How my 88-year-old friend inspired me to share my faith in Jesus

Recently, I called to check on an elderly friend who moved from our city to another. She’s in her late 80’s, and starting to slow down a bit. ūüôā

But not in her evangelistic fervour. No, that is white-hot, and I was so inspired by our conversation together that I wanted to share it with you.

Because we weren’t very far into our chat before my friend began to mention people she’s been meeting in her senior’s complex, describing them to me based upon their spiritual journey.

  • “He seems to be from a Buddhist background. I will find out more about that.”
  • “She had some kind of a Christian connection, but it has long lapsed.”¬†
  • “She likes to attend the local spiritual retreat centre based on the teachings of a New Age guru.”

Before too long, my friend had invited two of them to join her in her room for more spiritual conversation, providing for each of them a booklet which explained the Christian faith more fully and invited them to follow him. And she is praying for them daily.

Wow. 

The truth is, my friend was struggling with the move to this new city. Away from her friends, leaving the church she’s long loved and served in, surrounded by new people and feeling alone–she was pretty down. But, she knew God had sent her there, too. And with that knowledge in hand, she embraced her calling, her commissioning as Jesus’ ambassador to people for whom this will likely be their¬†very last chance¬†to discover the grace of Jesus and enter his life for them.¬†

Jesus loves those who’ve resisted him all their lives. So much so, he sends them witnesses like my faithful friend.

And that calling compels her–compels her to pray, to invite, to witness, to share, to reach out to new people, to see through the eyes of faith those whom the Spirit is drawing to Jesus.

When I hung up the phone, I was riding high. Her example to me was such an encouragement. As I reflected on it, at least 6 things came to mind.

6 Things I Learned About Evangelism From My 88-year-old Friend

  1. Wherever we are, that’s where we’ve been sent as Jesus’ witness. We might want to be somewhere else, but here–right where we are–can be be engaged in an entirely new way if we understand ourselves as people who’ve been sent by God.
  2. We don’t retire from our truest calling as Christ’s ambassadors. We fill that post until our final breath. It’s who we are, more than what we do.
  3. Compassion for people is the heart of evangelism. It’s only as we really see people with the heart of the Father that we will be moved to share the good news of Jesus.
  4. God is incredibly patient. Jesus loves people so much that he sent yet another witness to himself, to people who’ve spent most of their lives running away from him. Now, people in their 80’s and 90’s are meeting one of God’s very best, and are receiving yet another offer of grace. What a patient Father, who is not willing that any should perish.¬†
  5. Prayer empowers evangelism. As we share the good news of Jesus, there are many forces which seek to prevent people from finding forgiveness and freedom in Christ. We must fight those forces with prayer, so that people can really have their eyes opened to the love of Jesus for them.
  6. Inviting people to gather, eat and discuss is a key strategy. Whether it’s something as simple as tea in your room or a full-blown Alpha course, this strategy seems to be the classic way God moves among people. My friend took everything up a notch by moving a “chance” conversation in the dining hall forward through invitation to further conversation over tea. Could we get together and talk more about this?¬†Bold, winsome, clear.

I’m thankful for my faithful friend. And I’m inspired by her example and I’m praying for her success.

How did she inspire you?

 

Afraid of Muslims? How Christians Should, and Should Not, Be Viewing their Muslim Neighbours

Not a week goes by that I don’t end up in a conversation with Christians expressing some kind fear about Muslims.

Fear that they are coming here.

Fear that they are moving in.

Fear that they are taking over.

This fear is crazy. Why? Because the idea that Christians should be motivated by fear of others is antithetical to the Spirit of God in us and the mission into which Jesus commissioned us.¬†We are not fearful–we are faithful. We go where Jesus sends us and we receive, with joy, anyone we come into contact with, in the name and grace of Jesus, even if (especially if!) they do not follow Jesus and hold a different belief system than we do. Swing open the door.

