On my computer, I have a folder called “wedding.” No, it isn’t my wedding photo album. It is my 2 year old daughter’s wedding album. I’m collecting the most embarrassing, awkward and hilarious pictures and videos that I can get of her. I like to think of it as a kind of modern dowry. I might even give it to the maid of honor to help prep for her speech at the reception.
My kids (aged 2 and under), like most modern children will effectively have their entire lives digitally documented. Elderly neanderthals, like her mother and I, had happy childhoods where there are very few, if any videos of my time in middle school band. This is a good thing because due to the fact that I played the clarinet, I’m sure even 30 seconds would be enough to contain a lethal dose of embarrassment.
But all of this points to the fact that there is less privacy today than there was 10 years ago and a lot less privacy than there was 60 years ago. Tech companies like Google and Facebook are perpetually in the news now for data collecting and occasionally leaking your data to hackers, worse: politicians and political groups. Amazon sells face id technology to the government. Facebook has shadow profiles of people who aren’t even using Facebook because they are aggregating your info from everyone who knows you. All of this points to the fact that you no longer have very much privacy and what you do have is probably going away soon. Case in point: I once had a professor who was on Google street view cleaning out his garage wearing shorts and a cowboy hat.
But all of this points to a major cultural shift and each shift brings both challenges and opportunities. So how can Christians take advantage of a seemingly bad situation?
- Remember That We Are Called To Live Visibly
Well first of all, we are called to live as salt and light anyway. That doesn’t mean salt and light when I feel like it is ok and safe. In fact, most often in the New Testament, it meant living as salt and life when it was least safe! The early church was shocked when Peter and John were first arrested and beaten. After meeting about it, they ended their meeting by praying for boldness, not safety. I realize that this is a scary call to action. Most of us are willing to sacrifice our own safety but our kids are involved here (remember I have 2 girls currently 2 and under). But our children need to see our boldness and character even more than the world does. And speaking of the world, it used to be that someone could call themselves a Christian on Sunday and live like the world on Monday. Those days are gone. Everything we say and do is visible. We were always called to live honestly and open, the biggest change is that now we have to live like how we talk.
- Live In Community
The thought of living constantly public lives is overwhelming to most people. How many celebrities have either gone off the rails or totally off the grid in an effort to escape constant scrutiny. But movie stars and pop singers aren’t the first people to live in glass houses. Pastors and their families have always lived very public lives. Pastors are keenly aware that someone could be watching them at anytime while they are going about their daily lives. This is also true for pastors’ kids. Their actions reflect upon the church and the community just as much as their parents. Many pastors’ kids struggle with this. But a recent survey of PKs says that they felt they could learn to live with it as long as they had a feel connected and valued. As long as they felt like an important part of a community.
A community is a group of people with a sense of corporate AND individual purpose. What is the purpose of our community? To praise God and build the kingdom. What is my specific role within that community? I’m called to teach and to assist others in communicating that purpose from digital to in person. If you are missing either the purpose or the role, then you will struggle with isolation. Especially as the walls on our house grow more transparent.
- Live With Accountability
A big part of building that community is a return to an emphasis on accountability. Accountability relationships are a foundation of the church and have existed since Paul called out Peter for turning his back on the new Gentile believers. But accountability is more than just nagging someone (or being nagged). It is more akin to coaching and partnering. If you are accountable to me, then I want to keep you away from harmful behavior and on the path of godly behavior because I am invested in you. You play an important role in my community and we need you to fulfill our purpose.
Accountability is not a quick and easy relationship. Accountability is a commitment to love someone for better or worse and help guide their spiritual and personal growth based in that love. This cannot be done in an on demand way. Privacy restricts accountability. That doesn’t mean that you should open up your heart to anyone as an accountability partner any more than you should just open your heart and marry anyone. And just like marriage it is a long term commitment that takes work. So choose carefully because the people you are accountable to and who are accountable to you are going to be a big part of your life for a long time to come.
There is going to be a growing period for the church as we navigate our new world. We are going to say and do foolish and occasionally even sinful things. But “where sin increased, grace increased all the more…”
We were out to eat with a friend of ours at a restaurant here in Nashville. Because this is the south, they had sausage gravy on the menu which for some reason is one of my 2 year old’s favorite foods. Sausage gravy is meant to be served as a side dish or even just a condiment, but my little girl just took a spoon and went to town on the bowl of sausage gravy and ate the whole thing. The friend we were eating with joked that this was one of those things that was probably ok for her to do as a toddler but she should probably give it up sometime before she starts dating.
We are all going to have embarrassing moments immortalized online for the rest of our lives. Sometimes they will just be silly or foolish. Other times we will outright be wrong. Every pastor has sermons from early in their ministry that they are embarrassed by or even disagree with. But now they exist forever as podcasts or YouTube videos. But hopefully we can use these experiences to help mark our growth like a chart on the wall. Our defeats will be public but God’s victories will be as well. Now the future is looking brighter because there is nowhere left to hide our great lights!