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The Merciless Permanence of the Internet

2013 5 Sep


The one who guards his mouth and tongue
keeps himself out of trouble. (Proverbs 21:23)

Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth;
keep watch over the door of my lips! (Psalm 141:3)

We could list multiple verses like these – warnings from biblical authors to watch what we say. How much more we should heed these words in the information age!

Merciless Permanence

The internet is a place of merciless permanence, meaning that what goes online stays online, whether you want it to or not.

Things we may say in a moment of weakness can far outlast their initial setting.

  • One ill-advised tweet.
  • One careless FaceBook rant.
  • One stupid YouTube video.

They can all be frozen in time and serve as a perpetual reminder of a past failing.

Leaders are by no means immune. A quick YouTube search of some of today’s prominent pastors can be rather depressing. You’ll find videos from Mark Driscoll, Perry Noble, Steven Furtick, and other pastors – videos these men probably wish could be deleted. Words they once said and now wish they could take back.

No Room for Growth

I know a few prominent pastors who have chosen to delete old sermons from their websites. Not because they no longer believe what they taught, but because they receive a constant barrage of emails from people listening to and disagreeing with their old messages.

Who takes a text they preached on ten years ago and preaches it again the same way? Not me. We grow. We learn. We (hopefully) get better.

I’ve said things in preaching and teaching (not to mention blogging) that I wouldn’t say today, or that I’d at least say differently. It’s part of growing up and maturing in faith and ministry.

The internet makes that kind of growth invisible to outsiders. Our online reputation can be overshadowed by something we said or did and have long since forgotten. The next thing you know, you’re that guy in the video forever, no matter how much you’ve grown since then.

A Word for All of Us

You may be thinking, Must be a nice problem to have! Someone caring enough about what I have to say to go through all my old sermons or tweets!

True. Most of us can thank the Lord we don’t all face the pressure of people scrutinizing all of our old messages or postings on social media sites. Even so, we should take notice of how the internet makes our words immediately and forever accessible.

The next search team that comes calling will probably take a good look at your online persona before they consider hiring you. Your kids may one day go back and look at what you said and how you said it.

Don’t underestimate how much we need these biblical warnings to watch our tongues. What might have once slipped by in a moment of weakness, Satan can now exploit in a lifetime of embarrassment.

Watch your mouth. There are snares everywhere.