In an age of social media influencers, it can be easy to misplace your faith in Christian influencers and other Christian leaders in your life rather than placing it in the Bible. This can lead to some serious disillusionment or at least discouragement when these people start to lead us in the wrong direction or when they say things that go against God's Word. While people fail and are often wrong about things, the Bible is a source of truth we can always depend on.
Christianity and the Digital Age
Putting our faith in people today often looks different than it did a few decades ago. That's because nearly everything in the world looks different in what's been deemed the digital age. Modern technology has shaped and changed our world so dramatically in recent years, and some of us who remember what a dial-up tone sounds like or how to write a handwritten letter may still feel like we're left reeling.
While we've experienced a massive explosion of technological innovations in recent years, we're not the only generation that has had to adapt to new technologies. Technology has always had an influence on Christianity. The printing press, for example, helped the Bible to become widely available to the public. Television gave rise to televangelists and other Christian broadcast programs.
While we can look back at some major technologies that influenced the world and the faith, today, it seems that instead of changing one thing about our lives as some past inventions did, modern technology — especially the internet — has changed the way we work, play, communicate and interact with the world.
Social media, in particular, has had a profound impact on the modern world, including on Christians. Today, around 72% of Americans are on social media, and that number is even higher for young people. Social media has allowed the world to become more connected, which has opened up new opportunities for sharing our faith with others and for gaining insight into what's going on the lives of our friends and in our culture more generally. Social media has also given rise to a new type of celebrity — the influencer.
Influencers are people who have large followings on social media sites like Youtube and Instagram. These people amass thousands, maybe even millions, of followers who read their posts or watch their videos. Marketers use these influencers to pitch their products or services to the public, which can be more effective in many cases than traditional advertisements. Influencers don't just promote brands, though.
They inspire others with their lifestyles or their talents. They may be fitness gurus who inspire you to start your day with a spinach shake and some burpees or makeup artists who can wield a contour brush like a magic wand. There's another type of influencer that is having a direct effect on the church — the Christian influencer.
There have long been leaders in the faith who were known to people outside of their personal circles. However, in today's digital age, many influencers have a broad reach among the Christian community. Christian influencers tend to be authors, evangelists, worship leaders, musicians and other people who are well-known to most Christians. These influencers can use their platform to encourage other Christians and share their thoughts and struggles with the world.
Leaders and Influencers Are People
Leaders and influencers can play an important role in spreading gospel truth and positivity. Faith leaders and influencers who stay committed to Christ and to the teachings of the Bible can help to encourage other Christians and even make an impression on nonbelievers. They can remind us of solid truths we see in Scripture and can remind us that we're not alone in the struggles and joys we experience every day.
Being able to look to Christian role models for inspiration and guidance can be extremely helpful to us as we learn and grow in Christ. Paul told the early Christians in Corinth to follow his example as he followed Christ's example. While you may not know someone who reminds you of the Apostle Paul, you likely have strong Christians in your life who model a failthful life for you. You may also look to well-known pastors or authors as Christian influencers to help encourage you in your spiritual walk.
The trouble occurs when we put too much of our hope in these role models and influencers instead of in Christ. No influencers are perfect, and some people are bound to spread some false doctrine at times or even go so far as to denounce their faith. False teachings and apostasy are nothing new in Christendom, but they have been brought to the forefront by social media in recent years.
Another potential problem with Christian influencers is that, unlike leaders in our Churches, they are not necessarily carefully appointed to leadership. Instead, they tend to rise to notoriety because they have a sort of trendy appeal, especially among young people. Maybe they take a razor fade, Jesus tattoo and skinny jeans to the next level, or maybe they know how to take an Insta-worthy picture of their morning coffee and open Bible.
Skillet singer John L. Cooper pointed this issue out in a recent Facebook post that went viral, saying that Christians start running into problems when we automatically elevate influencers or cool people as the most influential people in Christendom. Instead, we should look for mature role models who are committed to Christ and the biblical teachings.
We don't need to seek to ignore or deplatform these influencers, and we certainly don't want to ignore the Christian leaders God has placed in or lives. Instead, we must exercise our discernment and depend on Scripture to help us respond to questionable things we hear from people we thought were role models to follow. The key is to remember that the only perfect role model is Christ, and the only source of truth we can always depend on is the Bible.
How do you respond when a Christian influencer you follow seems to deviate from Scriptural truth? What if they begin to celebrate beliefs or actions the Bible teaches are sinful? What if they start saying things about God that aren't consistent with what He says about His own character in Scripture? Rather than placing blind faith in people who are bound to get it wrong from time to time, we place our faith in the One who is the same yesterday, today and forever.
