How to Navigate the Use of Social Media as a 21st Century Christian

Mentor Mama:

Today we are going to be talking about how to navigate the use of social media as a Christian in the 21st century and how to avoid getting caught in the competitive and comparable nature of social media. Our guest today, Zach Windahl, founder of The Brand Sunday, will be talking about living in a digital world where a desire to get as many likes as possible often leads to overwhelming feelings of ungratefulness, but first a word from our sponsor.

Mentor Mama:

Zach Windahl is a faith-based entrepreneur, author and speaker with a mission to help others better understand the Bible and grow closer to God. Zach is most well-known for publishing, “The Bible Study: A One-Year Study of the Bible and How It Relates to You,” which helps readers engage with the Bible like never before and has sold over a quarter million copies since being published in 2016. Passionate about helping people create holy habits, Zach founded The Brand Sunday, a company that’s dedicated to providing resources that help people grow in their relationship with God, including planners, study journals, trivia books, icebreaker cards, and more! Zach strives to meet people wherever they are in their faith journey from new believers to seasoned saints to help them understand that faith does not need to be overwhelming, and learn what it means to live a whole and holy life. Please welcome, Zach.

Zach Windahl:

Oh my goodness, thank you so much. What an introduction! You are incredible, I appreciate that.

Mentor Mama:

I have an extra bit of introduction here, so I actually knew about you and your amazing Bible study because one of my daughters long time, childhood friends growing up, who we hadn’t heard from in a long time, she came over to our house recently and in she walks in the door, carrying your Bible study.

Zach Windahl:

You’re kidding me.

Mentor Mama:

I’m not kidding you. She plopped it on the counter and said, “I’m doing this study and I just had to tell you guys about it.”

Zach Windahl:

That makes me want to cry. That’s so sweet.

Mentor Mama:

Honestly, this dear girl, we were like so excited to see her just wanting to study God’s Word, and honestly, I think it was how you have developed the study that really engages young people and they want to know God more.

Zach Windahl:

Wow, thank you for sharing that.

Mentor Mama:

You’re welcome. I want you to tell our audience about your organization called, The Brand Sunday. How did it begin?

Zach Windahl:

It’s called, The Brand Sunday. We basically create tools to help people grow in their relationship with God and be less overwhelmed by the Bible. I think that so often, if you grew up in the church, you look at the Bible as a big intimidating book and you don’t know where to begin necessarily or at least that’s what my experience was, and so really, like in 2014, I hit a low spot where I was questioning everything, really trying to figure out if I even wanted to like continue chasing after my faith or even consider myself a Christian still. I went on this journey of studying the Bible as in-depth as I could, so I started by reading from cover to cover by myself in 90 days doing this like sprint plan, just to understand the big picture of it. I think so often when people are being taught to study the Bible, they’ll read one verse or one section or one chapter and not understand the context of what’s happening at the time or the big picture, and so I wanted to know the whole storyline all the way through and really what it meant for my life. So I went on this journey out to Australia to study for 12 hours a day, six days a week, super intensive, literally like if it was Genesis week, we would study Genesis five times through over the course of the week. Genesis is like a four or four-and-a-half hour read, so we’d read it five times and then by the end of it, we would develop our own commentary essentially, so I had 20 – 30 pages of notes on every single book of the Bible by the time I was done with this and I felt like it was no longer as intimidating as it was beforehand because I knew the background, because I knew what was happening at the time. Like, I didn’t even know that most of the New Testament were letters to specific people. I just didn’t know these things. I grew up in the church and I still didn’t know them, and so that whole experience really transformed my life and I came back to the States and was like, I want other people to go through the experience that I went through, maybe they don’t have the time to be able to just drop everything and go overseas or even in this same country. And so, we developed this tool to help people go through that process themselves.

Mentor Mama:

That is so cool. You were able to go to Australia, hey, that’s a bonus.

Zach Windahl:

Honestly, it was a little selfish, I’m not going to lie. I just wanted to surf. I wanted to be in the sun. I’m from Minnesota, what do you expect?

Mentor Mama:

Tell us a little bit more about your upbringing and how you came to know the Lord and your Christian values.

