A Pastor’s Guide To Twitter

Twitter AwardsWhen I signed up for Twitter a few years back I had pretty low expectations. I never imagined that this social network tool could be meaningfully used to convey biblical truth to those seeking to learn and be edified. I began using Twitter in order to send information (“tweet”), but now find that my primary use of Twitter is to receive information/inspiration (by “following” others).

I realize that Twitter has developed a helpful “Who To Follow” mechanism, but just in case you want a little extra help in choosing who to “follow”, I have developed my own “Twitter Awards” commending particular “Tweeters” for your edification (and for my own amusement). The awards below are not the result of any objective assessment, but rather are rooted in my profound bias.

The list of people I “follow”, between my two Twitter accounts (bryn31 and Nassau_Kirk), is quite small. Accordingly, I would love to hear your recommendations, which could possibly lead to a sequel awards presentation in 2012.

Category: Best Reformed Tweeter
Winner: Ligonier (5,914 tweets / 17, 988 followers)
Runner-up: DesiringGod (4,232 tweets / 64,939 followers)
Ligonier Ministries, founded by R.C. Sproul, has a great balance of edifying quotes, ministry updates, resource recommends and helpful retweets. Desiring God Ministries is equally adept at using Twitter, but I give Ligonier the edge for their more intentional promotion of Reformed Theology.

Category: Best Tweeting Preacher
Winner: RickWarren (4,190 tweets / 434,734 followers)
Runner-up: JohnPiper (2,831 tweets / 212,415 followers)
Keep in mind that the award is not “Best Preacher Tweeting”, but “Best Tweeting Preacher”. My two favourite preachers, Alistair Begg and Francis Chan, are not Tweeters. Warren uses Twitter in a wide variety of ways. Sometimes he’ll tweet about items/people he is praying for. On other occasions you’ll see him encouraging other pastors. Warren won’t be winning my “Most Retweetable Preacher” award, but there are times when he will offer up a 140 character gem.

Category: Most Retweetable (Quotable) Preacher
Winner: DailyKeller (530 tweets / 47,833 followers)
Runner-up: MaxLucado (2,822 tweets / 286,490 followers)
Max Lucado has a much larger tweet database and a more extensive following, but I give Tim Keller the edge based on the percentage of his tweets which I retweet. Virtually everything Keller tweets is gold. If we could convince Keller to become a “tweetaholic” the Christian community would be even better served.
Keller tweet: “The heart of the gospel is the cross, and the cross is all about giving up power, pouring out resources, and serving.”
Lucado tweet: “You have not been sprinkled with forgiveness. You have not been spattered with grace. You are submerged in mercy. Let it change you!”

Category: Tweetaholic Preacher
Winner: EdStetzer (14,739 tweets)
Runner-ups: cnieuwhof (8,986 tweets) & PerryNoble (8,626 tweets)
We’ve known for thousands of years that preachers like to talk, so we shouldn’t be surprised to find that preachers also like to tweet. I do not mean for this award to be a slight—I follow these guys for a reason–they’re smart, gifted, godly pastors. Ed Stetzer was the keynote speaker at my denomination’s General Assembly in June 2011. Carey Nieuwhof is a friend and colleague from the years we served together in the Presbyterian Church in Canada. But, like I said, we preachers like to talk. These guys are tweet machines!

Category: Up-and-coming Tweeter
Winner: ihelpyouthrive
I told you I was biased! This is my wife’s professional Twitter account. She is an accredited Marriage & Family Therapist (AAMFT) and I happen to think she is a perfect combination of clever and funny. 27 tweets isn’t much, but to use a sports term, she’s a tweeting “prospect”.

Category: Best Toronto Blue Jays Tweeter
Winner: jparencibia9 (2,054 tweets / 49,224 followers)
I can’t be serious all the time! I also follow the athletes from my favourite sports teams. J.P. Arencibia is a young, power-hitting, catcher, who is also a Twitter stand-out.

Category: Best Toronto Maple Leafs Tweeter
Winner: armdog (1,338 tweets / 60,416 followers)
Colby Armstrong is tough as nails on the ice, but on Twitter we see a sophisticated sense of humour.

Category: Best Comic Tweeter
Winner: JimGaffigan (1,871 tweets / 747,404)
Admittedly, Gaffigan does use some edgy religious content in his jokes (mostly to do with bacon)—but to be fair, he also admits to using edgy ketchup jokes.
Gaffigan tweet: “I like swimming with a sun shirt. People always look at me like I fell in the pool.”

Hope you enjoyed these recommends. Like I said, would love to hear your recommends—besides friends, I tend to “follow” Christian pastors/authors, professional athletes, and people who make me laugh.

Facebook & Twitter vs TV & Gaming

On August 1, I wrote a post explaining my decision to give up Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Bejeweled, and Television for one month. If you would like to know why, I encourage you to read that post. If you’re interested in some of the things I learned during this technology fast, keep reading.

