The Bible includes a story of a young man with remarkable social influence: Joseph, who saved a region of the world from a savage, seven-year famine.
The story starts off as an account of Joseph’s father and his family. In late Genesis, Jacob (Joseph’s father) settles into a foreign land with his family. Jacob assigns his son Joseph to take care of some property and animals. Joseph is supervised by his half-brothers. Joseph is loved by his father and publicly recognized as a preferred son. Jacob gives Joseph a special robe of many colors. All of this causes jealously and hatred toward Joseph by his brothers.
Joseph has a dream one night, and when he tells his brothers, they hate him even more. He says, “Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it” (37:6–7).
“Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” reply his brothers (37:8).
Joseph’s brothers stew in jealousy and bitterness. One day when Jacob sends Joseph to help his brothers, they scheme up a plan to get rid of him once and for all. When Joseph arrives, his brothers rip off his beautiful robe, grab him and throw him into an empty water reservoir. Then, just as they sit down to eat, they look up and see a caravan of camels in the distance coming toward them. Traders are taking a load of goods from Gilead to Egypt.
The brothers ask themselves, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood” (37:26–27).
So when the traders come by, Joseph’s brothers pull him out of the reservoir and sell him. The traders take Joseph to Egypt. The brothers kill a goat and dip Joseph’s robe in the goat’s blood. They send the robe to their father with a message: “We found this. Examine it to see whether it is your son’s robe” (37:32).
Their father immediately recognizes it and says, “It is my son’s robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces” (37:33).
Jacob tears his clothes and dresses in burlap. He mourns for his son and refuses to be comforted. “I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave,” he says and weeps (37:35). Meanwhile, the traders arrive in Egypt and sell Joseph to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s palace guard.
So far, Joseph does not seem like a person of high influence; in fact, quite the opposite: Joseph’s track record is one of hostility and alienation. That’s just from his family!
Joseph is thrown into jail after (false) accusations of inappropriate activity with his new master’s wife. Potiphar is furious when he hears his wife’s story about how Joseph allegedly has treated her. But the Lord is with Joseph in the prison, and shows him His faithful love. Joseph becomes one of the warden’s favorite prisoners. Before long, the warden puts Joseph in charge of the other prisoners. The Lord is with Joseph and gives him success in whatever he does.
Some time passes, and Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer and chief baker offend him. Pharaoh puts them in the same prison where Joseph is. The captain of the guard assigns them to Joseph’s supervision.
While in prison, Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker each have a dream one night, and each dream has its own meaning. When Joseph sees them the next morning, he notices they both look upset. He asks, “Why do you look so sad today?” They reply, “We both had dreams, but there is no one to interpret.” Joseph says, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams” (40:7–8).
So the chief cupbearer tells Joseph his dream first. Joseph interprets the cupbearer’s dream favorably. The baker goes next. Joseph interprets the dream, but the news is not positive. One man lives. One man dies. The dreams come true, and Joseph requests an honorable mention to Pharaoh. Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer, however, forgets all about Joseph and never gives him another thought, until one day Pharaoh needs a dream interpreted.
Joseph is quickly brought before Pharaoh to hear about the dream. In this dream, Pharaoh stands by a river when he sees seven fattened cows come out of the water and feed. Then seven other cows come out but are lean. The second set of cows devours the first set.
Joseph interprets that dream to mean there will be seven years of plenitude and then seven years of famine. Joseph suggests a plan to intercept a portion of the harvest every year in the first seven years to be used as a buffer for the next seven years of famine.
The plan is approved, and Joseph is placed in the position leading the harvest strategy. This also places him as second in command over all of Egypt. The plan comes to fruition beautifully. Everyone is saved, including Joseph’s family.
Joseph was exactly where God needed him to be when he was incarcerated.
Joseph was in tune with God so much that he was able to discern the needs of the other prisoners and, in the end, helped save countless lives.
Think about the level of influence Joseph was able to gain because he was willing to listen and have a conversation with a couple of gentlemen who had received a bad rap. These men were in the middle of a storm, and they needed support. Joseph was able to prove the greatness of his God. In return, wrongs were set right. Relationships were mended. God showed up in a huge way. All of these things were possible because Joseph gained social influence.
Jesus hacked the system by demonstrating extreme social influence. We (believers of Christ) are fighting an uphill battle for influence on this earth. Everyone wants a piece of the social influence pie. Many battle to take it whole.
