If humility is a Christian virtue, false humility is an evangelical vice.
Such describes the state of the Christian blogosphere, which itself is marked both by its fair share of platform-building efforts and humble hot takes repudiating the practice itself.
Scripture is clear in stating that a haughty spirit precedes destruction (Proverbs 16:18). Exaltation in status or influence comes from God (Psalm 75:6), not our own vying for the approval of our stakeholders. If we pursue prestige as an end in itself, not only do we commit the sin of vanity, but we risk experiencing humiliation of Babylonian proportions (recall the Tower incident). This type of status-seeking is nothing short of self-idolatry.
But is that synonymous with online platform-building? To this point I have not defined the term platform-building, partly out of convenience and partly because the term eludes definition.
First, we must understand that the term platform as applied to the digital media age can refer both broadly to whole media delivery systems (particularly social networks and apps the likes of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram) as well as to the individual users, channels, or other content developers who lodge themselves within such networks. A person who uses social media effectively and gains a following has a “platform,” even as he or she is in fact utilizing public platforms developed by others.
Platform-building, then, can be more narrowly defined as the act of creating and curating a certain kind of content designed to boost—quantitatively or qualitatively—one’s followership. A quantitative platform boost can be measured by increase in the size of one’s audience, while a qualitative platform boost might be understood as the result of positioning oneself to stand out among the myriad of opinionated voices in the world of information, with the effect of establishing one’s “brand” and increasing measurable metrics of audience engagement.
As the term is commonly used, platform-building is mainly a pejorative used against those who appear to be pushing a certain strain of content for no express purpose other than to boost followership. For instance, a person engaged in “platform-building” may take it upon themselves to police the “other” side of any given debate, retweeting quotes from the opposition and adding one’s own quippy retorts. Quick to enter debate, this person’s goal, it appears, is to serve red meat to an angst-ridden audience, not to serve the audience itself.
Biblical wisdom literature has much to say about the person who talks—or types—just to be heard, and none of it is positive. “Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 29:20, ESV). “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak” (James 1:19). Scripture plainly condemns attention-seeking. But from this dictum it does not follow that building one’s own personal media platform is inherently immoral, any more than the sin of vanity invalidates the benefits of physical exercise.
We can define platform-building more simply, then, as seeking to extend one’s reach. Based on this definition, is platform-building inherently wrong? No—and in fact, there are cases in which it can be warranted and good.
When to Magnify Your Ministry
Consider the Apostle Paul’s example: “Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them” (Romans 11:13-14, emphasis added).
Though Paul took the gospel “first to the Jew” (Romans 1:16), when rejected by the Jews in Rome (Acts 28), even he eventually reached the point of shaking the dust from his feet (Matthew 10:14) as a sign of judgment—albeit, most likely, with tears. Yet Paul always yearned to see his kinsmen converted. How then did he act on this desire, even while discharging his call primarily to the Gentiles? He magnified his ministry.
Paul made the most of his apostolic platform in hopes that onlooking Jews would be stirred to respond in faith. His motive was missional, and his action was justified.
I am not suggesting that by “I magnify my ministry” Paul meant he arbitrarily inflated his perceived followership. By contrast, Paul warns throughout 1 Corinthians 1-2 of the carnality of Christian celebrity subculture, and in his second epistle to the Corinthians he emphatically notes, “[W]e will not boast beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us” (10:13). Paul abominated fleshly self-promotion as being opposed to the foolish cross of Christ.
But we must harmonize this fact with what Paul did mean by “magnifying” his ministry before the Jews. Whatever it meant, it did not mean that he maintained a state of blissful ignorance of his reach. Rather, Paul intentionally cultivated the reach of his ministry as an act of stewardship. And if both our ends and our motives are pleasing to God, we are free to do likewise.
Stated another way, Paul, had he lived in our day, would not have been completely indifferent to the size of his digital footprint. This same Paul became “all things to all people” to “by all means… save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22) and aimed to “please everyone in everything” seeking not his own “advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:33). For each modern media tool, we can imagine Paul improvising an evangelistic weapon. All things being equal, given the choice between having 100 or 1,000 in his evangelistic audience, Paul would conceivably choose the latter. Paul was not a pragmatist, but he was practical.
All of this assumes, of course, that what one has to say on one’s platform is godly. He who tweets should tweet the oracles of God (1 Peter 4:11). Godly platform-building must conform to all the biblical commands regarding communication:
- “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6).
- “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).
- “So then, let us pursue what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Romans 14:19).
- “Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up” (Romans 15:2).
…and on the list goes. It may be that conforming to these biblical commands for communication will necessarily exclude much of what is called “platform-seeking” right off the bat. Exhibiting kindness and tact is no strategy to go viral. But there are other times when it is right and just for us to “magnify” the platform God has given us for the sake of his will in the world.
We cannot simply dismiss any activity that resembles platform-building as essentially corrupt. The difficulty with addressing topic such as platform-building in this format is that we instinctively crave either sweeping condemnations or blanket approvals. Nuance makes poor clickbait.
Having established platform-building as not inherently sinful, we unearth a more appropriate question in need of answer: is it sinful for you? To that end, consider these eleven questions as you assess your own digital sphere of influence:
- Have I bathed my online conversations, especially on heated topics, in prayer?
- Why am I seeking to grow my platform? Are my motives, if not explicitly evangelistic, at least related to the service of others?
- What will I need to do to grow my platform? Does building a platform among a certain group of people require behavior or speech that is rude, un-Christlike, or simply unedifying? Will my content adorn or obscure the gospel?
- What is the cost of growing my platform? What enemies will I make? What relationships might I strain by positioning myself within a certain online crowd? What new associations—good or bad—might I form with others? Am I willing to pay that cost?
- What is the cost of not building a platform? What other voice might fill the void?
- What sort of followers do I hope to attract? Is it worth having a “mob” on my side? Am I aware that friends easily gained are just as easily lost?
- Am I being faithful in the real, tangible, local world first—marriage, family, church, neighborhood, workplace, community—as a light of Christ? Will my entrance into online conversation bolster or hamper my real-world calling to love flesh-and-blood neighbors?
- Have others (particularly those in spiritual authority over me in the physical local church) affirmed that I have a particular gift or calling to engage in certain online conversations? Have others been blessed by my content? Is my church approving of and blessed by my online life?
- Does my content have intrinsic value even if there is no net positive effect upon the size of my followership?
- How will this post, tweet, video, image, or article come across 30 years from now?
- What if I don’t grow my platform—will I still be content? Can I do without, or has influence become an idol to me?
In conclusion, mortify prideful self-interest. If you live for likes, you will die by them. But don’t replace sinful ambition with sloth. If God has called you to cultivate an online platform of any size, whether to spread the gospel or simply promote a business, service, or other helpful idea, be fruitful and multiply it. Be faithful in the small things and seek to be entrusted with more. Do not despise the day of small things. Magnify your ministry. Steward your platform—and build it—to the glory of God.