There’s an App for That” – When Social Media Identity Overshadows Identity in Christ

“There’s an App for That” – When Social Media Identity Overshadows Identity in Christ
by Marie Notcheva ©
This article first appeared on Biblical Counseling for Women on February 25, 2016. 

Several years ago, while interviewing girls for her book, Lies Young Women Believe, author Nancy Leigh Demoss noted a budding problem: Christian teens, even girls active in their churches, freely admitted to being a different person online than they were in front of adults, Christian friends, and youth leaders. Many admitted to saying and doing things on social media (which was still in its early stages) that they would never do in person, and also to using such platforms to hide behind a “false self.”

This tendency should not surprise us, as social networking exists first and foremost, for the promotion and glorification of “self.” Filters on photography apps allow anyone to present a flawless image, or to get on a virtual soapbox and make himself heard. But the electronic manipulation of one’s desired image is especially disconcerting when young Christ-followers fall into this trap. It runs counter to everything they’ve been taught about authenticity on youth retreats, in church and at home. Resting in their position in Christ should breed contentment, transparency and security in being loved for who they are; not insecurity and a craving for authenticity, attention and superficial acceptance.

Right?

The Obscuring of Identity

Unfortunately, as convenient as it may be, electronic technology has stifled young people’s expression of self-identity. Instead, it encourages them to construct a façade based on the answer to the question, “How can I ensure that others view me positively?” Jim Taylor writes in Psychology Today: “The goal for children in their use of technology, whether Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, or text messaging, becomes how they can curry acceptance, popularity, status, and by extension, self-esteem. Self-awareness and self-expression give way to a preoccupation with what others think, impression management, and self-promotion.”

In 2007, Christine Rosen wrote in The New Atlantis, “Does this technology, with its constant demands to collect (friends and status), and perform (by marketing ourselves), in some ways undermine our ability to attain what it promises—a surer sense of who we are and where we belong? The Delphic oracle’s guidance was know thyself. Today, in the world of online social networks, the oracle’s advice might be show thyself.[1]

Teens, children and even adults promote the identities online they would like to have or want people to see. No matter how inaccurate or wildly absurd a statement, picture or “secret confession,” there is an app designed to display it to the world as gospel truth. Through what is deemed acceptable or desirable on social media, impressionable teens lose the distinction between public and private self. Rather than reflecting their own individuality, social media “becomes rather a means of acceptance and status among others who reside in their digital communities.” Yet, in children’s extensive efforts to be “liked….by manipulating their persona, they come to believe that they’re not worthy of being liked—an expression of affection, in the original sense of the word—for the person that they really are.” [i]

Christian teens are by no means immune to this pitfall, and need to be taught how to apply the Gospel to a habit they may not even realize they have.

How Does the Gospel Speak to Insecurity?

Promoting a certain image, whether purposely or not, speaks to a deeper heart issue: insecurity, or what the Bible calls fear of man and a snare (Proverbs 29:25). The desire to win approval is not new, but the ability to interact with all of one’s acquaintances simultaneously in a 24/7 digital community has greatly increased approval-seeking and preoccupation with self. This is a spiritual problem for many reasons: It can inhibit evangelism; it gives license to pride (in one’s achievements, appearance, etc.); and it encourages lying to gain approval. It also hinders fellowship. Seeing social media for what it has become in their life (a trap which leads to acceptance-seeking) is the first step toward overcoming insecurity. The “online self” is created when approval of others is an idol, although many young people may not realize it.

Gaining a biblical view of the character of God is the next step in exchanging fear of man for fear of God. Truly knowing Him and His grace instills a desire to please the Father and care what He thinks; not a craven fear of failure or a sense of defeat. As Ed Welch writes, feeding the ‘gorilla’ of people’s opinions will never lead to peace. Therefore, through personal reading of the Word and fellowship with Christian peers (in Bible study, social activities etc.), young people struggling with media-induced insecurity gradually learn to drop their masks and embrace their true identities in Christ.

Lastly, whether as part of the formal counseling process or in standard discipleship, believers struggling with the twin sins of approval-seeking and people-pleasing need to be taught to love and serve others, not see them as masters. Rather than being preoccupied with others’ view of us, resting in Christ’s unconditional love, even in our imperfection, frees us up to love others without need of reciprocation.

To be sure, renewing the mind influenced by interactive media—a powerful tool—is an ongoing process. It would be difficult to overstate the importance of peer approval and popularity to teens, especially in a digital world where it is so publically and objectively meted out. The struggle doesn’t disappear by simply reciting a “Sinner’s Prayer” or committing to spend more time reading the Bible (and less online). Nevertheless, as believers train their minds to take unbiblical thoughts captive (What am I attempting to gain by this post? Why do I want to post this sensual ‘selfie?’), the process of putting off fear of man, approval-craving and temptation to cultivate a false self has already begun. Subsequently, learning to embrace God’s view of him—as a dearly-loved, redeemed child—enables the insecure young believer to drop the bondage of an “online identity” and fully enjoy his true identity in Christ.

[1] “Media’s Externalization of Kids’ Self-Identity”, Psychology Today, October 11, 2012.

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Using Technology Wisely: When Remote Counseling is the Only Option (Part II)

CyberCounsel2

“This article (Using Technology Wisely: When Remote Counseling is the Only Option (Part II) by Marie Notcheva) originally appeared on the Biblical Counseling Coalition website.

In the first part of this series, we looked at some of the limitations of cyber-counseling and how to conduct these sessions most effectively. All else being equal, is cyber-counseling as effective as “the real thing”? With all caveats aside, is it really equal to in-person counseling in the local church? There are varying opinions. Some biblical counselors, like Lucy Ann Moll (lucyannmoll.com), have set up entire ministries around connecting to clients online.

Lucy has done premarital counseling with a Hong Kong real-estate heiress, counseled former gang members in Chicago, and helped numerous women around the world walk more closely with God. While she does encourage women to first seek out a qualified counselor in their area, she believes that biblical counsel can also be effective through video conferencing programs. “It’s convenient, and the Internet has opened doors to many people in nations without access to biblical counseling,” she points out. She has counseled women in Cambodia, Sweden, the UK, Hong Kong, Switzerland and Australia, as well as the US. Others have counseled in the Middle East and even China.

When Cyber-Counsel is the Only Option

There are a number of valid reasons why counseling may be sought remotely. Missionaries serving abroad can benefit from real-time counseling with their home churches (even if they are trained biblical counselors themselves). For example, one American missionary in India benefits from weekly premarital counseling sessions with the pastor at his home church.

