Mark Zuckerberg, the enterprising CEO of Facebook, is a young, successful (wealthy) man with a mission. Social media on the Internet in the 21st century has done what the printing press did for Martin Luther in the 16th century. Both are communication platforms that enable the exchange of ideas, at a rapid rate, over long distances, drawing like-minded people together.
Zuckerberg, however, sees social media as being more than that. For technologies like Facebook, the Internet can be a vehicle for positive, social change. In fact, social media is replacing forms of community, that have traditionally held social structures together, such as civic volunteerism. Zuckerberg also places churches in that category, from a speech he made in Chicago recently:
“It’s so striking that for decades, membership in all kinds of groups has declined as much as one-quarter. That’s a lot of of people who now need to find a sense of purpose and support somewhere else…. A church doesn’t just come together. It has a pastor who cares for the well-being of their congregation, makes sure they have food and shelter. A little league team has a coach who motivates the kids and helps them hit better. Leaders set the culture, inspire us, give us a safety net, and look out for us.”
Zuckerberg has a point. When it comes to civic volunteerism, I have seen it drop off, right here in my hometown, Williamsburg, Virginia. Just this past week, it was announced that the annual First Night celebration, that has brought in the New Year in our community, for 24 years, has been canceled for this year. First Night directors cite a lack of volunteers to run the family-friendly event.
But what about the church? Zuckerberg believes that social media has the answer. Facebook recently exceeded 2 billion online members. They are bound together by no creed, no mutual statement of faith, but only by a high-speed Internet connection.
Compare that to some 3 billion professed Christians. Christians all say that they believe in Jesus, but many appear to be divided along denominational lines, or otherwise, having conflicting agendas. Jesus called all believers to fulfill the Great Commission, to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20), but, sadly, other priorities can easily distract us in our God-given task.
But this is just the start. More and more believers are choosing their churches, not on the basis of what a church teaches, but rather, on the quality of their online presence. I even know of people who go to church “virtually,” choosing to worship “in” a church in another city, because they like what the pastor says in the virtual church, more than the church just down the road. Streaming the Sunday sermon down to your iPhone has more value than actually getting up on a Sunday morning, and going to worship with other believers, and physically shake hands with them.
Is this what the church is moving towards?
I hope not.
Evangelical leaders have been critical of Zuckerberg’s comments, that suggest that Facebook is trying to replace the church. But I think the problem is more here at home, in the church, and not with Mark Zuckerberg.
The Zuckerberg-erisation of the Evangelical Church
Back in the late 1980s, decades before iPhones and Microsoft Exchange Internet calendars, I served in a Christian ministry, where we were required to take a time-management class, using the DayTimer system. The seminar was taught by a Mormon, who was a successful business person, and he was an expert in tailoring the DayTimer to meet the challenges faced by those in full-time ministry. I learned a lot from that seminar, lessons that I kept sharing with others for years afterwards, only finally ditching my DayTimer a couple of years ago, in favor of Google Calendar.
But why a Mormon, teaching evangelical ministry leaders?
I am not entirely sure why we took that class. Perhaps someone higher up in our ministry mission personally knew this Mormon, the DayTimer expert. Perhaps this was an attempt by our leaders to build a relationship, in which to share the Gospel with this man, by allowing him to educate my fellow ministry staff members and I, with leadership principles we could readily apply to our day-to-day tasks, that do not compromise doctrinal issues. When framed like that, it sounds like a good thing.
But what bothered me is a joke my fellow ministry staff members would tell, even years after the class. We were a lot more aware of how many people we had “converted” to the DayTimer system than we had “converted” to Christ.
That was a rather sad joke.
It showed me how easily it is to be taken in by the things of this world, without totally realizing it. We see this in too many churches today, where the pastor is often viewed more as a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of an organization, rather than a shepherd of souls.
Now, I am all for helping people with time management, promoting excellence within church ministry structures through leadership seminars, and even using technology, like Facebook-style social media, to facilitate better communication and community building. But at the end of the day, all of these elements that drive the corporate business world and the movement towards globalization, do not matter that much in God’s Kingdom.
When it comes to the business of the church, it is all about loving God first, and then loving your neighbor into God’s family, one soul at a time, imparting the Word of God into the lives of people around you. This is the stuff that lasts.
- The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8 ESV)
So, let us be people of discernment, not being drawn into the ways of the world. Allow the Word of God to set the agenda for the people of God, and not the corporate spin of Mark Zuckerberg.