Twitter Guidelines

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me how to use Twitter, so I sent him some thoughts and a basic philosophy I have developed over the past 10 years that guides how I utilize it as a tool and seek to avoid some of the dangers and negative ways the platform can act back upon us.

Widely used new technologies provide obvious benefits, but they also change and shape us. Many people fear these changes, and seeing negative effects, swear off the new technology altogether. Over time, I’ve been convinced it’s more important to think carefully about the technology, the habits of use we form, and how to use the technology wisely. If you haven’t read Andy Crouch’s The Tech-Wise Family, I strongly recommend it. You can read my review of it here.

In the spirit of wisdom and along the lines of Crouch’s book, it’s important to ask how we should and shouldn’t use social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. For now, I’d like to focus on Twitter, which I’ve used for 7 years out of its 12-year existence. Some of my advice can transfer to other platforms and some is unique to the features of Twitter.

Like with all social media and new technology generally, it’s important to think carefully about our purposes for using Twitter, the practices fitting to those aims, and the rules that should govern our use. Here’s my approach.

My Purposes

Before becoming a user and creating a Twitter handle, I spent time learning about how it works by watching others. Eventually, I decided that out of the many reasons a person might use Twitter, I would stick to these five.

First, I use Twitter to be exposed to people (academics, pastors, thinkers, leaders, etc.), information (local and national news, events, etc.), and content (articles, ideas, books, etc.) that I find helpful or that I probably wouldn’t easily come across otherwise. Because users share content and link to other users, Twitter makes it possible to see people and content I wouldn’t know to look for.

Second, I use Twitter to capture live responses to mass events like conferences, presidential debates, or unfolding situations (like a mass shooting or sporting event). Hash tags and trends make it possible to get crowd reactions, insights, and perspectives really quickly.

Third, I use Twitter to interact and dialogue with people I don’t have a chance to talk to in person. This is perhaps one of the top reasons I use Twitter, though this is also one of the more challenging or dangerous ways to engage. Because of how Twitter works, anyone can comment on any tweet and talk back to or tag any other user. This gives unknowns a lot of access to famous, credentialed, or accomplished individuals. As a pastor, I’ve benefitted a lot from interactions with scholars, pastors, and leaders who were gracious enough to respond to my questions, challenges, or rejoinders.

Fourth, I use Twitter to persuade and inform others. I do this in a number of ways. Most of my original tweets (that is, my tweets that are not responding to the tweets of others) aim to direct people to helpful resources, articles, and ideas that I hope will alter what other people believe and think. I often tweet quotes from books I’m reading, or I’ll tweet thoughts I have as a result of my reading.

Fifth, I use Twitter to laugh and be amazed. Because Twitter is filled with people, it’s filled with humor and wonder. I follow some people just because they’re funny and other accounts that somehow demonstrate the awesomeness of our world.

My Practices

With these purposes in mind, here are a few practices I have developed.

Following

Every Twitter user must start with the matter of who to follow. I generally only follow people I know personally, people I’ve engaged in conversation on Twitter that appear helpful, people who have a proven record of helpful content and interaction, and experts in the fields that interest me or are important to my work.

I also limit the number of people I follow to a manageable level. I regularly review and trim down who I am following because my timeline can become overwhelming with too many people. I seriously don’t understand how a person can follow more than several hundred users. I suspect those who follow more than that are doing so only to try to gain followers back and probably curate whom actually shows up in their timeline. Many Twitter users evidently use Twitter to become famous, and so they adopt many practices aimed at growing a larger following. It’s one thing to have a large following because of the content you are producing. It’s another to use Twitter to have a following. The difference is evident in the practices users adopt. More on this below.

Accountability

Because Twitter allows for rapid interaction with people who are often strangers, the platform regularly devolves into insults, sarcasm, proud self-congratulation, tribal protectionism, and other forms of unloving communication. The platform provides little accountability and often rewards those who exacerbate controversy and cloud issues rather than bringing light to conversations. So I regularly talk to a friend of mine who is also on Twitter to see what he thinks about how I’m interacting with others. In other words, I have a Twitter accountability partner to help me see when I’m not interacting well with others.

Privacy

Because Twitter is a public platform that anyone can access (and here I’m speaking about non-protected accounts), I do not post pictures of my children. My wife and I seek to limit how many digital pictures of our children end up online because we are uncertain how they will feel when they’re adults about their lives being documented for anyone to see.

