Katie Lei had long been an atheist, but over time she started questioning whether there might be some sort of god. She was looking for meaning and started exploring a number of different religions and spiritual practices. But nothing was filling the void in her heart.
One of her Facebook friends was an outspoken Christian who regularly shared about her life, her spiritual walk, and her relationship with God. One day, as Katie was scrolling through her Facebook feed, she came upon a worship song that her friend had posted.
Katie clicked on the song and listened to it. Along the way, she felt something she’d never felt before. “As I was reading the lyrics of the song I felt an encounter, this sacrificial love that Jesus demonstrated. I didn’t know why, but I started to cry,” Katie says.
Katie reached out to her friend and they talked about faith. From her posts on Facebook and from their conversations together, Katie could tell that there was something different about her friend. There was something that made her stand out. “She had this sense of peace in her and I was fascinated by that,” Katie says.
Katie reluctantly agreed to accompany her friend to church. Over time, God revealed himself to Katie and she gave her life to Jesus.
Not an ornament
There are a lot of people with stories similar to Katie’s. God uses His followers to make an impact. He uses His disciples to make more disciples. In fact, we are called to do exactly that.
In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus tells his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth.” He then makes a different metaphor.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
At that time, salt was used as both a preservative and as a flavor enhancer. As Christians, we’re called to be kept unspoiled by the sin of the world. That means being intentional about your own walk with God, growing in your relationship with Him, and doing your part in the ongoing process of sanctification.
And for the other use of salt, it also means being a positive influence for those around us. Being salt doesn’t mean focusing on our own spiritual health and paying no attention to those around us. “If salt stays in the saltshaker, then it’s just a nice table ornament,” Rebecca Pippert writes in her book Stay Salt.
As for the light metaphor, we’re called to bring the hope of God to a world of darkness through sharing the Good News and through good works.
The average person spends seven hours per day online. That means our online life is one of the primary ways that we can have that influence. But how can we be salt and light online?
Some people think that means you have to pretend to be perfect. We all know that most people portray lives on social media that are a more idealized version of reality. They share the highlights, skip the negative stuff, and make sure they’re always using the framing, angles, and filters to make everything look the best.
But that’s not what people need. What they need is authenticity.
“Do you know what seekers need to see in you more than dry eyes and pasted-on smiles?” writes Bill Hybels and Mark Mittelberg in the book Becoming a Contagious Christian. “They need to see you grapple with fear and sadness and anger and jealousy and loss. They need to hear you talk openly about it. They need to watch you work out your faith without discounting the everyday emotional realities of your life.”
Life is hard. It doesn’t stop being hard when you start following Christ. No one can identify with a caricature of an ideal Christian. But if you show them the real you, show them your struggles and triumphs, your mistakes and good deeds, your problems and your praise, that will make an impact.
“The realness with which you talk about faith, your doubts, your struggles is vital,” says Anna Rapa, an attorney and author who created a video series for Indigitous. “Our authenticity helps draw people to us, not our perfection.”
That means you don’t just post an Instagram story about God answering your prayer. You also post the story about the issue you’re still struggling with and still praying about. You don’t just share photos on Facebook of your perfect children in their Sunday’s best clothes for church. You also post about how your youngest is struggling to make friends at school.
People can spot a fake, but they’re drawn to authenticity.
Be empathetic and compassionate
If you spend much time on social media, you’ll notice an extreme lack of empathy and compassion. Instead you see a lot of tribalism. You see an us-versus-them mentality.
To be salt and light online, you have to avoid that. You have to realize that everyone in your social media feed is someone who God loves. They all matter to God and are deserving of your empathy, no matter what their belief or opinion is on any subject.
If you act like that online, people will notice, because it’s not common. Try to understand positions with which you disagree. Try to learn people’s stories.
Listen to people. Listen to understand rather than to correct. Ask open-ended questions about people’s lives, opinions, and beliefs, and listen without judgment. This does a couple of things. First, it helps you practice empathy. Secondly, it gets people to share about themselves. Though some people are shy and don’t like to talk about themselves, most people do.
