Talking to People About Jesus

(picture of my dear friend who shares Jesus online every day)

Pastor Steven Roberts (Life Church) said on Facebook, “I get nervous talking to people about Jesus. This truth helps. It’s not about how clever or cool I am. God is already working in their heart and I get to be a part of the process. The only way to mess it up is to say nothing at all.”

I find a nervous pastor comforting. It’s not just me that struggles with sharing my faith. Is it safe to assume that’s why most people find it easier to share a meme about Jesus or a bit of Bible verse instead of engaging online or face-to-face with the deeper questions? Is that like tossing a handful of seeds out into a field and hoping they land in the prepared soil? Pride and fear are emotions I feel when I share my faith.

What if I don’t have all the answers? What if I fail? What if I let them down? Pride causes me to want to find the answers, to engage in debate instead of discussion, to be right. Voices From The Field: Conversations with Our Global Family by TJ Macleslie comforts me.

In the chapter titled, Sodnom—Mongolia, the story shares about a Mongolian Christian named, Sodnom. She grew up in Communist Russia as a Buddhist. In this chapter, Sodnom shares her experiences about missionaries. For me, missionaries always seemed like people who had all the answers.

Sodnom disagrees.

 “Missionaries are impatient and try to force the Gospel on us without knowing the history and context of our lives. Missionaries must understand the journey we have to make in order to truly embrace the gospel.” (Location 200)

Sodnom also shares how missionaries impacted her life.

“Wisely they (Jon and Vonnie) didn’t say anything but prayed…I think this is a very important lesson for missionaries to learn. Remember that you are guests in our country and even though you disagree with us, please do not ridicule or judge us for our beliefs. You need to respect our beliefs and traditions. (Location 213). This older couple never told us what to believe; rather they prayed, asking God’s Word to speak into our lives in a way that we could understand. (Location 236)”

She shared, “Our American friends had taken us to God’s Word and allowed it to speak to our lives. (location 247)”

Translating this chapter into my work with social media, I requoted what Sodnom said on Location 259. When you share stuff online, serve online, realize you will be living in a new world. Seek to understand the online world and the people you will interact with. Be sensitive to God and His leading; be sensitive to your new environment. Be prepared to change.

Pastor Steven Roberts words resonate with others, too and he is right when he says, “The only way to mess it up is to say nothing at all.”

Friends, you are not alone in your fear and nervousness or in your grappling with pride. The most important thing I have learned is to let the Holy Spirit do His work. Follow God’s leading.

how to get somewhere

How to Create More Meaning

“Some activities are pleasurable and doing them is inherently rewarding. Others are difficult to do, but pay off with happiness or pleasure in the future. Some other things are important to do, even if you never get much from it. I worry that the news has none of the characteristics that make something worthwhile. It’s not fun, it causes anxiety, it gives you a warped sense of reality, and people who watch it are rarely going to DO anything with the information they get … So why do people engage in it? Its sensational nature makes it feel important when it’s not.”From Here

Recently, our small town landed in the news. Our kids are dying in DUI incidents on the roads, more than one shooting again due to drugs or alcohol, and each day I see whiskey bottles and needles on the sides of streets. “Instead of feeling awful for people in unfortunate circumstances, you can volunteer.” The above article says at the end. The whole article is about creating more meaning.

What the author is not suggesting in Step Away From the 24-Hour News Cycle is ditching the news cycle altogether. Instead, the author challenges the reader to do something. But, what?

The information superhighway can overwhelm us with the needs in the world if we don’t learn to sift through what information we choose to let inside our heart. Instead of focusing on the whole problem, the numbers of nameless people in and out of recovery, the tragedies, wars, and natural disasters, follow this advice—focus on what YOU can do; not what you CAN’T do.

What can you do?