As I think about the fear I hear, 5 reflections come to my mind. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
  1. First of all, we’ve been sending missionaries into Islamic countries for decades, giving literally millions of dollars so that Christians can go where few others have gone and usually under the guise of something other than mission work. Now the very people we’ve been trying to reach, at incredible financial and personal cost, are coming to us. Muslims are living next door to us, working in the next cubicle, riding on the same bus, and playing on the same soccer team (and you definitely want them on your soccer team!). ¬†Hello, world. Hello, missional opportunity.
  2. Secondly, and this is so important:¬†Muslims are not a theoretical belief system. Muslims are people, just like every other human being out there. Muslims live and love and work and hurt and desire and sin and betray and fail, just like you and I do. Muslims are loved and lovely. Yes, there are some nasty Muslims out there. There are Islamic extremists who do evil things, which we all deplore, including most Muslims. And guess what?There are some nasty Hindus, nasty Buddhists, nasty Jews and–yes, you can be sure of that–nasty Christians out there, too. People can be nasty, and out of anyone, Christians should be the first to acknowledge that reality, starting with our own confession of personal nastiness. But there are also wonderful, caring, hospitable, interesting, amazing people out there, people of multiple different faiths, including Islam, people worthy of your love, people you can trust with your lives. Hello, friend.
  3. And thirdly, Muslims are coming to know Jesus in droves. In a sweeping move of God worldwide, more Muslims are coming to confess Jesus as Lord than any other time in history, more even within the last 25 years since the origin of Islam. ¬†Want to know more? Read¬†A Wind in the House of Islam¬†by David Garrison¬†and get a whole new perspective on what God is doing. Need to be inspired by a compelling personal story? Read Nabeel Qureshi’s book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus.¬†¬†Hello, Spirit of God moving over the world! Bring it on.
  4. And fourth: most, if not all, of the people from whom I hear fear have never met a Muslim, have never enjoyed a meal in a Muslim home or welcomed a Muslim family into theirs. And they have certainly never engaged in a vigorous conversation with a Muslim friend about faith, which is so much fun and so rewarding. Their fear of Muslims, then, is not based upon personal relationship, but upon news media, television preachers and fear-mongering tales of people “out there” coming “over here.” That whole vision is not sourced by the Jesus who went into Samaria to love the hated enemy, who forgave his violent enemies and died for us while we were yet sinners; it’s not sourced by the good news we believe and share and sacrifice for. Even more fundamentally, it’s not rooted in the fact that each and every human being has been created in God’s image and is worthy of love. As followers of Jesus, we do not stay home in fear; we move forward in relationship, with the good news in hand and heart. We open up our doors. Hello,¬†neighbour.
  5. And fifth, embracing Muslims does not mean agreeing with Islam. What a silly idea. Every day we embrace and love people who think and believe differently than we do (or at least I hope we do). We do not make our love contingent upon¬†shared belief! Where in the world did we get the idea that loving Muslims, caring for Muslims, standing against violence toward Muslims,¬†laying down our lives for Muslims¬†is somehow an endorsement of their belief system? Again, if you know a Muslim and have engaged in any kind of conversation with one about faith, you would know how foolish that idea is. No, in fact, we can embrace Muslims as friends and disagree on beliefs, the most important difference being our belief about the person of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, his work on the cross, his death and resurrection. Every other difference, without exception, pales to this central difference about Jesus’ identity (which, by the way, is the central difference between Mormonism and Christianity, The Watchtower Society and Christianity, Judaism and Christianity, Hinduism and Christianity, Buddhism and Christianity–you get the point.) What I love about Muslims is their willingness to engage the faith conversation, rigorously and without rancour. Coming from a worldview that does not separate religion, politics and life, Muslims are not shy to talk about faith, whereas us Westerners, having long lived in a compartmentalized world of privatized faith, quail at such confident conversation. Hello, conversation!

So why is there so much fear? And how can we overturn this fear and embrace the mission Jesus has charged us with, by the power of the Spirit given to us? Only by getting the gospel right, engaging the mission Jesus has given us, and loving the neighbours he sends us.

