In today’s episode, we will be thinking about social media. We know our devices go with us everywhere. We also know that one specific application, social media, influences us and everyone around us—including our children.
So what are we to do? In this interview, we talk with Chris Martin about his new book, The Wolf in Their Pocket, 13 Ways the Social Internet Threatens the People You Lead. We cover a variety of different topics surrounding social media.
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I’m Chap Bettis, and you’re listening to the Disciple-Making Parent Podcast, where we seek to equip parents and churches to pass the gospel to their children. As a pastor or a parent, media is discipling our people more than we know. What are we to do about this wolf in their pockets? Hi, my name is Chap Bettis, and I’m the author of The Disciple-Making Parent.
And in today’s episode, we’re going to be thinking about social media. We know that this device, the phone, is everywhere. We also know that one specific application, social media, is influencing us and everyone around us. Including our children. So what are we to do? How are we to think about it?
Well, in this interview we talk with Chris Martin about his new book, The Wolf in Their Pockets: 13 Ways the Social Internet Threatens the People You Lead. And in this talk we take a high-level view of the temptations that social media brings into our homes and at us and at our teens. Temptations about how we view ourselves, how we view entertainment, how we view authority, and how we view anxiety, and even how we view the truth.
Chris Martin is a content marketing editor at Moody Publishers, and he’s a social media marketing and communications consultant. He writes regularly in his newsletter, Terms of Service, and has just published a book by the same name with B&H Publishing. He lives outside Nashville, Tennessee with his wife Susie, their daughter Magnolia, and their dog Rizzo.
Well, before we start, though, I want to remind you that we’ve started another podcast, The Disciple-Making Parent Audioblog. And in that podcast, I read some of my blog posts in audio format for your convenience. So our plan is to release three of those a week. So check out The Disciple-Making Parent Audioblog on your favorite podcast provider. But for now, let’s think about The Wolf in Their Pockets.
Chap: We’re going to talk about your book, The Wolf in their Pockets, which is a great title, a great cover design. The image in the title is a wolf in people’s pockets. So why did you choose that title? What does that mean with regard to social media, and why do we need this book?
Chris: Frankly, there’s nothing particularly profound in how I came up with the title. I was having a conversation with my agent about what I should write next, because I knew that I had at least one if not more books in me on social media. And frankly, I had a list of about a dozen book ideas each with their own little summary like, Hey, here’s what I think this would be about, here’s why I think it would be helpful.
I was kind of pitching my agent on these various things and I had a couple that I liked and he had a couple that he liked. And this was one that we both kind of liked, this idea of, how do I disciple someone who’s being discipled by social media more than anything? And it was a need, especially as I had written that first book, Terms of Service, I heard a lot from pastors, like, Hey, Terms of Service is great. It’s a really helpful primer on social media and how we got here. But could we have something that’s a little bit more of a practical tool to help us lead in this environment?
I was hearing that, frankly, when I was writing Terms, and then I was also hearing it in response to having written Terms. And so I knew a book like this would be helpful as more of a tool than a big picture overview, which is kind of what Terms was supposed to be. And so that’s kind of why I set out to write this book.
The image, the wolf in their pockets, frankly came up as I was just kind of brainstorming it and I was writing up the proposal and I was writing up the first sample introduction, couple chapters. I think in metaphors and images a lot. There’s a good writing suggestion and kind of rule that you’re not supposed to mix metaphors. Oh, man, I mix metaphors like I’m a bartender or something. I’m mixing metaphors all the time. That’s just how I think, I don’t know why. I think in metaphors and images a lot. And so I thought of this image of like, Okay, what am I hoping this does?
Well, this is for pastors. And really, it’s for anyone who’s shepherding other people, which isn’t just pastors, even though biblically that’s the most common image, the pastor as shepherd. But parents are shepherds too. And even community group leaders, if they’re not pastors. If you’re a small group leader at your church, you’re shepherding in some form or fashion. The youth group volunteer, you’re a shepherd in some form. And so I was like, Okay, shepherds, what are they trying to do? Shepherds are guarding their sheep from wolves. That’s a large part. They’re guiding the sheep along on the path that they’re supposed to be going.