  • Pray for guidance where God would send you and act on it.
  • Use your social media to create genuine friendships. Post updates that not only reflect the kind of Christian you are but allow people to latch on to what you have in common with them (Matthew 5:13; Psalm 14:3; Romans 8:8). Got Questions goes deeper here in being Salt and Light.
  • Because Social Media is a visual storyboard, a person must think visually and literally when conveying meaning. Look at your favorite fictional books, photographers, and painters. Why do certain shows or specific blogs attract you more than others? The common denominator is emotion. If I were to approach someone in the face-to-face and say, “I’m going to do a prayer fast today,” it would come off as ego talking. When you post this online, you are inviting someone into that dialogue and painting a story using graphics and words. Every status and photo is a chapter in your life that you choose to include others in and live as an example through discipling each other.
  • As you build your friendships online, consider meeting that stranger in a public place for coffee during the day. News stories occasionally share the horrors of doing such a thing. We can either be afraid and immobile or be discerning in where and who we meet.
  • Pick a culture and learn about it. Find groups of that culture online and get involved in conversations.

Transforming a community isn’t done by hoping someone else will do it. It takes a deliberate joint effort from a congregation, leadership, and missionaries using all the communication tools in front of us, including face-to-face. The next time you see a news story you are tempted to share, wait.

  • Read the whole article,
  • Google volunteer opportunities in and out of church areas that reach out to that demographic,
  • and share a solution with the story.

Get involved in someone else’s story and be part of the change you’d like to see in your community.

Thoughts? Can I pray with you?

Your Leaders Grow, Too

You know that moment when you lose a tweet from a Christian leader you wished you had saved? Beth Moore posted a tweet saying something to the effect that her tweets from the past do not reflect who she is now. It’s not an exact quote (and don’t ask me to vouch for accuracy as I can’t find her tweet).

I recalled that tweet today when I did a Facebook search. Older posts painfully reminded me of my less than cautious postings. I’m not a Beth Moore, but I am growing. Our leaders are growing, too. Social media is a written and visual record of our lives. It makes sense that online as in face-to-face we say and do things that will be different when we are younger than what we do when we are older. The written and visual record of social media will reflect this. It can be a wonderful record of where we’ve come from to who we are today.

When I Grow Up…

From the WorldVenture Blog Post

In 2015, Megan Murphy started “The Kindness Rock Project.” She left a rock on the beach of Cape Cod with the words “You’ve Got This” painted on it. Facebook rock painting groups began where communities did a grown-up Easter egg-like hunt for hand-painted rocks, leaving pictures with hints on Facebook groups so a family or person could find it and report it to the group. Over the past year or two, I’ve participated in this trend as a form of community outreach for online connections. Last week, my prayers yielded phenomenal results.

Kairi and her mom were hiking in the Dells in Prescott, Arizona when Kairi discovered my painted rock sitting near the Highline Trail. She turned the stone over and saw the contact information Modge-Podged and taped to the back.

The back of the rock contained a QR code, my email, and the instructions, “Please post to the Chino Valley Rock Facebook Group.” The QR code included a link to BibleGateway. Kairi sent me a message through her mom’s email account, saying, “Found your rock. I am 11-years old, and I want to do what you are doing. I want to be a missionary when I grow up.”

Read more by clicking here

Overcoming Pushback

A new blog on WorldVenture’s Website…

“Come back when you have a 4-year degree from a Bible school or seminary,” Four to five mission agencies said in the 1990s to Rob and Lisa Atkins (currently in Bolivia). While students are the focus of most mission’s mobilization, making up a robust 1% of the world’s demographic (Pipeline: Engaging the Church in Missionary Mobilization; pg. 14), older missionaries (Over-Forty) encounter pushback from friends and relatives in a culture where people are expected to save for a comfortable retirement.

“Occasionally, we hear subtle comments from people that our age concerns them. I also have issues with my left ankle. Most were excited and stated they could so see us doing this type of ministry. Age and health are always underlying concerns.” Neal Sperling was 72-years old and his wife, Sherri was 64 when God called them to the mission field.

A colleague currently serving in Africa mentioned a few obstacles. Some said to him,

  • “You’re brave. And what I mean by that is foolish. I don’t know that I would recommend anyone going at your stage of life. But God be with you.”
  • “I don’t understand why you would sacrifice everything you’ve worked for the past 20-years to give it all away to move to Africa.”
  • We think you are not being very wise. But we love you anyways.”

