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Tim Alford

Never get high on your own supply

Social media is highly addictive, says Tim Alford, National Director of Limitless. Countless studies, articles, books and theses have been published to evidence that fact, detailing how our social channels have been created, very successfully, with the express purpose of getting, and keeping our attention.

Whether it’s the immediate and ever-changing feedback loop; the colour and sound of our notifications; or the dopamine surge that is released in our brain by likes, comments, shares and other engagements; all this is intentionally designed to ensure we keep returning for another “hit.”

For leaders and pastors, we are entering headlong into this world, seemingly without reflecting on the potential dangers, or the trap we could be setting for ourselves and the people we lead. We have been so quick to ask “can we?” that we have bypassed asking, “should we?”

And so we are creating online content for social and web platforms at a rate like never before. Many of us are finding “attendances” increasing, with more people engaging in our online services than ever connected with us in our physical locations. All this is highly intoxicating.

As we watch view counts grow and engagements soar, the “pleasure-systems” in our brains go into overdrive. It feels good. It feels significant. It feels like progress. ‘Why haven’t we always done it like this?’ we wonder. And so we push harder, creating more and more content because these engagements look like, and more pertinently, feel like, success.

But perhaps in the high-speed adrenaline rush of content generation, we should pause for a moment to consider: Are the metrics we are using for success kingdom metrics? Do views and engagements translate into disciples? And, perhaps most pointedly, are we getting high on our own supply?

Digital addiction is very real and extremely prevalent, with most of us displaying symptoms of compulsive behaviour, if not full-blown addiction. And yet, as churches and ministries, we are asking people to connect with all the online content we are developing, seemingly oblivious to the fact that we are actively encouraging people to engage in extremely addictive behaviours that have the very real potential of impacting negatively upon their mental health and “physical” relationships.

So if our goal as ministry leaders is to lead people into ‘abundant life’ in Jesus, shouldn’t we be encouraging people to build in digital boundaries - screen-free Saturdays, social media curfews, smartphone sabbaths - to consume less content?

Perhaps it is for this reason that, as I have been producing and consuming content during the lockdown, I have found myself somewhat unsettled by these questions: Are we feeding people’s discipleship, or are we feeding their addiction? Are we causing people to grow or to become increasingly distracted? Does our content lead people into contentment or comparison? And are we offering social media as the solution when it is part of the problem?

Now don’t get me wrong, the incarnational missiology of Jesus demonstrates that we are to go where the people are.... and the people are online. For this reason, social media is undoubtedly a tool that, in a measured way, we can and should use to connect with people and share the gospel….

But when our content becomes our down-payment for the dopamine hit generated by the engagements that follow; when we pat each other on the back because our subscriber count jumped up as though visibility is our goal; when we think that creating content equates to making disciples; when we find ourselves repeatedly reaching for the phone in our pockets to see if we have gathered further likes and comments since last we checked, then we are no longer using technology, it is using us.

The technology we are discovering, the content we are creating and the engagements we are gathering may feel like great gains, but I can’t help but wonder, as a wise man once said, “what good is it to gain the whole world but forfeit your soul?”

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