“Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
(Ephesians chapter 6 verses 11 and 12)
It’s January 2022. We all expected the reign of Covid would have all but ended, and this unusual and challenging chapter of history would finally be put to rest. Alas, the pandemic continues to infect our psyches, and now infects our homes at a rate we could not have imagined. In faith amidst frustration, churches around the country are turning their hearts towards the Lord in prayer and fasting; petitioning for deliverance, healing, and revival from this season that has plagued us.
I’m reminded of the very first time I joined my congregation in prayer and fasting; the pastor had made the disclaimer, “fasting from food may not be for everyone, you might like to fast television or social media.”
Even five years ago I might have scoffed at the idea of a social media fast, but now, in 2022, the nature of social media is vastly different from what I experienced during my formative years. Social media engagement now begins in childhood with applications like YouTube being accessed sometimes before a child has even acquire basic language skills. What began as an outlet for friendship and creativity has rather become a platform for rapid-fire, short format entertainment.
Platforms like Instagram and YouTube are transitioning their format away from “social”, and towards the dopamine-fuelling format of TikTok. While “generation z” being afforded endless opportunities for creative expression can be seen as a positive, thefact that social media is quickly becoming the primary source of information for young people is having a significant and alarming effect on the way they engage with Christianity.
Mass Attention deficit
It’s long been suggested that instantaneous satisfaction has the negative long-term consequences of entitlement and impatience, but this is perhaps underplaying the true nature of the problem; addiction. Young people are struggling with the physiological impact of social media addiction on their attention span. The minds of the future generations are being trained to require the constant and increasing volumes of dopamine in order to function, and when those levels are not reached, the dissatisfaction can lead to a state of depression, or worse; the need to fill that addiction with even more damaging behaviour.
In the context of the Christian life, passionate young people with dreams of mission and ministry are finding their attention already wavering after the first ten minutes of a sermon, let alonein the time spent engaging with the Lord in prayer, meditation and the word. They are quickly becoming burnt out and distracted from the ministry, and even leaving faith as a result.
In an age where social media is the first point of research on any given topic, young people are consuming more information than ever before, but the quality and curation of that information remains in question. There are more and more young people who have grown up in church, buthave never read the Bible of their own accord. Perhaps even more alarming, they have no urgent intention to start.
And why would they? A quick search and social media platforms will present an assortment of soundbites from the world’s favourite “pop-preachers”, but without the knowledge of the person of God through His word, these snippets of revelation could just as likely be at best, mere crumbs of living bread, and at worst, entirely unbiblical.
Generation Z and the up-and-coming children of Generation Alphawill grow up to see some of the greatest opportunities in ministry and creativity, withsocial mediaas the platform. These young people are the future of the church, and inevitably a target in the great battle over souls.
But the enemy has shown his hand from the beginning. Even in the garden, his methods were the same. He offered an alternative to the true satisfaction that only comes from relationship with the creator; targeting the physiological pleasure centres, appealing to our pride, and distracting us from God’s plan and purpose. He then casts doubt on the nature and goodness of God; questioning the authority and truth of His word, and finally, destabilizing our sense of morality.
When truth is based on the emotion and entertainment of social media, there is no longer room for righteousness. Where there is no room for righteousness, there is no time for revival. Each of us has a part to play in the claiming of this generation for Christ. The answer will not be to appeal to the psychological craving for entertainment, but to the eternal yearning of the heart to know its creator. We need to be able to call out these issues for what they are; not merely habits or behaviours, but an attack on the call of God for entire generations.
Laura Wardrop has undertaken further study in the areas of Linguistics, Art, and Ministry. She currently works a graphic artist and painter, and takes a keen interest in exploring all areas of human creativity as a reflection of God’s character. She lives with her husband Stephen and two children in Brisbane.