And there’s sort of a sort of internal action of a shepherd and an external action of a shepherd. Internally, you’re whacking the sheep in the head to keep ’em going in the right direction. And externally you are trying to whack the wolves that come, you know, bop ’em on the head with your staff and keep them away from attacking the sheep. And the image that came to mind. Well, I don’t know if shepherds realize that all of their sheep are actually carrying wolves around in their pockets. Literally, I think I was writing out the idea, and that’s just how it came about. I think the image is only used like once in the book. It’s not like it’s this theme that’s all woven throughout. I’m not that profound of a writer, but I do use it at least once. And so that’s where it came from.
And so anyway, I just titled my proposal that. I work in publishing, so I know that cute book titles don’t usually work. So I didn’t expect whichever publisher picked this up to use that title because it’s a little clever. But Moody Publishers, who me and my agent went with- they also happened to be my employer, but we were entertaining other offers as well. So it’s not like Oh, I got my friends to publish my book. It’s not like that. I don’t like it when anybody feels that way. So they had their titling meeting and came back and said, We think we want to keep the title. And I said, Oh, that’s fun. I’m glad! I like the title. I know I thought it was a little too clever to be kept. So that’s the sort of long story. But I think it’s an apt image. And I’ve gotten a lot of feedback on the title and the cover, which is really well done and I think captures the idea really well. And I think that just gives people a good primer as to what we’re talking about.
Chap: Yeah, that’s great because, exactly what you said, which is as parents, as pastors, we’re shepherding people and we’re trying to also be on the lookout for wolves who will come in, and yet there are wolves in this device that’s in our pocket. So, absolutely.
I want to talk a little bit about the content there. So you talk about, the normal amount, or the average amount is two and a half hours on social media. I think what was helpful to me as I was reading the book was you began to sort of unpack some of these dynamics that are going on in my head that I don’t even realize as I’m on social media. And some of them sort of come together. You’ve got 13 different aspects of social media.
Let’s just take one: that I can be tempted to be entertained. So entertainment’s gone from the movie house to the TV, and now it’s in my pocket. That gets into the whole idea that the currency of the internet is attention and is attraction. And so just talk about that as well as- you have a chapter, Seek Humility– and just that whole temptation to pride. Just start with that. There’s a number of different ones I want to talk about, but tell us a little bit what you’re saying there.
Chris: Yeah. You know, entertainment is one of the chief uses for social media, to be entertained. I think it does go to what you said. This is an attention economy, and I’ve written a lot about that. A lot of people who are smarter than me have written a lot about that. We live in a, in a time when attention is a currency and, and where we point our eyeballs for a certain period of time is worth a lot of money- literally worth billions of dollars a quarter for these social media companies.
And so what that means is we’ve come to see entertainment as more valuable than we should. And entertainment not even being, you know, when you hear entertainment, you think, Oh, something that makes me laugh, or something that makes me feel good. Don’t get that narrow in your understanding of entertainment. To be entertained, I don’t know what the technical definition is. I probably should have included that in the book. But I think for what we’re talking about, to be entertained is just to keep your attention, to keep your interest.
So there’s some form of media that keeps your interest. It doesn’t even have to make you feel good. And I wrote about this a good bit in Terms and it comes up again here because it’s such a, a recurring theme and an important theme that I think is one of the most overlooked aspects of our relationship with social media and the social internet more broadly. But I think we don’t recognize a lot of times that social media platforms don’t care about us. They don’t care about how we feel. They don’t care about how we feel or how we’re doing, what our lives are like. We just get in the way of the raw material and the data that they harvest from us.
And so what we don’t realize a lot of times is, social media platforms exist to make money. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the way they make money is by keeping your attention for as long as possible. And the way they keep people’s attention for as long as possible is to engineer these really complicated mathematical equations- they sometimes feel like magic- that are called algorithms. You know, everybody talks about algorithms like they’re some mystical force. It’s kind of mystical because it’s this really complicated math, they’re often called recommendation engines that determine what you see in any given feed at any given time.
Some platforms are governed by recommendation engines or algorithms more than others. So Facebook famously went to an algorithm a number of years ago, gosh, probably a decade ago at this point, where you didn’t see content chronologically. You saw it based on what its algorithm determined you would like to see the best. Every other platform has followed suit, basically, except Twitter still gives you the ability to see content in a purely chronological form, though they now also have an algorithmic feed as well. And so these algorithms, these complex mathematical equations exist ostensibly to serve the user and to make our experience better. That’s what all of them say, which is true to an extent. But they also really serve the platforms. And the way they serve the platforms is because they’re engineered to keep our attention. And unfortunately, what a lot of the leading research has said over the years is the things that are most entertaining to us, the things that keep our attention the most, are the things that make us feel the worst.