In addition, many good churches do not have the resources or sufficiently trained personnel to provide a counseling ministry. A Christian may live too far away from any trained biblical counselor to meet in person. This is especially true for believers outside of the United States. I have counseled many young women with eating disorders in Eastern Europe, for example, and subsequently referred them to doctrinally sound local churches for discipleship.

Connection to a Local Church is Crucial

Where there is a great geographical distance between the counselor and the counselee, the counselee may not take the counseling process very seriously. Thus, an important way to help them be discipled adequately and grow in Christ is to urge attendance at a local church and to be known to their pastor.

One counselee, in Sydney, Australia, resisted her counselor’s advice to attend a local church – claiming that there were none in the area. After a few sessions, it became apparent that the woman just wanted to tell her story of how she had been wronged. She did not follow through with homework (which were to be e-mailed to the counselor prior to the start of each session). Sometimes, the counselor would do the homework with her – during the actual Skype session, if it was an assignment that allowed for it. However, when it became clear that the woman was not willing to initiate godly change in her life, the counselor felt compelled to terminate the sessions. “I wasn’t going to play the self-pity game,” she says.

A Successful Case Study: “Julie’s” Plight

Notwithstanding the challenges, there have been countless stories of people who have been helped and achieved lasting change with the assistance of an online counselor. One dramatic turn-around happened in the life of a West Coast woman, pregnant with three small children, who had to flee from an abusive husband. “Julie” had heard about Lucy through a mutual friend who had counseled in person with her. Lucy first heard Julie’s cry for help over the phone, and soon they began regular telephone counseling sessions. “We had a lot of good conversations, in which I was able to get a lot of details about the abuse from her husband,” Lucy notes. In an emergency situation, Julie reached a point where she had to take the children and flee the home. She went to the Midwest, where she had family – and commenced Skype counseling with Lucy while getting involved in a local church.

The combination of online counseling and involvement in a local church was what greatly aided Julie in applying the Scriptures to her life – and turning it around. When accountability to a church is absent, things often don’t work out so smoothly. “Often counselees who are not in a church have left a church,” Lucy says. “The question then becomes why. Some people, for example, are afraid it would be unsafe to tell anyone in church they are depressed, lest they be ‘judged’.”

A Former Gang Member’s Testimony

The anonymity of the Internet often is exactly what hurting people will use to reach out for help. Often people will not turn to a pastor or small group leader, but will speak to a Skype counselor. Lucy tells the story of “Beth,” a young woman who joined a Chicago gang in college for a sense of belonging. Following a horrific gang initiation (essentially gang-rape), unimaginable violence and sexual abuse followed. Beth would point the camera down, at her feet when she divulged these details to Lucy. Her shame was so great that she would not show her face, even through a computer monitor. At the same time, however, Beth desperately wanted someone to hear her story – and talking to Lucy in this way was the only way to get it out. At the time, she could not tell anyone at her church. The subject was so sensitive that it demanded distance, until Beth was able to work through the issues of neglect and sin that had affected her childhood and adolescence. Beth now attends a gospel-preaching church and has grown greatly there. “I see this as a ‘graduation’ of sorts—seeing counselees plugged into a church body,” Lucy says. She now shares her testimony at church to help point others to the Wonderful Counselor.

Of course, anonymity also makes it easier to retreat, and we looked at the problem of ongoing accountability in Part I. Used wisely, technology can be a great advantage and gift from God that allows us to speak into another person’s life – even for a limited amount of time.

For a fuller discussion of using technology to the glory of God, see Marie Notcheva’s book, Plugged In: Proclaiming Christ in the Internet Age (Pure Water Press).

In-house or Plugged In? The Advantages and Drawbacks of Cyber-Counseling (Part I)

CyberCounsel11

This article (In-house or Plugged In? The Advantages and Drawbacks of Cyber-Counseling (Part I) by Marie Notcheva) originally appeared on the Biblical Counseling Coalition website.

As biblical counseling becomes more widespread (and the world becomes smaller, due to technology), more and more counseling centers are choosing to “specialize” in remote counseling.[1] Let’s consider the case for and against counseling through video chat (or over the phone) and a few pointers to make sessions as profitable as possible.

Bringing the Counselor to You

The convenience of remote counseling is obvious – many believers do not live within driving distance of a church with a counseling ministry. One biblical counselor in the Midwest who specializes in cyber-counsel says, “One woman in a Western state lived on a ranch, and the closest church was 60 miles away. Although she and her husband were part of a church, when a counseling matter arose, it was hugely beneficial to be able to speak to me.” There are also times when counselees are prevented from getting to their appointments due to snowfall or other inclement weather, or due to being on vacation or on business trips. In addition, for the disabled or those prevented from going to church for geographical reasons, cyber-counseling is an advantage.

Desire for Anonymity

Even where access to a biblical counseling ministry may be available, in many cases, a believer will turn first to a search engine to seek information and/or counsel for a spiritual battle because of the anonymity of the Internet. In such cases, which I have experienced many times in my communication with eating-disordered women, my first suggestion is that a woman speak confidentially with her pastor (or pastor’s wife, in some cases.) The exhortation and accountability she needs to be truly transformed should be sought first in her local church – even though it is often more difficult to “come clean” about weaknesses to those who know us well. Furthermore, contacting an online counselor may be the first step a person can lead to getting connected to a church where he or she can grow.

Despite its many conveniences and advantages, there are some very real cautions to consider in cyber-counseling. One of the first things to consider is why the person is seeking cyber-counseling, especially if there is a church ministry or center with in-person counseling available to him or her. There are sometimes valid reasons, but it is also common for the counselee who isn’t as invested in the process to choose Skype over in-person counseling.

Lack of Accountability in Cyber-Counseling

For biblical counseling to be successful, the one receiving counsel must be committed to doing the hard work of biblical change. In the first session, the counselor must give hope, as well as obtain a commitment from the counselee to the process. We hold the counselee accountable and expect to see progress. When the counselee is not physically meeting with the counselor week after week, completed homework in hand, there is less motivation to do the assignments. Or sessions can be conveniently skipped because the counselee “forgot” to log on to Skype at a certain time. The ongoing accountability so necessary for counseling to be successful simply is harder in an online set-up.

“Halo Data” and Technical Limitations

When a counselee arrives for the first session, there is much information the counselor can observe about the individual and even about the problem for which the person is seeking help. Most of this “halo data” is completely lost when counseling remotely. Even with a webcam, the session is not as natural as it would be in person. The counselee can feel “poised,” almost as if performing, even in the absence of any technical difficulties (which can often interrupt a counseling session done by video conferencing).

