Making 21 Century Disciples
Jesus told us to go and make disciples - people that live empty, talk faith, and opt in. As the culture changes so must the church adapt and adopt. Each generation of believers is responsible for the communities that they were born in to. Because of this, every church needs to answer the question How do we make 21st century disicples?
How can we realistically think that - apart from the supernatural grace of God - 60 minutes on a Sunday morning will have as much of an impact as the multiple hours per day that people are engaged in television, radio, social media, and the disciplining messages of a decidedly anti-Christian worldview? Every TV show, movie, song, blog post, and a meme is underpinned by a world view. The vast majority of viral content is girded by principles that are not Christian. So, should we be surprised that a congregations progression in their faith is slow or, gulp, completely stalled?
I am not, however, a proponent of Fortress Syndrome: Huddling all the Christians together in a room and locking the doors so the evil can't get in. That's certainly not the example that Jesus provided for us and it was not the pattern of the Apostles. You cannot go into all the world when you stay behind closed doors. The evil will still creep in and the Gospel will never get out.
I'm not an authority on Biblical languages, but when it says that they "devoted themselves to the Apostle's teaching, (Acts 2:42)" it wasn't referring to a secluded sixty-minute session on the first day of the week. The world does not get turned upside down like that. That kind of impact only comes from a constant meditiation and personal implementation of the word of God onto the hearts of the believers and that happens on the six days between Sundays.
It's About the Six Days Between Sundays
We spend more time on our phones than we spend in church. From the very beginning, we knew that any attempt to fulfill the great commission to make 21st Century disciples had to be centered around communication technology. It had to be focused on the six days between Sundays when the church building is empty. If people are to grow up in the faith they need to get spiritual nutrition every single day. Imagine planting a sunflower and only watering it once a week or letting the sun shine on it for an hour on Sundays. What would you expect to happen? Are we to expect our faith to grow under similar conditions?
As people increasingly rely on technology, the church must increasingly utilize technology to spread the gospel to the hearts of individuals and to the farthest reaches of the globe. Many pastors are increasingly coming to this realization. A 2011 survey (I would imagine a great leap if the survey was conducted today) reveals that 47% of churches utilize Facebook, but in the past five years, additional social media platforms have risen to prominence. Podcasting is bigger than it has ever been and YouTube boasts having over 1 billion unique users. Instagram and Snapchat are the fastest growing social networks. That growth reveals a threatening truth to the church's standard operating methodology: Pictures are the new words. A moment in time captured and filter will be more often consumed than a sermon, blog post, or video. If we are going to create disciples in the 21st century we must become dedicated to speaking the emerging digital language.
The Medium is the Message
It is not so much that we have access to information but that it has become our duty to be constantly engaged in the pursuit of information. We get to pick up the world when we pick up our phones, but it certainly seems as if our phones are making us pick them up and engage in its digital offerings. This has deep ramifications on our spiritual lives.
Nicolas Car in The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains writes "The computer screen bulldozes our doubts with its bounties and conveniences. It is so much our servant that it would seem churlish to notice that it is also our master." The digital technology that we depend on is changing the way that we think, feel, and experience life. We would be naive to think that our digital dependence has not effected the way approach our spiriutal life.
As the internet trains us to demand hyperlinks, quick edits, short reads, and instant reaction, it simultaneously discourages deep thought, personal reflection, adequate perspective, being still and knowing that He is God. We demand instand gratification while God's work in us is deeply transformative. It takes time. Time that the internet takes away from us.
Classic discipleship is classically described as reading, praying, fasting, et al and doing so in lengthy sessions. But to a culture that does nothing in lengthy sessions (except binge watching Netflix) the tasks of spritiual discipline are often described as "I don't got time for that!" When you don't have time for spiritual disciplines your spiritual life can't develop into anything meaningful.
To make 21st century disciples we must engage the technology afforded to us without being trapped by it.
A Work in Progess
While we rely heavily on digital communication we recognize a need to devote ourselves to teaching, fellowship, and spiritual disciplines. There must be a balance. Have we struck the optimal balance? Not yet. But we will always remain a work in progress.
Reading blogs and streaming podcasts are no substitute for meeting together and searching the scriptures together. Watching a video on prayer can never take the place of actually praying. Sharing this well written article, while encouraged and appreciated, is not a replacement for talking to your friends about your own personal faith.
How do we make 21st century disciples? By embracing the future without forgetting the past.