Zach Windahl:

I think my upbringing was pretty unique compared to a lot of kids. When I was four years old, my mom was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer and was sent home with a 5% chance to live and through a lot of prayer and even more chemo, she was healed from that. Then she had a tumor on her sciatic nerve and was healed from that. Then she had colon cancer with three quarters of her colon removed and was healed from that. Then when I was 15 she had breast cancer, double mastectomy reconstruction, and healed from that. So literally, from ages 4 to 15, I’m seeing her in and out of the hospital, skin and bones, doctors telling her that she doesn’t have any time left, and for some reason, God allowed her to survive and keep pushing on and now be used as a miracle and a story to inspire other people that are going through similar situations, and the most amazing thing through that entire time was that she always looked at me and said, Zach, even though it may look pretty awful right now, it could be so much worse. I could not be here today, so you need to treat every day like the gift that it is and to see God in the midst of everything. And so my childhood, my upbringing, through all my developmental years, was that understanding, that we need to be grateful for every single thing that comes our way and to always keep our eyes open to how God is moving instead of focusing on the negative things that are happening in our life like it can be so easy to do, and so seeing miracle after miracle, it was never a question of whether God was real or not when I started questioning my faith, it was more (to do with) issues that I had within the church and with other Christians that I had been associated with, so I was always set on who God was and what he meant to me, but for a time I fell away for years, actually, for most of college, I fell away from my faith. I didn’t want to be associated with a lot of people that claimed to be followers of Jesus because the people that I knew that weren’t believers were living out a more Christ-like life, in my opinion, at the time. So, I was going through kind of this really, this wrestling within me, trying to figure out what I wanted to believe; what was true, what was not. At the end of the day, I came to the conclusion that what the Bible says and who Jesus is the ultimate, but it was a process. And I think a lot of people are going through that process right now, questioning a lot of things, and for me, what worked is when I dove in even deeper and spent more time with God, instead of allowing to be influenced by the people around me, that’s when my faith became real and that’s when a new passion and desire in me was really sparked.

Mentor Mama:

Your mom sounds like an absolutely amazing woman. I can’t even fathom going through one of those things, let alone all of those things, and on top of that, she really made such an impact on you, bless her heart. That is, I’m sure, the power of a praying mother too, and you could see how prayer really influenced all of those times of healing and had such an impact on her family. You kind of alluded to the fact of how we can be influenced by social media positively or negatively. And obviously the Bible was penned a long time before the age of social media. So how can we interpret first century Biblical values to help guide us in our behavior on social media?

Zach Windahl:

I think a lot of the time on social media, among Christian groups, there’s a lot of disagreement. There’s a lot of calling out of evil that’s taking place, and I think a lot of people just see like Jesus cleansing the temple and say, that’s exactly what I’m doing on social media, but social media isn’t a temple. Paul says that we need to clothe ourselves in kindness and compassion and love and gentleness and patience and peace, not in disagreement. Jesus always said that people will look at us and know that we were followers of him based on our love for each other. And right now, when I look at social media, when I look at, the Christian culture on social media, that’s not necessarily the case. I wouldn’t look at the way that people act with each other and know that they follow Jesus. I think, a lot of non-believers look at it, look at us, kind of as like a joke that we can’t get along with each other and that we’re always just calling out the wrongs in the world and I think that should be quite different. I think we need to be encouraging of each other and I think we need to be building each other up instead of trying to tear everybody else down.

Mentor Mama:

I completely agree. It seems very hypocritical and cynical and doesn’t help build the kingdom at all when you see those types of things going on. I love how we are taught to be encouragers and to want people to know what Jesus was like, and so in order to do that, we have to be role models of that in that social media environment. Social media also has, sort of, this competitive nature to it. What advice can you share with our listeners about maintaining a posture of gratitude within this age of social media?

Zach Windahl:

I think especially with the Instagram, it’s so easy to get caught up in what we don’t have, but I think making a practice of everyday gratitude for what you do have is super important. In ancient Judaism they used to have a practice and, still in some sects, they do where they will say a hundred things that they’re grateful for throughout the day and they’ll actually say 18 things before they even get out of bed. So Lord, thank you for the breath that’s in my lungs, thank you for feet to stand on, thank you for my voice, thank you for the roof over my head. I don’t necessarily think that we need to say a hundred things that we’re grateful for everyday, but what if we started with three? I think if we start with three, it will change so much of how we go about our day and how we see God moving amongst us and I think that developing that gratitude for who God is and what he’s provided us is huge. It’s not to be thankful just to be thankful like a lot of people in the self-help industry may promote, I’m suggesting that we thank God for the things that are in our life and the way that he’s provided for us because that will keep him at the forefront of our mind and always be focusing on how he is working in our lives.