There’s data that Facebook did internally with their internal research teams that they then shelved a number for a number of years until some reporters at the Wall Street Journal came across it that showed that divisive content performs better on Facebook than any other content on the platform. And all of this is to say, we need to recognize that what is entertaining has come to be enthroned in our minds and on our hearts. And often what is entertaining is not what is most edifying. Usually. In fact, it’s probably fair to say: usually what is most entertaining is not most edifying. And we can get a lot more interested in watching people fight than watching people build one another up or care for each other and love each other.
And so if you’ve ever used social media, or perhaps you listened to this and you’re not a huge user of social media because you feel this, you’re like, Man, why does it feel so negative here all the time? Well, a) because we’re sinners using these platforms, but b) they’re kind of designed to amplify negativity in a lot of ways. I think what’s important for us is to recognize that the actual 1’s and 0’s, that the guts of these platforms are bent toward brokenness. And it’s not just our brokenness that we kind of insert in, but the platforms themselves are fundamentally broken and broken toward entertainment. And again, these algorithms, these platforms deliver us more deeply into our desires rather than deliver us from our desires. And that’s where a lot of the subsequent problems that I go through throughout the book can kind of come in.
Chap: And you’ve got a whole chapter on “live peaceably.” So the temptation is what you’re talking about. This amplifies human desires that we have to fight. And it’s just being amplified. That gets the greater likes, greater in popularity in the algorithm. And it seems like it can amplify when you put that together with some of the other things, which is sort of the entertainment. So if we take the bombastic person who is negative at the same time, and now you’ve got both/and. The person’s not giving you a well-researched conflict. It’s bombastic, it’s personality driven.
But what struck me as we’re going through this is that basically, as you put yourself on social media, it starts to change something in your brain- you are an entertainer. So you talked about this in “Dethrone Entertainment,” and then also in “Reordering Priorities.” So now I’m looking at, the youth in England want to be YouTubers. So this whole idea of either I’m in front of the camera as an entertainer or an influencer. So that just changes our brain as well. And our kids’ brain. That’s mainly what we’re talking about here: also us, but also our kids who suddenly have to be on stage, which then goes I right into the whole teenage depression and anxiety. I’m not a very good entertainer, you know?
Chap: And keeping up with the beautiful people.
Chris: Yeah, that’s exactly right. All of these things are sort of interconnected in that way, aren’t they? That one just feeds to another, which feeds to another, which is why I think this can become such a negativity spiral. In my life I really try not to be a Debbie Downer, but, but I think it’s important for us to recognize how quickly this stuff can spin out of control.
But I talk even in this chapter on humility about, you mentioned the being an entertainer. I mentioned that in the first chapter and how social media reinforces the sinful idea that we’re the heroes of our own stories. And that entertainer mindset only makes that stronger, you know?
Leading up to the launch of the book, basically I think from like January through until the book launch, I tried to be a good author and do Instagram reels for the first time. A lot of them. I was doing five a week. And I’ve since pulled back significantly because I hated it. And I hated caring how many views. Because naturally when you do that, you have to care because what you, the reason you have to care- It’s not wrong to care. You should care if people listen to your podcast. Because what you have to do is you have to do some math with regard to, is this worth my time? Like, is this actually helping people or am I just videoing myself into oblivion? Am I just talking myself into oblivion? Like, is this actually adding something to anybody?
And you feel that as an author, especially, because it’s a lot of work and money and time from a lot of different people to make a book happen. For me, I’m a nobody. I’m going on like, I’m going to do everything I can. I’m going to use every tool in my tool belt to try to help get the word out about this book. So I start doing Instagram reels and I start seeing it in myself where it’s like, I don’t feel like the main character per se, but I feel sort of like, Oh, people are watching video of me. This feels like a much more intimate social interaction than me tweeting some goofy thing on a Friday afternoon on Twitter.
I just don’t like seeing myself on video regardless, but when you go on video, there’s a certain intimacy that you invite upon yourself with the people watching it that isn’t there, I feel, with maybe text or even images to some degree. And so all of that’s to say, it’s really easy if you get sucked up in that and perhaps you like it and you’re getting a lot of a response and you’re getting a lot of positive feedback, which I didn’t. I was getting almost no feedback, which is why in part, why I’ve kind of pulled back from doing it. But if you get a bunch of positive feedback and everyone’s telling you how pretty you are or how successful you are or how they just wish they could be you, you’re just going to feed off of that and you’re going to sort of become enslaved to your audience. And I’ve written about this at length, actually, in the newsletter.
