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Two Views on Connections

Posted by Andrew Dickson on

Forced to lose their pinky or their phone, our kids pause.  Neither loss is ideal, and in a perfect world one could retain both. Nonetheless, studies show that if forced to choose, our teens would drop this tiny digit in a heartbeat.  For all its strengths the pinky cannot offer our kids the one thing they desire most: connection.

For many, it’s not a phone, but a passport.  At any moment I can enter a world of infinite connection.  All it takes is a data plan.  Networked individualism is the social operating system underpinning the way our kids use social media.  It’s the reason they’d rather lose a finger than a phone.  It promises unlimited connection, if one plays by the rules, rules that tell us how if you want community, then you must:

1) Form it

Gone are the days where community was bound by geography. Community isn’t a place, it’s a feeling.  If you want it, you must make it happen.

2) Grow it

Numbers matter.  One glance at an Instagram account tells me all I need to know about your social status.  To climb higher, grow your community wider.

3) Keep it

Networked individualism offers two paths to ensure your community stays with you: either be available or be entertaining.  The kings among us do both.  But fail to do either and watch your community crumble.

4) Cut it

Networked individualism can’t bear dead weight.  Connect with the social elite and watch your star rise.  Don’t waste your time propping up those who can’t prop up themselves.  

Networked individualism promotes those who promote themselves and destroys those who don’t.  It’s a universe that revolves around me.

There’s just one problem for those of us in Christ: we aren’t the center.  The chair in the middle bears Christ’s name, not ours.  We have moved from life in the “Me System” to new life in the “He System,” and this new system operates on different rules.  When it comes to community-building in Christ’s system:

1) He forms it

The church is full of people I wouldn’t invite into my family.  Given the chance to prune, I’d cut more than a few.  But I am not the head of this family.  God is.  He alone decides who’s in.  My task is to love those God brings into my life as much as I love myself.

2) He grows it

We plant.  We water.  But God brings the growth.  Our community expands as the Holy Spirit moves.  We remain faithful to the call to love our neighbor, and God grows our understanding of who our neighbor is.

3) He keeps it

In networked individualism, my spot is dependent on my work.  I’m “in” on the basis of my efforts.  I keep my seat as long as I keep working.  In Christ’s community, my spot is dependent on his work.  My entrance fee was his blood and my security is his love.  Christ alone keeps a place for me in his family that never ends.

4) He honors it

In networked individualism we cut the weak.  In Christ’s community, we honor them.  We care for the lost and the overlooked.  We lift up the lowly and mend the broken.  We follow the example of our Savior who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant.

Networked individualism is the language of our world.  It’s spoken most fluently by our kids.  Shepherding our students starts by growing in our awareness of where the language we’re speaking clashes with the God we serve.  We must identify the unspoken rules of networked individualism that drive our actions.  We must teach them to our children.  Then together we can critically evaluate them through the lens of the gospel.  As we do, we join with our Father in bringing the reality of his kingdom to earth.

The problem isn’t the screen—the problem is how we interact with those on the other end.  It’s time to let Jesus take his place at the center of our universe.  It’s time to give up our chairs and let the true king lead.


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