We’ve got to get this right. Fear has no place in the life of the Spirit-filled, missionary-sent church of Jesus Christ. Have some faith in the work of God, creating this mighty move of people in the world today. The lives of our Muslim neighbours depends upon our love for them. Come on. Let’s go. Oh wait, they are already here. Now we can invite them over.

Pounced on by Pharisees for Partying with Prodigals? Here’s why that’s a good sign.

If you are¬†reaching the kind of people Jesus reached, you’ll get the kind of opposition Jesus got. It’s just true.

In the good news stories about Jesus, religious people would watch and wait for Jesus to make a mistake so they could pounce on him, accusing him of wrongdoing. And what kind of mistakes would Jesus make, you might ask? Oh, you know, just the standard ones: healing a guy with a debilitating disease, restoring a lame man, casting out a demon. You know, those kinds of mistakes.

And then there was the most awful error of all: Jesus’ seeming indifference to the lifestyles and beliefs of people he’d party with–people with nasty reputations, law-breakers, compromising collaborators, deviants and crooks, disgusting wretches (as they were seen). You know, the kind of people we usually don’t want hanging around the kids.

If you take his mission seriously, and begin to love on and connect with people far away from Jesus, speaking their language and hanging in their hoods, you will draw fire from folks who figure you’ve gone off the deep end. You’ll raise the ire of the very same people who found Jesus so off-putting. (And the same ones who ended up killing him, I might add.)

It’s par for the missional course. We should expect it. In fact, more than expect it: if we aren’t getting any push back, we should be wondering who we are missing–who we are failing to reach. Because if we never face opposition from the religiously uptight, there’s a pretty strong chance that we are not taking the risks necessary to reach the people that no one else is reaching. Mission done in Jesus’ way raises religious red flags.

So don’t be disheartened¬†by opposition, when you are loving those Jesus loved. Don’t be discouraged by heat when it comes from people who have never stepped out from their cozy cliques. Don’t be fazed by the voices who claim purity when they’ve never stepped out into the mud to help those who are stuck.

Just keep loving as Jesus loved.

Keep connecting as Jesus connected.

Keep sharing your life with others as Jesus shared his life with you.

And let’s see the prodigals return, the lost found, the broken healed, and the outcasts included.

And what’s that sound we hear over the din of the prodigal party or the murmur of Pharisaic disapproval?

Only the voice of Jesus, cheering us on.

 

Why Billy Graham’s son is an Evangelistic Liability

It’s all over Canadian news: Franklin Graham isn’t being welcomed to evangelize Vancouver. And not just by some fringe folks who like to raise a stink whenever religious people dare speak publicly about Jesus. No, it’s actually Christians who are opposing Franklin Graham as the evangelism headliner.

And this is important to note: this is not some form of persecution. Rather, this is internal opposition, voiced by Christians themselves, ringing across the spectrum of evangelical, mainline and Catholic churches. And a mighty impressive group¬†at that, with leaders representing over half of metro Vancouver’s Christians not often caught hand-holding in public.

Now why would they do that?¬†Well, the simple, stated reasons are that Franklin’s public statements about Islam, the LGBTQ community, the election, and the use of weapons of mass destruction, among other things, has compromised his ability to speak authentically about the good news of our crucified and risen Messiah. Church leadership is worried that his political alignments will detract from our central message, even though he says he wouldn’t be making any political statements during his time in Vancouver. He’s become too aligned with worldly powers of our day to effectively witness to the One who died at the hands of the religious and political powers in his.

As the pastor of a local church far away from Vancouver, I am sympathetic to the opposition. Without attempting to argue about what Franklin Graham did or did not say, the fact remains that he has become more known as of late for his political statements¬†than the good news message. Somewhere along the way, he chose to make headlines with messages other than the central truth¬†of Jesus’ love for the world and his death to make things right. ¬†

The great apostle Paul, even when given ample opportunity to do otherwise, kept the good news of Jesus central to his life and mission. He chose not to critique nor align with the political powers of his day, even when it may have been favourable to do so.¬†When visiting Athens, Paul spoke respectfully and knowledgeably about their religious practices and texts, not because he did not think them wrong but because he knew overt criticism would bear no gospel fruit. You can’t win people over by smacking them around. In order to win them, he needed to keep the lines of communication open. And when he was done sharing about Jesus and the resurrection, some laughed at him but others wanted to hear more. Imagine if he’d decided to take his 5 minute opportunity to tell them what a disaster their religion was to Roman society. And while there will be times when we must speak truth to power, we must never lose our central, good news message of Jesus in the process.