My Rules

Twitter is an amazing platform, but there are many dangers. Oddly enough, many users publicly lament its problems, threatening to deactivate their account. I suppose that’s because we all see how dysfunctional and unhelpful it can be. It certainly does encourage vices like vanity, anger, envy, and prideful self-promotion. So here are a few rules I have for myself that I aim to keep. I’d encourage you to adopt them as well.

1. Love your neighbor as yourself.

Love must govern how I listen to the tweets of others. I need to listen charitably to try to understand people, assuming the best. Usually, when Twitter isn’t working well it’s because people fail to show grace to one another. Tweets can only be 240 characters, putting a limit on how effectively a person can flush out an idea. So I have to avoid reacting, work hard to press in for understanding, and give people the benefit of the doubt.

Furthermore, instead of sarcasm and dismissal, I try to engage people respectfully. Sometimes love involves putting things in a pointed and sharp way, but the aim must be the good of my neighbor and not victory over them.

2. Follow people and organizations outside of my tribe and with whom I probably disagree.

One of the dangers of social media platforms is ideological siloing. This is especially dangerous for Facebook users, but it’s possible on Twitter as well if you don’t take steps to follow a variety of people.

3. Don’t virtue signal or twitter shame.

I’ve resolved not to tweet to display to the world my own sense of superiority. This includes commenting on issues simply to show everyone which side of an issue I’m on so I will be recognized as belonging to the “good” side. It’s fine to weigh in on and speak to issues I believe are important and just, but if I’m not doing anything to contribute to the issue, I’m most likely just posturing and signaling. This danger seems to grow the more followers a user acquires.

The flip side of virtue signaling is twitter shaming. I refuse to quote tweet others simply to run them through the mud because of some terrible thing they’ve said or done. This rule is a bit tricky because part of dialoguing with people or debating ideas involves showing the problems with their ideas or actions. Sometimes there’s a fine line between twitter shaming and highlighting a problem, but if I do the later, I aim to interact with the idea and not trash someone to elevate myself.

4. Don’t subtweet.

Subtweeting involves tweeting in reference to a particular user or a tweet without direct mention, typically in a dismissive or mocking way. This is another form of virtue signaling because it refuses to bring the person you disagree with into the conversation in order to debate. It’s an obvious way to criticize another to show your own goodness. It’s smug and not helpful.

5. Don’t humblebrag.

A humblebrag is an ostensibly modest or self-deprecating statement with the actual intention of drawing attention to something of which one is proud. If someone compliments me or my work, the humble response is to reply, “thank you.” But to retweet the compliment or to quote tweet it with a “thank you” or any other reply is to broadcast to all my followers what someone else has said. This is blatant self-promotion and the very opposite of humility, even if I say I’m humbled that they would say such a thing.

6. Don’t name drop or use Twitter to have private conversations.

Mentioning other Twitter user in my tweets should only happen to engage the person in conversation or to promote them or link others to them. I won’t use Twitter to show all my followers that I know someone, am excited to see them in person soon, or had a great time with them. Furthermore, if I want to have a conversation exclusively with a few people, then I contact them using the message function, via text, or through some other messaging platform.

7. Don’t buy followers and don’t follow people just to get them to follow me.

Since my purpose in using Twitter does not include gaining a following in order to be influential, I follow people because I value the content they produce or link to. There are many strategies users employ to gain followers, to be important, and to establish a large platform that avoid the difficult work of actually providing value. This celebrity culture actually leads to some of the worst aspects of Twitter, and I’m pretty sure that if I go that route, I’ll lose my soul.

8. Block trolls and spam.

I regularly get followed by a fake or smutty account. Sometimes, I’ll come across a user who starts trolling or repeatedly engaging in bad faith. I block them all.

Conclusion

I really value Twitter for what it can do to connect me with people, to expose me to helpful ideas, to disseminate my ideas, and to provide an opportunity for dialogue and debate. But I have to be careful to regularly review why I use the platform so that I don’t wander into malformative habits. Many of my rules are aimed at helping me avoid self-promotion, self-righteousness, and self-importance because Twitter can very easily play into my pride.

I’m sure some of you have thought about this too, and I’d love to hear how you approach using the platform.

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The Exciting and Attractive Church

Exciting. Big. Energetic. Practical. Passionate. Positive. Encouraging. These words are often found in the slogans and values of exciting and attractional churches.

