The Christian woman’s guide to life online
Media professional Michelle Vandepol answers some frequently asked questions
So much of today’s modern life is lived online and for the most part, it’s great. It’s easy to quickly arrange event invitations, share the latest family picture, spread the word about your fundraiser, and keep in touch with old friends. We hope that what we do online matches how we desire to live for God face to face, but there are so many places we worry about going wrong.
I give workshops on social media platform best practices for professionals and have navigated living out my faith while growing my social media accounts as a novelist. What I would share with a secular audience is the same as I would share with a faith-based one. Be positive and post above reproach. If it seems questionable to you, err on the side of caution. People have never been more engaged in the social media realm than they are today and what you do online is frequently reviewed by both professional and personal audiences.
The best way to live online well is to have a prayerful purpose. Your primary goal may be driven by having a business to grow, having a gift for connecting people to opportunities, or wanting to keep in touch with friends; but you can also simultaneously have a spiritual intent for your engagement as well. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says that even in the little things “whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
Am I spending too much time online?
One of the greatest concerns about online activities is how much they can take over our lives. How can you know whether you’re in the danger zone? Spending too much time online is less about the actual time spent and more about the heart and about life balance. If you find yourself with phone in hand more often than not, facing it instead of the ones you’re talking to; you may want to try going for periods without and see if it results in better quality time together.
Overindulging in social media can make us socially anxious, start us on worrying that we’re missing out, and fill our daily lives with more obligations than are healthy for us. If you are noticing a connection, take a break. A good way to do this is by putting your phone on the charger in a room away from you or in your handbag tucked under your desk or by the front door.
If you are finding it difficult to find time to be alone with God, switching off from your usual online engagement is an easy way to create a space. Our emotional, physical, and spiritual health is optimum when we are unplugged for periods of time and are taking in God’s refreshing Word.
Reading the Bible, engaging in conversations with Christian friends face to face, hearing a message, or listening to worship music are all good ways to recharge and balance the negative and marketing messages that flood us every day.
Starting your day with God prior to posting means that you will be going forward in the right frame of mind. If you open the Word before you open your social media newsfeed, your response to your friends’ posts will be what their hearts need. Even if they do not currently share your faith, you will be able to share what you are learning, pass on encouragement, and even gentle redirection.
As you fill up more and more on the Word first, you will notice that what used to frustrate you or irritate you now feels like an opportunity to live out the Gospel.
Is there a way to use online platforms to minister to others?
When we meet people face to face, we can plant seeds by sharing our testimony or what we are learning, and by acts of kindness. Online that translates into authentic posts, encouraging comments, and looking for opportunities to be a blessing.
With the rise of social media, we interact with many more people than previous generations did. This has the opportunity to be a very positive thing. We can shed light and love on more people’s paths and have greater insight into what matters to the people we come in contact with.
If you want to know what to pray for, log in.
If you see a burden you can both pray for and lighten, do it.
If you see someone struggling, pray for revelation and wisdom for them and speak encouragingly into their situation.
Situation-specific books, YouTube talks, and Netflix recommendations can also be great tools to helping people find their way. If you feel it on your heart and it is a positive message you are sharing, there is little to fear from sharing it.
Sometimes you will also speak to someone following your newsfeed and not interacting personally as well. We have no idea of the ripple effects of many of the things we do here on earth, but it is an exciting prospect to have many great stories to look forward to.
How do I portray the Christian life well online and avoid putting people off?
I know the tendency to pause before sharing something faith-based, especially when trying to grow a following in a secular market. What gives me courage is knowing that every good opportunity placed in my path has been provided by God. Filling my head with his truth means I worry less about looking unprofessional or unsophisticated (or any other lies the enemy tells me) than I did before.
Operating in the Spirit means I will see many opportunities for positive interaction online throughout the day, just like there is when going about the mundane in life: standing in a queue, answering the phone at work, extending grace to my neighbours and co-workers. Even the smallest things like enjoying and not complaining about family, shines in a world where the opposite is often the case.
This is also a call to raise the bar on our online behaviour. If, after posting a meme focused around patience and love, your next post is a rant about poor service in a local shop, you may be ripping out what you have planted. That said, we don’t need to have it all together to be used by God. Don’t believe that lie. Just be yourself, grow where you are planted, love the people in your path, and strive to honour him in all you do.
One other thing – if you say you’re going to pray, do. This is something that God has really been speaking to me about recently. It is easy to log in, see all of the difficulties going on, comment to say “praying” and then log out, forgetting to pray at all. In that case, not only am I not praying for them, but I have also lied about doing so.
If you find yourself in the same boat, don’t be discouraged. Repent and ask the Holy Spirit to remind you of the people you promised to pray for and to be with the ones you can’t remember. This reminds me of the verse, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26).
How do I handle debates and disagreements between friends on my newsfeed?
Being kind online does not mean feeling pressured to like everything you see on your newsfeed. But neither does it mean you have to preach to a crowd! It is advisable both from a professional and a personal position to stay away from engaging in highly opinionated debates or postings. “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel” is not an invitation to repost every religious thing you come across or blanket the web with verses instead of practical loving engagement in this world.
I have found that it is when I’ve gained the respect of a follower online that she will message me privately to ask more about faith or with a prayer request.
When you see heated debates with friends occurring in your newsfeeds, do your best to not engage unless you see it is simply a matter of miscommunication. If you can see a way to affirm both people and remind them where they agree with each other, wrapping it up in a few succinct lines, do so. If it is messier and you are not sure that it will diffuse the situation, it may be better to support offline. Pray for both parties and for God’s wisdom before you do anything.
When you act, do so cautiously and humbly. Remember “a gentle answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1). If the post in question is on your own timeline, you are entitled to delete any comments or postings at your discretion. That said, I’d advise against feeling entitled to have the last word. All visitors to your page will see is an unresolved conflict. Rarely does it make any of the parties participating look favourable. If it is in your newsfeed, you may need to exercise self-control and refrain from commenting.
Keep in mind that we have Jesus’ example in not insisting on defending himself, even when on trial prior to the cross. It is not weakness to disengage. Praying about the situation’s resolution is, more often than not, the best strategy. If one of the participants is a friend you know well or who is asking for your advice, you can talk to him or her in person and give advice on diffusing the situation or removing the post. Either way, respect that every situation is not ours to control. We want to be careful not to give offence even when giving biblical and practical advice to others.
Living well online is not about perfection. Don’t let the enemy condemn you for the things that you’ve cringed over afterwards and have rushed to delete. Life is a journey. Ask God for wisdom the whole day through. God is not surprised by our weakness. “For he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14).
It is only in operating in his strength that we won’t be overwhelmed by the negativity, overtaken by jealousy, or consumed with being offended while living online. It seems difficult, but the Bible reminds me “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).
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