Skype and e-mail can be used if the counselee is willing to take the process seriously, rather than just “vent” and disappear. In addition, there are a few other considerations to keep in mind for successful cyber-counseling encounters:

  • Set a regular, definite time for counseling sessions and do not deviate from it. This will help the counselee view the sessions as “real counseling” and not just an opportunity to informally chat.
  • Request that Personal Data Inventory forms be completed and either scanned or mailed back to you before you conduct the first counseling session. These contain vital information you need in order to ask the right data-gathering questions and set the agenda for counseling. Without them, the first session may turn into an informal chat session, which will set the tone for sessions to follow.
  • If using a webcam, avoid setting it up in the living room or other high-traffic area of your home where children or pets may pass through. This will detract from the professional and calm atmosphere you need for effective counseling, and it will distract both of you.
  • Assign homework and expect the counselee to complete it. Failure to do homework is a sure sign the person does not consider “virtual counseling” to be as serious as in-person sessions.
  • Wherever possible, involve the counselee’s pastor in the counseling process. If you are counseling someone remotely, it is unlikely that you will be supervised by anyone in your church (or counseling center). It is even less likely that the counselee will be updating his pastor about what the two of you are discussing. If appropriate, ask permission to contact family members for their input into a situation.
  • Be sure that the counselee’s spouse and pastor know that she is speaking to you, and that they know why. It is not necessary to share details with them about the case (with some exceptions, for example if the counselee threatens to commit suicide), but those closest to the counselee might need to know the “big picture.”

In Part II of this series, we will consider some case studies of successful cyber-counseling sessions when it was the only option available.

[1] Please see Chapters 4 and 5 of my book, Plugged In: Proclaiming Christ in the Internet Age for a more in-depth look at the use of technology in biblical counseling.

Si të jesh më social në median sociale

Nga Afrim Karoshi, për “Ilira Revista”

Kid_Social_MediaNjerëzit duan ta shkëmbejnë vetveten. Duan të njohin e të njihen. Që në zanafillë e botës, të paktën nga këndvështrimi biblik, nuk ishte mirë për Adamin të rrinte vetëm. Kur Zoti i dhuroi gruan atij, përtej dhënies së bashkëshortes u përmbush edhe nevoja e Adamit për të qenë vazhdimisht në praninë e të ngjashmit.

Rrjetet sociale të kohës sonë rrjedhin prej kësaj nevoje të brendshme tonën. Të duash të jesh afër njerëzve, nuk është diçka e re. Por të rrish afër njerëzve përmes Facebook­ut, e ku ti shkruan në njërën anë, e dikush tjetër lidhet me ty përmes asaj që shkruan nga ana tjetër e botës (qyteti yt mund të duket fundi i botës!), kjo është e re.

A e përmbush ky realitet teknologjik “ëndrrën” e kahershme – që prej krijimit të botës madje – të një lidhjeje të patëmetë mes nesh?

Është e zakonshme pritshmëria e disave që teknologjia mundëson një realitet, ku nuk ka vuajtje e dhimbje, ku jeta është më e mirë, në kufijtë e së përsosurës. Ndonjëherë, kjo pritshmëri nuk shqiptohet qartë, por në sfond bie në sy. Kur rrjetet sociale u bënë të famshme në botë, sidomos Facebook­u e Twitter­i, u duk se përfundimisht muret e ndarjes mes njerëzve u shembën.

Lidhemi me të tjerët përtej kontinentit, por ende jemi të vetmuar. Marrim informacion me bollëk, por shumë më tepër sesa përtypim, që të mund të përfitojmë prej tij.

Në vijim do të ofroj disa mendime se si ta përdorim kontekstin e ri të komunikimit për të shkuar përtej dukjes, drejt marrëdhënieve të shëndosha. Një njohje e mirë e karakteristikave të kon
tekstit të ri na jep mundësinë të shkëmbejmë më mirë me njëri­tjetrin.

Konteksti, konteksti, konteksti… i munguar

Cili është ndryshimi mes dy njerëzve që flasin përballë njërit­tjetrit në tavolinë, nën aromën e fortë të një kafeje ekspres, dhe kur flasin nga rehatia e shtëpive të tyre, duke përdorur chat­in në Facebook?

Informacion tejçohet, apo jo? Por informacioni nuk është vetëm “fjalë”. Kur dikush thotë “të dua!”, fjalët ndryshojnë kuptim kur shoqërohen me një skuqje të lehtë fytyre, me sy të ndriçuar, dhe me zërin që dridhet.

Krejt natyrshëm e lexojmë kontekstin, sa ndonjëherë, në statusin e dikujt në Facebook, lexojmë edhe mimikën e shkruesit. Por duhet të kujtojmë që në një tekst të shkruar në Facebook ka vetëm fjalë. Dhe tani për tani, kaq mund të ketë! S’mund t’u veshim fjalëve kontekstin e komunikimit që paramendojmë, sepse  është vështirë të dallosh vetëm nga fjalët edhe gjendjen shpirtërore të shkruesit.

Kohët e fundit, Facebook­u ka shtuar mundësinë që bashkë me statusin (informacion) të shtojmë edhe shprehjen e gjendjes emocionale rreth atij statusi, por, prapë, kjo nuk e zëvendëson nevojën tonë për të lexuar “për së gjalli” botën emocionale të dikujt.

Të mendohem apo të flas?

Mërziteshim me dikë, dikur! Më parë, kur s’kishte Facebook e celularë, sipas largësisë orë të tëra hapësire lëndimi na ndanin nga të tjerët. Minutat kalonin e zjarri i zemërimit shuhej deri në çastin e përballjes. Kishim kohë t’i përzgjidhnim fjalët më me kujdes sesa në fillim të grindjes. Sot, nëse lëndohemi, mund t’ia bëjmë të ditur personit lëndimin në harkun e 10 sekondave. Njerëzit janë një mesazh telefonik (SMS) larg! Na duhet më shumë kohë të mendohemi rreth mesazhit, sesa ta shkruajmë atë!

Duhet të ruhemi nga reagimi “flakë për flakë”. Lehtësia e mundësisë për të reaguar mund të na bëjë më pak “socialë”. Unë, pas disa përvojave “të dhimbshme”, përpiqem të mos reagoj për çështje “acaruese” në Facebook. Më ndihmon të bluaj mendimet përpara se të flas.

Në internet “mëkatet nuk lahen”

Një imazh në internet është pothuajse e pamundur të fshihet. Një herë, pa u menduar, postova pa leje një artikull, ku përmendeshin emrat e disa miqve të mi. M’u deshën tri ditë punë për të hequr emrat e tyre nga lista e kërkimit në Google kur kuptova që miqtë dëmtoheshin nga artikulli. Ia dola! Por në parim, pasi “hedhim gurin, nuk e fshehim dot dorën”.Çfarë do të mendojnë të afërmit tanë kur shohin fotografitë? Çfarë ndikimi do të ketë imazhi ynë publik pas 5 vitesh kur të jemi duke konkurruar për një rol publik?

