Discipleship and Media Detox

“We need to disciple out some of the more harmful aspects of our culture.”

When we read the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19–20, we normally do so with the understanding that making disciples means focusing on things like sharing Christ and various spiritual disciplines: prayer, studying Scripture, serving and so on. And that’s what Jesus calls us to do.

But in doing so we can miss another aspect of making disciples, and that is discipling out bad ideas and beliefs in order to replace them with the things of God. Paul commented how the Thessalonians not only received the gospel (1 Thess. 1:5) but how they also turned from idols (1 Thess. 1:9). He told the Corinthians to flee idolatry (1 Cor. 10:14).

We encounter the same realities today that Paul did in his. We also have to disciple out idolatry and other ideas in order to be discipled in the way of Jesus. Discipleship is ancient, but the saturation of media content with which we compete is new. But it’s not as novel as we may think. It’s just another way for believers to be exposed to ideas, many of which are wrong. Some of these wrong or even evil ideas pose as Christian truth.

Paul didn’t have to worry about cable news or social media in his day, but just as in ours, he had to confront some really bad ideas that seemed on the surface to be good. He warned the Colossians to avoid those who would “delude with plausible arguments” (Col. 2:4) or be taken “captive by philosophy and empty deceit” (Col. 2:8).

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Maybe Paul’s day was a lot like ours, after all.

TIME SPENT ON MEDIA

Christians are now spending more time in consumption of media than God’s Word—and the fruit is showing. One study showed adults watching TV news averaged seven hours and five minutes weekly in September 2020. I wonder how many of those who were believers spent more than seven hours in God’s Word? The percentage of adults using social media platforms has grown from 5% in 2005 to 72% in 2019.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, one of the problems of such attention to cable news and social media is the often uncritical acceptance of conspiracy theories. Add to that the binary between news stations (MSNBC and CNN leaning left, Fox News leaning right), which only adds to the division in our nation, and you can see why so many who want to know what’s right and what’s not often become more frustrated and confused.

Yes, we need to call believers to a greater devotion to God’s Word. We need to pray more. We need to focus on sharing the gospel more than sharing our outrage, and serving others should be more important than fear. But we also need to disciple out of people some of the more harmful aspects of our culture today, coming from news reports, social media and more.

IDEAS TO CONSIDER

To help your church—and you—let go of social media for a season, try these suggestions.

1. Invite your congregation to a season of media fasting. What gets our time gets our affection. Many people will be surprised how much time they are spending on media. Some churches began 2021 with a season of prayer and fasting. In many cases, pastors encouraged fasting from social media and the news as part of the focus.

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2. Increase your Scripture engagement. Set a goal of spending more time in prayer and Bible reading than watching news or scrolling through social media. Use an app like Harvest to track how you spend your time. Bible engagement actually declined during the pandemic while watching news increased. That’s not a healthy trend.

3. Invite people to join groups formed around mission or Bible engagement. Encourage conversations beyond politics and party. Consider having a Serve Day once a month to gather believers to go and serve in the community.

4. Challenge people to spend more time with those they know locally. Raise the value of active, personal, live interaction over passive, impersonal time spent in front of a screen. Make phone calls, send texts and when safe and possible, meet face to face. Encourage them to be more social outside of online platforms through socially distanced gatherings or connecting with friends in real time over Zoom.

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