The Working Christian’s Guide To Twitter

Chirping at the sun

Like Marmite, Twitter is one of those things that people seem to either love or hate. It’s notoriously hard to explain to those who just don’t “get” it: the hopelessly literal explanation is that it’s a bit like Facebook status updates, but without absolutely everything else that makes Facebook worth using. That’s a bit like describing a movie as a few patches of different colours moving around on a two-dimensional surface whilst the air vibrates around you, and wondering why you’ve failed to excite anybody’s enthusiasm. Personally, I find a more helpful approach to explaining it to people is to talk in terms of micro-blogging: it’s a way of lowering the barriers of entry to running your own blog by limiting the scope of each post to 140 characters. People also find it a brilliant way to make connections: one minute you’re tweeting about an independent film you just watched at the weekend, and the next minute the film maker is tweeting you back saying he’s glad you enjoyed it. Twitter Search also makes it incredibly easy to find out what everybody is talking about this second, an invaluable tool for both journalists and businesses trying to interact with their customers.

How should Christians use Twitter?

But how should Christians be thinking about and using Twitter? There have been some really helpful posts on the subject from Christian leaders like John Piper and Al Mohler. But perhaps it’s easy to dismiss their words as being just for people like them whose job it is to teach the Bible, and so I thought it would be helpful to jot down a few words from an average congregation member like myself about my own experiences using Twitter, and how it can be a help or a hindrance in the Christian life. I’m not writing this as an expert or as somebody who’s got it right – I’m writing this as somebody who’s conscious that I’ve probably got it all wrong and need to think further on the subject! So rather than having a whole bunch of rules (after all, Christianity isn’t about “do’s and don’ts”!) I thought I’d just ask one big question as a starting point for further thought:

What Story Does Your Twitter Feed Tell?

If somebody were to open up your Twitter Feed right now and read your tweet history for the past few months, what kind of picture would it paint of you: of your hopes and fears, your passions, your hates, your character and your temperament? What kind of inferences would they make about your beliefs, and about the God in whom you claim to believe?

  • Vague Thought No. 1: Would it even be at all obvious that you were a Christian? The danger of narcissism is often cited with reference to Twitter, and I think for many of us this is a real concern: is your tweeting all about you and what you’ve been doing, without reference to your creator? Does your faith make the least bit of difference to your tweets? I guess that for some of us, the obsession with boosting our “follower” count means we’re afraid to be open about our faith in case it scares potential followers away. Some aspects of Twitter culture can foster this obsession with popularity in a really unhelpful way.
  • Vague Thought No. 2: What kind of a God does your Twitter feed show you’re placing your trust in? Is his faithfulness and commitment to his people put on display, demonstrated by your confident trust in his good providence, or do you come across as completely neurotic and worried about all the minor details of life? This is probably as much of a personality thing as a Twitter thing, and I’m not saying that it’s wrong to have worries. But why not make a commitment to use your tweets to publicly entrust your anxieties to God rather than just using them to stress? When I was regularly blogging over on LiveJournal a few years ago, I used to try to make sure every blog post contained at least one “thank God”, a habit which really helped me to lift my eyes a little when I would otherwise have just been wallowing in my problems. That’s harder to do in 140 characters, but maybe it could be reflected by the balance of your many tweets instead – one “thank you God” for every “aghghg!!!”.
  • Vague Thought No. 3: This follows on from the last point, but what attitudes is your Twitter Stream characterised by? Thankfulness and positivity? Or disgruntlement and anger at the world? This may come down to having an explicit aim for your Twittering: instead of just posting whatever random thought is upper-most in your mind (“grrr! my trains were late, again!”), think about who might be reading your tweets, and why you would want them to be reading it. It’s a bit like that time after church, where the sermon’s finished and you’re starting to think about food. What do you choose to talk to your mates about? Do you just aimlessly drift into talking about the football, or do you have a bit more clarity of purpose and try to edify those around you by chatting about what you’ve just heard from the Bible and how it’s going to shape the rest of the week? It’s easy for us as Christians to just slot into the culture around us, rather than being proactive and standing out from the crowd, showing our distinctive values and a radically different purpose in life.

As I said at the start, all that is really just a starting point for further discussion. Feel free to chip in using the comments section below, or drop me a Twitter message @andygeers.

P.S. I always like to recommend Michael Lopp’s The Art of the Tweet when I’m talking about Twitter – well worth a read. Twitter in Plain English is also helpful when explaining it to friends.