This past Lent, in an effort to foster and maintain our spiritual and emotional health, we (Michael Palmer and Danny Quanstrom) each took a break from social media. Over the next week, we will process and share with you the ways in which we were impacted by this disconnection. We will process through the lenses of science and pastoral care, and we’ll ultimately wrestle with what it means to move forward in health. You can read part 1 from the series here, part 2 here, and part 3 here.

Over the past few posts, we’ve made our way through some complicated places.

 On Monday, we took a few moments to explore the impact that a separation from social media had on our lives. We shared how social media—and our willing participation in it—has shaped and formed us and how our separation from it created feelings of isolation, anxiety, and withdrawal.

 On Tuesday, we demonstrated that scientific studies are showing the various ways that social media is shaping and forming our minds. At younger and younger ages, adolescents feel forced to compare themselves to others in unhealthy and unrealistic ways.

On Wednesday, we explored how the pastoral office is being transformed by social media in ways we might not even know yet. As we’re constantly tempted to be connected, we find ourselves more disconnected. Perhaps we clergy need to recapture monastic practices.

As we find ourselves here, only just beginning to unpack some of the questions social media is creating, we ask a difficult but important question: what now? In a world where social media is becoming increasingly more complex, we are grappling with what it means to have a healthy relationship with social media. What does it mean to live healthy lives in the age of Instagram and Facebook? What does it mean to find balance and happiness in the midst of the rat race of comparison and one-upping?

It feels impossible to fight against the constant, powerful, unrelenting rush of information. Swim or drown; adapt or die becomes the mantra of many.

The answers are few, yet the pressure is great. Parents and pastors alike feel as though the world has stacked the deck against them, and it feels impossible to fight against the constant, powerful, unrelenting rush of information. Swim or drown; adapt or die becomes the mantra of many. When those become our choices, we quickly lose sight of the belief that we can make an impact for the better. We doubt our ability to make any lasting difference in the lives of others. However, what if we don’t actually have to fight the tide? When it comes to creating a culture of healthy relationships with social media, what if you and I are enough? What if pastors, parents, or volunteers are the means by which God will teach the next generation what it means to live in health and fullness?

When it comes to the kingdom of God and its movement from generation to generation, the cornerstone of that transition has always been discipleship. What we’ve been given, we give to others. The faith we receive, we teach to others. The life well-lived, and the life passed on, is the greatest means of education. When someone takes the time to walk alongside others, demonstrating healthy living and processing everyday life with others, we find over time that they take the shape of the one they’re replicating. Paul affirmed this idea when he implored the church in Corinth to “follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

From Jesus and his disciples, to Paul and Silas (and, later, Timothy), to the early church fathers and mothers, to the hosts of unknown yet faithful Christ followers, the church has been built on the shoulders of those who came before. Even here and now, two thousand years later, our faith is the product of replicated lives of those who have long since been buried. However, the age of science and the enlightenment changed everything in the eighteenth century.

Christianity took a faith that had been passed on through the generations by witness—and turned it scientific. The Bible became literal and, eventually, needed to be proven to be literally true. Apologetics became more important than a call to a rule of life. Knowing what we believed soon mattered more than living out a replicable life. The result was a church more concerned with telling people how to think, instead of modeling how to be.

When the kingdom of God works well, it is built on the examples of Christlike women and men. 

We are reaping the harvest of our investment. Our influence is waning. Social comparison and personal elevation have taken over the Christian call to deny ourselves and take up our cross. The result is that we have books that answer questions nobody is asking. We’re hocking goods nobody wants to buy, and our lives are being shown for what they are: shallow and not unlike those from whom we claim to be “apart.” We are tragically similar to the critique levied by Mahatma Gandhi when he said, “I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

When the kingdom of God works well, it is built on the examples of Christlike women and men. When it falls short, it does so because of the failures of those who come before. However, over the decades, instead of relying on the mystery and movement of the Spirit, the church became content simply to disseminate information and then judge one another based on people’s ability to retain that information.

I cant help but believe, though, as we move through this age of social media, that we do not need more doctrines. We don’t need more exegesis. Rather, we need lives that point to the mystery and majesty of the crucified Lamb. We need lives that, through health and wholeness, point toward Christ. We need to live lives of healthy rhythm that demonstrate a better way. As the world lives quiet, desperate lives, comparing themselves to unfairly and holding themselves to unrealistic expectations and unmanageable lifestyles, we have an opportunity to model a better way. This better way may look different for different people. It may be simplicity in a world of overconsumption. It may be creating margin in a world overflowing with content. It may mean saying no when others unthinkingly say yes. No matter what shape this way takes, it must be more than simply information. We must make it incarnational; and, as disciple makers, there is no greater call.

Continue reading part 5 here.

Michael R. Palmer is a husband, father, ordained elder, and writer who serves as pastor, along with his wife, Elizabeth, of Living Vine Church of the Nazarene in Napa, California. He is an avid Cardinals fan, lover of blues and jazz, conversation instigator, and deeply passionate about issues of justice and spiritual formation. You can follow him on Twitter at @michaelrpalmer and Facebook at @mryanpalmer85.

Danny Quanstrom, husband of Kayla, is the lead pastor of Hastings Church of the Nazarene in Hastings, Michigan, and president and co-founder of A Plain Account, a free, online, Wesleyan Lectionary commentary resource ( Danny is an unashamed gamer, lover of eclectic music, and extremely passionate about the local church. You can follow him on Twitter at @D_Quan87 .