The Surprising Thing your Church may have in Common with Twitter

On a recent episode of All Things ConsideredLaura Sydell explored the interesting challenge that Twitter is encountering as a company struggling to keep its footing in an increasingly competitive social media marketplace.

Recently eclipsed by younger rival Instagram, Twitter is anticipated to announce a round of layoffs over the next couple days. In discussing the speculation around this attempt to get leaner, Sydell points out two problems that seemed all too familiar:

  • “Compared with some of these other sites, [Twitter] is actually harder to use. It has this 140 character limit, and it’s an open platform, and you can see anyone’s tweets but you have to follow them and knowing who to follow can be confusing for a lot of people.”
  • “There is also this sense that Twitter doesn’t really know what it wants to be when it grows up. My sources tell me that even inside the company its mission isn’t really crystal clear. And some people say Twitter is a news site, other people say, you know, its really just a social media site.”

As an active, and sometimes frustrated, user of both platforms (the church and Twitter), it was all to easy to see some parallels. The church can also be hard to understand and confusing. And this problem is compounded by the lack of a clear, compelling, and relevant mission in many congregations–and a refusal by many to spiritually grow up.

While the challenges  of navigating the church today are beyond the salvific powers of a blog post, it’s worth explaining the challenge more specifically. I’m not speaking about the difficulties presented by church jargon and a certain misguided affectation towards acronyms and anachronisms, though I could.

Instead, I mean to lift up the challenge presented to the interested outsider. Who represents and defines Christianity to those outside our partisan thought bubbles? Is this responsibility delegated to Pope Francis or Kim Davis? Is it relegated to the social reach of Franklin Graham or the closeness of the neighborhood church? Is President Obama a real Christian? That one’s answer seems to depend more upon the news channel they watch than any named practice or beliefs speaks to the confusion of contemporary Christian identity.

If our platform (the church) is intended to present a clear message to the world, it appears to be in dire need of an upgrade.[tweetthis]If the church intends to present a clear message to the world, we are in need of an upgrade.[/tweetthis]

In regards to the second point, if a company as trendy and recently hip as Twitter is suffering because it lacks the focus that a clear sense of mission provides, we should stop and take notice. Given the aforementioned cultural ambiguity, hostility, and (worse) apathy regarding the church, how much more should we concern ourselves with knowing what we are about?

Investors aren’t fleeing quite yet, Twitter has some hope with new management and strategies. Perhaps they’ll finally rise to the adaptive challenge before them and become the company that lives into its perceived promise.

For the church to live into our promise, we need a consistent message that speaks boldly and clearly about God’s good intentions for a world God loves foolishly. And like Twitter, we need to grow up and embrace theological trajectories that lead toward engagement with that world. Hint: when we are casually dismissive of others who earnestly seek truth because we find their conclusions inconvenient, we have room to grow.

Finally, we’ll know we are inhabiting God’s dream for us when there is urgency and space for others to join in. Another tech story of the week can give us some direction. Tesla CEO Elon Musk made some waves recently by tweeting, ironically enough, some snarky comments at the expense of Apple. In defending Musk, Victoria Denahy, a former Tesla employee noted a key difference in the company’s mission statements:

“People who work for Tesla are immersed with, not the car or the “I work for a sexy company” status, but with the meaning it carries. Tesla’s mission statement, “accelerate the transition of sustainable transportation” isn’t taken lightly when it comes to the dedicated employees Tesla hires.”

The church that is consumed with doing God’s work in the world will never compete with the corporate world in terms of promised pay, status, or sex appeal. We should question the validity of any church that can (I’m talking about you Joel Osteen and Creflo Dollar).

The strength of a church is to be found in its mission and for the vision it casts out of what can be. When we have this right, and we conform ourselves to it (and not the other way around), we’ll have the people we need to accomplish the work God has for us. It is that simple.

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