Tasked with the responsibility of equipping local bands of Christians to represent Jesus in their lives and words, Christian pastors and leaders want to support events and speakers who will keep the main thing, the main thing–or more accurately, the Main Person, the Main Person. And whether he intended to or not, Franklin is now known less as a spokesman for Jesus and more of a mouthpiece of hate. Fair? Maybe, maybe not. But as a local pastor doing everything he can to make the gospel offensive only where it truly is offensive (the fact that we are sinners and need Jesus to save us), I would hate to bring someone in who would further ostracize some of the very people we are trying to win over with love.

In some ways, this isn’t even about parsing through the things Graham said, as I’m sure you’d find Christians opposed to his Vancouver gig who privately agree with at least some of his sentiments. Instead, this is a practical decision. Do you want to support an event with a speaker who will help people hear the good news of Jesus without extra distraction, or a speaker who could potentially alienate people from hearing the good news at all? And when put that way, I think the decision, though painful, is clear. ¬†The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association should send someone else in Franklin Graham’s place, someone who has stayed closer to his father and their founder’s vision to preach nothing “except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2 ESV).

Want to be a Peacemaker? Get ready for some pain.

When Jesus said that peacemakers are blessed, he didn’t mean their lives would be smooth sailing.

Far from it.¬†Jesus got crucified as a peacemaker.¬†He was slaughtered for his uncompromising call away from personal and political agendas, agendas that had and would continue to fail at peace. He was rejected for calling¬†his own people away from violence and into the way of God’s flourishing shalom.¬†People hated him and killed him for it.

Peacemakers live dangerously.

Rather than enjoying an idyllic life far from the fray, peacemakers witness at the very point of conflict, crushed between warring parties and often hated by both sides.

When Jesus called the peacemakers “blessed,” he linked their action with their identity–he said that they would be called “children of God.” (Matt. 5:9) And we find out that being a child of God means experiencing some of the family pain, the rejection, the violent crushing that the Father, Son and Spirit endured through the peace-making incarnation of Jesus Christ. It is when we pursue peace and wholeness–and suffering for it–that we look most like our Triune God. The Bible’s vision of peace is more fully captured in the Hebrew word “shalom,” which is a picture of full flourishing, wholeness and rightness, for all of God’s creation–humans, animals, and the very earth itself. ¬†And when we pursue that vision, all the powers of the world opposed to God’s renewing and recreating vision rise up to fight.

What does this mean practically? When we speak truth in love to a spouse, we may experience anger for daring to raise our voice.¬†When we identify an area of historic injustice and seek God’s righteousness, we will face opposition, sometimes from people we thought would support us. When we call estranged people together for reconciliation, we will be accused of meddling. When we pursue more earth-careful practices for the sake of local water, we can take heat from people who should know better. I could go on.

Being peacemakers invites the same response Jesus experienced. Could this be part of what Jesus meant when he said “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first”? (John 15:18 NIV) Applied more broadly, people operating through non-gospel lens will respond strongly to overtures of peace, because peace always indicates changes in heart and practice. Even professed Jesus-followers could end up hating those who make peace because their own gospel-contrary patterns of life are being confronted and urged to be transformed to God’s perfect will.¬†

To be children of God, we must seek the wholeness and flourishing of God’s creation, from our marriages to our businesses to God’s good earth. But making peace comes at a cost–it always has.

Is the cost worth it? Yes. Just take a look at the cross.

 

 

Got Strings Attached? Then it’s time to rethink your service to others.

Can we serve with no strings attached?