I didn’t include it in the book, but you get this sort of main character vibe that I think just chips away at your soul in so many ways. Namely, it can make you enslaved to feeling like an entertainer and wanting to be an entertainer, which can then make you prideful. And then if things go south, they can make you anxious. And I think all of those are important factors that, like you mentioned, especially with regard to young people. The number one profession that young people say they want to be today is an influencer now.
I don’t think that’s all bad because like there are some really cool things that influencers can do. Like there are some really positive ways that that can be done, and I think that it can be used for good. There are certain occupations you might say, Yeah, you just shouldn’t be that occupation. I think the role and occupation of influencer can be used for good and redeemed, if you will. But I do think it’s sort of like chasing being a professional athlete or something like that. Go for it, but don’t put all your eggs in that basket. It can go sideways really quickly. And so I think we ought to be aware of that, and I think it’s important for us to recognize that in the young people we lead. I helped lead in the student ministry at my church, so I see this stuff all the time, and I think it’s important for us to be aware of all of that.
Chap: Yeah, that’s really good. You’re talking about a number of different things. So, pastoring in an obscure church and, and right in there in Matthew 6, Jesus talks about praying in secret, giving in secret, fasting in secret, and just this emphasis on the lowly, the secret, and not doing things for people to see. And yet if you’re an entertainer, that’s exactly what you’re doing. And then it gets a little crazy when you mix in, in the sense of the Christian, Christian things. I’ve heard someone say, “Many a spiritual neck has been broken falling off the platform,” because you’ve got the spirituality, but you’re on a platform. You’re not doing things in secret. And it does change you.
As you were talking I was thinking about, you know, your weatherman. You see him every day or her every day. Then when you finally see them in real life, and I had a chance to interact with one of these guys, I just felt like he was still on stage. It was a common thing we were involved in and there’s five other people we’re just around a table in a restaurant. And I just felt he’s still on stage. I felt like it had changed him, so I don’t know. But that’s what we’re worried about with our own kids. They can’t be themselves, they’ve got to be performers entertainers.
Here’s a couple that went together: Discernment, and authority. And then the whole idea of conspiracy theories. So maybe just talk a little bit what you had to say. So we need to foster discernment, which I turned around to say that there’s a temptation not to be discerning. And then also “Rethinking Authority.” Because now anyone can be an authority. And sometimes that’s not bad. I remember a pro-life rally that was not covered: like half million or three quarters of a million people in DC and I came back to the Providence Journal paper and it was not covered at all. And you’re just like, crickets, you know? So talk a little bit about this whole idea of authority, discernment, and suggestions you have for us, especially helping our kids.
Chris: You know, I’m not a pastor. I’ve been on staff at a church and I serve in my church both as a student ministry leader and as a community group leader. But I’m not a pastor who’s working in the trenches of pastoring a church every day. And this is a book that’s at least in part for pastors. And so I wanted to be sure throughout the process to be in communication regularly with people who are vocational ministers in various roles in the local church.
And I sent out a survey at the very beginning of writing this. I kind of had the table of contents in mind, or at least a rough draft of the table of contents. And I sent it out to a couple dozen pastors and church leaders and said, Hey, pick this apart. Tell me what chapters you think need to be in there that you’re not seeing, or ones that you think are there that maybe aren’t as relevant. And I just wanted all of their feedback on the sort of big picture. And I don’t remember exactly how I asked it, but I asked if there’s one topic that needs to be covered in this book regarding social media and your congregation’s relationship with it, what is the one topic? And as I recall, 100% of those pastors and church leaders said, “You must talk about conspiracy theories. You must have a chapter on conspiracy theories.” And I said, Man, I thought some people would say that that was an important topic. I did not expect 100% of the two dozen or so people I asked to say that was the topic.
