Augustine. . . Dead Guy. . . His Thoughts On Social Media. . .

It’s just a bit more than a week until a few thousand of us gather in Tampa for the 50th National Youth Workers Convention. . . an event I’ve been blessed to be a part of for over three decades. This year, I’ve been asked to speak on one particular aspect of technology. . . that is, social media and what we can learn about our kids and their deep needs by “reading” their posts and self-curation on things like Instagram, Tik-Tok, Snapchat, and yes, even Facebook (some of them are still there!). Social media is a valuable youth ministry tool, not only as a publicity channel for our ministry efforts, but as a way to see into the minds and hearts of our kids in ways that can shape what we say and do and how we say and do it with our students. (If you’re going to be there, join us on Friday afternoon for Social Media Madness: What Kids’ Social Media Posts Reveal About Who They Are And What They Need.)

While technology and social media are good gifts from God which we are responsible to use in ways that bring Glory to Christ and His Kingdom, rather than glory to the kingdoms of the world, the flesh, and the devil, the reality is that it’s so easy for all of us. . . yes, all of us. . . to slide without even seeing it from the former into the latter.

This morning I was thinking about my NYWC seminar while continuing my trek through Augustine’s Confessions (have you read it? So good. . . and so personally challenging!).  You’ve probably heard me say before, I love to read dead people. We’ve got such a long heritage of wisdom in the church that we do ourselves a disservice if we don’t engage with them on a regular basis. Augustine is one of those dead guys.

As I do when I read Scripture, I approach these texts always praying four simple prayers that I trust will lead to insights that I personally need to receive. . .

  • Lord, show me you. (Your divine nature.)
  • Lord, show me me. (My humanity and my tendencies.)
  • Lord, show me your plan for me. (Not so much vocationally, but your will and way for humanity.)
  • Lord, show me the enemy’s schemes and plans. (Where do I get tripped up?)

I got to this little section on pride and humility where Augustine quickly recognizes an attribute of God: “Lord, you alone exercise rule without pride, since you alone are truly Lord, and you have no master.” 

But then immediately, Augustine shifts into stating a reality in answer to that second prayer of mine. And as I read Augustine’s words, I couldn’t help but think about how we get tripped up when we engage with the good gift of technology and social media in ways that bring glory to the wrong kingdoms. . . including the little kingdom of self. . .  and then ultimately the kingdoms of the the world (what Paul calls “the course of this world”) and the devil. Because we live in a world where social capital is found in the accumulations of likes, followers, and “OMG. You look so hot!” . . . this is incredibly timely and important.

Consider these words of wisdom from a dead guy who lived centuries before anyone had the kind of technology we have now. . .

“The temptation is to wish to be feared or loved by people for no reason other than the joy derived from such power, which is no joy at all. It is a wretched life, and vanity is repulsive. This is the main cause why I fail to love and fear you in purity. Therefore, ‘you resist the proud but give grace to the humble.’ You ‘thunder’ upon the ambitions of the world, and ‘the foundations of the hills tremble.’ If we hold certain offices in human society it is necessary for us to be loved and feared by people, and the enemy of our true happiness is constantly in attack, everywhere laying traps with ‘Well done, well done.’ When we are avid to amass such approval, we are caught off our guard. We cease to find joy in your truth and place it in the deceitfulness of men. It becomes our pleasure to be loved and feared not for your sake, but instead of you.” (X, xxxvi, 59).

Wow! Youth workers. . . parents. . . all us. . . self-examination is in order. And we are called to guide our kids into the same. May we all be set free from pride and released into the flourishing life that comes with the blessing of Christ-like humility.

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