Is that even possible? Can we meet the needs of others with no other¬†agenda than showing them God’s love?

We’d like to think so, but it’s funny how hard that can be.

Truth is, it’s easy to get turned around when it comes to helping others. Without intending to, our service to others can become a way of making them behave properly, believe rightly, and act accordingly. We measure the effectiveness of our service by the desired response. We can even hold out whatever we are offering (from food to friendship) as a reward for certain responses rather than as a free gift pointing them towards God.

Jesus calls us servants who wash dirty¬†feet, giving freely from what we’ve been given. We don’t serve and then demand recompense, be it in the form of gratitude, faith, or even life change. We don’t help just once, maybe twice, but no more should our service not invoke the expected response. We keep showing up, keep loving, keep serving–as we have been served by Jesus and by others.

It’s not that we don’t want people to experience life change.¬†We do. It’s not that we aren’t hoping for some kind of response to the love of their Creator for them. Of course we are. But¬†we are loving others as Christ loved us–unconditional, long-suffering, open-hearted, hospitable– inviting people to take a step toward love without smacking them if they are a bit slow to respond or rejecting them if they don’t come at all.

In the church space, it’s easy to get this all mixed up. We offer a program to help people, but people seem content to stay where they are. And we want results! We reach out to show love for a particular community, and we feel uneasy if we aren’t able to identify the specific effects we are having.

Now don’t hear me wrong: I do think as churches we need to think about how best we can help people move into a greater experience with the life, way and truth of Jesus. I think we need to get specific on our expectations and effectiveness. But I do not believe that means our love is limited to a program or a time-frame. Our love for others must reflect the ever-pursuing, always-inviting, never-giving-up love of Jesus Christ. And while we strive to be winsome and compelling in our invitation, we lean into love for each person without demanding that they meet our goals for evangelism or personal growth or life change.

We love, we serve, we invite, just as Jesus does for us. And we let the Holy Spirit lead us all.

 

 

Are you killing your influence in 1 of these 5 ways?

Everyone wants influence.

You don’t think so? Go with me for a moment. Whether it is influence in a child’s life, influence in an organization we joined, influence over your own health, influence on an issue of grave concern, or just influence in your conversation with a customer service agent, we all want influence. We want to be able to move something from where it is to where it should be–spiritually, relationally, culturally, politically, organizationally, or physically.

And yet, we can do things that minimize or even kill our influence.¬†Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about things we do or say, attitudes we foster, or postures we take which makes us less¬†able to move something we deem important from where it is to where we think it should be.

We can kill our influence.

The polarizing, political conflicts of late evidence our diminishing powers of influence, but I could just as easily refer to ways we lessen our influence in the lives of our youth, the spiritual journey of our friends, and even our own personal growth.

Here are 5 ways we kill our influence.

  1. We don’t slow down to let people catch up. Sometimes we get so excited about a good idea that we fail to help people process and move along at the pace appropriate to them. How many parents have been frustrated with the slowness of a child’s development and given up trying? Patience!
  2. We are more concerned about getting our own point across than we are hearing where others are struggling. Someone is conflicted over an idea, or reacting because of the inherent personal implications, but instead of teasing out their questions, we get preachy and overbearing. Without empathy, influence wanes. Listen!
  3. We get defensive when people question our actions or ideas, becoming reactive instead of helpful. Because polarized argument has hit the mainstream in a profound way, we seem less willing to engage disagreements at the level of ideas–we feel attacked and return the favour with force. Peace!
  4. We consider certain people unworthy of our respect, reducing them¬†to mocking derision.¬†So much of this is happening, I don’t even know where to start. People who boldly claim to follow Jesus Christ will say the nastiest things about others, bringing shame on their Saviour (Here’s a¬†related post¬†on Christians behaving badly online). The lack of respect and the degrading of dignity means we’ve already lost¬†our influence (as well as our own dignity). Battle lines get drawn, wars ensue, and nobody moves. Respect!
  5. We lack the humility needed to influence others, exuding instead an ultra-confidence (which we may not even have!) that our position or thought or perspective is the only right one¬†possible. ¬†Is it? Really? You’ve got it all figure out and don’t have¬†anything¬†left to learn from others, even those you may disagree with? Humility.

