It was an innocent Facebook post but one that generated heated debate. A Christian man had posted on his wall a picture of a brand new car, a Toyota Land Cruiser V8 that was presented as a gift by the congregation of the church he attends to their pastor, who was being ordained as a bishop. He captioned the picture with the words: “… new machine for evangelism.”
The post did not go down well with one of his Facebook friends who queried the source of the funds used to buy the car. The friend wrote: “He bought it with his money or worshippers’ money?” Another replied: “It was bought with money…” to which the first friend retorted: “Believers’ money? That’s why I love pastor (probably his pastor). He never accepts anything like church contributing for his personal gains. Pastors should work hard if they want luxurious life not threatening people with curses if you don’t help them.”
The man who had posted the picture replied: “What’s your problem? Was it your money? I wonder why some people cry aloud as if they have been fleeced. By the way, that is a gift and a gift is a surprise.”
Many of his other Facebook friends supported him and accused the challenger of being selfish, mad, mean and even stupid.
Was Facebook the appropriate forum for such a harsh exchange between people who confess the Christian faith? More importantly, what should Christians post or not post on social media platforms?
This is a critical question coming at a time when it seems that social media networks are spawning nominal Christians who have pushed the Bible and prayer to the back burner.
With more than 2.7 billion monthly active users as at the second quarter of 2020, Statistasays Facebook is now the biggest social network worldwide. And according to Africa 2020 Population and Internet Users Statistics, Kenya alone registered over 7 million Facebook subscribers by the end of December last year. Christians are among these users.
There have been concerns that some of the content posted by believers has little to do with Christian values and a lot to do with showing off. It is not uncommon to see Facebook photos of Christian brethren aboard or standing beside aircraft (especially if it is their first time), or of new cars, houses, clothes or phones. Such posts are sometimes accompanied by words like: “Look what the Lord has done” or “I thank God for bringing me this far” or “Somebody praise the Lord with me!”
Pastor Peter Kilonzo, the founder and head of Mountain Movers Ministries in Nairobi, says there is nothing wrong when a believer posts photos on Facebook of newly-built houses, new cars, phones, clothes or shoes “as long as the motive is right”.
While it might be difficult to determine the motive behind any particular post, he adds, a verdict can be made that if the individual is fond of posting only things pertaining to personal property at the expense of Scripture or testimonies to encourage others, then that might be a show-off.
“People use Facebook for various reasons. If someone travels overseas, he or she might want to post pictures to thank God for a safe journey or to update friends on where he or she is at a particular time, or maybe to ask for prayers. On the other hand, some do it out of excitement or to show off, especially those who are flying for the first time. There is that natural feeling that says, ‘Let my friends know what is happening to me now.’ That is where the problem lies.”
Kilonzo says believers should not limit God’s blessings to material possessions. “We should not always talk about what we own as proof of true blessings. That is where most of us have lost it.”
For several years before he started Mountain Movers Ministries, Kilonzo was the resident pastor at Cathedral of Praise Ministries International (COPMI) in Nairobi’s Imara Daima Estate under Bishop Jonah Obonyo. In one of his sermons at COPMI, he told the congregation to watch what they post on Facebook because “not everybody is your friend”.
“Some of you post pictures of your graduation or your young children on Facebook. Don’t think everybody is happy for you or about your success. You should know how best to use social media.”
He says one of the weapons Satan uses to steal believers’ time is social media – keeping them so busy chatting and posting that they don’t have time for Bible study, prayer, church or family.
“Many Christians today appear very busy but actually they are just chatting. Some husbands and wives don’t have time for each other because they are busy on Facebook. The time a couple should spend bonding or discussing family matters is instead spent on Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Twitter,” he says, adding that social media can also be a threat to community.
“I once boarded a matatu to the city centre and noticed that nearly every passenger was busy on their phone. No one was talking to the other. I realised that social media is a powerful tool that has taken many people captive to the extent that it has killed our natural socialisation and fellowship.”
Patrick Makokha, a born-again Christian, businessman and information technology expert, says most believers do not know the proper use of Facebook. He says the inventors of social media networks intended for people to use them to connect and pass information, but many users have gone overboard.
“Nowadays, it is not uncommon for some believers to post pictures of themselves half-naked in bed, or for gospel singers to show themselves leading a service. I know some do it out of mere excitement and don’t have improper motives but in the long run, it doesn’t edify anyone spiritually,” he says.
To him, believers can use Facebook to post content about evangelism, Bible verses for encouragement, Bible questions or prayers points.
“If you post a picture of yourself boarding a plane for the first time, or a new car, house, phone, husband, wife or children, many might comment, but when they realise you are fond of posting only things pertaining to yourself, the comments start reducing. With time, you realise some of your friends have gone quiet,” observes Makokha, who is also a singer, guitarist and keyboard player at Green Pastures Tabernacle, Nairobi.
He says many people often feel the urge to share whatever is happening in their lives and if their Facebook friends don’t comment, they feel let down.
“I think that is where the issue of showing off comes in. Some believers suffer from low self-worth and want to be told all the time that they are pretty, sexy, smart and the like. Instead of letting God praise them, they seek man’s approval.”
Makokha believes God created everyone beautiful in their own way and the moment a person feels inadequate, he or she gives room to Satan and begins to doubt God’s faithfulness and goodness.
He adds that it is “sickening” to see couples post updates about every stage of their relationship. “Okay, you’re in love, that is good. But I don’t need to be reminded how in love you are every day.”
He thinks pastors should counsel church members on the correct use of social media. “Technology is advancing and believers should know how to balance between social media use and their spiritual growth,” he says. “Even if you decide to post pictures of what you own, which is not an offence, be careful not to do it for publicity but as a way of encouraging others to trust God since no one can judge your motives except your Creator.”
Kilonzo agrees that pastors must educate their congregations on the correct use of social media.
“It is tricky nowadays to tell whether one is using a phone or tablet in church to read Scripture, take notes or chat on Facebook,” he says.
At COPMI, they discouraged the use of phones or tablets during church services so people could concentrate. They also advised against rushing to reply to comments on posts or pictures, especially when there is no understanding of context.
“You should take your time and read other people’s comments on the post before deciding whether to join the debate or keep quiet,” he urges. “And when you post a picture of a vehicle given to your pastor as a gift, for example, the words you use might lead many to question your motive. Explain why you have posted the picture, what the occasion was and, if possible, give supportive Bible verses to back your action.”