Mentor Mama:

Most definitely, you know, we have this prayer binder that I put together, and we have a “thank” section in it and part of the process of me putting that together was just, sort of, developing this list of both spiritual and material blessings that we have so many things to be thankful for in both of those arenas. It really is critical to keeping a positive (outlook), and I know for myself, like the people that I enjoy following are ones that are posting those encouraging things or things they’re thankful for, and oh my goodness, we could go on and on about that.

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Mentor Mama:

How do you know when it’s time to do a social media audit of who you’re following? So, as I mentioned, obviously there’s people that we love and then what happens? What do we do?

Zach Windahl:

I think it’s so easy just to follow everybody that we meet in person or that we’re friends with or that we think are really cool, but all those people might not necessarily be the people to consume. And so I think when you feel that something moving inside you when you see their posts, when you start to get bitter or when you start to get negative, there was a time for a while where I was just unfollowing like five people a day and I would go through my list and I’d be like, who here is not making me better or helping me grow closer to God? And if they aren’t, if they’re actually distracting me from my relationship with God, then I probably don’t need to consume what they’re putting out, and I think a lot of people, especially, people that I’m friends with will be like, well, I can’t just unfollow all these different people that I know. Well, Instagram now has a feature where you can mute them. So now they don’t have to be offended and you can remain “friends” with them or follow them on social media, but you don’t necessarily have to consume them. So I think doing an audit on social media is completely necessary. Maybe you don’t do it as frequently as I suggest, maybe you do it once every quarter or every six months or even every year, but as long as you just are in tune with how what you’re following is making you feel inside, that’s huge. And knowing that you can change that. So often people will be like, well, I need to follow this in order to stay up on what’s happening in the news, or I need to know what’s happening in these people’s lives, and I don’t think that’s necessarily true, I think there’s resources out there where you can see anything incredible that’s happening around the world instead of all the bad things that are happening. So, yes, (I’m a) huge, huge advocate of social media audits.

Mentor Mama:

That is such an awesome tip and I love your two questions that you kind of ask yourself to make sure, right, is this honoring God in what I’m seeing and hearing or drawing me closer to God, those are questions you should be asking yourself. Then I love your other suggestion. You don’t have to unfriend them, you can just mute them. That’s awesome. Zach, do you have somebody that you really, really love to follow that you do find super encouraging all the time?

Zach Windahl:

Yeah, I think I have quite a few.

Mentor Mama:

Who’s your favorite?

Zach Windahl:

There’s quite a few different good news accounts that you can follow that are really cool. Just to see kind of all the good things that are happening in the world. I think Bob Goff is my favorite person to follow. I think he lives out his faith extremely well and I think, so often, in the Christian world, we can have a lot of head knowledge and we can know the right things to say and we can debate things and know how to feel about them, but when it comes to actually walking it out and living what the Gospel message is about, I think he does one of the best jobs of that. So I’m super inspired by him and on social media he posts great little thoughts and pieces that always inspire me to be better.

Mentor Mama:

Thank you for that. I do have one that I like to, I don’t know if you’ve heard of Crowder, the singer? He has like funny things that, kind of, lifts you up and makes you laugh. So, if we’re looking at social media, it’s kind of a “highlights” of people’s lives, you know, the great moments. How do you suggest promoting honesty and authenticity in your online presence?

Zach Windahl:

I think we’re kind of at the forefront of that actually changing right now. I think there’s a pretty big Exodus moving, kind of away from Instagram and heading towards TikTok instead, because so often, it is a highlight reel, as you said, so they’re just seeing what other people are doing and they’re trying to look their best and you see so much anxiety that that produces in a lot of younger people’s lives, and I think having a new platform, I guess it’s not that new now, but having a place where you can go, that doesn’t necessarily push that, is what a lot of people are looking for. I heard someone the other day say that Instagram is about finding what you want and TikTok is about finding what’s relevant for you. I think it’s so easy that people can smell when you’re being dishonest and unauthentic. I think that’s too easy now and this next generation that’s coming up is honestly, it’s the smartest generation that we’ve ever seen in the history of the world, and they want what’s real, they want truth. I think they’re really realizing that we don’t need to pretend anymore. We can air out our dirty laundry. We can show how life actually is instead of faking it, and so, I think there’s going to be this really cool push over the next few years, moving from like trying to pretend like you’re somebody, to actually helping the people around you and being like, no, this is my life and this is who I am and who I’m becoming, and it’s going to be really cool to see, I think.

Mentor Mama:

I love how you mentioned that next generation being much more authentic. I know I’ve seen that, especially with my two daughters, and just being open and honest to say that, even though we’re Christians, we still have a lot of struggles. And, in our family, we’ve had a lot of eating disorder issues and just being open and saying that I’m facing these and it’s not easy, but this is how I’m using God’s Word and praise and worship music and all these other things that help me get through it and that we find encouraging. So, it is neat to see them embracing more authenticity. So, what benefits do you think that social media offers Christians today in our society? I mean, there’s got to be some benefits here.