As I write this, two articles on the front page of the New York Times highlight the changing nature of our world. The most prominent article covers the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage across the nation. Another highlights a series of deadly attacks perpetrated by the Islamic State group. The article refers to a “rapid evolution” that has enabled new ways for the terrorist group to strike and spread its ideology.
I hear from some pastors in my circles that they don’t have the time or desire to invest in social media. With the number of people using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Periscope, Pinterest and Instagram, these pastors may be wasting opportunities to care for people. Consider Joseph’s story. Joseph actually covered several aspects of pastoral care. Imagine for a moment if Joseph were not in prison but heard about the cupbearer from a Facebook post. This scenario is not that unbelievable. According to wearesocial.net, the number of global social media users passed 2 billion last year.
I have an affinity for social media. I have been a user since 1997 when my family installed America Online (AOL) and gained instantaneous (after the dial tone)
access to people in chat rooms, newsrooms and via electronic correspondence. I am positive the Internet is the loudest speaker in this world. Why? I’ll give you some statistics for my personal Twitter account, @jcordovajr.
According to Twitter Analytics (analytics.twitter.com), I have earned an organic reach of more than 17,900 impressions on my Twitter account over a 28-day period. My current follower audience size is 13,286 individuals. If I need to target specific demographics with messages to my top audience, I know my followers are: men (64 percent), technology professionals (38 percent), self-employed (34 percent) and in management (20 percent). Analytics tell me 52 percent of my followers are single while 48 percent are married; 55 percent have completed high school, 35 percent have a college degree, and 9 percent have completed graduate school. Primary household income analytics reveal 38 percent of my followers earn $100,000–$124,000; 27 percent earn $75,000–$99,000; and 16 percent earn $60,000-$74,000. Twitter even tells me that 63 percent of my followers own their home.
Twitter allows me to reach thousands of people at one time, and I can easily learn who is following my message. I often wonder if Jesus would have used social media to influence people.
We have long known about the neurological separation that divides the brain into two regions. In “A Whole New Mind,” author Daniel H. Pink explains, “The left hemisphere specializes in text; the right hemisphere specializes in context.”
In other words, the left side handles what is said; the right side handles how it is said. A healthy, active brain consists of 100 billion nerve cells. Each cell connects with up to 10,000 of its associates. They forge an elaborate network of 1 quadrillion connections. These are the connections that react and guide how we walk, talk, eat and move. Our brains are extraordinary. Jesus was a master over both hemispheres.
At the Well
Dive into one of my favorite stories in which Jesus saves a woman and leverages her social influence. According to John 4, Jesus is going through Samaria and stops at a famous well. Tired from the long walk, Jesus sits wearily beside the well at noon. Soon a Samaritan woman comes to draw water, and Jesus asks her, “Will you give me a drink?” (v.7).
He is alone. The woman is surprised because Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She says to Jesus, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (v.9).
Jesus replies, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” (v.10).
The woman says, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” (v.11–12).
Jesus replies, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (v.13–14).
The woman says, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water” (v.15).
As a result of their conversation, many Samaritans believe in Jesus because the woman shares her story.
Spread the Word
Do you want to know the best thing about word of mouth? It’s available for everyone from Fortune 500 companies to churches, pastors, small group leaders and members. Word of mouth now has spread into the era of technology. It just requires getting people to have a conversation. Both Joseph and the Samaritan woman used their powerful stories to save lives. The challenge is how to share your story.
When I consider the effectiveness of Jesus, I believe He would have used social media to spread His message. Social networks provide an ideal platform. Jesus went to the masses, hung out with the crowd and spoke to people with deep needs. The Internet is full of these types of stories. When I scroll my social media feeds multiple times per day, I read about dozens of people in need of encouragement and care while others celebrate life and accomplishments.
The world has embraced social media. My expectation is not that we forget about the personal visits and fellowship, which must happen to keep a church community healthy, but we should embrace additional ways to cultivate followers and influence them with our love for Christ. Be available. Jesus was available to the poor, sick and disenfranchised. We, Free Methodists, aim to reach the whole earth, and social media provides ways to reach people around the world.
JAY CORDOVA has been an ordained elder since 2010 and currently serves as director of communications for the Free Methodist Church – USA. He previously worked as a start-up business entrepreneur and coached small businesses in a Michigan incubator.