Read more by clicking here

Still a Mail Chimp Fan

A post popped up in Jenn’s Trends Facebook Group, signaling a change to Mail Chimp. This caused some anxiety, and I’ve observed other changes already. It’s the industry adjusting to the different ways we communicate.

With only a 20% open rate commercially depending upon the business and my observance of a 50% open rate in my lists, postcards make sense. Mail Chimp is offering postcards for less than a dollar each, including the stamp and mailing. They will even find people’s addresses. Spam laws make adding people to Mail Chimp taboo who have not requested it. Instead of opting for Mail Chimp’s postcards, I’ve gone to Vista Print and use a label template to keep my contact lists updated.

Postcards are a great addition though to a missionary’s toolbox. No one opens an envelope. They see what is inside right away. Granted, this also means you cannot print anything confidential on a postcard. My “story postcards” are like Daily Breads meet the missionary update. They both inform and inspire. It is my way of giving my list of people something that is art; something tangible for them to look at to encourage them in their Christian walk and to remind them to pray. So, yea, for Mail Chimp innovation.

Mail Chimp also does,
• Landing pages (for those without a webpage)
• Facebook Ads
• Social Posts
• CRM Marketing

Before my new calling with WorldVenture, a missionary agency, I stopped using Constant Contact because I could only make one list and no free plan existed. Mail Chimp allowed numerous records with many names (up to 2,000). The one change that happened means I cannot make different lists. Instead, I need to utilize more tags and segmenting.

Tags allow me to send an email from the audience landing page to a specific group of tags only. Segmenting will enable me to set up a list that grows according to how I add people to the list or how people sign up. I utilize segmenting to send emails to different people rather than all at once. Currently, I am redoing my Mail Chimp list to put churches on a once per month update and individuals, too, who do not want weekly updates. One list is for people who frequently open my updates. As others open or not open, this list is continuously updated by Mail Chimp through segmenting.

I’ve considered an upgrade in Mail Chimp for a long time to get better templates. The free plan only offers basic templates. The first price tier gives access to all templates, A/B testing, custom branding, and also support. The next step up in the pricing tier adds automation, retargeting ads, custom templates, and advanced audience insights. Their pricing tiers simplify and generously expand on how many contacts you can have per pricing tier. For instance, I am on the free plan which allows 2,000 names (including, thanks to the GDPR laws, those who have unsubscribed).

The pricing tier I considered allows up to 100,000 names. I’ll never get that many names, but at $14.99 a month, it’s affordable. Their competitor, Constant Contact, includes an image library, marketing calendar, etc. At $20.00 a month, Constant Contact only allows up to 500 names. Mail Chimp is still friendly to non-profits in this way, giving a generous audience count. Are the changes coming to Mail Chimp concerning?

My anxiety has diminished somewhat. For my colleagues, I still think Mail Chimp (paid or free) is the best, user-friendly product for what we do.

Pipeline: A Review

At times, Pipeline: Engaging the Church in Missionary Mobilization felt like a morning devotional rich in Scripture. Other moments, the book became a how-to manual on how to engage your church in the Great Commission, ending in pages of written essays from representatives of different missionary agencies. If you are indecisive where to sign up, this book is quite helpful.

Of course, I knew where I wanted to sign up.

It wasn’t because a church mentored me into missions. God called me to WorldVenture to serve in an area very few recognized as a mission field—social media. It’s important to invite me to a committee to answer questions as most people get it wrong when they try to present what I do. Some think I mentor other missionaries. Others think I play online. Why should I support someone to play on social media, right?

Marketers understand. They’ve used social media for years to manipulate us to buy cereals we shouldn’t eat, cars we can’t afford, and books we end up not reading again. An unknown number of books exist online on how to use story, algorithms, and bots to get our product or services in front of people using social media. Churches also use these tools to market their church. Even your favorite speakers have a social media communicator on staff which is how you find their publications online.  

