Writing in to the Void: the battle for online witness – Guest blog post by Philippa Wilson

Social media and I have a complicated relationship. From the outside, people might say I love it; I’m a frequent poster- of things that make me laugh, of cookies I’ve enjoyed eating, of thoughts I’ve been encouraged by, of reviews of books or TV programmes I’ve watched, of friends I want to “big up”. I also blog fairly regularly and have done for about five years- about depression, about the Rwanda genocide, about being dumped… 

But I also frequently feel quite a strong hatred for social media. Does that sound extreme? It’s definitely me.

Last summer this was brought home to me in an acute way when I got ill, ended up in hospital and posted about it on social media. Not many people got in touch to ask how I was, and when I got better, I had to work through a lot of anger and hurt about this. Granted, I was emotional anyway having gone through the fears and anxieties associated with time spent being in hospital and in pain, and on reflection I can see that there were probably a whole host of reasons why people didn’t get in touch. But I also felt at the time that it showed how consumerist social media is… who cares enough about me to follow me, but not to send a message to check in with me when I’m in hospital? Why are we following people of we don’t engage with their content? It was a mystery to me- and it has made a difference to how I use social media now.

But this tension, between connection and disconnection, exemplifies my battle with social media.

 Social media seems like this incredible opportunity to connect with people, trusting in the Sovereignty of God. I have a deep thirst to communicate and connect, I really want people to hear about Jesus and I am naturally a very open person (quite often people thank me for my bravery, but I don’t feel brave at all- I find NOT being open much harder!).

Rejection is part and parcel of being a writer, so it is good for me to learn resilience. Self-doubt is also a standard experience for a writer, and from what I can tell, a standard experience for being a woman in ministry. Every time I post and get little engagement (quite a lot!), I think- I wasn’t good enough, interesting enough, I’m not loved enough, am I really saved? Is this why I am so ineffective? I have to work hard to put the breaks on those thoughts! Thankfully, I have a few friends who have been unbelievably supportive to me in my writing and who have spurred me on to carry on posting and carry on writing even in my (frustratingly frequent) spells of bitter discouragement.

Similarly, powerlessness is part and parcel of being an evangelist. Every evangelist is utterly dependent on God’s power, and it is good for me to depend on Him to get his word to places that I can’t reach. I also have to remind myself that the spiritual battle is a standard experience for witnesses; of course the devil wants to discourage connection. Whether I am witnessing online or elsewhere, I have to remember that the kingdom of God doesn’t grow in impressive statistics, it grows quietly- but it does grow.

All the same, every time I blog I will share it on Facebook (some response), Instagram (rare response) and Twitter (shouting in to the void). If I believe that what I’ve written is worth hearing, I’ll put it out there, on the off-chance that it reaches someone, somehow. I often remember a story Roger Carswell tells about a man who found part of a Bible verse on a bus ticket and it led him to Christ. And it makes me think, “you never know…” 

Nonetheless, I still struggle with a backlash of disappointment nearly every time. 

So, what’s the way forward?

For me, I still need to work out how to navigate my impulse to connect and encourage with my impulse to withdraw and self protect. I still need to learn to go on finding Jesus to be my fullness and my source, to see my writing as an unconditional gift to the world, an overflow of being complete in Him.  It’s hard, because I often feel like a product (and not a particularly effective one!) and I often feel alone (I think this maybe a standard experience for evangelists too- it’s so much easier when people open doors for you!). I need to stay prayerful that God will open a door for the gospel: 100k shares won’t make any Christians without the Spirit at work. I need to remind myself that every Christian who ever lived has been imperfect, that every effort to witness is fumbling and unworthy of the message, and that every Christian is made fruitful because they’re in Jesus, the true vine. I need to remember that my job is to get the word out there- God’s job is to make it effective. I need to remind myself that God is God of the algorithms too. I regularly pray about my social media use- that I will be creative, thoughtful, effective, self-forgetful (as you can tell, there’s a long way to go on that one!) And that God will reach those who need it.

A friend recently gave me a helpful image too, of a commanding officer. He gives commands, and the soldiers obey. And that’s that really. If Jesus commands me to write, then I need to obey. The results, where it gets to, who is reached are ultimately His job. My job is to be obedient to His call, and that means being humble enough to put stuff out there, even if it’s ignored. 

But I also think that, as I’m writing about it, I may as well talk about ways readers can help.

I have a responsibility to protect myself and not put it all out there if it’s too much, but I also have a responsibility to treat online humans like humans. If someone tweets you and you’re not an actual Rockstar, you can probably acknowledge that somehow. People are for relationship too: it seems weird to me to be interested enough in a person to observe, but not to invest (but I’m aware others think differently on this!). 

Secondly, there are plenty of people who have read my blog and told me they like it, but I am frequently frustrated that this doesn’t translate into online engagement. This isn’t just because I am a feedback junkie (I am!), but because I want people to be reached- and it’s just how the algorithm works- to get a larger audience your current audience needs to engage. And if you want your work physically published, then it helps to have a larger audience. 

It’s perfectly possible plenty of people read it and don’t like it (several publishers have said they won’t publish!), and obviously that’s okay too. I’m really just speaking here to the folks who say they do like it- and I suppose more largely speaking in to how to support women in ministry. Evangelists cannot open all the doors themselves and this is all the more true if you are female! 

This is particularly true if you already have a ministry- people are hesitant to read anything that other Christians don’t deem sound, and that’s fair enough. But if people trust you, you have power to let others in. 

If you support a woman in ministry, or any evangelist- you can show your support in ‘likes’, comments and shares. I realise that we live in a world where ‘likes’ can become addictive, but this isn’t just about me ‘like’ hoarding (I won’t pretend no part of me wants affirmation). If you consider yourself supportive of a blog, you can literally support the algorithm. If you like the writing and have been encouraged by it, consider  ‘liking’ it publicly: I know it exposes you, and makes you seen, but the writer has made themselves vulnerable too…and it’s a way you can be a gospel partner- getting the word out a little further. Seeds are growy things, … but they need to be throwy things first. (By which I mean… get the word out there!) Think of it like inviting someone to an event, except with less awkwardness. If you share it with a comment about why you loved it, then your friends will be more likely to engage. And it may be, because you’ve liked it- or even shared it, your friends will see, and read, and be drawn to Jesus. 

That’s always my prayer, and I suppose that deep conviction that Jesus is always at work to bring people to him, is what keeps me, amid all the frustration, clicking “publish”. 

Jesus is always at work to bring people to him, is what keeps me, amid all the frustration, clicking “publish”.

Philippa Wilson blogs at A Certain Brightness, teaches English to Cardiff teenagers and is working on her debut novel.

Published by Nay Dawson

I'm Nay, I live in Southampton married to the wonderful Jon, we have two girls. I work for IFES Europe as their Regional Training Co-ordinator

3 thoughts on “Writing in to the Void: the battle for online witness – Guest blog post by Philippa Wilson

  1. Philippa, thanks SO much! This is the first time I’ve encountered your writing, and I will definitely be doing so again. Thank for talking about self doubt and powerlessness which are exposing, but so helpful

    Like

  2. This is so wise and articulate (as per). I definitely relate to the feelings, and experienced this a lot when I was blogging on the regular. And yet despite knowing how it feels, I’m pretty terrible at doing the engaging and responding when on the other side. Thanks for the reminder and the push in the right direction!

    Like

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