What is an attractional church? How do you know if you are a part of an attractional church? Austin Fischer is a teaching pastor at Vista Community Church in Temple, Texas who recently wrote an article for Christianity Today examining the attractional church model through the lens of one of its most “successful” practitioners, Andy Stanley.

The model, espoused by Stanley and implemented throughout evangelical America, recognizes that people typically approach life as consumers in a marketplace and relates to them as such in order to bolster the church’s reach. Fischer explains it like this:

When we talk about leveraging “consumer instincts” in the way we practice church, we are taking the ideology of the market and the narrative of acquisitive freedom as the highest good and baptizing them. We are telling our people that their wants and felt needs need no further justification and need not be questioned. What is most important is not that they become like Jesus (unless of course they feel like it), but that they are free (and comfortable) to become whatever they want to become.

Stanley’s own explanation goes like this:

We are unapologetically attractional. In our search for common ground with unchurched people, we’ve discovered that, like us, they are consumers. So we leverage their consumer instincts.

In my own experience, churches don’t necessarily think of what they are doing in these terms, but the logic of the marketplace still unconsciously pervades the strategy of church leaders. They are more prone to think about what people want from a church and then establish programs, “worship” experiences, and studies that meet those desires as a hook or door to introduce them to the gospel.

  • People want to be encouraged and supported because they feel so busy and stressed, so let’s have a bible study on joy and hope!
  • People want to feel like God is really working in their life, so let’s put on a powerful performance with lots of people and energy so everyone gets the sense that they are a part of something bigger than themselves.
  • People want convenience because of their busy schedules, so let’s provide multiple services in multiple locations that allow flexibility in participation.
  • People want easy relational connections because they’re lonely, so let’s organize our fellowships by life stage so that people can become friends with others without the barriers of age and marital status complicating the situation.

You can see the logic here. You can also see the earnest desire to reach and serve more people.

But long ago, I started to suspect that this model is not only ineffective at producing mature disciples but that it severely distorts the witness of the church by clouding the message of the gospel. The form, structure, and logic of the church life and ministry are just as formational as the content of the message being preached. In other words, a pastor or teacher can be explaining the gospel, inviting people to receive Jesus, and preaching biblical texts with relatively faithful exposition while at the same time undermining the process of discipleship by drawing people into a church life that does not comport with the the gospel and the life of discipleship. Perhaps the article says it best:

Kent Carlson and Mike Lueken pastored a church that also believed we could and should exploit consumerism. But through a long and arduous process of examination, they changed their mind. They came to believe that the way we practice church forms us in ways that rival, and at times, preempt the things we say. We can tell people to practice self-denial, but when everything we do caters to their felt needs as consumers (from their placement in small groups, to their participation, or lack thereof, in worship), our practice contradicts the teaching. It’s no wonder so many well-meaning church goers find the call to a cruciform life utterly incoherent.

I encourage you to read the article and to consider both your church’s model and the logic of your own involvement with your church whether as a leader, member, or attender. If you really want to dig into the issue, pick up Selling Out the Church by Philip D. Kenneson and James L. Street.

I’d love to hear feedback in the comments. I think this is one of the most pressing issues in the American church.

10 Wedding Toast Tips

I love weddings. I am not exactly the romantic type, but I do love witnessing a man and a woman promising to love and be faithful to each other as they take their vows publicly. I have attended dozens of weddings for family and friends over the years, and as a pastor, I have had the privilege of officiating quite a few of them. In addition to the wedding ceremonies themselves, I also love the parties surrounding and celebrating the union.

But over the years, I have witnessed some fairly embarrassing and unfortunate situations, mostly surrounding the toasts. You probably know what I am talking about. Whether it’s the rehearsal dinner or the reception, we’ve all watched someone grab hold of the microphone to begin what turns out to be 10 minutes (or more) of pure awkwardness. Every once in a while, someone delivers a hilarious or touching speech that really makes the party feel all the more appropriate. But more often than not, I wish (for everyone’s sake) that the toast didn’t happen at all.

Now hear me, I don’t blame anyone in particular for these seemingly inevitable moments of social pain. Few people have opportunities to learn how to speak in public. And as cultures and customs from all over the world mix together, weddings no longer fall into one tradition everyone recognizes and in which they can easily participate. So giving a toast is a difficult thing.

So I have finally decided to put together a few tips for those of you who might be invited to offer a toast at the next wedding you will attend. I hope they help you to avoid embarrassment and enjoy the celebration all the more. Here then are ten tips for wedding toasts.