In Pipeline: Engaging the Church in Missionary Mobilization, they suggested the church mentor a future generation of missionaries through training, prayer, and coaching. What they left out was social media. We can use all the same tools as a marketer to get God’s story of missions into our church, through meaningful and authentic interaction, videos that come alive (like Movingworks.org), and help foster emotional involvement. Social Media allows missionaries to talk to their partners, to the people they serve in their areas, and to church congregations. For the first time, we don’t have to wait for a missionary to mail a letter. Social media can be used to coach others and build relationships through online connections.

Some notable quotes from the book include,

  • “The call to minister cross-culturally is a call to suffer for the sake of a message and the glory of Jesus’ name.” (Pg. 11)
  • “Was I going to allow God to interrupt my life with his purpose and push mine aside? Or was I going to cling to the life I had always wanted?” (Pg. 13)
  • “The warning here is that the institutional church, just like the humans who inhabit it, will always take the path of least resistance unless its leaders fully surrender to the hard work of obedience to the call of God and the Great Commission.” (Pg. 62)

After spending almost 11-years as a church secretary, I knew we needed to tell a better story of what God is doing in the world so the congregation not only gets emotionally involved, but is on fire in their own communities to share the Gospel (on and offline) with the unchurched, the unloved, and the unreached even at great sacrifice and much discomfort. Pipeline gives a thorough understanding of missionary mobilization from the perspectives of missionaries, churches, and mission organizations.

And even better, the work God has called me into involves mobilization. Social media touches nearly every ministry in WorldVenture. My work will be multi-faceted because we use social media to make disciples.

The Frankenstein Chronicles: Who Wrote This!?

*Warning: Spoilers.Image by Etienne Marais from Pixabay *

Deep themes in The Frankenstein Chronicles surprised me. We arrived home from a weekend getaway and I flipped on Netflix. Nothing appealed to me, and though I am not a Frankenstein or Dracula fan, this show attracted me. By episode six, I knew I could binge watch all two seasons. Even my husband said, “Do not continue watching without me.” Then, with a twinkle in his eye, he added, “And no cheating.”

I will never live down Blacklist.

Such an intense show caused me angst. What if they disappoint me again and create a soap opera rather than a well-written show with characters that grow and story lines that keep me returning? What I discovered on a Google search caused me to lose interest in the show. A favorite character was leaving Blacklist to start his own series. Why should I invest my emotions in the Blacklist? But I digress.

The Frankenstein Chronicles is about John Marlott, an inspector, who is tasked by Sir Robert Peel to find out why children are going missing down at the river and why a body of several different children was stitched together, listing in the marshy shores of the River Thames. Historical characters such as Frankenstein’s original author, Mary Shelley and William Blake appear, with Mary Shelley being a key figure; apparently, Charles Dickens, too, as the reporter tucked away in the crowd, busy writing shorthand and chronicling the intertwining storylines of power, greed, and insanity. Why aren’t more Christian movies carrying themes like this?

Most times, Christian movies leave me empty, and I wish more Christian movies carried the questions and agony The Frankenstein Chronicles causes you to ponder. But this series makes me wonder…who are the writers? A brief Google search brought none of the satisfaction I sought. This is probably good though. The story remains undistracted by any agenda and follows John Marlott’s sense of justice. Even though the Christian theology is off, Marlott’s justice, love, and edgy behavior are countered by his partner’s idealistic, blundering and Christian heart. Both are Christian, but one is more emotional.

The scene between Flora, a girl rescued from a human trafficking situation, and Joseph Nightingale, Marlott’s partner, really embraces the agony of the pro-life and pro-choice struggle. Flora is pregnant and never revealed this to her captors or Marlott. Flora wants an abortion. Nightingale not only encourages her to view it as life but also offers a solution (much like many of our pro-life people with our pregnancy crisis centers). He would take her in and claim the child as his to protect her from shame. We discovered as we sunk deeper into each episode that the babies being aborted were used for their parts. Other children that were homeless on the river disappeared to become part of the Frankenstein experiment. Flora does get an abortion by the evil Hervey under the reasoning it would be a miserable life for both with Hervey’s underlying evil motivation, negating Nightingale’s offer of shelter.

