Social Media Principles for the Thoughtful Christian

**A brief disclaimer: I am not perfect at using social media, shocking, I know. I am still learning how to be wise in my own social media practices and thought this article might be helpful for those of you who are also craving wisdom and discipline in this area of life.**

Between reading a few helpful things on technology use, desiring to maintain margin in my life, and noticing highly varied approaches to responding to social issues, I am compelled to outline a few principles for wise social media usage for the thoughtful Christian.

The vast majority of us utilize some form of social media daily, and have become consumers of these developing social platforms without considering the cost to us personally or developing principles for using it wisely. Personally, I have struggled through sin issues which have been exacerbated by my social media usage, such as comparison, discontent, unfounded judgment, and others. Yes, these sinful attitudes would likely emerge under other circumstances, but it is worth noting that Jesus says, “if your right hand is causing you to sin, cut if off” (Matt. 5:30). Perhaps these sinful attitudes are more prevalent in our lives because of the way in which and the frequency with which we use social media.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

James 1:5

Maybe you too, like me, have longed for a better understanding of what it looks like for us as believers to use social media wisely. Let’s keep in mind James 1:5, as we consider these principles:

Understand your level of social responsibility

My purpose here is not to argue against freedom of speech, but rather suggest gently that by virtue of taking out an account on any kind of social media platform, we are consciously (or unconsciously) joining a larger social group. With membership in such a group comes some level of responsibility. Undoubtedly, there are varying levels of understanding of that responsibility, and many contributing factors to navigate. Wisdom is necessary to determine what level of social responsibility each of us has, and how best to use our platforms wisely, whether we have one hundred Facebook friends or 20,000. On a social platform, as in a real life conversation, speaking up about an issue communicates something; in both cases, so also does staying silent.

Avoid dependence

Richard Foster, in his classic A Celebration of Disciplines, discusses outward and inward practices for the discipline of simplicity. One of his outward principles is to “reject anything that is creating an addiction within you.” This might bring up a number of convicting thoughts; at the moment, it’s worth considering how this might apply to our social media usage. Is Facebook or Instagram the first thing we must check in the morning, or the last thing before falling asleep at night? If we can honestly say we are struggling with addictive behavior in using social media, it’s probably a good time to take a break.

Be in charge of your social media usage, rather than letting it control you.

Use with margin

What did we do before this era of social media? Maybe, we woke up slowly with the sun, read more great books, lingered over the dinner table, dug our hands into fresh dirt more often, took long walks, invited more people into our homes, laid under the stars, played family games. In our tech-crazed world, we have irresponsibly allowed technology to enter into so much of our white spaces, our in-between times, our margin. Those quiet moments during the day. Those empty minutes. What if we claimed those back? What if we looked each other in the eyes more often, and our kids saw our faces gazing at them? Several months ago, one of my daughters articulated this, painfully, when she said, “why are you looking at your phone so much, Mom?” From my experience, it is so helpful to create boundaries around social media, and really, all of technology. Put it away at an early hour in the evening, or during the day if you’re home with kids. Be in charge of your social media usage, rather than letting it control you.

Take regular Sabbaths

In a related way, make a plan to take longer breaks from social media. Andy Crouch, in The Tech-Wise Family, recommends taking a break from technology one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year. How hard would this be? How life-giving might this be?

Personally, we are working on “low-tech” Sundays in our family, which we hope will eventually be “no-tech” after these pandemic days when our church services are online. It requires discipline, but it’s also become a sweet rest from the noise of online life, and we are finding more time to read, to reflect, to just be together.

That fraction, that glimpse into our lives that we’ve chosen to expose to the world, what does it communicate about what’s most important to us?

Consider what you are “all about”

Many people, though not most of us, use social media for marketing purposes. Any social media platform will show only the smallest fraction of our lives, our thoughts, our opinions, our values. That fraction, that glimpse into our lives that we’ve chosen to expose to the world, what does it communicate about what’s most important to us? If Jesus were following our Twitter feed or Instagram, would we be embarrassed by what he might see, or might not see? If we only have a small fraction of our lives to show on social media, ought we not carefully and intentionally choose what glimpse we are giving? Think about it this way… if someone had to describe you, what you cared about, in five words based upon your social media account only, what words would they use?

Do not let social media distract you

In the same discussion of the discipline of simplicity, Foster says, “shun anything that distracts you from seeking first the kingdom of God.” Ultimately, social media platforms are a tool, an optional add-on to our lives. They are something we have each decided to opt into at some point. But if these platforms become a distraction from our walk with God, or our God-given responsibilities, then perhaps it’s time to be take a break, or delete an account. Instead, we actively “seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33)

Or put another way, “…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

If, after all, social media is causing our gaze to stray from Jesus, and distracting us from seeking first God and his kingdom, then it is essential that we either learn wisdom for using it or reject it altogether.

It is possible for us to use social media wisely, so that we are not controlled by it. It is a beautiful way to stay in touch with people, particularly for us, in our transient, overseas life. And even more so, it can be great tool for proclaiming the goodness of God and the transformative power of the gospel in our everyday lives, if we choose to use it in such a way.

