By Denise Kohlmeyer, Crosswalk.com
What started out as an inconspicuous app mainly used for lip-syncing during its infant days as Musical.ly, TikTok has grown exponentially in terms of popularity and user count. Its usership is quickly gaining on that of Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, and other social media platforms. An estimated one billion users utilize TikTok every month, with roughly 60 percent of them being Gen Zers, those between the ages of nine and 24. This significant usership speaks volumes about the platform’s popularity and its engaging, and some would say, addictive nature.
Short-form videos (10 minutes long) allow users to get creative with their content (of anything and everything), using filters, stickers, voiceovers, sound effects, and background music. Live streaming is also available, and the ease with which it takes to upload a video has helped to boost the app’s attractiveness.
Best of all, the video, once posted, can be viewed instantaneously, and the app’s algorithm helps to keep the fun alive by running a constant stream of similar videos. Given this, it’s easy to become addicted to a particularly favorite subject, and thus, hours can be (and are) lost in interminable viewing.
Much of TikTok’s popularity also stems from celebrity users and their endorsement of the app. Celebrity TikTok users include Taylor Swift, Jimmy Fallon, Lizzo, Ariana Grande, The Rock, and many others. Many of them have issued “challenges” (dance challenges being the favorite) or promotions to bring more users on board their personal pages.
Savvy companies are leveraging TikTok’s usership to its advantage, as well. They often partner with high-volume influencers by sending them free merchandise, which the influencer then promotes or reviews on their page, which then boosts that company’s product. TikTok also offers influencers the option to run paid ads. It’s a win-win all around.
Ancient “Social Media”
Back some 2,000 years ago, however, technology such as TikTok did not exist, obviously. But there did exist another mode through which the Good News was carried far and wide: letters. Letters written on parchment scrolls were the “social media” of that day, carried by the apostles (and sometimes faithful messengers) to churches in Asia-Minor. Yes, it may have taken weeks, even months, for those letters to arrive at their destinations, given the laborious task of travel in ancient times, but the letters served as a way to encourage, instruct, and even warn their recipients.
While the apostles, particularly Paul, took advantage of this method of communication, writing personal and circular letters whenever he could not be there in person, Jesus did not. Jesus’ approach was face-to-face dialogue, whether with an individual, as with Nicodemus, or with a group, as in a synagogue or atop a mountain. His personal sphere of influence was not worldwide but encompassed only Judea, which had an estimated population of less than 70,000 then. His influence did not reach beyond Judah’s borders until after his resurrection and then via personal witness and those epistles which now make up the New Testament.
TikTok’s Spiritual Potential
Today, people rarely write letters. Rather, the mode of getting the message out there is still personal witness and church involvement. But the message is also increasingly being proclaimed through social media.
Given the reach of TikTok to billions of users worldwide, many faith-filled believers are using the app to share the Good News and the love of Jesus Christ. In a day when many young people are exiting the church—for varied reasons—this platform could just be the way to reach them, following Paul’s heart and example in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means, I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”
One such TikTok evangelist is 21-year-old Elijah Lamb. He’s utilized TikTok’s platform to unabashedly preach and teach the Bible. To date, his followers number 690,000. He specifically targets Gen Zers, hoping to reach into the confused and disillusioned hearts of his generation.
Lamb, as well as other Christian influencers, intentionally use TikTok (and Instagram and YouTube) to reach their peers. It’s how these millennials communicate and engage in today’s world, like it or not. What better way, though, than to situate yourself as a spiritual influencer than by going to where the “lost” are: online.
TikTok evangelists understand that. They know their media messages—whether it’s a proclamation of the Gospel, a devotional, or a sermonized teaching—can be sent and received conveniently and instantaneously. They know their messages have the potential of reaching thousands with just a “click.”
And that’s a good thing. Amidst all the superficial and silly (and sometimes false) content out there, God’s people—called to be ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20)—have a ready-made opportunity to post redemptive, encouraging content on TikTok and other social media platforms.
What about you and me? Even if we’re not high-volume influencers (and most users aren’t), we can easily upload a 10-minute segment of a sermon from our pastors or from another well-known pastor, such as John Piper or Timothy Keller. We can video ourselves reading a passage of Scripture or do a voiceover reading with a lovely picture. The creative opportunities are limitless.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Tonktiti
How to Engage on Social Media Biblically
Whether you choose to engage on TikTok or any other social media platform, there are Scriptural standards we should follow as believers.
1. Be mindful of your motivation.
If your motivation for using TikTok is to become a famous influencer to garner thousands of followers (and Likes) and to attract companies that would support you and your brand, then posting videos about Jesus and his message is merely a means to an end. A selfish end. Your motivation, if this is the case, is more self-promotion than Jesus-promotion. You don’t have the glory of God or the furtherance of his Kingdom at the forefront. You have the glory of yourself and your brand in mind.
But, if you have sincerely sought the Holy Spirit’s guidance and have prayed (and perhaps fasted) about using TikTok as an evangelistic “tool,” and you believe God has given you his blessing, then, by all means, go for it.
2. Be mindful of your words.
Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
Colossians 4:6: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
Proverbs 15:1-2: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.”
When it comes to our words—whether spoken or written—and how and when we use them, God has plenty to say. Before posting a video that includes any verbal or written content, run them through the above verses. If they do not hold up to these Biblical standards, rewrite your content. Be truthful, yes, but speak God’s truth with love and grace. We don’t want to put our Lord to shame with our carelessly written or spoken content.
3. Be mindful of your engagement.
Some people like a good debate, and nothing triggers one more than the mention of God and the Bible (and politics). Some people even troll TikTok, looking to pick a fight. Knowing this, then, if you are going to speak truth unabashedly, be prepared to receive hostile and outright hateful responses.
Keep in mind Proverbs 26:4, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.”
Who are these “fools?” They are people who have little to no regard for God, his Word, or his people. They are the “scoffers” and “mockers” spoken of in various verses (Psalm 1:1, Proverbs 15:12, 2 Peter 3:3-4). Fools reject truth, wisdom, and reason. And their modus operandi is to belittle and humiliate anyone who tries to reason with them.
“By engaging with the fool in his argument of ignorance or manipulation, you’ll eventually be drawn into stooping to the mocker’s level and behaving foolishly yourself. Therefore, do yourself a favor and pity the fool but avoid the pointless argument,” writes Dolores Smyth.
So, save your breath and time. To engage with such a fool is to lower yourself to their level. Refuse to engage with them and move on to engage with those who are sincerely seeking truth and understanding.
All this begs a curious question: Would Jesus, if he was walking this earth today, use this far-reaching TikTok to proclaim his message of salvation?
I don’t know. Maybe he would, maybe he wouldn’t. Who’s to say, really?
But I can say this with confidence: Jesus would encourage those who are fulfilling his Great Commission of “going” and “making disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19-20) by using this popular platform—or any social media platform—with the genuine, Spirit-led intentionality of proclaiming his message, for his glory and the good of the Kingdom.
In short, as we are led by the Holy Spirit, by whatever means we can preach the Good News, as fearless Christ-influencers, we should. Including using TikTok.
Photo Credit: Unsplash/Solen Feyissa
Denise is a former newspaper reporter and current freelance writer. She has been published in numerous online and print publications. She is also a former Women's Bible Study teacher. Denise's passion is to use her writing to bless, encourage, and inform others. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and two children (another has grown and flown). You can find Denise at denisekohlmeyer.com.