Edhe më shumë duhet të mendohemi kur flasim për imazhin e fëmijëve në internet. Çfarë do të mendojnë fëmijët kur, të rritur, të shikojnë veten?
Si do të ndikohet karriera e tyre? A do të ndiejnë siklet kur të shikojnë veten, bebe të zhytura në vaska uji? Fëmijët e mi po hidhen në dekadën e dytë të jetës. Kam filluar t’u kërkoj miratim për fotot dhe deklaratat e tyre, që dua t’i bëj publike.

Beso e kontrollo

“Problemi me citimet nga interneti është që nuk mund të kesh garanci në saktësinë e tyre”. Në rrjetet sociale, thënia e mësipërme i atribuohet në mënyrë ironike Abraham Linkolnit, i cili dihet që s’ka jetuar në epokën e internetit.

Saktësia e informacionit nuk është pika e fortë e rrjeteve sociale. Marrim lajme shpejt, por edhe marrim lajme të rreme më shumë. Përmes miqve të mi në Facebook, u njoha me historinë e një pastori, i cili e vizitoi kishën e tij i veshur si i pastrehë dhe gjatë vizitës vuri re që anëtarët e kishës, që në raste të tjera përbetoheshin për bindje të plotë ndaj Zotit, nuk e mirëpritën. Historia u bë një “hit” në rrjetet sociale.

Problemi? Një kërkim jo shumë i mundimshëm zbulon që historia nuk është e vërtetë. Pastori nuk ekziston. E as kisha e tij 10­mijëanëtarëshe nuk gjendet. Edhe përrallat na mësojnë. Por na mësojnë më shumë kur e dimë që janë përralla. Ndaj duhet të jemi të ndjeshëm ndaj përhapjes së informacionit që nuk është i saktë.

Të predikoj apo të dëgjoj?

Rrjetet sociale janë ndërtuar për ndërveprim. Në Twitter kemi 140 shkronja për të komunikuar. Në Facebook, pasi ke vendosur një postim, miqtë tanë kanë mundësi të na bëjnë “LIKE”, të na kundërshtojnë, të na miratojnë mendimin pjesërisht, edhe diskutimi mund të vazhdojë, derisa të shkruajmë një status tjetër!

Por nëse duam të shkruajmë një roman, e them me dhimbje këtë për ne që pëlqejmë të shprehemi gjerë e gjatë, duhet t’u rrimë larg rrjeteve sociale.

Që të mund të komunikojmë mirë, është mirë të shkruajmë shkurt. Dhe të përgatitemi të ndërveprojmë me njerëzit. Vështirë se mund të ndikojmë të tjerët me Lajmin e Mirë të Ungjillit të Krishtit duke ua përplasur në fytyrë “miqve” tanë të gjithë historinë biblike, nga fillimi në fund. Në të kundërt, duhet të përpiqemi t’i bëjmë miqtë tanë të mendojnë, të diskutojnë, e kështu përmes shkëmbimit të ideve, të gjithë bashkë, të mësojmë nga njëri­tjetri për ta dashur Zotin më mirë.

Dhe për ne që duam të ndikojmë, rrjetet sociale janë vendi më i mirë, jo për të folur, por për të dëgjuar!

Si të mbledh mendjen?

Disa studime thonë që mesatarja e kohës së përqendrimit është 5 sekonda. 10 vite më përpara ishte 12 minuta. Ndikimi i rrjeteve sociale ka sjellë këtë ndryshim dramatik. Thuhet që dëmet e shkaktuara nga mungesa e përqendrimit shkojnë në 1.6 miliardë sterlina në Britaninë e Madhe. A e ke vënë re, si unë, nevojën për të kontrolluar postën elektronike çdo minutë? A të ndodh, si edhe mua, që kalon orë të tëra në Facebook, duke lexuar rrjedhën e postimeve të 2­3 orëve të fundit? Si do të dukej dita nëse ke harruar celularin në shtëpi? Si ndihesh kur nuk i përgjigjesh një telefonate? Këto janë pyetje me të cilat testoj aftësinë time për t’u shpërqendruar. Disa e kanë zgjidhur këtë dilemë duke hequr dorë fare nga rrjetet sociale. Por ky reagim 180­gradësh është pothuajse i pamundur. Unë përpiqem të kem orare të planifikuara, ku lë mënjanë telefonin, kompjuterin e çdo pajisje tjetër teknologjike që më fton në ndërveprim. Një kohë “pushimi” periodike ndihmon të çlodhësh mendjen edhe të ndërveprosh më frytshëm me të tjerët. Vini re: po përpiqem!

Egoizmi

Si në çdo fushë tjetër, prirja jonë e natyrshme për t’u fokusuar më shumë te vetja sesa te të tjerët, del në pah edhe në rrjetet sociale. Egoizmi shkatërron jo vetëm marrëdhëniet reale por edhe ato virtuale. Shumë prej nesh jemi të lënduar që të tjerët s’na kuptojnë, s’na ndjekin, s’bien dakord gjithmonë me opinionet tona të mirëmenduara…

Në fund të fundit, edhe në hapësirën e pamasë të rrjeteve sociale, ndërsa shijojmë lirinë që kemi për të thënë botës çfarë të duam, kur të duam, shembulli i Jezusit, i cili hoqi dorë nga liria e tij për t’ju shërbyer të tjerëve, është modeli më i mirë i komunikimit… jo vetëm për hapësirën virtuale!

 

“Plugged In” Makes Top 15 Biblical Counseling Books of 2015 List

I was extremely happy and honored this week to make the list of “Top 15 Biblical Counseling Books of 2015”, published by Rpm Ministries. With other authors including Tim Keller, Kevin DeYoung and Paul Tripp, my little book was in very exalted company! See the full list and reviews here.

Plugged In: Proclaiming Christ in the Internet Age, by Marie Notcheva, Pure Water Press

Plugged In

The Internet, like anything and everything that is of human origin, can be a blessing or a curse. In Plugged In, Marie Notcheva outlines how we can use the Internet as a blessing in evangelism and in biblical counseling. She addresses practical and profound issues like, “Is virtual counseling a good idea?” “Can we effectively disciple someone through the Internet?” “How do we share the gospel and encourage believers in cyber-space?” In answering these questions and many more, Notcheva demonstrates how to use technology wisely to God’s glory.

In other news this week, my article “A Grief Like No Other: When a Friend Loses a Child” was published in the Bulgarian Christian women’s magazine, “Списание Лия”. It makes me feel great knowing that my words are being read around the world, in multiple languages, and hopefully blessing someone!

