By / Mar 12

Twitter, Facebook, the comment sections of blog posts and YouTube videos, and all sorts of Internet meeting places have turned into nothing more than virtual gladiator arenas in which we fight to the death about stuff we forget about the next day.

It’s easy to get caught up in angry Internet discussions. But I think everyone, Christians especially, really ought to consider the ways in which they communicate with others online. You don’t win an argument by being the loudest person in the room. You don’t win an argument by being the biggest jerk in the room.

On the Internet, you win an argument by keeping the discussion civil. Here are five tips to dialoguing on the Internet in a respectful way:

1. Treat others like you want to be treated.

When it comes to the standards of the Bible, I try not to get angry at my non-Christian friends when they aren’t living up to them, even though I wish everyone would try to hold to biblical standards.Christian, your job is to make disciples, not win arguments. Don’t pursue the latter at the cost of the former.

The Golden Rule, however, is a biblical principle I think everyone, regardless of religion or lack thereof, should hold to when it comes to Internet dialogue. It’s really simple: you don’t like it when you get yelled at, so don’t yell at people. The following four points fall under the umbrella of this point.

2. Lead with humility.

If I’m debating with someone online about a political, spiritual, or an otherwise controversial topic, it can be easy for me to argue relentlessly without even the slightest consideration that I may be wrong.

What if, no matter how sure we are about how “right” we are, we approach every online discussion with a posture of humility that assumes the other person may be just as right as we are? I think this would radically improve our tone on social media and otherwise.

3. Don’t use polarizing language.

I cannot stand shock jocks on TV and radio. I find them to be wholly unhelpful to intelligent, effective communication in the realm of controversy. Even if I agree with folks like this, I find them to be shrill and nothing more than caricatures of legitimate, honest ideas and positions.

Here are some examples of polarizing language:

“He is the worst!” “She is the best ever!” “I hate this!” “It’s always like this.”

When you use polarizing language like in the phrases above, you naturally limit conversation because you pushed the superlatives as far as they can go.

Polarizing language limits conversational progress.

Related note: Only one “?” or “!” will suffice. When you use “!!!” or “???” people think you’re either angry, impatient, or way more excited than you need to be.

4. Assume the best in others.

This point sorta goes back to point number one: treating others like you want to be treated. When I am talking with someone on the Internet, whether or not I know them, I do everything I can do to give them the benefit of the doubt. I know that not everyone in the world is looking to better humanity (see ISIS), but most of the people I am talking with online, even if I vehemently disagree with them, are simply trying to do what they think is best.

For example, I am pro-life. However, you will never hear me call people who are not pro-life “pro-abortion” or “pro-death.” I think to call pro-choice folks as any other name than that which they call themselves is inherently disrespectful and un-Christlike.

Polarizing language limits conversational progress. Many of these folks are truly trying to do what they think is right, and though I think they are very wrong, I owe them my respect, and I need to treat them as I think Christ would. Assuming the best in others, paired with an attitude of humility, will go a long way in effective, civil, and even encouraging dialogue (in person or online).

5. Respond as if you’re conversing in person.

This is a fitting final point because I think it does a good job of summarizing the previous ones.Too often, we discuss stuff differently online than we would in person—usually, we’re more polarizing (see point three).

It’s difficult to articulate volume and tone via static text on the Internet. Because of this, we should consider how we might phrase something to communicate with the most love and grace so as not to be heard as angry and unloving. As you’re crafting that tweet reply or that Facebook comment, pretend you’re speaking to the person. What if you were asked to read your comment aloud to the person you’re writing to? Consider these things.

Christian, your job is to make disciples, not to win arguments. Don’t pursue the latter at the cost of the former.

Originally posted here

By / Sep 23

When your members walk through the church doors this Sunday, they will arrive after a week spent living in a changing American culture. Their thoughts are not only being shaped through a variety of media—talk radio, social media and television—but also through water-cooler conversations at work and dinner-table discussions.

Christians living in a fallen world are confronted by a variety of choices. How should we think through the moral and political issues? More importantly, how can God’s people, out of desire for the flourishing of their neighbors and the advance of God’s Kingdom, winsomely shape the discussions going on in their spheres of influence?

It’s not only the pastors who are tasked with driving the discussions at church; it’s the church leaders, who interact often with the average layperson. They carry a sober responsibility to steward their office well, to bring to bear the gospel on the questions brothers and sisters in the Lord are facing each day.

