I’ve always been intrigued by the call Jesus gave to the men He gathered to be His disciples. A simple invitation of “Follow me,” would change their lives… and the world. However, I recently discovered Jesus’ “Follow me” wasn’t odd, out of place, or even original.
The first-century Middle Eastern culture was well-versed in the rabbi/disciple relationship and it was forged with the invitation stating the same two words, “Follow me.” Rabbis would typically gather 10-12 young men at a time for intense training and everything the rabbi taught usurped even the teachings of the disciple’s parents.
The word “rabbi” means “my master” in Hebrew and the selection process to find a rabbi was a tedious one. The student wanted to find the right rabbi knowing he would completely take on all the rabbi’s beliefs. In turn, the rabbi only selected those he thought could meet his standards and eventually become just like him. Emulation was the goal.
Why am I spending so much time discussing the rabbi/disciple relationship? Because very little has changed in 2000 years. Our kids/teens have answered the “follow me” call of a rabbi – or many rabbis. A simple “follow me” on social media from peers, celebrities or “influencers” has allowed others to pour into our kids and shape them in their own image.
Witnessing the chaos and destruction in the lives of kids/teens from awesome families has become exhausting. I’m watching (as you probably are, too) kids caught up in circumstances that go from eyebrow-raising to shocking to tragic. In each instance I know of personally, it wasn’t a case of negligent parents. On the contrary. The parents’ sage voices had been reduced to whispers amid the din of “influencers.” And influence they did, offering cheaper life lessons at a tremendous cost.
It’s time we start treating social media like the rabbi it has become and stop wondering what is happening to our culture. I will never forget hearing a high school counselor remark, “My day would look totally different if there were no such thing as social media.” What a profound statement.
While social media isn’t the only cause of trouble among our young people, it is taking center stage when discussing the sharp increase in teen suicide rates. Just last month a nearby children’s hospital admitted an “alarming rate” of suicidal patients. The medical director at the pediatric hospital said, “Social media plays a big role in the mental health of children and teens. They experience bullying online, they may not feel self-worth because they’re comparing themselves to what they see on Instagram. They’re also getting ideas on the internet about how to harm themselves.”
Carey Nieuwhof, a pastor, author and podcaster, posted this to-the-point poignant message, “You become what you click.” Sometimes (many times) it is the hard job of a parent to save our kids from themselves. Our culture is a smorgasbord of bad ideas just waiting to attach themselves to those lacking a fully developed frontal lobe.
I’ve heard many parents say they follow their kids on social media, believing if they see what their child is posting, they have a full picture of their online world. I have started suggesting an additional step for my friends who allow their kids to have social media: Without notice, scroll through your kid’s social media feed on their phone. Scroll through your kid’s feed and see who has gathered your child as a disciple. It may be shocking.
Add to that, if you don’t allow your kids to have social media, check their phones anyway. In the past week I’ve heard of several kids who had social media accounts unbeknownst to their parents – their awesome, attentive parents.
Most parents probably don’t consider social media a form of discipleship for our kids… but we should.
On one hand, this can seem legalistic and too strict. On the other hand – the hand we don’t wave nearly as often – we have to recognize those things that are leveraged by the enemy to destroy our kids. We cannot be so willing to dance with partners who bring chaos into our lives. Proverbs 4:23 tells us, “Above all else, guard your heart.” And as parents, it’s also our job to guard our children’s hearts. And make no mistake, we have an enemy that is after our kids’ hearts.
To be clear, every word above applies to adults, too. I keep a tight reign on whom I allow into my social media feed. What I choose to put into my mind shapes who I am, and I don’t take that lightly. “Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).
Social media “rabbis” need disciples to grow their own brands and net worth, with little value placed on what it costs the follower. Jesus takes nothing from His followers but gives them everything – abundant and eternal life – paid for with His blood.
Jesus started His “social” campaign 2000 years ago and He grew His following from 12 to billions throughout every generation. Even after the biggest social media influencers of today are gone and forgotten, Jesus will still be adding to His numbers with His simple invitation, “Follow me”.
May we help our children choose wisely whom to follow.
Dear Lord, thank You for giving us Your Word. Your Word is truth. Let us open our eyes to those we’ve allowed to be our rabbis who only want us to become like them, not caring about the damage to our own lives. You want us to become like You and live life to the full. Lord, I pray that we wouldn’t be satisfied with a counterfeit teacher, but that we would allow ourselves to be gathered by You and to You. We love You and we trust You. Amen.