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The Privacy (You Don’t Realize) You’re Giving Up on Facebook

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© Marie Notcheva

Once upon a time, the Internet was a New Thing. In the mid-1990’s, the novelty of being able to connect with strangers in chatrooms or play chess with friends a continent away was met with awe – and caution. A generation of parents now implemented the “don’t talk to strangers” rule in a new way. Common wisdom, long before social media, meant never revealing your identity or location online. There was a mis-placed sense of fear that by tracking your computer’s IP address, crazy stalkers could show up at your house with axes in the middle of the night.

A generation later, the proliferation of Smartphone Apps that use GPS tracking has made virtually everyone’s location “trackable”, all of the time. We know that Google stores all of our information – which we give them willingly – and we pretty much don’t care. As long as our anti-virus software is up to date, we figure we are “secure”.

But as a professor at a programming conference once said, “Security is why we lock our doors. Privacy is why we draw the curtains.”

We throw back the curtains of our lives every time we post a picture or update our status. Privacy is something we have given up willingly when using social media. But far more is being taken than most users realize. And Facebook Messenger, which adults now use for most written communication, is the single biggest offender when it comes to invading your privacy. Increasingly, teens and students are moving away from Facebook and using Apps such as Kik and SnapChat (which leave no data behind on servers) to communicate, but those of us in the over-30 demographic use Messenger more than e-mail, SMS texts, or any other App for casual communication.

The sheer convenience of Messenger makes this logical – texting is unreliable, as people’s phone numbers tend to change. The sender knows instantly when a Facebook message is read; something impossible via traditional text or e-mail. For Smartphone users, the notification “pops up” instantly – making the message hard to miss. And everyone is on Facebook – it is the easiest way to connect. I have sent articles to editors; responded to neighbors’ concerns; even been contacted by my children’s teachers through Facebook Messenger.

How Messenger Steals Your Privacy (and there’s nothing you can do about it)

When Facebook rolled out the new App in 2013, there was concern about security which, while stated in their user contract, few people took the time to read. Users were prompted to download the App to continue being able to send messages, but once installed, Facebook was granted permission to do a multitude of things like call numbers, send SMS messages, record audio, take pictures and read personal profile information stored on your phone. Ever noticed the tiny Google map that shows up on some messages, sent from a phone? This allows me to see exactly where on the street (say, in Sofia or Tirana) a friend is when she messages me. She, in turn, has a map of the Boston hospital from where I messaged her. Pretty cool, right?

Now imagine that’s your 14-year-old daughter, texting with a stranger who just “Friend requested” her.

While you can turn off location services under your phone’s settings, that feature never should have been on Facebook to begin with. Having your precise location recorded and displayed by default is just plain creepy…but at least it can be de-activated. Another more subtle (but insidious) privacy feature cannot be turned off: the “Last Active” timestamp.

The Messenger timestamp displays exactly how many minutes it has been since you last logged in (no matter how briefly). It’s both in the chat sidebar and at the top of your Facebook “Conversations”. Gone are the days when turning off chat made you invisible (green light meant you were available; yellow that you were idle; and if you turned it off, no one knew if you were active or not). Now, whenever you open Facebook, you are still displayed as “Active” even when chat is off. Other messaging Apps (such as Viber, Skype and Whats App) also have a “Last Online” timestamp, but give you the option to deactivate it. Facebook does not.

Many casual or infrequent users of Facebook don’t realize that once you have exchanged a message with someone, he or she can pull that up at any time and always see the last time you were logged in. Why would someone care? Most of us, in fact, don’t. (I check my messages and scroll briefly through the Newsfeed many times per day – especially when I have downtime at work. I don’t often have time to engage in conversations, but I couldn’t care less if someone sees me check in.)

Why do people need this information about each other?

Messenger – a Faster Way to Wrongly Conclude that People are Lying to You

As absurd as it sounds, this timestamp has led to fights, paranoia, even breakups – and it’s not even accurate. By 2013, a glitch in how the servers were gathering data was well known to Facebook. Randomly, users (especially from cellphones) will appear as online, even when they’re not – “phantom users”, in a sense. While the exact reason this occurs is unknown, some guesses from a mechanical engineer are:

  1. Facebook Chat in the browser has no uniform way of determining the idle state of the host machine or browser.
  2. The Facebook Messenger app can’t signal that it’s idle either, because most mobile OSes kill apps or place them on standby at will to conserve power.
  3. Mobile data connections are relatively tenuous compared to conventional LAN connections. This means that a mobile client may fade in and out of connectedness despite the user being active.
  4. Facebook Chat’s infrastructure doesn’t distinguish between API calls from Facebook clients and 3rd party apps using a Facebook account. This means that you could appear to be online solely because a web service that uses your Facebook credentials pinged Facebook’s servers. Combined with point #1, it means Facebook might assume a user is online solely because their browser is on a Facebook page, despite them not being at the computer.
  5. The sheer number of users is too much for Facebook to track accurately in real-time.

Another reason for “phantom activity” may be that many users have other accounts linked to Facebook (such as Twitter, Instagram, etc.) Theoretically, whenever there is activity there it could cause someone to appear “Active”, even if he has not opened Facebook in days. Apps running in the background affect the activity recorded, as well.

I have many student-friends in Europe (six time zones ahead of me), and it’s not unusual for them to login to Facebook and chat in the middle of the night. However, some of their phones seem plagued by this “timestamp glitch” – resulting in exchanges such as this (paraphrase):

ME: “Dude! What are you doing online? It’s 2:00 in the morning over there. You should go to sleep.”
HIM: “Dude, ya think?!? I WAS sleeping.”
ME: “But Dude, your Facebook says you’re active. I thought you were chatting.”
HIM: “Dude, I wasn’t chatting. I was sleeping. My phone does that, I don’t know why.”
ME: “Oh, sorry Dude!! My bad. Good night.”

Not a big deal, right? It led to some slight embarrassment on my part; some sleep-deprivation on his part; and a new rule: don’t message European friends after dinner (regardless of what Facebook claims about their activity).

Elsewhere, however, this Messenger feature – no matter how unreliable – has caused almost unbelievable drama. A sample of complaints:

“Fell asleep at 11pm. Girlfriend thinks I am up to no good as it says that I have been active between 11.30 – 12. Caused mayhem.”

“My boyfriend and I broke up because of this 😦

Sometimes it’s good because you think “oh thank God, he was online 14 min. ago, so he wasn’t hit by a truck!”, but other times it’s “hey WTH is he doing on FB mobile at midnight when he told me he went to bed at 10pm?”

My question is two-fold: 1) Why are people stalking each other in this way; and 2) Why doesn’t Facebook remove this timestamp feature – or at least make it optional? It’s the fact that we have no control over this privacy feature that is the issue.