Zach Windahl:

Absolutely. I think as long as you’re on like the right side of the algorithm, like TikTok is an algorithm, and so what you consume, you’re going to get more of that stuff. So, as long as you’re interacting with and consuming things that are beneficial to you and building you up, then you’re going to get more of that and I’m constantly learning through the process, but I think Instagram is a great, or I think social media in general, is a great way to connect with people and a great way to grow in your faith. You can find communities of like-minded people even if you live in other places, like I live in Minneapolis right now and when we were building my business, and just growing in the Christian community, most of my friendships were all built originally through Instagram, and so, it’s all about how you use it and what you want out of it. If you want to grow, if you want to learn, if you want to be encouraged, if you want to be surrounded by other believers, then be in those areas and turn it into that. I think we have a choice to go down whichever road we want to go down, and so, just choosing wisely and being a part of where you see in the future. There’s that quote that’s like, you become like the five people that you surround yourself with the most, and I think it’s the exact same with social media. You become who you follow and what kind of content you’re consuming all the time. If you’re consuming garbage and you’re consuming really negative things, your mindset, your thought life, and what you produce, is going to be in the same lane, but it also goes on the opposite side, if you’re consuming really positive things, if you’re consuming hope and optimism, and the amazing things that are going on in the world and how you’re growing, and if you’re consuming things that are teaching you how to study the Bible better and it’s encouraging you in your relationship with God, then it’s an amazing tool. So it’s really, there’s two sides of it, and you need to choose, and I’m just a proponent of the one that builds you up and brings you closer to God.

Mentor Mama:

Absolutely, and that really ties so well back into your auditing and just weeding out things that aren’t building you up, because we only have so much time in a day, and you can find yourself just getting stuck on one post or getting worked up about it and it’s not worth the energy and the anxiety that that produces. So if you can weed those things out and find ones that are encouraging, that will make all the difference. One thing that’s super cool about you, Zach, is that you’ve actually gained more than a hundred thousand new followers on TikTok this year. What’s the secret to creating content that positively influences your follower’s faith?

Zach Windahl:

Thank you for bringing that up. It’s been quite the journey. I think the biggest things are making it simple, making it relatable, and teach something in it. So, business in general, I have a very business mind. So business is about finding a problem and then providing a solution for that problem, and I think it’s the exact same with being a content creator on social media. What are people dealing with, see where they’re at, what they’re struggling with and provide them with a solution for where they’re trying to go, and the biggest thing, in my opinion, is doing it without being cheesy, because I think there’s a lot of cheesy content out there, and so, that goes back to being real with it. Like, we can sniff out when people are being cheesy and inauthentic, so be real with it and make it simple and give people actionable steps on how this one thing can change their life. And if you do that, it’s going to become a shareable thing. It’s going to be something that people want to incorporate into their lives and it’s going to be something that actually benefits them and helps them grow closer to God and further their faith. So, when it comes to us creating content and developing tools or putting things out there on social media, that’s the root of it, solve those problems and do it in a simple shareable way.

Mentor Mama:

Awesome, and I would concur. That’s really what we try to do at Coffee and Bible Time, too, and I would love for any of you guys that are reading this that we also turn our podcasts into blog posts, so feel free to head over to the Coffee and Bible Time blog posts, and let us know what problems do you need solved, because honestly, that’s the content that we want to make and help stay engaged with people where they’re at today, could be very different than what we actually think in our minds, so, I would love that if you guys would do that.

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Mentor Mama:

Zach, we live in this over stimulated society. How can we cut out life’s distractions and really focus on what’s important when social media is just so available at our fingertips with our phones all the time?

