Should Christians be motivated by the fear of missing out (FOMO)?

Theology that hits the spot
Theology that hits the spot

Dina was off from her stressful job last week, so we spent some time talking over some articles that we found on the culture. We specifically talked about what is motivating young people, so I wanted to write something about that.

FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out

Here’s a leftist New York Times article explaining where FOMO comes from:

It’s known as FOMO, or “fear of missing out,” and refers to the blend of anxiety, inadequacy and irritation that can flare up while skimming social media like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Instagram. Billions of Twitter messages, status updates and photographs provide thrilling glimpses of the daily lives and activities of friends, “frenemies,” co-workers and peers.

[…]When we scroll through pictures and status updates, the worry that tugs at the corners of our minds is set off by the fear of regret, according to Dan Ariely, author of “Predictably Irrational” and a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University. He says we become afraid that we’ve made the wrong decision about how to spend our time.

[…]A friend who works in advertising told me that she felt fine about her life — until she opened Facebook. “Then I’m thinking, ‘I am 28, with three roommates, and oh, it looks like you have a precious baby and a mortgage,’ ” she said. “And then I wanna die.”

It’s like they want to run a race to do fun and exotic things with their peers, and not finish last.

Anyway, I want to begin this post with examples of FOMO behavior I have personally encountered.

FOMO Travel

Dina and I read and discussed this article by Alain de Botton in The European – notice the emphasis on travel and having fun, sophisticated experiences:

We’re continually being bombarded with suggestions about what we might do (go jet skiing, study in Colorado, visit the Maldives or see the Pyramids). We’re always hearing of the amazing things friends have done or are going to do: ‘there was this great bar we all went to …’; ‘she’s getting married in a little country church, then we’re having a picnic…’; ‘the sun was glinting on Sydney Harbour…’ There are endless hints of the allure of life in other places: an article about family-friendly restaurants in Brooklyn, a crime novel set in Trieste, the departure board at the airport with its list of places only a plane trip away: Moscow, Bangkok, Addis Ababa… The modern world makes sure we know at all times just how much we’re missing. It is a culture in which intense and painful doses of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) are almost inevitable.

What’s interesting is this – how does FOMO travel affect young, unmarried Christians?

Travel through missions work seems to be the FOMO activity of choice for at least a few young, unmarried Christians. One of my best friends who is married to another of my best friends told me about her missions trip to a European country. I asked her why she did it, since it meant lost savings, lost earnings, lost work experience, etc. (She gave up a year of earnings, and she had a great job in engineering). Her answer was that she did it for the adventure. I have a hard time hearing Jesus say that he was going to do something because he was bored and wanted an adventure. Especially when it’s $30,000 in costs, $60,000 of lost income, and lost work experience – per year. This was before the time of the Internet, though, when missionary work actually made sense. I just don’t think it’s worth spending that kind of money for the impact you make. The people I know who went on missionary trips just wanted to feel spiritual, look spiritual, and have a fun “life experience” vacation. One missionary told me that she was desperate to get away from her boring mid-Western roots.

If you really want to share Christ effectively with people in other countries, then you can start a blog and pay the tiny costs for it out of your earnings from your day job – that’s what I do. I get more people from Europe reading my blog than I could contact in a year of missionary work. I Skype with the people who are interested in Christianity from these countries (Scotland, Northern Ireland, England, Canada, etc.), as well. Meanwhile, I keep working my not-exciting job, so my savings increase, and my resume remains gap-less. This is good stewardship of finances, and self-denial prepares your character for the hard work of marriage and parenting. The Bible says that those who do not work should not eat. And Paul says that he built tents so that no one could accuse him of taking on missionary work for financial gain.

You can tell whether a person is sincere in their missionary intentions by looking at how responsible they’ve been in their decision-making. If a person has gone into debt paying for fun, thrilling activities like skydiving, ziplining, surfing, etc., then it’s FOMO travel. We must look past the spiritual smokescreen, and tell young people to grow up.

After all, if defending God’s honor was the missionary’s main goal, then the real battlefield would be the university.

Bill Craig puts it best:

If serving God is your goal, look to the university
If serving God is your goal, look to the university

There is already a perfectly fine university right next door – no need to fly to Europe to find one! Remember, the university that took your faith away, or maybe the faith of someone you cared about? Yeah, it’s still there in your home town! And it’s still ruining the lives of thousands of young people. It seems to me that it’s better stewardship to stay here and work, then give money to groups like Reasonable Faith. And you can start a blog, teach in church and invite scholars to the local university, too. That costs almost nothing, and it produces better results.

What about Jesus?

Sometimes, it’s a good idea to look beyond the words of the Bible and reflect on the overall message of it at a higher level. When I look in the Bible, I see that Jesus went through a lot of suffering in obedience to God in order to secure the salvation of people who did not even like him. And it’s from this sacrifice on our behalf that his claim on our obedience comes. There are things that I don’t like to do that I do anyway because they work to serve God. Jesus life’s ambition was not to do things that were easy, or that made him happy. Experienced Christians do things that are not fun, because these things are right and because they solve the real problem.

5 thoughts on “Should Christians be motivated by the fear of missing out (FOMO)?”

  1. Yes, I tend to agree with you. Missions can be a wonderful way to spend your life, but you can serve right in your backyard. Our own country is in a great deal of trouble and there are people suffering all over the place.

    That “fear of missing out” manifests itself in so many material ways. People are looking for an external solution to an internal problem. If you genuinely build a powerful relationship with Christ, washing dishes can bring satisfaction. FOMO has a whole lot to do with seeking people favor, rather than Christ’s favor.

  2. Its not just christians but that goes for everyone. Personally i dont think no one should feel bad when they look at facebook,yes they may look happy with their photos but it doesnt mean they are happy. We have no idea whats going on in their personal lives except for what they want us to see.

    In high school, i seemed like i was happy and fine but i wasnt. I had a nervous breakdown and was bullied and become depressed.

  3. “I have a hard time hearing Jesus say that he was going to do something because he was bored and wanted an adventure. ”

    True, but I also thing that true Christianity IS an adventure – sort of like the Resistance: we are plopped down here behind enemy lines, and our job is to sabotage the world with the Name of the Lord Jesus. I think that this is precisely what good apologetics, like this site, does, as it destroys foolish worldly arguments. I also think that standing in front of an abortion mill having people cuss you out, flip you off, and drive their cars at you before veering off at the last second is a worthy adventure. But, taking cruises and expensive vacations with no true God purpose seems like such a waste to me of our God-given resources.

    “If you really want to share Christ effectively with people in other countries”

    I would also add the idea of indigenous missionaries. These folks cost a fraction of the price of an American-born missionary, are already grounded in the culture and language, and are a thousand times more effective at the Great Commission because of it. GFA, Asia Harvest, and VOM are 3 that support indigenous missionaries, but there are others. Short-term mission trips seem like a photo op and box checker, but I am sure there are good ones too.

      1. I was NOT correcting you – just adding to your thoughts. It’s gotta be the RIGHT adventure and the RIGHT type of missions efforts. God-directed, not me-directed, efficient, and results-producing: all of the things you preach here. It seems to me that when it comes to adventure and missions, the Church is mostly imitating the world.

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