And in fact at one point me and my editor had toyed with combining it with the discernment chapter. There’s even some listings of the book on the internet that say 12 ways instead of 13, because we had combined them. But I heard repeatedly that this should be its own thing, even though working around conspiracy theories is sort of a subset of discernment. There’s enough going on there that it did merit its own chapter. The reason for that, just to give you a little bit of background, is a lot of the pastors, I asked a follow up: Why does X chapter- whatever chapter you named- why does that need to be the one thing we make sure to talk about? And if you could make a composite image of all of their responses, it was, Man, I never used to hear about wacky theological/political/societal conspiracies. Maybe two or three times a year, somebody would come up to me at the end of a church service and say, “Hey, did you hear about this? Why didn’t you talk about that?” Or, “Are you a part of this group that’s doing this?” Pastors are telling me that almost weekly now they’re getting stuff like that. Um, and so they just were like, This is becoming unsustainable, dealing with this barrage of questions that just seem out of left field.
So anyway, that’s why that chapter even exists. I don’t need to go deeper into that, but discernment and authority, yeah, they go hand in hand. And I think social media hinders both of them in some pretty significant ways. Authority’s kind of clear. And I, like you, think this is somewhat good and somewhat bad. This is very much a double-edged sword situation for me. As someone who kind of has a reformer mindset in me and like wants to stick it to authority, if authority doesn’t have their act together, and that can be very sinful. I’ve had plenty of instances where I’ve had to repent of challenging authority that didn’t need challenging. But at the same time, I think it’s important that we challenge authority when it needs to be challenged. And I think social media and really just the sort of social internet broadly get your mind out of the four or five apps you have in your head. Just the internet broadly has made it so much easier to challenge authority, I think, in some really healthy ways.
And I think we’ve seen some healthy ways that that’s been done. Especially with regard to like a sex abuse crisis in various parts of Christianity or even just broader culture. I think the internet has had a huge effect on that, and I think that’s in large part positive. At the same time, we can start to get this sort of torches and pitchforks mindset as we try to relate to authority using social media and we can start hunting people that really shouldn’t be hunted. You know, people in authority who maybe we shouldn’t be running them out. Maybe we misunderstand what they’re trying to do. You can call that “cancel culture.” Call it whatever you want. But I think like going after authority via social media can be positive and it can be really negative. And I think because of our sin and just the general brokenness of everything, we have to have our guard up as to when challenging authority can get unhealthy and frankly, spiral out of control very quickly in the matter of hours on social media, depending on how something spreads.
And then discernment. The biggest thing on discernment, if I could like summarize the chapter in one sentence or thought. The biggest way social media hinders discernment in my view, and I know that I fell victim to this, is we’re all just consuming so much content so quickly. That there’s no feasible way we can verify everything that we’re reading. So I’m a big fan of Neil Postman. I cite him throughout this book and my previous one. Amusing Ourselves to Death is brilliant, andnd I wish he was still around to comment on social media, though it probably would’ve killed him just seeing it happen. He mentions in his book how he was talking about the news broadcast, like the evening news, basically, like World News Tonight or whatever. I’m paraphrasing- “I don’t know that we’re made to take the measure of the world in 30 minutes, or in 22 minutes when you take out commercial breaks. I don’t know that we’re really made to take the measure of the world in 22 minutes.”
And I’ve always resounded with that idea and that quote, not only because like I grew up in a home where we had the evening news on as we were eating dinner. So we’d eat dinner at the dinner table and be in view of the TV in the living room and be able to at least hear, if not see, what was going on in the evening news. And I think that’s great. I think that made me a very well-informed child and young adult and I learned so much, we had conversations about what was going on in the world. I think there was some positivity to that, but, taking the TV aside, how much more can we ask the question: Are we really made to take the full measure of the world in an hour of swiping on TikTok or Twitter or Instagram or pick whatever you want? I don’t think we are. I just think that we consume so much content, information, entertainment.
You’ll go from, you’re on TikTok, which it happens to be my favorite social media platform at the moment. Don’t hate me. You go from, okay, here’s a clip from a pastor that I really like across the country who’s a really good preacher. Oh, there’s 30 seconds on Psalm 23 from that pastor. Swipe. Okay. There’s a 30-second explanation of something that happened overseas that’s in the news today. Swipe. There’s a goofy dance trend. Oh, that’s funny. Oh, did you see what that baby did? That’s hilarious. Swipe. Oh, here’s a clip from a song. It’s like all of these things living right next to each other makes everything feel so trivial. And that’s like Postman said, that television is a great trivialization machine. And I say the same thing about social media.
