When pastors or priest look out at their congregations each Sunday, do they think about how the social internet has changed the people in front of them? For that matter, do they think about how the social internet has changed themselves? Chris Martin has some answers to those questions, and it’s not welcome news. In The Wolf in Their Pockets: 13 Ways the Social Internet Threatens the People You Lead, he methodically examines all the ways the internet affects people, from the perspective of what it means for church leadership. And it’s not much of a reach to say that what he says applies to anyone in a position of leadership – including business, government, non-profits, and education.
Martin works at Moody Publishers as a content marketing editor and a consultant in social media, marketing, and communications. He has a deep background in social media and digital content strategy. He perhaps best known for his blog, Terms of Service (and his book of the same title) where he writes thoughtfully and with great insight about topics as diverse as the metaverse, TikTok, Wordle, and the impact of social media on society and culture.
The Wolf in Their Pockets begins with a summary of how social media changes us. We usually find ourselves in either uncritical embrace or passive ignorance, he writes. He argues for the need to move to something of a middle position, what he calls “international engagement,” in which we engage thoughtfully and carefully.
The chapters that follow explain how that intentional engagement might happen, and how church leaders can facilitate that. Dethrone entertainment. Recover purpose. Build friendships (and not virtual ones). Reorder priorities. Foster discernment. Seek humility. And more.
Take the chapter on fostering discernment as an example. When Martin asked a number of church leaders a rather neutral-sounding question, “Can you tell me how you have seen social media affect people at your church?,” the common response was about discernment – and how the lack of it leads people to accept and believe in untruths about current events (also known as fake news). Lest you think this is only affecting conservative churches, it’s equally applicable to more liberal churches as well.
What’s beyond Martin’s purpose here, but perhaps we can convince him to address it on his Substack site, is what happens when the traditional media exacerbate that lack of discernment – when opinion masquerades as news, when significant stories aren’t covered, and when a media narrative quickly emerges and dominates journalists’ understanding. The problem of discernment is not only a problem of social media; social internet sites can explode the problem at warp speed.
The Wolf in Their Pockets isn’t an all-encompassing treatise of how to address the effects of social media on church congregations (and their leaders). But it is an important first step in how to understand the problem to begin with, and it offers practical advice to help church leaders recognize and deal with the impacts.
Terms of Service: The Real Costs of Social Media by Chris Martin.