1. Be informed by the Word

When it comes to cultural engagement, perhaps the biggest temptation Christians face is being influenced primarily by voices who may not share the Christian worldview. Regardless of political affiliation, we imbibe the latest content from our favorite cables news channels, ideological websites or Twitter pundits. If we are not careful, we allow a political party or movement to form our belief system.

But Christians should be people of the Book. And church leaders should model this more than anyone in the church. In Acts 6, Luke tells us that the deacons chosen to serve the people were devoted to “the ministry of prayer and the word” (Acts 6:4).

God’s people have a different grid through which we view the hot-button issues of the day. What does Scripture have to say, not only about our positioning, but about the way in which we should engage? This doesn’t mean every Sunday in the lobby has to turn into an ethics lesson, but that those called to lead the church are known for their prayerful, thoughtful, gospel-saturated viewpoints.

2. Be led by the Spirit

The men chose to lead the church at Antioch were not simply men of the Word, but they were men led by the Spirit of God. And there are few places where the Spirit’s work is more evident or more important than in discussions about divisive cultural issues. It is possible to be correct theologically and yet sin with our tone and with our speech.

Paul reminds us in Galatians that peace and joy are fruits of the Spirit. Church leaders must not only model Christ-like speech but must be sensitive and mindful of the right timing for discussions about culture within the church. There are times when it is better to simply listen to another Christian’s viewpoints without interjecting. There are other times where arguments are best left unengaged for the sake of unity in the body of Christ. The church lobby is not the place for warring political factions to wage their turf battles. Christian leaders should reflect humility and grace, serving as peacemakers and not agitators.  

3. Recast the story

The real cultural battles are not between Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, elites versus the tea party. These are ancillary skirmishes in a longer conflict that traces its beginning to a Garden and a snake. The crimson-colored narrative that runs through the Bible helps us see our world in a fresh new way. The injustice and evil we see around us is the product of the Fall, but in Christ we have a new King and a new Kingdom. The gospel isn’t just something we tack on to the end of our messages, it’s the radical new paradigm that brings hope the world.

The gospel teaches us to look at the evil in the world and know that the demand for justice comes from an inborn desire to see the world made right again. It points not to temporary political messiahs, but to the resurrected Christ who is now Lord and King. It teaches us to view our political adversaries, not as enemies to be vanquished, but as people made in the image of God. The gospel breaks our heart as it broke the heart of Jesus, leading us to engage through tears, living out the mission of God in the world.

4. Mind the mission of the Church

Many are asking today, “What is the mission of the church?” Is it to preach the gospel and see the lost converted and discipled into followers of Jesus? Or is it to be the hands and feet of Jesus in shaping the contemporary culture? But faithful Christians don’t have to accept this false dichotomy, because the gospel is not only the story of personal regeneration through Christ’s atoning work, but the story of God’s renewal of his creation through Christ’s defeat of sin and death.

Therefore, Christians are not just saved from hell, but saved to good works (Eph. 2:10), which is why we are not transported in a chariot of fire to heaven the moment we are converted. Jesus placed us as otherworldly citizens in this world. The church models in miniature what the Kingdom will look like when it is fully consummated.

So the church’s mission involves both the conversion and discipleship of lost sinners and the flourishing of local communities, the care for every creature made in the image of God. This mission helps keep church leaders centered on the mission, from becoming single-issue outposts or auxiliaries of political parties of movements. By solid teaching, preaching and gospel-informed discussions, church leaders set the tone, helping their people see past the one election, one ballot initiative, and one issue. Instead, we equip God’s people to engage for the long haul, a faithful presence on all cultural issues informed by the gospel.

5. Equip for engagement

Lastly, church leaders are tasked by God to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry” (Eph. 4:12-16). Unfortunately, we’ve come to believe this simply means the work it takes to make a church run. And undoubtedly this is one aspect. Local churches have a need for continual training in ecclesial functions. But this goes much deeper than Sunday School teacher training or usher meetings.

The work of the ministry, for a follower of Jesus, is the holistic implications of the gospel in all areas of life. When we equip saints, we equip them to be influencers for Christ in the world in which God has called them. How they live as fathers. How they perform in the workplace, and for purposes of this discussion, how they engage the cultural questions of their day.

To equip saints for cultural engagement is more than simply mobilizing the church for activism but helping the church think through every cultural issue with a gospel lens. It’s equipping them on how to navigate the tension of courage and civility and how to speak and think with a kindness and grace that shapes civil discourse.

Bottom Line: Church leaders have a unique position of influence in which to shape the people God has called them to serve.

This article was originally published in Deacon Magazine.