By Chris Martin
Sometimes, when I tell people that I help authors build online platforms, I feel like I’m being judged. My job is to help pastors, scholars, and other Christian leaders build their online platforms (blogs, social media, etc.). So, that either makes me the most or least qualified person to talk about this subject. You decide.
A lot of people wonder: How is it not sinful for Christians to build an online platform? On what basis is it acceptable that Christians start blogs, ask us to “like” their Facebook pages, and try to sell us stuff?
If you use social media or read blogs, you have seen the “brands” or “platforms” to which I am referring. You have likely read blogs or watched videos of pastors, scholars, or other Christian leaders. God has gifted people with incredible communication skills, and, in the 21st century, many of these people are using these gifts via social media and other digital outlets.
However, many see a problem with Christian leaders building “platforms” online. This is understandable. On the surface, a pastor or other Christian leader wanting to build a platform seems like nothing more than sinful fruit of pride, flowing out of the sinful desire to “get famous.”
I get it. Digital platform-building can definitely be a vanity game, but it doesn’t have to be.
Building a platform for the right reasons ultimately comes down to three factors: motivation, goals, and accountability.
Here are three questions Christians should ask themselves before building a brand or platform:
1. What is my motivation?
I praise God when I sit down with an author at our first content strategy meeting and he or she says, “I just don’t want to promote myself.”
No one likes a Christian leader who lauds his or her newest book or worship CD all the time. Christians must only seek to build their online presence if their motivations are outwardly-focused rather than inwardly-focused.
I was meeting with an author a couple of months ago who was afraid of promoting himself online. This author is a world-renowned Bible scholar and professor.
I said to him, “Think about all of the people around the world who would love to study under you or even just attend one of your classes but cannot do so for one reason or another. Your blog and social media isn’t a means to serve yourself. It is a means to serve them. Let them be your students online, for free.”
This really resounded with him, and together we were able to create a strategy that allowed him to open up his “classroom” to the world via blogging and social media.
His motivation is outwardly-focused.
Christians must not build virtual kingdoms motivated by selfish gain.
2. What is my goal?
Even if your motivations are pure and others-focused, the temptation of fame and fortune still lies in wait for even the humblest of us.
As you’re starting a blog and hiring someone to coach you on social media strategy, what does “success” ultimately look like for you? If “success” is defined by personal gain, you need to check your heart.
When I meet with authors and we have discussions about their online platforms, I repeatedly circle back to one word: service.
I serve authors in an effort to help them better serve their readers. I want the best for the authors I serve, so of course I would love for them to sell more books, but if their online strategy somehow leads them to sell a bunch of books, yet poorly serve their audience, I would feel as though I have failed.
Christians must build personal brands with the purpose of serving others. This doesn’t mean you can’t make money off of ads or through other means—there’s nothing wrong with profiting off of your gifts. But if “success” hinges on how much money you make for yourself rather than how well you serve others, you need to be careful.
3. Who will keep me accountable?
This is perhaps the most important question of the three.
At the beginning, you may be motivated by your love for others and your primary goal may be to serve the Church, but maintaining pure intentions is difficult, especially when the opportunity to make money comes your way.
If you’re hoping to establish an online presence, you need accountability. You need a mentor or two who can tell you when they think you’re sinning.
You do not need “yes (wo)men.” You need people who will tell you the hard truth about you and your activity online.
If you do not have someone who can tell you the truth when it’s hard, you shouldn’t be trying to establish an online presence.
In our time, we like to deride blogging and social media as an overt expression of hubris, as if blogging or having a Twitter account is vastly different from other means of communication in the past.
Just this week, I saw a pastor tweet that he thinks it is problematic for pastors to build online platforms. The irony was that he communicated this via his online platform. This is a common occurrence.
Like any medium, building an online presence is a neutral act that can be righteous and God-glorifying in nature, or sinful and self-serving in nature.
Christians need the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the wisdom of friends in this pursuit as in so many others in our lives.
Maybe you’re still nervous or confused about how to properly use social media. To learn how Lifeway Social can help and to get a free copy of 5 Ways to Grow Your Online Presence Without Selling Your Soul, head over to LifewaySocial.com. Sign ups for Lifeway Social open on October 23rd.