How the “Like” Button Is Affecting Your Leadership

I’m a bit of a social media junkie. In the context of my job supporting our ministry communications, I deal with social media daily. Several years ago when I dove headfirst into social media for our church, I embraced it as a new avenue of communication where we should certainly be broadcasting information. Largely social media has benefitted our church. However, in the bigger context, I am concerned that social media may also be stripping away fundamental truth in communication and making it harder than ever to touch our culture with a real, honest and challenging Gospel.

Opinion has replaced fact. In an internet-enabled culture, opinion is now everywhere. Whether your thoughts are right, wrong or just odd, the thoughts themselves now have intrinsic value. Once relegated to a few thoughtful pages on the newspaper, pored over by an editorial staff and written by experienced thinkers, opinion has become a daily, ubiquitous and constant broadcast. Growing up in my generation, the written word had a certain weight and merit—if you wrote it down, you had to live with it, and so you’d better make sure what you were writing was factual.

No longer. Opinions have become the facts, in the minds of many writers. Or worse, facts and opinions are interchangeable truths—one no less valuable that the other. The social media landscape is a collection not of facts and opinions, which differ in their application, but rather of thoughts. And in cyberspace, all thoughts are created equal.

You’ve seen this Facebook phenomenon firsthand. Someone reports something as a fact, when really, it’s just their opinion, or a secondhand account from someone else. And don’t dare question it, or you’ll risk a flame of words in rebuttal. After all, someone said it, moreover they believe it, so regardless of evidence to the contrary, it must be true. This presents leaders with the tremendous challenge of how to speak truth into the social media space.

Likeability has become more important than integrity. All this opinion floating around is not really accomplishing much of anything. In fact, I don’t think people would post very much at all on social media if it was not for the ability to “like” or “share” or “retweet” content. And since most of us desire acceptance at some level, we make a tremendous compromise with our social media. In general, we only post that with which most people who follow us will embrace. We continually state the obvious to the agreeable masses.

In social media the goal of many is to gather likes. That is, to be assured that they are well-liked, their thoughts receive approval and they themselves are approved of. A few days ago I put a thought on a social media feed that I manage and got several rather negative responses. Since I disapproved of the language in a particular response, I removed the post. The poster emailed me and asked, “Why did you remove my post?” I replied that I felt it was inappropriate on my page so I removed it. The person replied, “Well, if you don’t put it back, I might have to un-like your page.” As if an individual un-liking me on Facebook was the worst possible thing that could happen in the world. I replied, “Please do so.” He replied again, “Are you sure?” Obviously disagreement of any kind to this person was simply unconscionable.

As leaders, we cannot fall into the trap of embracing likeability or agreeability at the expense of integrity. It is often the case that leaders can lead and their decisions be liked, but that is not always the case. Now more than ever we must ask ourselves if we are leading to seek approval or leading toward a defined end or result.

The culture has become more divisive and fickle. The result of this wholly acceptance-centric realm of social media is to create a culture that is both more divided than ever and more fickle than ever. The ideological divide is strengthened by people self-segregating into groups of like-minded individuals. Look at your Facebook groups and pages. I doubt they are filled with organizations and individuals with which you regularly disagree. We cluster in groups of those who agree with us, for the most part, the don’t often venture far out of that circle.

Perhaps more challenging is the whole idea that hitting a “like” button is the same as taking action. You’ve seen those posts—“Show your support to the troops. Hit ‘like’ right now. If you don’t hit ‘like’ you don’t support them.” Hitting “like” has been re-defined as action, versus stating an opinion. As a result we have millions of people liking this and that all day long, from calls for social justice to mandates to live biblically. The problem is, none of these likes actually result in people acting, or more importantly, changing their actions. The like, to most, is the action. I like that cause, or Scripture, or quote by the pastor, and since I’ve expressed that publicly, that’s all I have to do.

The passiveness of culture is something church leaders are dealing with as a broader trend. How often of late do we hear from members who say, “I was deeply convicted by that message. It just hit me right in the gut. It was so hard to listen to.” They even shed a tear, and Tweet the tear to their myriad of like-minded followers. They all agree, of course, the message and teaching was intense. But since opinion and not action is what matters, they don’t actually change anything in their lives as a result of it. Emotional reaction as a substitute for obedience.

The challenge: Act! This is the greatest danger of social media, and one which church leaders must attack head-on: We are talking to one another more than ever, and expressing ideas more readily than ever. And we could even say that social media is helping us encourage one another more than ever. But, are we actually doing anything, changing anything, taking actions in obedience to God, or are we just talking about it? Challenge your people to be doers of the word and not hearers only. Or perhaps the verse today should be re-written, “Be doers of the word and not likers only.”


Author: Eugene Mason, Communications Director for Cross Pointe Church under the leadership of Dr. James Merritt.