And I think that beyond that it can make discerning what’s true or what’s not, what’s good and what’s not, incredibly difficult. When you’re consuming so quickly, you don’t even have the ability to process the truth or untruth of what it is you’ve been consuming. And so I think that makes it hard to discern, again, what’s good or bad or what’s true or false. And so that’s a kind of a generalization of what that chapter is about. And I have some thoughts in there on what we could do to push back against that.
Chap: That’s really helpful. Some of it’s the amount. I’ve also thought of the actual geography, meaning . . . we’re living through media. We’re living disembodied as opposed to, I’ve got embodied elders, pastors in my church. I’ve got embodied parents that God has given to me. And the first, not ultimate, but the first trust should be, I can look at them. And Jesus said, “By their fruits you will know them.” And, “wisdom is proved right by her actions.” So the whole idea of, if I’m looking at a godly person and they’re giving me this advice, I should trust that, as opposed to. . . well, you know, as an author, you can make your book say anything you want. Mark Twain talks about statistics- you can make statistics say anything you want to. You’re far removed and yet to believe that media, that TV presence more than actually the sort of average pastor in front of me, the average parent in front of me. That’s kind of the temptation.
Chris: Yeah. And let me say something to parents. This might be hard for some parents to hear, but I have a feeling knowing you and knowing the kind of parents you probably attract, I’ll probably get some head nods as much as anything. I’ve been writing on social media for a number of years now through the newsletter and the books, and I’ve spoken a number of times to various church groups, et cetera. And I’m grateful for every opportunity that I get to speak or write for various audiences, but I’m kind of tired of speaking to parents and youth groups. Not tired of it, but I wish I had the same proportion of opportunities to speak to adults about their use of social media as well, because I think, and I say this a good bit throughout the book. And now this is not a book on parenting in a social media world- that’s a different book and plenty of those exist and there’d be a lot more parent specific examples than I even give.
But speaking to parents, something I do say in at some point in the book is, you’re going to have a really hard time leading your kid in this area if you don’t get your own relationship with social media under control. And this isn’t 2006. Let’s not have some funky idea that a 16-year-old has a worse relationship with social media than his 46-year-old parent. Because again, it’s not 2006 anymore. The boomers in a church are being shaped by Facebook as much as the Gen Z’ers are being shaped by TikTok. So let’s not get this idea that social media is a teen problem, these young people in their phones. Give me a break. Look, you’ve all been at dinner before in a restaurant and seen the 46-year-old parents scrolling on their phone as much as a 16-year-old kid is scrolling on his phone.
Chap: So here’s the speaking truth to authority Chris Martin coming out.
Chris: Yeah, yeah, exactly. Like real talk with parents. You’re going to have a hard time getting your teenager off Instagram at the dinner table if you’re also scrolling Facebook at the dinner table. Absolutely. And in fact, I was having a conversation with a friend about this the other day because we were talking about how does this get fixed? Like, how does our nationwide relationship with social media get fixed? I think government regulation is going to have to happen, like raising the age on users, somehow limiting these platforms. I think real government regulation, like in advertising to children back in the eighties on TV. I think some real stuff is going to have to happen. And he came back and he was like, “Well, isn’t it the parent’s job? Isn’t the parent’s job, not the government’s job to regulate their kids’ relationship with social media?” Which would be the more traditional, conservative, and probably even Christian response to that. And I’m like, “Yeah, but they aren’t. They aren’t because parents are just as caught up in this as kids are.” And like that stat I cite throughout the book, but especially at the beginning from the Pew Research Center and Hootsuite, a number of places have given a similar statistic. The average adult internet user spends two and a half hours on social media.
That’s not a 16-year-old in teenager. That’s only going to include your senior in high school and then college students. But this is two and a half hours a day. It’s not your 14-year-old who just got his first smartphone. Two and a half hours a day is an adult. Nobody spends two and a half hours a day doing anything other than sleeping and working or going to school if you’re a student. So two and a half hours a day is a massive amount of time. And again, this is adults.
So parents, real talk. If you’re going to lead your kid in this space, you don’t have to have a perfect relationship with social media. Don’t hear me saying that. But if you find yourself frustrated because your teenager won’t put down his or her phone at the dinner table, but then you find yourself doing the same thing, it’s going to take a little bit of self-reflection. And I think we need to make sure that as adults, as non-teenagers, and I say the same thing to myself as a, as a student ministry leader, is that we have to check ourselves before we try to lead others in this space who are younger than us.