By episode 7, I am wrapped up in Marlott’s struggle because in episode 7, Marlott has become Frankenstein. He no longer suffers Syphilis. He is alive with parts of his body belonging to others who were murdered, including aborted babies. The anguish he feels as a Christian fills the room. You understand his desire for suicide. He is not John Marlott anymore. He believed that cutting into his body meant he was separated from God forever (also due to not seeing his deceased wife and child in his dreams or afterlife after his “resurrection”). His priest friend urges him to turn back to God.

All I could think about was: Where is revenge justified in this? Does it all boil down to motive? Hervey appears to be killing priests. Hervey has powerful friends. People believe that Marlott is dead. People in power refuse to give value to the people in prison, living in poverty, and allow for abhorrent experiments to continue. John Marlott has the potential to be a hero.

Que episode 8. That’s where I am right now. Marlott said God has abandoned him. I felt his agony. I felt the darkness that threatened to make who he was disappear forever. He shouldn’t be alive, but he is alive because others unwillingly gave their lives for science and intellectualism to bloom. The episodes ask so many ethical and spiritual questions.

If only Marlott knew the power of the printing press and how reading Jesus’ Words might have given him the hope, forgiveness, and new life he wanted. Even as I think of this tonight, words from tonight’s online Bible Study float to my mind. Gaye Austin quoted Dr. Harris from Dallas Theological Seminary, “To bear fruit, you must stay attached to the vine.”

When was the last time you read the Bible?

8 Ways to Live Better Online

From Gloom to Gratitude: 8 Skills to Cultivate Joy by Allison Aubrey inspired this post. Read it and see how you can use what she wrote. Meanwhile, their eight skills inspired me. Here are my online versions of them.

Facebook’s memories remind us of the good (and bad) of past postings. During the day, Facebook may pop up on my newsfeed to show me an old post and ask if I want to re-post it. It forces us to focus on ourselves, what we’ve posted, our thoughts and emotions. Like seeing a commercial over and over again, it drills the thoughts we’ve posted into our heart, sometimes staining it. The more we focus on it the more we become like it, act like it, feel like it, and even relive bad memories.

In Georgia, I focused a small portion of my workshop on self-focusing on the Kingdom–using social media to keep you accountable to your personal goals, spiritual growth, and at the same time, living out the Great Commission. Judith Moskowitz of Northwestern University created an eight-technique approach as discussed in this article, but I was inspired to change it towards a self-focus on Kingdom so we don’t become what we post:

  1. Use your smartphone to snap a picture of one positive thing that happened during the day. Post it on Facebook or Instagram with a lead in that uses Scripture and words from the heart. Why was that event so positive to you? Event is loosely used. My friend posted a picture of the eggs she plopped into a bowl. They formed a smiling face. It helped her give thanks to God.
  2. Be grateful. Chris Copeland (WorldVenture) did a 20-minute Facebook live devotional on the new official WorldVenture Facebook Group. In this post, he mentioned a gratitude journal. A friend of mine uses her photography skills to post pictures online of things that make her feel grateful. Start a jar and write down on sticky notes all the little things you are grateful for and drop them in the jar. Review them at the end of the year.
  3. How did you use your spiritual gifts today? How did you help someone else focus on their strengths? In a non-bragging way, share your story online with a selfie or a picture that makes you happy. Inspire generosity. Help another human discover God-given gifts and abilities.
  4. Use social media to remain accountable to your goals. Have a trusted friend be on the watch for it to encourage you to stick to your goals.
  5. On Social Media, we like to complain. How can we reframe our complaint? While the article uses being stuck in traffic as an example, I would add to use being stuck in traffic to pray (with eyes open, of course!). Share on social media how you reframed a complaint that darkened your heart.
  6. Intentionally go to your friend’s profiles. Find a status and comment on it meaningfully. Start a conversation. Give a compliment. (1 Thessalonians 5:11). If a friend checks into a restaurant, text her to see if she wants to meet.
  7. Focus your mind on Scripture when tensions rise. Take a walk, go for a run, or hike and take the time to notice what God is doing in the world. Taking a break from Social Media is good.
  8. Think of others online first. Delete posts if need be should it cause others to look bad or comments hijack your purpose for posting. Comments can take things on a different thread than what you intended. Always honor others online with your words. Your words are actions.