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Social media may be a faster, more accessible way to communicate, but the psychological effects it is having on relationships makes this a steep price to pay.  A decade ago, it would have seemed unthinkable that trust would be shattered over privacy violations on a “socializing” platform. This is not porn, “cyber-sexing” or any other form of infidelity – this is a massive social network wrongly recording pings off a server (that it has no right to be recording).

It may be too late to uninstall Messenger (you will still be able to send messages through the browser, but not the App), but be aware of what it records about you. Assume the timestamp is inaccurate; turn off your location services; and ask Facebook to remove both of these features.

Short Term, Long Term: Youth Discipleship in Albania (from Modern Reformation)

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This article originally ran in the September/October 2012 issue of “Modern Reformation” magazine.

Albania’s youth becoming rooted, grounded and “plugged in”

© Marie Notcheva

The other night, I called my sixth-grade son from work to check up on him. “Um, actually I’m chatting on Skype right now…with one of your Albanian friends, Marko,” he confessed.  Knowing fifteen-year-old Marko, I realized he was probably witnessing to my son. Nevertheless, maternal concern won out: “Miro, it’s midnight in Albania. Marko has school tomorrow. Tell him I said to get offline and go to sleep.” While such exchanges in my home are commonplace, just a few years ago they would have been unthinkable. It has only been in the past three to five years that most homes in Albania have internet connection, partly due to the growing popularity of online games and social networking sites. Today, electronic media is also greatly increasing the long-term impact of short-term missions.

From Paul to Qiriazi

While most in the West are familiar with Albania’s recent history as an isolated, atheistic state, fewer are aware of the country’s early ties to the Gospel. Romans 15:19 records Paul’s preaching ministry in Illyricum, and Byzantium established Christianity as the official religion until the 14th century. Five centuries under Turkish rule left the vast majority Muslim. Yet  Albanians generally have never associated national identity with an “official” faith as do their Balkan neighbors. “In some ways,” notes one American missionary, “this makes evangelism easier.” Nominal Muslim teens freely share Chris Tomlin links on Facebook – unlikely in a truly Islamic nation.

The Protestant movement began while Albania was still under the Ottoman Empire, during a period historians refer to as “The Balkan Reformation.” In 1890, Gjersaim Qiriazi, considered the father of Protestantism in Albania, began his evangelistic ministry and founded a school and church in Korce. In 1892, the Evangelical Brotherhood began, with the primary purpose of spreading the Gospel and developing literature in the Albanian language. Protestantism was driven deep underground even after Albania’s liberation from Turkey in 1912. Missionaries were expelled during the fascist occupation of World War II, after which the Enver Hoxha regime (1944-85) plunged Albania into a dark period of religious repression and isolation from the rest of the world. In 1991, Western missionaries of every stripe began flooding the country.

Bible Camp — Done Balkan-Style

Paul Davies, director of Albania Evangelical Mission, a UK-based ministry formed in 1986, says there are relatively few conservative or Reformed congregations in Albania. His team’s Gjirokaster church plant has close and supportive relationships with two churches (in Tepelene and Delvine) formed by Dutch Reformed missionaries. During their summer camp program, teens from several towns spend a week improving their English, hearing the Gospel, and having fun – under the leadership of Albanian and AEM ministry and a team of short-term volunteers. Staff lead small group discussions on real-world topics designed to introduce a biblical worldview, such as friendship, superstition, and cheating. Evening programs include Gospel presentations and films on Reformation heroes such as Luther and Tyndale. Recreation leaves ample time for interested teens to pursue private conversations with the staff (although impromptu folk-dancing is also not uncommon!). Camp director Shaun Thompson, who has served in Albania for 21 years, notes that cultural differences demand a less expository and more relationship-driven approach to evangelism and discipleship. “I have seen missionaries try to do Bible camp here just like they would at home (in the US or UK), and it doesn’t work,” he said. Few in Albania own Bibles, or are familiar with Christian terminology.

For many, camp is their first exposure to the Gospel and some respond with the same enthusiasm they show on the volleyball court.  Eight months after conversion, 17-year-old “Dritan” was working his way through R.C Sproul’s Reformation Study Bible. “It’s a huge book,” he said. The AEM team, along with Albanian pastors, teach year-round at their weekly English club, but many campers are  unable to attend either due to geographic reasons or parental disapproval. Their only follow-up comes via electronic media, often by staying in touch with short-term missionaries.

“Teach me to pray!”

When “Alma” turns 18, she has a goal: to read the Bible.  Several weeks after attending camp, she begged, “Would you teach me to pray? I really want to belong to Jesus…I want to believe, and I will!” Following an explanation of the Person and work of Christ, she made a profession of faith – via Facebook chat. Like many Albanians of their generation, her parents disapprove of religion – anything that could interfere with studying and a lucrative career path can often be seen as a distraction, says AEM missionary James Clarke. Forbidden to attend church or read a Bible, Alma’s only source of edification comes via phone and online.  “My parents can stop me from going to church, but they can’t stop me from believing,” she types. She reads Scriptures from her phone – thanks to Biblegateway.com’s online Albanian translation.

Her friend “Arjeta” tells a similar story. A week at camp left her with questions, but with the help of a Facebook friend and a multi-lingual apologetics site, she learned of grace. Two days later, Arjeta declared that Christ was now her Lord – but barred from Christian activities, she now completes semi-weekly Bible lessons online with a pastor in Wales.   She says, “When I first told my parents, they strongly disagreed with me. But Jesus was calling me from the bottom of my heart, inside me, so I kept believing in Him without letting them know. One day I wanted to go to church and also take Bible lessons. They behaved so badly with me; I tried to explain what I felt, but they were afraid…I asked if I could take a Bible home at least, but they denied that, too. I try to read the Bible online but I have to do it carefully.”

“The internet age is definitely facilitating evangelism and discipleship,” says Besiana Rajta, an Albanian staff member of Campus Crusade for Christ.  “Keeping in touch with people from short-term mission trips has influenced me and helped me grow in my faith.” In November 2011, her ministry completed an online interactive quiz for students. Although there are still not many online resources available in Albanian, most teens are fluent in English.

Marko was also drawn to the Lord at summer camp, several years ago. At fifteen, he has never been outside of Albania, but he and his friend Xhoi remain close friends with the teenage missionaries who brought the Gospel to their predominantly-Muslim town. For these Christian youth, Skype and social networking sites provide fellowship and a global perspective. His friend Tea agrees, noting that there are few Christians in their community and even fewer in their school. Living for Christ is “difficult, but not impossible,” she says. “I’m just glad that God chose me.” Their group takes evangelism seriously. “Our pastor got permission for us to visit a hospital and share the Gospel with patients,” she said. She was surprised to learn from online friends that such an activity would be highly unlikely in the United States.

