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Why the concept of ‘Instagram Christianity’ doesn’t work

It wasn’t my best moment.

I was frustrated and a bit upset. As a young father, I was trying to balance a complex job with the pressures of providing for those under my watch. On one particular day, the sun shining brightly and a soft wind blowing on a still lake, I decided to go out on a paddle boat with three of my kids.

They weren’t fighting, but they were bickering. You know the feeling. They say one unkind word and it escalates from there. There’s mild tension, the kind only a child of six or seven can muster.

I snapped at my son Josh, who was only about four at the time. Then, the unthinkable happened. We were a good half-mile from the shore, but the rudder broke off and sank to the bottom of the lake. We were stuck, and the only option left was to drift into shore.

“Dad, why don’t we pray,” my son announced. I stopped short, smiled at him, and we bowed our heads. Eventually, we towed the paddle boat back to the dock. It was what you might say was an Instagrammable moment in our family history. Except that Instagram didn’t exist back then, smartphones were a distant dream, and the only proud moment was when my son said we should pray. If we had posted on social media, it wouldn’t have included the tension or my crabby attitude.

I wrote about this incident in my new book, called The 7-Miniute Productivity Solution, which comes out in January. I must confess, it might have been my daughter Hannah who suggested we pray. It really did happen, and I was proud to relay the details of this story. The suggestion here is that, as parents, we had modelled prayer enough that the idea made sense, even for a young child.

My question for anyone who has experienced these moments, though, is whether we have decided those proud moments are the only ones worth talking about. The truth is, social media has become a way to not only share the best moments of life, but as Christians it is also a way to present a false image of our spiritual demeanor. We’re “always on” and always like Jesus.

For years, experts have said this is a serious problem from a humanistic standpoint. When we scroll through the feed of friends and family, we only see their shining moments. Yet, we also see them at their spiritual best. No harsh words, no putdowns, no jabs. I was probably a jerk that day on the boat, or at least a little tired and annoyed. I like to publicize the best parts, though.

I’m not sure that is the best way to live. When we only reveal the best moments of our spiritual lives, we’re pretending we don’t really need the Holy Spirit to guide us. What we’re really saying is – we got this. We’re fine. We have life figured out. There are no problems here.

And yet, of course there are problems. As a dad, I had to learn to have patience one day at a time. I didn’t suddenly become patient as though all it takes is clicking that option in an app. Patience comes through long hours of suffering, waiting, praying, and hoping. Fruit grows slowly over time.

Social media doesn’t really portray that growth accurately. Instagram Christianity, a term I heard recently from writer, speaker, and talk radio host Carmen LaBerge. It’s a way to present ourselves to others as fully formed Christians who have everything figured out. It means an influencer who is representing a “brand” on Instagram to a Christian audience, possibly by paying an assistant to post nice photos. Is it real though?

I doubt it. To be honest, none of this is real.

There are no fully formed Christians. There are only those who are fully flawed. Instagram has taught us that we can hide our imperfections, but we can’t hide them from a Father who knows all about us and loves us anyway. He doesn’t even have an Instagram account.