The online life is a visual story and less literal. As you practice a more positive experience online, perhaps the memories from Facebook will brighten your day, encourage you to keep going or show you where you need to improve. It will improve your mood.

Would you suggest any others?

Follow Me #Review

The film, Follow Me directed by Asri Bendacha (2018) explores the life of Social Media Influencers. Social Media influencers earn thousands of dollars per post on Instagram. Asri starts an Instagram account and documents his journey to gain as many followers as possible. Yet, building a following on Instagram is not as easy as it sounds.

In one scene, he sits on the sidewalk with a cardboard sign asking for Instagram followers. A man passing by gives him money, and Asri chases him down to return it.

“I need followers on Instagram,” he says to the man who immediately takes back his money and walks away. Many people who follow Asri do so because he asked in the face-to-face, took selfies and tagged them in the selfies. The documentary is a must-see for anyone seeking to use Instagram to influence, but as a church and missions agency, we must look at social media through the lens of authenticity and ministry. Even Social Media Influencers work to maintain the trust of their followers. In their product placements on video and photos, the products are something these influencers can support. Be real and authentic, one said. Photos do not have to be perfect, but visually engaging.

Asri shared some interesting facts:

  • Millennials share 25,000 selfies in their lifetime.
  • The average person spends two hours a day on social media.
  • Professional photographers who were interviewed rarely do a selfie unless something is interesting in the background. A couple of photographers called selfies egotistical or self-centered.
  • Children are watching less television. They are on their parents ipads and tablets watching Youtube.
  • One woman in a Burka stated that Youtube was her identity.
  • Kuwait is the number one user of Instagram per capita.
  • Youtube is used frequently in the Middle East.
  • Media is the number one tool for communication.

At $30 a week, Asri bought real followers, not fake ones, but only gained a small number of followers for the cost. He began searching on Youtube for organic ways to build the audience.

People he interviewed gave helpful tips:

  • Make your case why a person should care about your product or service you are selling.
  • What is going to move your followers to care, buy or donate?
  • Many stated social media is about offering value to others. Being generous. Serving others online (Doesn’t that sound like church?).

At VidCon, Asri encountered young teens and adults idolizing Youtube stars, wanting to have their children, and crying in pure joy when they meet a Youtuber. Two young mothers idealized a family Youtube star. Asri asked them why they followed this family’s life on Youtube. The two young moms thought the family was interesting.

“What makes them more interesting than your family?” Asri asked the young moms. The moms couldn’t answer.

As the interviews continued throughout the documentary, other interviewees shared interesting facts:

  • Instagram was rated as the most negative experience for “positive or mental well-being” while Youtube was rated as the number one most positive experience.
  • Women are more critical of their looks because they compare themselves to the digitally enhanced images on Instagram.

But what impacted me the most was this statement: What we see in the media governs how we see the world. It even governs how we see ourselves and what we choose to focus on. It’s why I became involved in social media.

The church can learn from Follow Me. As the film closed, Asri reveals the positive side of social media. It can be used for good. We know this as Christians, but like, in the face-to-face, relationships take time to develop. Time isn’t what most Americans have available. The problem is time management, realistic expectations, and new priorities.

  • If the average person spends two-hours a day on social media, we can use that time more intentionally in online conversation with the idea of moving that online interaction to a face-to-face environment.
  • If we are constantly checking our phones, are we checking because we are addicted or bored; or because we are asking the Holy Spirit to lead us to Gospel conversations?

As I prepare for Georgia and the Kingdom Focus and Kingdom Purpose workshops, Follow Me is a good reminder that what we see in the media governs how we see the world. Let’s stop the addiction and start living our online life with purpose.

Image by rawpixel from Pixabay