Tidying Up in the Image of God

The new year is full of hope and expectancy for many people; a time to start afresh, to develop better habits, to become more disciplined. What’s more perfect than signing into your Netflix account, only to be greeted by the renowned Marie Kondo and the promise that tidying will bring you the happiness you were looking for.

While I love simplifying life and tidying as much as the next thirty-something millennial mom, from the first episode of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, my radar was on high alert. While Marie herself is friendly, sweet, and encouraging, elements and core beliefs of her method raised concerns for me.

During my time in seminary, I was introduced to the idea that, as Christians, we need to not only be doing biblical hermeneutics (the art of discerning what a particular biblical text is communicating) but also, importantly, cultural hermeneutics, which could be described as the art of discerning what a particular cultural “text” is communicating. Why is this important? Because we are participants in and partakers of culture, we need to be carefully considering what exactly it is that we are receiving through various cultural “texts.”*

Back to the “text” of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo: is there anything wrong intrinsically with the concept of paring down one’s material possessions, of organizing a closet, or keeping a tidy home? Of course not. But what should be raising red flags for Christians are the subtle (and not so subtle) messages throughout the show which are communicating a variety of anti-biblical philosophies.

Because we are participants in and partakers of culture, we need to be carefully considering what exactly it is that we are receiving through various cultural “texts.”

The Promise of Happiness

On the first episode, Marie Kondo says, “the ultimate goal of tidying is really to learn to cherish everything that you have, so that you can achieve happiness for your family.” (More thoughts on the concept of cherishing the things we own here.) While initially this confident promise for happiness sounds so very appealing, and well, attainable, we ought to be the first to recognize the subtle lie in this sentiment. Will it make you happy to let go of material possessions, to minimize your stuff? If you have ever spent time bringing order to an area of your home or garage or office that particularly needed it, you likely can resonate with this sentiment. It does feel good to tidy. What is it about tidying that brings such satisfaction? Kondo would say that when we free ourselves of the things that do not spark joy and cherish the things that do, we find happiness by prioritizing what is most important to us.

May I suggest, however, that what is responsible for that happy feeling of satisfaction when we bring order to disorder is actually the image of God in us. Who was the first to bring order to the world? God himself, in Genesis 1, where we read that he brought form to what was formless, and it was good. Following creation, the first task God gives to humankind is one of bringing order – Adam is to keep and cultivate the garden, and to classify the animals God created. God is an orderly God, and as his image-bearers, we reflect his orderliness in various aspects of our lives.

So when we experience that feeling of satisfaction or happiness for the good work of tidying that we have completed, rather than look to the clean closet or fewer possessions that we own for lasting joy and proper perspective in life, let us look to the Creator of both joy and order, and rejoice for his image in us.

The Animistic Element

In each episode, Marie begins her time in the home of her clients by finding a special spot, kneeling, and greeting the home in prayer-like fashion, “to thank it for protecting you.” Additionally, she encourages her clients to hold and thank each item after determining that it indeed, does not spark joy for them, and ought to be discarded. While nothing religious is specifically mentioned in the show, Kondo herself has said that her method is partly inspired by the traditional Japanese folk religion Shinto, where inanimate objects are actually believed to possess a divine spirit or energy (kami). In Shintoism, cleaning and organizing things can be a spiritual practice, both through recognizing kami and kannagara (right way to live).

What seem like gentle and harmless touches ought to bring to mind Romans 1:25 for Christians, “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.” How easy it is for us to turn our focus from the Giver of the good gifts to the gifts themselves! How important it is that we protect our hearts against worshipping things rather than God himself.

In some places I have lived, the animistic element was clear: idols in peoples’ homes, goat skin bracelets to venerate ancestors. In Western cultures, animism, which is the attribution of a living soul to inanimate objects, plants, and natural phenomenon, is less obvious but still a dangerous and penetrating message. Marie Kondo’s show is a clear example of a cultural text which is promoting animism, and without careful attention, we can find ourselves sucked into this empty philosophy.

“Oh great, she’s going to tell me to quit watching the show.”

Christians often fall on two sides of culture: one large group chooses to withdraw from mainstream culture, in an effort to protect itself against the infiltration of anti-biblical messages. A second large group fully participates in and enjoys all varieties of culture, but without consideration for how the anti-biblical messages are likely affecting them. I would suggest that being a faithful Christian living in post-Christian times looks like engaging culture through a biblical lens. Engaging culture means that we must be participating in it, at least to some degree, and not withdrawing for our own self-preservation. Employing a biblical lens means that as we consume cultural texts, we are filtering the messages carefully against what we know to be true from God’s Word. At times, wisdom may dictate that we stop consuming a particular text, or avoid certain texts altogether. But it is essential that Christians engage with culture if we are to have a voice in the world for dialogue and for God’s truth.

