had come up with it yourself, stop. Or if look at their success and wish…, again stop yourself. Be glad for what God has given them.

If you want people to share your material with others, spend the time doing the same for them. If you have a share button on your site, I hope that you know how to use it on the sites of others. When someone else posts or Twitters a link to their post, go take a look and if you like it, comment and share it and Stumble it. If you’re not on StumbleUpon, I highly recommend it. It’s a great way to share content and drive traffic to your site and the sites of others. Unlike Digg, they have Christian categories.

Promoting someone else’s material can be hard if that ‘someone else’ is doing the same thing that you’re doing. The competition factor in our market driven society leads us all to hope that we’re the only ones doing our particular thing online for God, or that we’re somehow doing it better than everyone else. Ask yourself though, do you really want that pressure? I believe God has called me to help Christian parents pass their Faith on to their kids. If I was the only one God called to do that in my generation then I should expect God to hold me, and me alone, accountable for whether it gets done or not, worldwide. Ouch!

God has called many people to the same task and I want to work with them, help them, and promote their work and ideas. We aren’t supposed to be building our little kingdoms. We’re called to work together to build His.

Thank you for reading and considering my musings. If you’d like to connect with me on any of the following networks, I’d count it a privilege.

Also, if you’d like to join the FaceBook groups I’m involved with, I’d love to see you there.

If you’d like to network with other Christians, please leave a comment on this blog and add your urls (please cut and paste from your address bar so that the link is live) for each of the SN sites that you’re on and I’ll post them for others who want to network as well.

Please follow these four simple steps:

Step 1 If you’d like to Network with me, add me to the networks we have in common.

Step 2 Look at the previous comments to this post and add the others (who have requested to network) to your social networking sites (that way everyone will end up following everyone else).

Step 3 Cut and paste the urls from the address bars of your SN bios or home pages and list them in a comment to this blog for others to follow.

Step 4 Follow the 10 Commandments for SN Christian.