So how are you killing your influence?

We all want to move ideas and people toward something better, but we can kill our influence if we won’t wait¬†and listen, calmly and with respect, knowing that we are also growing and learning, along with everyone else.

 

We will be People of Peace: Standing in solidarity with those hated and displaced

“We will be people of peace, welcoming, offering hope and a place you can stand.”

These words echoed through my heart as I hunched over the Delta flight tray, scribbling away on the back of a thin napkin. Knowing we were going to be gathering, as a community, to host a solidarity vigil on behalf of those affected by the Quebec mosque shooting, as well as the many refugees currently displaced in the world, I felt a song rising up in me. A song for us. A song for our Valley.

PC: Ethan Greentree (Follow him on Instagram @_sirethan_)

And this week, we hosted that candlelight vigil of solidarity, standing as a community to declare who we are and who we will be. As the Erickson Covenant Church, we did not host this vigil as a Christian prayer service. Rather, we hosted our community, gathering as a mix of faiths or no faith at all, holding a variety of political perspectives, with an array of ideas and passions, and yet all unified in this one thing: as the Creston Valley, we will be a welcoming community of peace, open-hearted and hospitable, shunning violence and seeking understanding.

As Christians, we seek peace as an expression of Who we follow, the Prince of Peace, the One who laid his life down for all. As Jesus-followers, we are called to care for those who are displaced, to love those who are often seen as “enemies”, to welcome the stranger and mourn with those who mourn–to make room in our lives for others. And as the church of Jesus, we have been commissioned to be peace-makers, holding our own arms open, inviting people to consider the way of peace as the way of life.

PC: Ethan Greentree (Follow him on Instragram @_sirethan_)

On this chilly, snowy Tuesday, following the most epic snow day the Kootenays has experienced in many years, over 50 Creston Valley residents gathered to reflect, to pray, to listen and to sing. Chief Jason Louie of the Lower Kootenay Band told us an ancient, local story celebrating diversity as a strength; he also sang for us a victory song of his people. Linda Price, on behalf of the Creston Refugee Committee, shared about the good work of hospitality going on right here in our Valley, to make a home for refugees among us (we have welcomed multiple families over the years). And I closed our vigil, sharing words from a Muslim friend of mine in the wake of the Quebec shooting and hosting two times of silent prayer and reflection (one for the Muslim community; another for the refugees of the world). After offering a prayer to the Father of us all and in the name of Jesus, I sang the song posted below, written for our community. I leave you with that today. (The full lyrics are posted below).

People of Peace

Word and Lyrics: Tom Greentree, February 2017
For the Creston Valley: May we be people of peace.

 

People of Peace (Tom Greentree)
Verse 1
In a climate of fear and mistrust
Who will we be?
In a world that is so far from just
who will we be?
When the nations are boiling, no boundaries contain
and the ones who are hated, neglected and shamed

Who will we, who will we be?

Chorus:
We will be people of peace, people of peace
Welcoming, offering hope and a place you can stand
We will be people of peace, people of peace,
Holding our hearts open, doing whatever we can
 
Verse 2
In a Valley that’s known for abundance
Who will we be?
At a time when we’re tempted to silence
Who will we be?
When it’s easy to turn off the cries that we hear,
distracted by comfort and blinded by fear
Who will we, who will we be?

Love is Political

It seems like love has become more political these days. 

When I talk about God’s call to love refugees, I’m making a political statement. When I express my love for God’s creation, complete with a desire for protection and conservation, I’m labeled by certain political terms. Declare my love for an unwanted, unborn child and the mother who carries it, and another political statement has been made.

Love has become even more political in a climate of hate and fear. Political rhetoric mounts even when discussing God’s command to love the refugee, the foreigner, the disenfranchised and the dehumanized.

Love my enemy? Political.

Pray fervently for the hated political leader? Political.