Zach Windahl:

I think so often, it’s easy to grab our phones right away when we wake up and it’s easy to be on our phones right when we go to bed and all throughout the day, anytime that there’s a moment of silence, we need to be consuming something. And so, I think that social media should be more of a reward or an afterthought and not necessarily something that we do right away. I think something that’s huge for me is incorporating positive habits into my life, and so, I’m a proponent of what I call, holy habits, but not necessarily just spiritual ones, I think it’s important to have mental, physical, and spiritual habits, in our lives, and so, maybe that’s taking care of yourself physically: maybe that’s working out, drinking enough water, eating right Mental habits: maybe that means you’re doing some of the gratitude stuff and the social media audits. Spiritual habits: maybe that means you’re spending 10 minutes in prayer, you’re doing a reading plan, you’re going through a study of some sorts, some way that you’re growing in your relationship with God. I think if we learn to incorporate those into our lives, when it comes to anything that comes at a us, we’re going to have much more of a clear mind and we’re going to be able to approach things in much more of a Christ-like manner. Donald Miller, I was watching a video of the other day and he was saying that, you need to know what you’re chasing after. Like what are your big goals for the year in your life, in your business, whatever they are, and if opportunities come your way or even distractions come your way, we need to learn to say no to them and, and be okay with saying no to them. I think a lot of younger people deal with, like, fear of missing out on things, so we just say yes to everything, but over the last year or so, I’ve learned to say no to a lot of things that aren’t pushing my goals, my vision. One of my things is my family, if it’s not pushing those things forward, then I give myself permission to say no to them. And, even though I may really want to do them, if it’s going to be distracting me in the moment for where I want to be in the next six months, nine months, five years, whatever it is, then I have learned to say no, more often than not. I think that’s something that a lot of people need to incorporate into their lives because distractions are so easy to come by. It’s so easy to be hit with new content, with staying on top of what’s popular on Netflix, listening to new albums, listening to whatever’s out there, and just being able to say no, like if it’s not building me up and growing me closer to God and closer to where I want to be, then it’s going to be a no, from me.

Mentor Mama:

Thanks for that. I’ve personally, even over the years, I feel like, as you mature and you grow and you start to weigh out, there’s going to be many, many good, good things that you can do. I think it’s almost harder saying no to something that is so good, but it is necessary. I would encourage people to, we have this thing that we do when we are presented with an opportunity and literally, it’s like writing out the pros and cons like, okay, how is this positively going to help me amidst all the things that we have going on? And what are the cons like, maybe the timing’s just not right. There could be a whole variety of reasons why a good thing just isn’t good for us right now, and so, I really applaud you for being able to say, no and just would like to encourage our readers to think along those lines, too. Fear of missing out is very powerful and it causes us to get easily distracted and weighed down with way too many things, and then you can’t do the things that you need and want to do that are high on your priority list, because they get so watered down. Zach, how can people find out more information about you as we wrap up this interview?

Zach Windahl:

Thebrandsunday.com has all of our resources to help people grow in their faith. And then on social media @zachwindahl, on Instagram and TikTok, and @thebrandsunday, as well on Instagram. So thank you so much, this has been amazing. You’re such a great interviewer, this is so fun. Thank you.

Mentor Mama:

Thanks Zach, but you’re not done yet. I have to ask you a couple things that I love to ask our guests and I know people actually really love to hear this just to get new ideas. What Bible do you use and which translation is it?

Zach Windahl:

I go through different ones. Right now, I’m reading the ESV and RSV. I don’t even know what RSV stands for now that I think about it. I like to choose a different one every year or so, and just see how things are different in it. When it comes to really studying, I typically use ESV and NASB depending if I’m studying Old Testament or New Testament.

Mentor Mama:

Do you have any favorite journaling supplies or anything that you like to use to enhance your Bible study experience?

Zach Windahl:

Journaling supplies, like highlighters and stuff, I don’t. I do use different Bible studies. N.T. Wright does this, “For Everyone” series, it’s all of the New Testament books. And so, I’ve been going through those right now. I like to just see how other people do things and, and what I can pull from it, and so, I’ve been really enjoying N.T. Wright’s series.

Mentor Mama:

That’s cool, we’ll have to check that out. We’ll have it linked in this blog post. Lastly, what is your favorite app or website for Bible study tools?

Zach Windahl:

Favorite app for Bible study tools. I love the YouVersion app, which, I feel like that’s the classic one, but we have different study guides on there, and I selfishly go through my own study guides, just because I created them, so if you type in Zach Windahl on the app, there’s a bunch of reading plans, so I just go through those reading plans everyday.

Mentor Mama:

Love, love the YouVersion app. Zach, thank you so much for being here today to share your tips on guiding our behavior and perspective when it comes to using social media as a follower of Jesus, such a joy to have you.

Zach Windahl:

Thank you so much, this is an honor.

Mentor Mama:

And for our readers pick up a copy of Zach’s amazing resource, “The Bible study.” You can find the links throughout this blog and please share your comments on this blog, and finally, head over to the Coffee and Bible Time website for our prayer journals that will help guide and document your prayer life at coffeeandbibletime.com. Thank you so much for joining us today. We love you all. Have a blessed day.

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