The Limitations of “Online Discipleship”

Using electronic media for teaching and discipleship is convenient, but there are some drawbacks. Relationships cannot develop naturally, as interaction is usually limited to small talk and answering specific doctrinal questions. Even when using a webcam, body language and tone are hard to read. When personal problems arise in a youth’s life, cultural differences and the limited amount of data one can gather make specific counsel extremely difficult. Explaining the broad biblical principles that apply to the situation, in the simplest terms possible, is advisable.

For short-termers returning home, the temptation to assume too much too quickly exists; for young truth-seekers, it might be to tell these new friends what they think they want to hear. Clarke warns, “[In Albania] If you ask someone, ‘do you trust in Christ’, ‘are you a believer’ or ‘are you following Christ’, they might just say ‘Of course I am!‘ even though they don’t have the slightest idea what these terms really mean.” Thoroughly explaining key doctrines is crucial. Just because a teen may have attended a picnic with Reformed ministers or spent a week at camp does not mean he is regenerate.

The most important lesson of “online discipleship” for short-term missionaries is keeping in close contact with the local church staff. Those on the field have already built close relationships with the teens and their parents, and are best able to gauge what kind of interaction is appropriate. The biblical model for teaching and discipleship is through the local church. When a teen’s contact with ministry personell is curtailed, however, an online connection may be his only source of encouragement. Local ministry leaders and correspondants abroad can work symbiotically by keeping one another updated on youths’ progress, struggles, and significant developments.

Short-term missions are impacting lives like never before, and nowhere is this more apparent than in rural Albania. An entire generation has been born, grown up and become techno-savvy since the end of the Hoxha/Alia regime in 1991. Although it is no replacement for face-to-face contact, mentoring via the internet is one way to help new believers grow spiritually after a one-week mission ends. Arjeta now writes, “I keep believing and praying each night. In Jesus I found true love; He loves me more than anyone, and He loved me before I was born. He never lets me down.”  AEM operates their camps below cost, and their greatest need is for financial support. (For more information about Albania Evangelical Mission’s ministry and how you can donate, see their website: http://www.aemission.org/.)

Fulfilling the Great Commission… in the Internet Age

This article originally appeared in the Albanian magazine, “Ilira Revistë”. You can read the Albanian language version here.

 © Marie Notcheva

 How is Social Networking Changing Us?

 Despite the fact that we live in a society where it is now possible to contact someone across the world through a Skype call, instant message, or video chat, the technology that makes global communication possible now makes us less likely to interact in person.  A 2010 British study showed that one quarter of adults socialize more online than they do in person. Eleven percent of people choose to stay indoors and talk online, even when the opportunity to go out with friends arises. Many sociologists observe that social media is destroying our interpersonal skills.

I have also noticed that attention seeking, self-absorption, and depression increases among young women with their social media use. Social media, by definition, encourages self-promotion – or rather, promotion of a carefully-designed image one wants the world to see. I have seen girls as young as 13 dressed immodestly, striking provocative poses – to get positive feedback. Many young women, including Christians, fall into the trap of promoting a “bad girl” image online, which does not represent their true personalities. This presents an additional challenge to having spiritual conversations online: which “self” am I speaking with? The image that the young woman wants to present to the world (through her pouting “selfies” and tormented Tumblr pictures), or the hungry soul inside, seeking Christ?

 In 2011, a Christian website claimed: Online Evangelism Ministry Reaches 687,000 in One Day!” A ministry which records Gospel presentations based on website hits claimed that of that total number of “hearers”, 56,854 people indicated a decision for Jesus Christ by clicking a button. In total, the ministry said it presented the Gospel 112 million times in 2010.

Is this really what the Lord meant when He commanded His disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations”? Can we really reduce the Person, work and call of Jesus Christ to a digital page?

The goal of online outreach is ambitious. Using available technology to spread the Gospel is a worthy endeavor, and social media should be used for God’s glory. The fastest, most effective way of communicating a message is to use the Internet for transmission to the furthest corners of the globe. However, it is just this mindset – the fast-and-effective, “microwave” mentality – that is the undoing of online evangelism. We can’t pre-package the Gospel and expect instant converts.

The Importance of Relationship

 Church planters who have studied evangelism methods say that most people who have trusted Christ did so because of an influential Christian in their life. In 2013, my church surveyed members about their conversion. Many people cited a friend or relative’s personal witness; someone who cared and was willing to invest time and love in their life. Clearly, God’s plan to use His people as His ambassadors to a lost world has not changed.

The key to effective online evangelism – as well as ongoing discipleship and counsel – lies in establishing relationship. The relationship should be two-fold, however: both between the online “mentor” and seeker (or new believer); and subsequently, between the new believer and his/her local church. Establishing a connection in a local, doctrinally-sound church is a crucial part of “online ministry”. Without personal connection, a new believer is unlikely to grow – even if he has someone on the other end of a computer answering his doctrinal questions.

Cyber Discipleship and Biblical Counseling: Advantages and Pitfalls

 There is no greater joy than watching a friend accept Christ and grow in faith, especially if you have had a part in it. In fact, younger believers often find it easier to confide in someone online than to discuss their concerns with a pastor. But no virtual mentoring, no matter how solid, can replace in-person guidance. A good way to view “online discipleship” is simply to be there, as an encouraging friend, while helping new Christians get connected to a local church. Online discipleship cannot take place in a vacuum – believers may benefit from your contact greatly, but still need personal teaching, corporate worship, and fellowship (Hebrews 10:25).

Daniel, a Russian missionary, shared a story which demonstrates how social networking can be used as a springboard for effective evangelism. Twenty-year-old Dmitriy asked Daniel to teach him more about God and the Bible, which Daniel did, through Facebook. They had several exchanges before Daniel contacted a fellow believer in Dmitriy’s city and asked him to meet with him. Two weeks later, Daniel received a message from Dmitriy, saying that his “second birthday” had come…and thanking him for helping lead him to Christ.

Such stories are common in this age of global communication. A crucial component, however, was Daniel’s arranging for Dmitriy to meet with a local believer. Dmitriy’s needs and questions could be addressed in person. One difficulty in attempting to “disciple” online is not being able to determine when a professed Christian actually does not understand a spiritual concept. Often, someone will say “yes, I see” or agree without true comprehension. Later on, you may discover you are attempting to “disciple” someone who still lacks saving faith. Another difficulty is accountability – a necessary component of discipleship. You cannot really know what is going on in an internet friend’s life unless she chooses to share it with you; and she is free to reject your counsel or stop communicating.