#1: Remember the Purpose

A toast is meant to be an expression of honor, goodwill, or show of support. Don’t lose sight of this. The purpose is not to entertain or set the emotional tone, even though those might be bi-products of your speech. Make sure you remember to focus on honoring the couple, expressing your joy and hope for them, and showing your support for their marriage.

#2: Come Prepared

Once you have the purpose of a toast in mind, you can plan your words to accomplish that purpose. And you need to plan. Do not simply stand up and expect that you will be able to say something winsome and wonderful. Very few people are able to speak on their feet like that. Plan what you will say, even if it is a simple outline of your thoughts, and then write them down so you can stay on track once you find yourself looking out over a room full of expectant faces. Count on your nerves making you a bit flustered. So plan and write it down.

#3: Stay Sober

I believe this is an important life tip in general, but at the very least, it’s a must for someone delivering a toast. This may be a no brainer for many of you, but I have seen a drunken toast before and it isn’t pretty. You can almost guarantee the happy couple won’t be honored by what your drunken self has to say.

#4: Introduce Yourself and Express Gratitude

A good way to start your speech is with an introduction. Don’t assume you are so important that everyone will know who you are. Tell everyone your name and, briefly, what your connection to the couple is. Once you have begun this way, it’s classy to thank the hosts (usually the parents of the bride and sometimes both sets of parents) who have made the party possible and the guests for adding to the celebration of the wonderful day.

#5: Make a Connection

Now that you have gotten started, tell a story or an anecdote connecting you to the couple illustrating your support, goodwill, and/or respect. It’s nice to compliment the couple, but simply stating how wonderful you think they are can come off as shallow and trite. More than likely, if you have been asked to be part of the wedding party or to offer a toast, then you have some connection to the couple that you should be able to draw upon to specifically illustrate the nice things you want to say. So avoid simply stating that they are perfect for each other, the best people ever, amazing, and the fairy tale couple. Show everyone why you can honor them and celebrate with them. You want your speech to be and feel sincere, and a story that connects helps accomplish this.

#6: Focus on the Couple

While it’s appropriate to tell a story connecting you to the couple, don’t make it about you. Some of the most awkward and embarrassing toasts I have witnessed involved: a) the speaker going on and on about how close they are to one of the newlyweds, b) inside jokes, or c) emotional comments about how it won’t ever be the same again. Remember, the couple just got married. Don’t try and make them feel bad about how they have left you behind or stolen their spouse from you. And don’t lose sight of the fact that you are speaking in front of a room full of people. There is no need to tell jokes only you and a select few understand. You can always write them a note for that. Bottom line, you are not the star of the show, and you should honor not lament the new marriage.

#7: Avoid the Negative

Don’t make jokes about how bad marriage is or how their lives are now over. Don’t bring up past failed relationships. Avoid trying to embarrass the bride or groom just for laughs. It might be appropriate to tease or laugh along with them if you can turn the ribbing into a reason why you now support them, but be careful here. On the whole, consider what is appropriate to say in front of the couple’s friends and family.

#8: Keep It Short

If you follow the tips above, you should be able to write a brief speech. But if you lose sight of what you are supposed to be doing or forget to plan and write it down, you might end up rambling and repeating yourself like a fool. An effective and enjoyable toast almost always stays under 5 minutes, and usually they can be as brief as 2-3 minutes. You don’t have to talk a lot to say a lot.

#9: Conclude with Wisdom or a Blessing

I have literally heard someone deliver almost the exact same toast twice in one speech because they didn’t know how to end it. Plan your ending and go out on top. The best toasts usually conclude with a small piece of wisdom or advice. It’s nice to find a clever (but not trite) quote or saying capturing the basic thrust of your speech. Many times, a verse from Scripture can do this nicely.

#10: End with a Toast

Don’t forget to toast. You should be holding a drink or have a drink nearby so you can end your speech with something like, “Please join me in raising a glass to a lifetime of love for the bride and groom.” And be sure to take a sip. Custom says that not drinking is actually an insult, though I am sure few people would take it that way these days.

If you follow these tips, you will almost certainly honor the couple and avoid embarrassing yourself and others. Following these tips won’t guarantee everyone will remember your awesome toast for years to come, but it will ensure they don’t remember your terrible speech for years to come.

What do you think? Do you have any more helpful tips?