At this point in time, you can no longer hop on social media without coming across a “sponsored” ad, one that is bought and paid for to appear in front of your eyes. Half of our Facebook newsfeeds these days are shared “news articles” accompanied by an array of comments in stark agreement or disagreement that leave us confused. In a virtual world, we’re not sure what is real, relatable, or relevant to our everyday lives.
Social media is a place we usually go to in order to find connection with others. Instead, we usually find ourselves wasting a lot of time scrolling through ads or heated “debates” of friends and family members. We temper ourselves in order that others may not judge us, may not hold us in contempt, or worse, abandon us in a “cancel culture”. We’re bombarded, overwhelmed and overstimulated. As ministers of the gospel, we’re walking on shaky ground as we rely on these virtual means to live out our calling to disciple one another and share the good news of Jesus Christ.
How do we break through the voices to reach the lost sheep that are overwhelmed and feeling alone and lost in the current cultural climate of physical distance? I believe that one of the answers is fostering connection with others through sharing authentically. In order to share with full authenticity, I believe we must learn and grow in what it means to live out the concept of vulnerability in our virtual connections with others. Vulnerability is exactly what God did in Christ: became a man as He lived out an incarnational ministry.
What does it mean to foster genuine connection virtually through authentic vulnerability? I don’t think the answer is cut and dry, but I think we can discern it through honest reflection and following Christ’s lead. First, in order to be authentic or vulnerable, we must first be experiencing the hard internal sanctification work of Christ in our own lives - combing through the good, bad and ugly in ourselves as we minister to others. We are not able to extend a vulnerable hand to another without knowing ourselves well enough to know what it means to be vulnerable.
If the first step in virtual authenticity is to know ourselves better, the second step is to share that journey with others. I personally view sharing on social media or through my blog as a means of discipleship, and my best discipleship relationships always have an element of confession, humility, (sometimes painful) honesty, and mutual respect. We share our stories with one another, learn from them, are inherently challenged by them, and we often find a piece of ourselves in one another’s story and thus discover new ways to grow. As I grow in Christ, I aim to share pieces of what I’ve been learning along the way with my social media audience in order to both grow personally and encourage others to join me as I follow Christ. In this way, virtual authenticity is simply virtual discipleship. The overflow of my own spiritual growth and relationship with Christ ends up then flowing onto the empty page that is Instagram, a blog, a message to a friend or even a Facebook status.
As ministers, others are looking to us for how to interpret what it means to be a Christian in light of today’s issues. What are we going to do? What are we going to share? We don’t have to “sell” Jesus to others; we simply must invite them to follow Him as we follow Him. Discipleship, even virtually cannot be reduced to a program or a curriculum, instead it must be learned in relationship to another, more of a “come and see” vs “come and learn”. We can do this through authentic and vulnerable sharing of what it looks like to follow Him, in times of glory, in the mess and in the struggle.
Associate Campus Minister at Virginia Tech BCM