Social Media and Short-term Missions

twitter-facebook-together-exchange-of-information-147413In today’s culture, it’s obvious that social media is huge. Almost every one of us is on two, three, or more, social media platforms. Social media is an enormous part of society and our lives. It’s important to look at how we use our accounts, what our motivations are, and what’s the impact of sharing so many moments of our lives.

A good friend of mine is a social media animal: daily funny/sarcastic posts, posts about his extensive missions work, his life is VERY public. At one point we were driving together, and he mentioned something about the prison ministry that he was running. We’ve known each other for years, and we’re pretty transparent with each other, but I had no idea he had a prison ministry. It was NEVER on social media, and he never talked about it. When I asked him why he’d never shared about this, his response opened up a lengthy discussion. “The prison ministry is between me, God, and the people I minister to. No one else needs to know.” What a concept, doing something that doesn’t get broadcast to the world. I proposed to him that even the apostle Paul wrote about the work he was doing and that by sharing, it was an encouragement to others to serve also. But my friend held to his response: “This one area is between God and myself, that’s enough.”

What are our motivations when we share online? Pride and humility are fundamental issues in everyone’s on-going battle with sin. Why are we sharing so much with others? To build them up, or build ourselves up? How many of us have seen (or taken) that cliche photo of the open Bible on the table alongside a cup of coffee, with the caption sharing about our “quiet-time.” When I see this photo, I always get the feeling the person taking it spent more time setting up the photo than actually reading the bible. What are we saying with these edited, high-light versions of our lives? Is it really about God and others? Or are we trying to show everyone how spiritual we are?

Not everything about social media is bad. With long-term missionaries, social media has changed the whole dynamic of fundraising. The long (usually boring) quarterly “missionary support letter” has been replaced by Facebook and other social media tools. A missionary can now give real-time updates to supporters and let them know about the great work that is going on. Working in a developing country with no mail service, Facebook has made it so much easier to stay in touch with children we’ve raised over the years in our orphanage. When used correctly, social media can be a powerful tool. But any tool can be used for good, or for questionable purposes.

There is a lot of discussion in short-term mission circles about the use of social media by people on short-term trips. Does it help promote the ministries and causes, or just promote the people going on the trips? As a host, I’ve seen way too many people work hard to get the dramatic photo with a poor child, but show little heart or compassion for the child they were supposed to be serving. Sometimes a person will stage the perfect photo holding a brick, wheelbarrow, or paintbrush, only to wander off and let others work on the project. No one’s Facebook feed is completely honest, but if our primary goal is looking good online, we have a real problem. We are seeking to please man, and not God.

One other pitfall of posting so many short-term missions photos is that, if we’re not very careful, we can reduce the people we claim to be serving to nothing more than props for our photos. It can be profoundly demeaning. I doubt you would feel comfortable with someone coming to your home and taking random pictures to show others how impoverished you are, or how cool they were for visiting you.

The next time you’re heading out on a mission trip, please spend some time thinking through and discussing a “photo policy” for both yourself and your team. Maybe miss the perfect selfie but really talk to the people you’re there to serve. Think about leaving your camera behind and try getting to know the people on your team. Live in the moment. Take in the sights, smells, and feelings of what you’re doing, instead of documenting everything for later publication.

Humble service is a big deal to God. If our first reaction to serving others is to post it on social media, this says a great deal about the maturity of our servant’s heart. I confess, I like to post things online; there is nothing inherently wrong with social media unless we make it that way. Anything we’ve been given can be used to glorify God, or glorify something else. Choose wisely.

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One thought on “Social Media and Short-term Missions

  1. jan February 9, 2018 / 4:50 am

    Good article. I’m still stuck with adoptions! Jan

    Like

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