I just signed up for Instagram.
To be honest, it’s a new world for me. As a guy approaching 38 years old, I grew up in the days of Classic Nintendo, when you would blow the dust out of a Super Mario Brothers cartridge to make the television quit that dysfunctional buzz. So the latest array of social media platforms, like Instagram, intimidates me a bit.
But then I hear the statistics. Instagram has over 800,000,000 monthly users, 80% of which live outside of the United States. Over 59% of Instagrammers are 18-29 years old, a generation that stereotypically has not heard the gospel of Jesus Christ as frequently or as clearly as my generation.
As a Christian who loves Jesus’ call to “preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15), Instagram seems like a great way to reach the nations and generations that traditional media might not.
But what about the . . . self-promotion? Maybe I’m getting too old, but I’ve never been entirely comfortable flipping the camera lens and snapping selfies. Posting video snippets of my messages or capturing photos from my week or sharing thoughts from my head sometimes feels . . . off.
As a pastor, it feels weird asking people at church to “follow me” on Instagram. Last time I checked, Jesus is the one I want people to follow . . .
Which is why John 7 grabbed my attention.
In John 7, Jesus’ skeptical brothers are pushing him to leverage the PR opportunity at the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, one of the three most attended religious parties of the year. They lecture him, “No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret” (John 7:4). The feast is like the Instagram of the day, the perfect chance to connect with massive amounts of Jewish people.
But Jesus refuses. He won’t show up to the festival with a smoke machine and T-shirt cannon. However, John soon adds an interesting detail: “After his brothers had left for the festival, [Jesus] went also, not publicly, but in secret” (John 7:10).
Catch that? Jesus went. To the very festival his brothers urged him to attend. To the very people his brothers pushed him to reach. And even though he didn’t go publicly, verses later he appeared and preached in a very public way.
What’s up with that? Why did Jesus not go and go at the same time? Why was he a mix of private and public behavior?
According to John, the answer is clear—Because Jesus’ passion was not to become a “public figure.” Jesus didn’t want to be famous for fame’s sake. Jesus’ appearance was not about helping his ego, as his brothers assumed.
Jesus was about helping people.
This is a message I don’t want to forget. Jesus showed up (1) where the crowds were (2) in order to help people.
That is what I want all of us to keep reminding each other online. Despite its dangers, God has opened a massive door for the gospel via social media. To miss it is like staying home altogether from the festival where real people with real souls and a real eternity will be gathering. Your pictures and posts can glorify God by reaching old classmates, longtime friends, and cousins you barely see.
But motives matter. In social media, motives matter immensely. And few people know our true motives. What is the goal of starting an Instagram account? What is the passion that drives you to this medium? Why this post or this picture?
If this is about an unfulfilled desire to be known or liked or applauded, it’s time to take a digital break and ask God to examine our hearts. (Hint: If your joy rests on the number of views or likes or comments, this might be you.)
But if this is about the 15-year-old who really wants to trust in Jesus or the teenager who is reconsidering his atheism (both of whom reached out to me via Instagram this week), then show up to the “feast” and Instagram away.
So I’m diving into the deep end of the pool and asking God to keep me from drowning. Maybe we could pray for each other this week that God would purify our hearts and keep this all about our Savior.
I would shamelessly ask you to follow me on Instagram, but maybe there’s a better way to phrase it—Would you follow me . . . as I follow Jesus?
For his kingdom. For his glory. For his name. Amen.
Pastor Mike Novotny has served God’s people in full-time ministry since 2007 as a pastor in Madison and now Appleton, Wisconsin. He also serves as a host and speaker for the Time of Grace television program and contributes to the written resources of Time of Grace Ministry. Pastor Mike is married to Kim and has two daughters.
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