God gives us the gift of peace. Before his death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus made a sacred promise to his disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid (John 14:27). Just as nothing can “separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord,” no one can take away our peace. We can access God’s peace in any season, circumstance or trial (Rom. 8:38-39). As people who live with the gift of peace, we are called to share that peace with everyone, including those we interact with online.

When we engage in the ministry of peacemaking, we demonstrate that we are God’s children, led by God’s Spirit (Matt. 5:9; Rom. 8:14). When we reject the ministry of peacemaking, we harm our witness and lose our authority to proclaim the good news of Jesus. Unfortunately, many Christians damage the integrity of their witness through divisive and polarizing online activity. Instead of gifting others with peace, they exaggerate destructive attitudes and behaviors. Instead of tearing down the dividing walls of hostility, they foment and fortify the most destructive divides in our world. Why are people behaving this way?

Technology Forms and Divides Us

Technological theorist Marshall McLuhan wrote that “the medium is the message.” In this bold proclamation he argued that every medium radically changes how we communicate and what we communicate. The form of each medium forms us into different people. The all-pervasive medium of internet communication radically works against the ministry of peacemaking. The disembodied, non-incarnate realities of social media dehumanize our interactions. Our unlimited access to countless networks of individuals cheapens the value of sustaining and maintaining relationships through conflicts or disagreements. Our propensity to use social media for self-gratification turns people into commodities we accept or reject based on how much they agree or disagree with us. Sadly, we have normalized many of the impersonal, anonymous, divisive foundations of social media as acceptable online abiding.

If we are to be peacemakers online, we must grow in our understanding of how online technology works against the ministry of peacemaking. We must thoughtfully and intentionally develop strategic ways to bring peace into devouring rooms.

The following are a few practical ways we can engage in online peacemaking:

Settle Your Motivation

Only God knows the motivation of our hearts. Others may judge the worthiness or intention of our online communication. Regardless of the accuracy of their observations, we must settle in our hearts the motivation behind our communication.

Our goal is not to avoid conflict, but to be ambassadors of the ministry of reconciliation.

Whether we’re writing with a gentle, welcoming voice or a strong, prophetic correction, the motivation of our ministry must be peacemaking. In other words, we proclaim truth to break down the dividing walls of hostility existing between us and our God. Our goal is not to avoid conflict, but to be ambassadors of the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18). We communicate not to be right, but to reconcile, not to win the argument, but to win people to Christ. We turn over tables or serve the afflicted so that every person can find their way to Christ. Every interaction, every post, must be rooted in the ministry of peacemaking.

Make it Personal

When the world dehumanizes, we humanize. We’re not called to build followings, but we do have the sacred responsibility to build loving relationships. Every conflict is an opportunity to love, to humanize, to listen and to bless. Jesus calls us to bless and to pray for those who mistreat us, whether in person or online (Luke 6:28). As a general practice, I try to communicate about any individual online as if they are in the room with me. I ask myself if I would feel comfortable writing or saying these things if the person was physically present with me. How would I speak to them or about them if they were visiting the church I serve? The more I see, value and respect each individual online, the more I am able to find God’s heart for every person.

Where is Jesus?

Before I respond in anger to a tweet or post, I try to ask myself, “Where is Jesus? Jesus has been working in the lives of every person I’ve met online, long before I met them. There is no online interaction where Jesus is not present. I can either acknowledge Christ’s presence and follow his lead, or I can go it alone. When I acknowledge Jesus, the goal of my communication shifts. I’m frequently reminded of when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and called them to do likewise (John 13:3-17). In this example, Jesus reveals an important truth: we serve because Jesus served us first. His grace, love and acceptance are all profound offerings of service. Jesus washes our feet every single day in that he extends to us the fullness of his kingdom, even when we have rejected his leading. Where is Jesus at this very moment? He is serving me and he is serving you. I don’t need to look up into the heavens to find Jesus, I can look down and see Jesus washing my feet. When I see where Jesus is, I join him and try my best to serve others.

Online peacemaking is an expression of serving others the way Jesus daily serves us. Social media communication can be extremely challenging. Even so, it’s our honor and privilege to confront every divisive interaction with a strategy of peace. You are not alone. Do not let your hearts be troubled. We have been given the gift of peace and the ability to share that peace with every person God has entrusted to our care, especially online.

Douglas S. Bursch is copastor of Evergreen Foursquare Church in Auburn, Washington and author of Posting Peace: Why Social Media Divides Us and What We Can Do About It. He earned a DMin. from George Fox Evangelical Seminary with his dissertation research focusing on social media. A former newspaper columnist and talk radio host, Doug has produced and hosted over 1,200 Christian radio broadcasts. He is the producer and host of the Fairly Spiritual Show radio program and podcast.