Chap: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Amen and amen. Good for you, because as I’m reading through this, I’m thinking of my own self and saying, okay, there’s entertainment and the temptation to entertain, and I’m not judging others, but even the recovering the purpose there, forgetting our purpose, for making certain lifestyles feel more valuable. The whole idea of friendship, to be physically present with other people. That’s real friendship. So there’s all sorts of temptations for adults as well.
Rejecting authority. When I was pastoring full-time around 2001, 2002, we had a serious heresy issue in our church. And the reason it came about was because somebody, this was way back in the early days of the internet, got hooked up with some guy and his website.
What are some suggestions? We’ve been sort of talking about the problems here, but how do we have a healthy relationship with social media? What do you do? What do you suggest? Talk about that for a little while.
Chris: Well, I’ll say I’m not perfect. I definitely do not have a healthy relationship. I set time limits for myself, but I will sometimes override those time limits, I’m not immune to any of this. I think what I’ve gotten a pretty good grasp on over the years, just because I’ve lived in this space, social media is part of my job, and it really always has been. It used to be more central to my job than it is today, praise the Lord, it’s not quite as central as it used to be. But it used to be my job where I was just on social media eight hours a day for work. And what I have found is, I think, generally speaking, there are two wrong ways to approach social media.
I think one of them is passive ignorance. This one is less common today than it was a decade ago, but it’s still around. Passive ignorance towards social media looks like generally more common among older people. Social media is just not a big deal. It’s just a fad. It’s not going to stick around. It’s not real life. It’s not that influential. It’s not that important. Now I might agree that what happens on social media is not that important. It’s not necessarily always a good reflection of real life, though I would say who we are online is real. It’s not fake, but I understand that perspective and understand, especially, among an older adult who maybe spent 80% of their life without social media, why they would feel that way. When I took a job in social media in 2013, we had a very well-meaning friend who said, Hey, should you be taking a job on social media? It’s kind of a fad. Do we think it’s going to stick around? And I’m like, I think it’ll be around for a little while. That mentality, though, is still present. And it may be present in your churches if you’re listening as a pastor or church leader. But I think that can make us sort of ignorant and unhelpful.
So more commonly, sort of on one end of the spectrum, is like, I’m just detached. I’m not going to participate at all, and it’s just totally irrelevant to my life. I think that can be unhealthy. The other way, which is more common and perhaps more prone to unhealth, is uncritically embracing social media. This is most of us. This is when any new platform comes along, any new feature on a platform, oh, this new platform came up. I’ll just download it and check it out. Oh, Instagram added a feature where if I just give it access to my location at all times, I can add the temperature to my Instagram stories, where I am. When I go to the beach, I want to be like, it’s 75 degrees here, fools, enjoy your time back in the cold, you know? And I’ve just got to give my location at all times too. It’s no big deal. And so without a critical eye, we just kind of take whatever is served up to us both in content, in features, in new platforms. We uncritically embrace everything. I think that’s really unhealthy for probably pretty obvious reasons. You give up data you don’t need to be giving up about yourself. You just passively scroll and before you know it, two hours have passed. This is what uncritically embracing social media looks like. If any of us are going to have an unhealthy relationship, that’s often what it looks like.
I advocate for a sort of middle road. Which is to intentionally engage social media. Now, when I say everyone should intentionally engage social media, I’m not saying everyone needs to be on social media, so to the passively ignorant person, I’m not saying you need to get on social media or you’re not being a good Christian or whatever. No, no, no. But if you are like, Hey, I’m never going to use social media, great. You should still be aware of it and in that way, be engaged. Be aware of what’s going on in these various spaces and understand you don’t need to understand the ins and outs of a Facebook algorithm, but you should know if like what’s happening on these platforms and how these platforms are affecting the people around you if you want to be a good neighbor, a good parent, good Christian leader who doesn’t use them at all. If you do find yourself to be a user, maybe you find yourself more on that uncritical embrace end of the spectrum, which is going to be most of us.
