When Jesus called the disciples, he asked them to “Come, follow me” (Matt 4:19). With these three words, he called his first followers to lay down their own agenda for his — to follow his perfect will for their lives. He asks the same of us today.
When it comes to promoting our products, services, and selves in the marketplace, we are called to follow Jesus here, too. Our approach can always reflect this simple truth: It’s not about us.
Promoting ourselves, our brands, and our businesses through social media channels is almost a necessary part of participating in the marketplace today, a prerequisite for success in business whether or not we want to admit it. But if we navigate self-promotion in the wrong way, it can take an inappropriate and even injurious turn. But the kingdom of God always offers us another way, a way to give honor and glory to him while promoting ourselves and our businesses.
Humility is the cornerstone to promoting ourselves in a God-honoring way, drawing attention to love as our motivation and following the way of Jesus as our method.
The formula seems simple: More eyeballs equal more influence. The more people who know who we are and what we do, the more business we may get. Although people are increasingly turned off by the politicization and commercialization on mass social platforms and many are opting out, social media remains one of the best ways to reach new audiences. Through social media, someone halfway around the world can become a customer or client. A business can bless someone in Singapore while its owners are in the office in San Diego.
However, as we have learned in the past few years, self-promotion, particularly online, is littered with complications and temptations, presenting two major risks: 1) self-praise instead of self-promotion, possibly to the point of neglect for the actual product or service, and 2) a misplaced identity, an ego inflated by attention. Algorithms are built to reward those who can most successfully grab people’s attention, depending heavily on the engagement of as many people as possible — liking, sharing, and saving content about their product or service. To reap this reward, therefore, users are determined to attract attention, and by whatever means necessary. Moreover, some people are tempted to derive their identity and sense of self-worth from their social media feeds. They seem to be using social media to scream, “Look at me. Like me. Love me.” They feel valued and validated when they’re able to attract attention, and dejected and demoralized when they’re not.
Search our hearts, O God
Christians are called to walk a tightrope, to live in a nuanced way, balancing being in the world but not of it. How? No matter the latest trends or most popular tactics other social media influencers use, we stop to carefully consider what we do and why.
If we give careful thought to self-promotion, we recognize that telling people about our business, the value we bring to our clients, and the things we can do for them is neither good nor bad. Using social media, like any other media, is neutral — and yes, it can be a very good thing. It is how we do it, the heart with which we do it, that matters. We express outwardly an inward reality.
Since we are talking about matters of the heart here, let us cry out along with David, “Search me O God, and know my heart.” Let’s ask ourselves some hard, yet clarifying, questions.
Who are we?
Our identity informs our actions. We are created beings, which also means we are not the Creator. We are neither the captain of our own ship, nor the author of our own destiny. This is an obvious but important distinction as we think about how we promote ourselves and our work.
In 1 Corinthians 4:7, Paul asks, “And what do you have that you did not receive?” Our God-given skills and talents — as well as the opportunities we have taken and the successes we have achieved — are not all of our own making. And we are not as wonderful as our followers might think we are, or as we might be tempted to show ourselves to be.
If we see this reality — that we are created beings — as our starting line for promoting ourselves and our businesses, we will be compelled to approach it with genuine humility. We would seek to walk humbly, in line with the prayer of Micah 6:8.
Pastor and theologian Tim Keller described humility as “self-forgetfulness” — not necessarily thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourselves less. Less about how well we are doing and more about how we can meet the needs of our customers. Less about our own success and more about how we have helped others succeed.
What are we called to?
God created us to live in community and to honor him by serving others, to love and lift up others, as 1 Thessalonians 5:11 instructs. So, in everything we do, whether by word or deed we are to love God and love our neighbor. Yes, as we promote ourselves or our goods or our services, we draw attention to ourselves, but for what purpose, to what end? If the answer revolves around our ego, it’s a sign we may need to start again.
We can attract attention and build a reputation, but Jesus calls us to more. With that attention we are to point people to our Father. With our reputation, we are to point to the good God is doing in the world. In this way, through us, people should see and know God. Through us, our cities should flourish.
Through us, his kingdom should come on earth as it is in heaven. And even our online presence should aim to fulfill this sacred calling.
Who are we following?
How do we use social media as a way to fulfill this calling? There are plenty of examples — good and bad — to follow. But first, we are to follow Christ.
Have you ever thought about how Jesus would move through our world today? How would he have engaged and connected with people in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria, even to the ends of the earth? How would he have used Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn to share his message of good news or to tell his followers where he was going to be speaking next? How would he have advertised his carpentry business? He may have drawn attention to the care and craft in his work, which would have reflected the care and craft of the Father. He might have promoted the purpose of his products – the good they might have been used for, the people they might have served.
We might dismiss these questions easily because Jesus lived in another place and in another time. And it may be a fool’s errand to imagine how he would have used the tools available in our world today. However, we know that although Jesus was supernatural, he lived in and amongst his creation. He affirmed the good things that were created in the world through the innovation and ingenuity of his people — commending the men who had cut a hole in a roof and lowered their paralytic friend through it, for example (Mark 2). His view of God, people, and the purpose of creation formed the way in which he used the tools of the day.
So, our use of social media may be best informed by asking ourselves the trite but appropriate question, “What would Jesus do?” It will point us to love, serve, care for, heal, encourage, and proclaim good news, as he did.
Before you publish, consider:
Who is your Creator? For what purpose has he created you?
Does this reflect your identity as God’s beloved?
As God’s image-bearer, how are you portraying him?
Who are you seeking to lift up?
What or who are you drawing attention to?
Does the post honor God? Love your neighbor? Seek the flourishing of others? Bring heaven down to earth?