Place Faith in the Bible
If an influencer denouncing their faith causes you to quickly spiral and wonder if you've been wrong about this whole Christianity thing all along, this is a good sign that you're placing too much faith in people. If a preacher says something that doesn't seem to go with what Scripture teaches and you take it as gospel, this is another sure sign you're putting your faith in the wrong place.
When our faith is in God and His word rather than in other Christians, then we have a solid foundation — one that won't be rocked when we hear false teachings or discouraging comments from influencers online. As the old hymn goes, "On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand." Do you see putting your faith in places other than Christ like jumping into a pit of quicksand? Maybe you should.
Isaiah 2:22 goes so far as to say, "Stop trusting in mere humans, who have but a breath in their nostrils. Why hold them in esteem?" Psalm 118:8 similarly says, "It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in humans." The idea isn't to ignore people completely but rather to ultimately place your trust where it really belongs — in God. God can use people for our good, but people are, well, people. We mess up all the time.
God, on the other hand, will never, ever fail us. He may not post cool pictures of mountains or tweet inspirational quotes, but we can look to His word for inspiration every day. After all, He did one better than take pictures of the mountains — He created them, #nofilternecessary. Again, people can help point us to biblical truth and can help us be amazed at our Creator, but they themselves should not be our ultimate source of truth or inspiration.
You may be wondering what it really looks like to place our faith in God's word instead of in people. Let's look at a few ways we can put this into action:
1. Spend Time in God's Word
If we're spending more time on social media every day than we're spending in God's word, then we're bound to be more influenced by what other people are saying than we are by what God is saying to us. You may not feel like God is really speaking to you when you read the Bible, but He is. As Hebrews 4:12 reminds us, "the word of God is alive and active."
When we consistently let God speak to us through His Word, we will develop a biblical understanding of who God is, our need for Him and how we should function in the world. We won't need to depend on influencers to guide us, though we can look to Christian role models who point us back to Scripture.
2. Weigh What You Hear Against Scripture
When you're immersed in Scripture, then you should automatically start evaluating what you hear in light of what Scripture has to say on the topic. As 1 Thessalonians 5:21 says, "Test all things; hold fast what is good." 1 John 4:1 says, "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world."
In other words, we shouldn't automatically take what someone says as gospel just because they are a Christian teacher or influencer. Instead, we should weigh their words, asking ourselves "Does this line up with what the Bible says?" We may have to go hunting for some passages to help us find the answer to that question.
3. Pray for Discernment
In addition to looking to Scripture, we should also ask God for discernment. Some things we see from influencers online may make us aware of parts of our belief system that are a little murky. We may go to Scripture and still not be sure what to believe. After all, the Bible isn't written as a how-to guide for solving all of life's problems. We can sometimes run into gray areas where we need spiritual wisdom.
In these instances when we're not sure whether something we hear from an influencer or leader is true or not, we should ask for help from the Holy Spirit to critically evaluate what we've heard. James 1:5 says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you."
The Importance of Fellowship
Before you pack up to go live out the rest of your life in a cave with nothing but your Bible, consider what Scripture has to say about the value of Christian fellowship. Remember, even though people are flawed and are not where we should place our hope, they can still come alongside us and spur us on in our walk with Christ.
Even Christian influencers can help us feel a sense of Christian fellowship, but we don't share a bond with these online celebs that comes from really doing life together. They may seem to have it all together, but we don't see everything that goes on behind the scenes in their lives. We can see that with other Christians God has placed in our lives, though.
Sure, we can be inspired by posts from Christian influencers, but we need real people to enjoy real fellowship with. To enjoy true Christian fellowship, we should spend time with Christians who are real enough with us to show us their faults and humble enough to admit they don't have all the answers. Together, you should look to God for answers.
Our bond is formed over our common identity in Christ and our common goal of living for him. As 1 John 1:7 says, "If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another." Looking to the word of God as our true source of inspiration, we can enjoy true fellowship with other Christians in our lives and look for ways to "spur one another on toward love and good deeds."
Make Christ Your Cornerstone
Here at Cornerstone, we believe that Christ is the one influencer we can always depend on. You don't need to shut down your social media accounts or unfollow Christian influencers, but you can allow God to speak into your life more than these imperfect people. Still, God didn't create us to live in isolation. He made us to enjoy fellowship with other believers. If you live in the Bay Area, join us at Cornerstone and see what this type of fellowship feels like. We're not perfect, but we know One who is, and we're going to follow Him together.