It’s a matter of intentional engagement. It’s more curtailing your relationship with it a little bit, and so that looks like setting time limits on your phone to where you can’t use the stuff during certain hours of the day or for a certain amount of time every day. It looks like maybe turning your phone to black and white, which you can do, and that that has been shown to kind of decrease your interest in using things. It looks like turning off all notifications, which is something I do. I have zero notifications on my phone other than text messages and phone calls. I don’t get notifications when I get emails, and I am a perfectly successful working adult. There are zero red bubbles on my phone almost ever. And if I find one, I’m like, Why are notifications turned on on that app? I’m turning it off. And so turn off notifications. You don’t need to be pinged every time someone likes the Instagram photo you post. You just don’t. It doesn’t mean you can’t post Instagram photos. The way I describe it in simple terms is, use social media on your terms. Don’t be beckoned into using social media. Don’t have it call you like a siren. Hey, hey, come. Someone’s interacting with you. Hello. Hello, somebody’s wanting to talk to you. Somebody just DM’d you on Instagram. Somebody’s just liked your photo on Facebook.
No. By all means, post, do whatever. I’m not saying don’t use it, but engage with it on your terms and you’ll find that you’ll still engage with it plenty because you’ll just go and check and that’s okay. I think it’s a step in the right direction, but I think if we find ourselves being beckoned and reeled in, that’s where it can get unhealthy really quickly. So I think it looks like time limits, app limits, turning off notifications and making your phone as uninteresting to use as possible. I say phone because that’s where we’re often using social media.
And also having real, true, incarnational accountability, like having somebody you meet with. Be like, “Hey, tell me whenever you see me post something foolish on the internet. Please grab my ear and say, ‘You fool, what are you doing, posting that or saying that?’” Give somebody the keys to your car, if you will. Just let them have total control of whatever it is you are accessing and wanting to post. Those are some general tips and some general best practices. I don’t follow all of them perfectly. So again, I don’t intend to promote myself as a paragon of social media use and do it just like I do. But these are the things that I try to do to make sure I have as healthy a relationship with it as I can.
Chap: Yeah, that’s good. Even as you’re talking, I’m thinking there’s kind of three relationships here. I guess I’m sort of all of those, and some people are. So for the ministry, I’m a producer of social media, and then I’m a user. So some of it is being conscious, which I appreciate some of the things you’re saying in the book. Just thinking about my own heart, to be, to be a producer.
Just as a sidebar, I was talking with someone and I brought up the subject of modesty. And you know, we associate modesty with clothes, but basically modesty is just not telling everybody everything. You don’t have to tell everybody everything. So some of it’s a producer, some of it’s me using it. And then what you’re getting at in the book is equipping. And I think that’s really helpful as I’m self-aware, here’s how I’m interacting. And here’s the commands of Christ. You need to be aware as well that this algorithm is designed to whirl you into further conflict. Or this is designed to, you’re going to end up feeling worse about yourself. So that’s helpful.
Chris: One last thought, and it’s kind of based on what you just said on modesty. I forget who originally said it, I’ve seen it a bunch of places, that basically, it’s okay to have an unarticulated thought. And I’m like, man, for those of us like me, I’m less prone to like post flashy pictures of my life because my life is really quite boring and not flashy or attractive at all. But I am more prone to try to share big ideas that make people think I’m smart. That’s where I’m prone to weakness. And when I’ve heard that said in various forms- it’s not wrong to have an unarticulated thought- I’m like, man, that that stabs me in the heart every time because I’m like, yeah, sometimes it’s okay for me to just think things or write things or whatever that never have to see the light of day of the internet and don’t need to be.
It’s okay for us to have thoughts or live experiences for those of you who are more prone to post pictures of your life or whatever, to live experiences that you just live and that you don’t have to share or to have thoughts that you just think that you don’t have to share. Because what we do when we share almost always, unless you’re far more holy and righteous than me and most other people, which by all means I hope you are. When we immediately share them, we’re looking for feedback. And it’s hard to share and not want to see feedback because shouting into the void stinks. It’s always nice when the void shouts back. And it’s important for us, I think as we use social media in whatever capacity, to not get sucked into the void and feel like we need to hear back from others in the form of actual words or just engagement metrics. It’s important for us to not tie our humanity, our worth, to hearing back from other people. And I think if we’re not careful, we can very quickly turn into that.
Chap: Boom. We’re going to end on that because that’s really good. Every thought doesn’t have to be posted, every experience doesn’t have to be posted. We are not our likes and hearts and everything else, so.
Well, thank you for being on the show. Thanks for taking the time. And the book is The Wolf in Their Pocketsand it’s written specifically for leaders and parents- specifically pastors, but shepherds, really, anyone. How we can help our people work through some of the temptations. So Chris, thanks. Thanks for spending some time.
Chris: Of course. Glad to.
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