It used to be that only large companies with generous funding could afford messaging via mass comm. But today, we have social media tools, opening access to the marketplace to anyone who cares to send a thought into the world. We can send our opinions through Web sites, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter, and we can even gain a following of loyal readers who find our thoughts insightful or amusing.
But those on the receiving end are no longer content to act as a sponge. They take in the messages, and then they respond. They show their approval or lack thereof through Like buttons and star ratings and Nero voting. They comment and reTweet and write rebuttals. Messages from companies and individuals alike are analyzed, critiqued, torn apart, and repackaged.
We would do well to remember that once we send a message, it is no longer our own: It is subject to public interpretation, trial, and conviction. And the punishment is delivered by mob opinion, for good or for ill.
All this voting and assessing can be likened to a popularity contest. One day, the world is hanging on our every word; the next, it is hanging us by them. It’s tenuous, to say the least.
Most of us don’t sit about wishing for popularity. We want much more noble things: to change the world, influence a life, use our gifts and talents. We want to make a difference and fulfill a purpose. So we move toward that goal. We engage. We use our gifts. We share our knowledge and expertise. But then people respond, and it gets a bit scary. Some people are kind; others, not so much. This new age of instant feedback pokes on our vulnerability—and the junior higher in us wants to be liked.
A recent article at Forbes.com titled “Is Your Business Popular or Influential?” compares striving for popularity versus seeking to influence: “Anyone can be briefly popular. Andy Warhol called it ‘15 minutes of fame.’ It feels good, but will not accomplish any business goal. Being influential delivers results.”
This is a good reminder for us as believers. It is tempting to strive for popularity and approval, but the Gospel often divides and offends. We risk bending to societal pressure and compromising the Gospel when we seek popularity.
But influence? Now there’s a worthy goal. Influence is about inspiring others to take action. The way we handle ourselves in the public sphere will draw people to Christ or push them away. If we share the Gospel without concern for our own approval rating, we are free to be winsome and wise rather than restrained and nervous.
Even so, it is so very tempting to bend with public opinion. It hurts when people don’t Like or Star or reTweet our messaging—and it’s even more painful to receive direct criticism. The truths of Romans 8 offer much for our struggle: But if God is for us, who can be against us? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither Likes nor Dislikes, nor Thumbs Up nor Thumbs Down, nor opinions present nor opinions to come, nor popularity, nor applause nor boos, nor anything else in all the Internet, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Amen to all that.