Deeply desire the welfare of a person fostering and advocating very different ideals than I? Political.

Proclaim our commitment to love and support immigrants? Political. 

Stand up for the concerns of those being oppressed or negated by corporate expansion? Very political, indeed.

And with that love comes labels, arguments, misunderstandings, rejection, heat.

PC: Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times
But I guess that’s what we should expect. Because love is political. It always has been, at least any love that moves people beyond the realm of the normal, natural “love-for-my-own-kind” kind of love. Love is political when it begins to be shaped by the love of Jesus, who called his followers to love those everyone traditionally hated. Enemies, competitors, the other. 

And Jesus, when he lived out his words by loving the outsider, loving the less-thans, loving the despised and the cruel and the rich and the religious–Jesus was labeled a political threat, a political nightmare, a man who must be silenced. His love was dangerous to the status quo of power and comfort, both religious and political.

How easy is to forget that Jesus died a political death because of his love–love for people his peers considered unworthy, less than, dangerous and damned. Jesus loved his enemies so much he died for them (and that included me). And that love even included those who were killing him.

Love is political.

I admit, I don’t like confrontation. I hate being labeled “political.” I don’t want to bear the brunt of misunderstanding, of rejection, of dismissal. And while I do think how we express our love must be loving in and of itself, we must express it–I must express it.

I must be willing to be labeled “a bit too political”, if that charge comes from my obedience to the explicit command of Jesus to love my enemy, love the voiceless, love his world, love the lost.

Time to get loving.  

Wondering why you’re always fighting on Facebook? Here are 5 reasons our social media conversations are failing.

Is it possible to have good conversations on social media? I’m not so sure anymore.

The whole lot of yelling going on doesn’t seem helpful and I know I’m not the only one losing heart over our inability to engage each other meaningfully around important ideas and issues on which we might disagree.

Why is it so hard to talk on social media? Here are at least 5 reasons why.

1. Lack of Relationship

Whether the conversations are about carbon taxes, church strategies or the latest food allergies, they often rage between people who have no relationship with each other.  Maybe it started between friends, but the threads were quickly dominated by folks who do not know or love or understand one another. And with the absence of relationship comes absence of nuance and caring and empathy. And the absence of fruitful conversation.

2. Missing Context

More than once I’ve witnessed a show down between two people who, if they had known each other’s context, would have been much more careful and thoughtful in their responses. But this comment or that bullet response didn’t allow for that, and eruptions followed. ¬†When I am in relationship with someone, I understand more of what’s behind the screen, and how I talk and respond and even challenge them changes as a result.

3. No Accountability

Perhaps nothing stands out more than how digital platforms create the illusion of anonymity, even if our names are posted right beside our comments! And with that illusion comes a lack of accountability. With our fingertips, we say things we will never be forced to back up (we can just log off!). There is no real way of holding to account someone’s ugly tirade or hateful comments, barring a little bit of shaming or blocking a certain user.

4. Little Trust

Another reason meaningful dialogue seems difficult is the lack of trust people have for each other. Given what we’ve said so far, it’s understandable–no relationship+no context+no accountability=very little trust. ¬†And yet in order for a true exchange of ideas to occur, especially important and conflicting ideas, we have to extend some benefit of the doubt to the other person. We can’t think they are just idiots. As others have taught us, such as Patrick Lencioni, trust is foundational to good conflict over important ideas. But I see very little trust on the platforms (and often for good reason).

5. Limited Time

This one may surprise you, but I think the fifth reason conversations are difficult online is that we are often engaging in an ongoing thread of debate or discussion while moving at disorienting speed. We are commenting on this political idea while holding a bag of nails at the hardware store, then sniping in on someone else’s parenting comment while our own kid is demanding lunch. We just haven’t slowed down enough to engage, and end up reading too fast, commenting too quickly, failing to understand the issues, unable to follow through and then wondering why everyone’s so upset. ¬†Some of these conversations just can’t be had within the time it takes to descend from the 4th floor of our office building.

So what do you think? Why is it so hard to have fruitful conversations on social media?