Counseling is similar to discipleship, in that its goal is to equip believers to grow in obedience to Christ’s commands, but usually deals with a specific problem. Much of our training is in systematic theology, and our task is to then communicate truth that the Christian may apply to her life and solve the problem biblically (Romans 15:14). Many counselors now offer the option of “traditional” or “Skype” sessions. Although I have counseled many women around the world by Skype and e-mail, I believe it should only be used as a last resort when there is no other possibility.

Voice-over-IP programs such as Skype, instant message, and e-mail have made counseling possible to believers world-wide. Biblical counselors are somewhat scarce in most countries, and being able to provide Scriptural support to a struggling brother or sister abroad is a privilege.  When counseling sessions are done from a distance, the non-verbal cues we notice in personal conversation are now absent. Using a webcam helps, but meeting in person enables the counselor to pick up on subtle body language. Does the counselee understand what you are teaching? Does she agree? Is she telling the truth? If you are speaking through a computer, it is harder to determine!

One 18-year-old I counseled was from a Christian family. She had attended my church for several years and been baptized, but within the first 10 minutes of our initial session it became clear to me – from her hesitant answers and confusion in her eyes – that she did not understand salvation. It certainly would have been much harder to catch that confusion so early if the encounter had been through instant message (or even Skype). The “counseling session” then turned into a very successful evangelism encounter!

How, Then, Shall They Hear?

 The internet has made information sharing possible on a scale the early Church could not have imagined. As Gene Edward Veith Jr. writes in “Christians in a .Com World”, “Just as Christians latched on to the printing press, so should they grab hold of the Internet for the Kingdom of God. The whole universe is His domain, including the world of information translated into data packs, fed through high-speed routers, and sent off on fiber-optic lines. This new technology is a chance to exercise discernment, take some risks, and possibly change the world.”  The key to using it wisely is realizing its limits. Some questions to keep in mind when discussing the Gospel through a written medium include:

  • Is the person to whom you are witnessing a seeker? Is he asking questions, on his own initiative; or did you initiate the discussion?
  • Is the person willing attend a local church?
  • Do your friend’s questions, responses and contributions to the discussion indicate a true understanding of regeneration, is she simply “agreeing” with what you say?
  • Are your conversations two-way, or are you giving a theological monologue?

If you desire to impact your online friends for Christ, there are many ways to do so. Every situation is unique, and there is no right or wrong formula for a “successful” encounter. In all cases, avoid thinking of people as “projects” or strictly as potential converts. Relationship is of paramount importance. Remain faithful to the Gospel message and accept that you may be simply planting a seed, and may not be the one to see conversion or fruit in a new believer’s life. Be willing to point a believer to a local church for long-term discipleship. And above all, be prepared to love unconditionally – to stay involved in an online friend’s life, no matter what happens spiritually.

Plugged In: Proclaiming Christ in the Internet Age (Book Review)

KindleCover_PluggedInThis is a review of my book, “Plugged In: Proclaiming Christ in the Internet Age” written by Christian blogger Amelia Arnold. You can read the original review here at her site, The Sacred Pursuit.

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This is Marie Notcheva’s second book, her first book (Redeemed From the Pit) I wrote a review for when it came out 3 years ago so I feel privileged to write a review for this one as well. This book is primarily written for Christians who desire to minister to others online whether it’s knowing how to respond to someone’s “I’m depressed” post, evangelizing or doing one-on-one counseling. A shorter book, just under 125 pages, but packed with really great advice!

In our modern technological age the internet has opened to us a whole world to interact with. It’s also a whole new sphere where self-promotion is free to abound, where attention-seeking can be disguised and it’s a whole lot easier to be mean and say things you would never say to a person’s face. On the positive side we have a multitude of opportunities to interact with people. We listen, we speak and seek to teach and encourage. With this comes great opportunity, but yet many challenges. How do we navigate communicating with people we have never met or rarely see face-to-face? Is it possible and effective to disciple someone online?

Marie has years of experience with online relationships and counseling. In this book she explores with us the World Wide Web as a tool to be used, but with wisdom and discretion.  It is a great tool for evangelism and building up others in the faith, but Marie also shares a few stories that illustrate well some cautions we should have when interacting and counseling people online. How do you respond to a “seeker” who seems to understand the Gospel? How do you respond to someone’s seeming cry for help via dark and disturbing posts? Marie discusses various situations and how we can have more discernment in our responses. Many times we can learn to be creative in how we comment on something, but in some cases of more serious issues, private messages are better. Even a “hey, how are you doing?” communicates to people that you notice, and that you care about them .  All relationships are built on trust, Marie reminds us, and trust must be built over time by listening, caring and encouraging.

True discipleship means a personal relationship, and truth be told, you cannot have a real personal relationship online. We are relational, physical beings and we need face-to-face relationships in order to truly thrive. Marie emphasizes this throughout her book as well as the importance of the local church, which is the community that is absolutely needed for a Christian to grow. If a “seeker” is not interested in getting connected with a church or meeting with a believer in their area then unfortunately that is likely a sign that they are not truly seeking change. Another important point Marie makes in this book is that social media interaction is not fellowship and online instruction is just that, instruction. It’s not discipleship. Marie writes that “a key component of real discipleship is lost online: accountability” (p. 35, emphasis hers) It’s important to be aware that many people say things online in order to gain attention. It’s easy to please people and say all the right things when you’re speaking through a computer screen.

There were a number of things I appreciated in this book. One was the reminder that just because someone wants to talk to us online doesn’t mean they need to monopolize our time. Marie writes, “If you are spending hours writing to someone who doesn’t seem willing to understand or search the Scriptures himself, you may need to re-evaluate the time you are spending with them.” (p. 47) .We need to keep our priorities straight and not get distracted by conversations that are not profitable. Discernment is needed in this area, and Marie shares great advice on how to know when to let an interaction end. Another thing I was reminded/convicted about was how easy it is to follow what everyone else is doing online. Social media especially is so narcissistic (self-focused) and designed to promote self and it’s easy to slip into that. I also appreciated her warnings about how easy it is to be sarcastic and snippy, and act/speak in ways we never would in person. Again, super easy to do; it’s so easy to type something sarcastic and not think about how the other person might feel because we can’t see their reaction. As Christians, everything we do, say and write should be done in love, for the edification of others and for the glory of God. And we all need to grow in this area!

In this internet-driven age we need Scripture-grounded thinking and discernment in how to use our time wisely and how to use the tools available to us. This book gives really practical advice on how to do that – especially for those of us who interact often on social media. I hope you’ll pick up a copy and be greatly edified by it!

You can purchase the book here, just $10 with Amazon Prime! (Also available on Kindle.)

For more information about Marie, to hear her testimony and learn about her counseling ministry, visit her blog: http://redeemedfromthepit.blogspot.com/