Lesson #1 Learned: I’m not very good at giving up things

My draw to all things technical was stronger than I imagined. I could start listing excuses for why I caved a little bit, but let me instead cut straight to the results…giving up the video game Bejeweled was easy. Never played a game. Never missed it.

Giving up TV was fairly easy. Since my family didn’t give up the same, I was often in the vicinity of television, but I assure you there’s nothing they watch which interests me.

Giving up Google+ was just my covering an anticipated loophole so I wouldn’t give up Facebook & Twitter for Google+. Now for the cave…I did post a few things remotely via Stumbleupon, but what felt like the bigger cave was not changing my browser homepage, and not closing the Facebook tab when it automatically loaded. I sometimes read what was on that opening news feed. I also took a hiatus from my tech fast during Hurricane Irene. Like I said, it appears I’m not great at giving up things.

Lesson #2 Learned: Facebook & Twitter are a better use of my time than TV and Video games

Quite simply, nobody but me benefits when I play video games. Please understand, I LOVE video games—always have. I find they keep my mind sharp, help with hand-eye coordination, and help me to decompress after a stressful day. For these reasons, I plan to keep playing video games, but in much greater moderation. I concede that playing video games is an anti-social activity and, as such should be limited.

TV is not far behind on my list of “Useless Activities I Enjoy”. This is not a rant about the quality of television shows. I would say this even if I only watched the news and professional sports. No one in my household but me benefits when I watch TV (unless the members of my household want a break from me!).

Facebook and Twitter are in a different category altogether. They are interactive–they truly are social. Within the first 24 hrs of my tech fast a friend from the Kirk sent a message to me challenging me to rethink this. His argument was that my online presence was an encouragement to those who track with me on Facebook and Twitter. To the extent which that is true, I am humbled. My friend’s point lingered with me, but from the other side—I hugely missed reading the online updates of my friends and family.

Lesson #3 Learned: Face time with family, and prayer time with God is the best use of my time

Did I not know that before August 1? Sure I did. But, somehow, the portioning of my time did not accurately reflect my true priorities. Having coffee with Allie on the front porch massively benefits our family. Getting 3 stars on every Angry Birds level does not. Investing 2 hours poolside watching my daughter swim massively benefits our family. Investing 2 hours watching Major League Baseball does not.

I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m now anti-video games or anti-television. I’m not. I’ve simply been reminded of the helpful phrase, “Everything is permissible for me, but I will not be mastered by anything” (1Cor. 6:12).

I’ve also been reminded that Facebook and Twitter are merely social tools. These tools can be used, or they can be ignored. These tools that can be used to tear people down, or they can be used to build people up.

I’m grateful to know that, in some small way, people have found encouragement from my online commentary. The writer of Hebrews exhorts me in this regard: “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24). I’m eager to do this. And Facebook and Twitter are going to help me.

“It’s Not You, It’s Me”

I’m breaking up with Facebook. And Twitter. And Television. And Bejeweled. And maybe Angry Birds.

Those who know me well, know that I am a bit of a techie nerd. I own 2 laptops, an iPad, and an iPhone. I build websites, I frequent all of the major social networks, and I love playing video games. None of these things, on their own, in moderation, are bad. I am very much pro-technology.

However…I was rereading parts of Tim Keller’s book, “King’s Cross”, yesterday and was massively convicted by the following quote: “After you’ve repented of your sins you’ll have to repent of how you have used the good things in your life to fill the place where God should be.”

I would never consciously try and put something in the place of God–that’s idolatry–but my attention is sufficiently arrested as I consider the time I would win back if I ceased certain online activities.

After being convicted by Keller’s comment, I then came across a quote from Billy Graham that sealed the deal for me. Pastor Tullian Tchividjian, grandson of Billy Graham, recently asked his “granddad” for some advice and then posted Graham’s answer on Twitter (ironic, I know): ”If I could go back, I would’ve studied and prayed more.”

I’m thinking through Billy Graham’s answer trying to imagine what he put in the place of study and prayer. I’m guessing things like preaching and evangelizing. I then consider where I might find more time for study and prayer and the answer is markedly different: Break from, or massively curb time spent, engaging online social networks and playing video games.

So, for the month of August I’m giving up Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Bejeweled, & Television.

I must admit, I am sometimes cynical when I hear about other people “giving up things”. I have a sensitive nose for legalism and I don’t want to trade in my silly indulgences for self-righteous austerity. But if I don’t fill this newly created pocket of time with things that bring me and my family closer to God, then this exercise will have been in vain.

Accordingly, my aim will be to read more, write more, pray more, spend more time with my family in the evening hours and go to bed earlier. As much as I desperately need this lifestyle adjustment, I suspect that my family might benefit from these changes that I am seeking to implement. There were days when my young daughter would follow me onto our front porch with her Bible–to do what her papa was doing. Now, more often then not, she reaches first for her iPod Touch. I suspect she has learned that from me also.

One of my favourite passages within the Psalms reads: “Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:25, 26).

I long to be able to echo that sentiment by the way I spend my time.

“Technology, I’m sorry. I think we need to take a break for a while. Honestly, it’s not you, it’s me.”