“If you aspire to be a good conversationalist, be an attentive listener. To be interesting, be interested. Ask questions that other persons will enjoy answering. Encourage them to talk about themselves,” writes Dale Carnegie in How to Win Friends and Influence People. Though he was referring to in-person conversations, the same principles apply to online discussions.
Getting people to talk about themselves and about topics that matter to them helps you build a relationship, and it gives you opportunities to be salt and light to those people.
“People want to talk about themselves,” says Mariana Pando-Romero, a social media strategist with OneHope. “They want someone to hear them. They want safe spaces where they can share their heart, they can share what they think without being judged.”
Most people use social media to post about themselves, but Mariana recommends using it to focus on others. Scroll through your feeds and take time to comment on other people’s posts. Look for anyone who looks like they’re struggling with something or just need someone to talk to.
One day when Amy Udy was on Facebook, she saw some vacation photos from a friend, Annie. Though the photos were all taken in fun and exotic locations, Amy noticed that Annie didn’t look happy. So Amy sent her a simple message to ask how she’s doing. Annie burst into tears. She was amazed that someone could see her unhappiness and cared enough to ask about it. Annie then shared about some challenges in her marriage and they continued to talk. Amy prayed for her, shared her thoughts on a biblical view of marriage, and gave some tips on communicating with her husband. Because she was intentional about focusing on others on Facebook, and because she showed empathy, Amy was able to be salt and light to her friend.
Share your story
Showing empathy and God’s love online is an important part of being salt and light, but you can’t just show the Gospel by your example. You need to share it. Reflecting God’s character in how you interact with people is important, but it doesn’t replace telling people about God.
Part of being salt and light online is sharing your God story. This is often called your “testimony,” though that term can seem intimidating.
Sometimes people think they need a dramatic conversion story for it to be effective. They hear inspiring stories about how someone was in prison or addicted to drugs and decided to give their life to Christ once they hit rock bottom. But most of us have never gone through anything like that.
In fact, most Christians don’t have a dramatic conversion story at all. For many of us, our conversion was a long, gradual process. If you were raised in a Christian family, you might not have had a conversion at all. So what can you share?
In Becoming a Contagious Christian, Bill Hybels and Mark Mittelberg write that a less dramatic story is often better. “The difficulty of personally relating to the dramatic testimony may give your friends an excuse. ‘People like that need religion,’ they might say. But your everyday story will relate to their everyday life and show them that they, too, need the grace and leadership of God that you’ve found,” they write.
A lot of people use a simple formula to tell your story in three parts: Your life before conversion, coming to Christ, and your life after. Those dramatic conversion stories work great in this format. For everyone else, it might seem like your story doesn’t fit in that format.
Katie suggests talking about your whole journey with God, including all of its ups and downs. “Look at the journey you have walked with Him, where you felt loved and touched, where you felt your life was transformed because of Him, where you felt that your faith is truly your strength,” Katie says. “As you reflect back on those journeys with God, those are the powerful tools that God has equipped you with to share His Good News. It’s just about your story with Him.”
Karl Udy, the digital strategies leader for Tandem Ministries, suggests focusing on just one way that Jesus has changed your life. “The really good thing about this is that, for people who have had their lives changed by Jesus, actually there are multiple ways in which Jesus has changed our lives,” Karl says.
The story you share might be different depending on the person you’re talking to and what you’ve been discussing. The next time you share, you might talk about something completely different. That also keeps your story natural so it doesn’t sound scripted.
Shine a light
All Christians are called to be salt and light and that is something you can do online. Work on your own relationship with Jesus, share your authentic self online, listen well to your friends online, show them empathy and compassion, and be ready to share your story when appropriate.
If you want some more advice related to specific social media channels, see the the articles linked below. Also check out some of our related Indigitous PULSE videos that offer expert advice on digital missions.
Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. (Habakkuk 2:2)
- Pick one social media channel and start using it to be salt and light online.