Engaging culture means that we must be participating in it, at least to some degree, and not withdrawing for our own self-preservation. Employing a biblical lens means that as we consume cultural texts, we are filtering the messages carefully against what we know to be true from God’s Word.

In the end, God tells us to live wisely. Our time on earth is precious, and limited. If we decide to consume a text like Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, let us be wary of the empty philosophies presented, and do so with a biblical lens, attributing our satisfaction from tidying to the treasure of God’s image in us and ensuring that our gratitude is focused toward the Giver himself.


*Much thinking and writing on this issue can be attributed to Kevin Vanhoozer. His book, Everyday Theology, is an excellent example of cultural hermeneutics in practice (find it here).

originally published on January 29, 2019

Minimalism is Not the Gospel

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:19-21

To say minimalism is trending would be an understatement. It seems to crop up weekly in conversations. I see articles on the regular:

“25 Reasons You Might be a Minimalist”

“Goodbye things, hello minimalism: Can living with less make you happier?”

“Don’t Just Declutter. De-own.”

I appreciate minimalism. I enjoy purging excess stuff and keeping our home functioning simply. I’ve been told we are “so minimalist” (as a compliment, I think) and I am inspired to keep our material possessions on the fewer side. Currently, on my refrigerator I have hanging a “30 Day Declutter Challenge” which I mean to complete (but have only checked off one).

While the concept may be good, the rumblings of what minimalism can do for you, for me, of what minimalism can deliver to our lives, make me uneasy. From my dabbling in this trendy movement, I’m convinced that we ought be careful of a way of life which promises what it can never actually deliver. After all, minimalism is not the gospel.

A Few Potential Pitfalls

Don’t be convinced your minimalistic lifestyle means you have beaten materialism. Minimalism is not the opposite of materialism. Materialism is defined as “a tendency to consider material possessions and physical comfort as more important than spiritual values.” Just because you may have fewer material possessions does not mean that you are less attached to them.

Rather, consider your heart. Do you love the fewer clothes you have? Are you deeply attached to the few books you decided to keep in the recent purge? Do you love your home for the way it looks, rather than the way God provided it for your family, as a place to grow together and extend hospitality? You can still value your material possessions as more important than spiritual things, even in having fewer of them.

So while we’re busy critiquing our parents’ generation for huge homes, stocked attics and overstuffed garages, we need to take an honest look at our own lives and ask: is our minimalism simply materialism in a new dress?

Don’t expect minimalism to bring you joy. The KonMarie method has received worldwide fame, notably with the suggestion to ask of each item you own, “does this spark joy?” From the first time I heard this, there was unrest in my heart. Not because material things don’t bring me moments of fleeting joy, but because we are espousing a philosophy that leans into our already very human temptation to take our eyes off of the true Source of joy and onto the gifts instead.

J.I. Packer has said of Ecclesiastes that the right foundation for everyday joy [to be distinct from our eternal joy in the gospel] is “in celebrating joy as God’s kindly gift, and in recognizing the potential for joy in everyday activities and relationships” [read further here]. I would rather be looking at my daughters to find a spark of joy, or in my husband’s love, or in nature, or in fulfilling work, and celebrating these good gifts from God in my life, not in that shirt I wore yesterday or the ornate vase I collected from Taiwan. God has given a very material world to enjoy, but let’s be careful to worship the giver and not the gift.

“…human beings flourish and are truly happy when they center their lives on God, the source of everything that is true, good, and beautiful. As to all created things, they too ought to be loved. But the only way to properly love them and fully and truly enjoy them is to love and enjoy them “in God”.”

Miroslav Volf, A Public Faith

Don’t let your minimalism hinder your hospitality and love for others. At the very root of some forms of minimalism is simply selfishness. I want to feel free in my home, I want to clean less, I want my home to spark joy, I like the look of x, y, and z. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve thought, “I should get rid of those kiddy kitchen toys” and yet, why? Because, I don’t like the look of them. But my kids, and a host of other kids, greatly enjoy these toys, and play with them daily. Who would I be serving to get rid of them? Fortunately in my life, I am daily reminded that there are others of whom I need to think, and serve with love, than myself.

Before purging all the extra plates from your kitchen, consider: do you have adequate space for extending hospitality? Is your space warm and inviting, a place that people will want to gather? Far and above any desires for a sparse kitchen ought to be our willingness and ability to host others well, to extend our homes and lives and invite others in. [Read here for convicting thoughts on Christian hospitality].

Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater, however. Here are a few reasons why Christians ought to consider living more simply:

  • to better set our hearts on things above, and not on earthly things [Col. 3:2]
  • to better love our neighbors [Mark 12:31]
  • to seek to live more generously [1 Tim. 6:17-19]
  • to offer meaningful hospitality [Rom. 12:13, 1 Pet. 4:8-9]

If these are the reasons for your pursuit of minimalism, to live a life more pleasing to Christ, then by all means, it is a worthy pursuit.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have good and clothing, we will be content with that.”

1 Timothy 6:6-8

And he said to them, “Take care, be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Luke 12:15

originally published on June 27, 2018