“How do you grow a following?” she asked.
I cringed at the question, because I know firsthand that numbers can shackle our souls and trip us up if they become our driving ambition in life. I’m asked this question quite often, and it’s honestly one that I wrestle with answering well. Our society is built upon growing numbers that supposedly define our worth and reach. I’ve seen this belief infiltrate the hearts of many believers, leading them down a path away from living for an Audience of One and toward a life of being more consumed with pleasing the crowd. We (including myself) often define our success in this life by the numbers we see next to our names, rather than by the behind-the-scenes obedience that most will never see (other than Christ, who is the hidden Observer of our hearts and motives).
A Society of Like-aholics
I’ll admit, I get frustrated almost daily with the hold that numbers can have on my own soul. Numbers have always been a stumbling block in my life. In high school, if my grades were below a certain number, I was crushed and defeated. Anything less than perfection was a blow to my so-called “perfect record.” In college, the scale was never low enough. I was obsessively consumed with being “beautiful” according to the standards set by magazine covers that I drove myself to an eating disorder. The veil of untruth covered my eyes so utterly, I could barely see that my skinny, frail body was dying to live. Those numbers held me in bondage for years. Out of college I began to see how numbers continued to define living. Salaries. Mortgages. Expenses. Bills. All are numbers that surround us every day.
However, a different number has become one of the worst stumbling blocks to date: the numbers on social media. I see it everywhere and even in my own heart—people doing all they can to be “liked,” praised, noticed, and heard. People sharing things they might otherwise regret, spending an inordinate amount of time on a tiny device, and slowly sinking into the abyss of becoming “like-aholics.” It’s how our minds are being trained to think, and is becoming the lens through which we see the world.
As Christians, we have to be aware of the battle that is taking place in our souls. When we feel discomfort and restlessness in our spirits, we shouldn’t run from those feelings—we should ask why they are there in the first place. The numbers that drive social media make me extremely uncomfortable, and at times, disturbed. It’s because God didn’t make us to be defined by a profile, a device, or a number of “likes.” We were made to reflect our Creator and bring glory to His name. As Christians, if we want to lead others, we have to learn to be better followers of our Maker.
Living in the Tension
This is where the tension begins to settle in. I am a firm believer that the calling to do “all” things for the glory of God extends to the internet (Col. 3:23). God was not unaware of the hold social media would have on our hearts when He divinely inspired Scripture. The timeless truths found in the Word are still applicable to our hearts today. We are called to follow Christ with reckless abandon and make disciples (Matt. 28:18–20; Luke 9:23). This calling should infiltrate everything we do, including how we use our phones and social media profiles.
How do we effectively lead this generation in a world that follows?
How do we use social media, rather than being “used” by it?
How do we break free of the grip that numbers have on our hearts to live in the freedom that Christ alone gives us?
First, we come to a realization of the battle we are in, the role numbers play in our lives, and begin to use the filter of the glory of God as our guiding lens in using social media.
1. Embrace the fact that you are in a battle.
The battle isn’t against social media or numbers or “likes” or follows. The battle isn’t against numbers on a scale, your salary, or the square footage of your home. The battle is against the “rulers and principalities of this present darkness” (Ephesians 6:10–12). However, we are not unaware or unarmed. We have the armor of God to put on each day to fight with, and wearing the armor of God first begins with a healthy reminder that we weren’t made for this world (Eph. 6:13–20). The glory of man is short-lived, but the glory of God is forever. It is worth living for today and must be the motive for using social media. His glory leads us to the “more” our souls really long for.
2. Seek the “more” of Jesus.
The reality that we must all come to grips with is this: the more numbers you get, the more you will realize they just aren’t enough.
This doesn’t apply only to social media. Maybe you’re trying to lose weight and the scale just won’t go low enough. I once lived paralyzed by this goal and it led to an eating disorder. The numbers just weren’t enough.
Maybe you’re trying to make more money to have a bigger house and more things to fill that house. Once you finally get that big house, you’ll realize there’s a bigger one down the road you want even more. The “more” of this life that we run hard after never satisfies our souls, unless the “more” we are seeking is Jesus Christ.
When asked, “How do you grow a following?”, I always go back to the “more” of Christ that truly satisfies. Everything could be wiped away from this earth in an instant, but He would remain (Heb. 13:8). Social media is constantly changing and evolving, but Christ is the same and He’s the best pursuit. If you’ve found yourself craving “more” but never being satisfied, my challenge to you is: look to Jesus, the only One can give you the “more” you long for, to actually satisfy your heart. Let’s live for the “more” of Christ and offer to others what He has to give, all the while trusting Him with the results.
If you are willing to embrace the battle that we believers fight on social media for our hearts and for the freedom of others, the most important thing to remember is that “more” Jesus is what we all need. Bring your desire for “more” of anything else to the foot of the cross and leave it there. Coming from a sister in Christ who has chased after the “more” of this world and found it lacking in every way, I can tell you in all honesty that Jesus brings life, hope, and freedom—not a larger following on social media.
3. Learning to be a better follower.
If you find yourself trying to lead in a world that follows, but getting trapped in the desire for more of your own followers, remember that our Christian life begins with following hard after Jesus. Being a better follower of Him in the secret will actually make you a better leader in this world.
Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24–26)
Dare to lose your life to find it. Dare to lose some followers to boldly proclaim the Gospel. Dare to desire Jesus more than you do a big following. Dare to live counter-culturally. Dare to take a step back when needed to refresh your heart in the Lord. Dare to join Paul, who invited others to follow him as he followed Christ (1 Cor. 11:1).
Ultimately, life is not about growing a social media following or platform. Life is about building the Kingdom of God and following Jesus. If I were to answer, “How do you grow a following?”, I would answer plainly with you don’t. You follow Jesus, and you leave the results to Him. After all, if He is the “more” that people really need, then the more you have Him, the more they will join you in the journey of leading others in a world that follows—straight to the cross.
A leader worth following is a person who humbly, wholly, and passionately follows Jesus. He is the draw. He is the source of life. It is His glory that illuminates the darkness of social media and His mission that sends you out. Don’t focus on a bigger following. Focus on your magnificent Savior, and leave the rest to Him.