the church needs digital discipleship

A gigantic gap in the Church today is her understanding of our progressively digital reality. This century, technology will accelerate and continue to proliferate, infiltrate, and assimilate everything including how we do church, share the gospel, and live out our faith at home and in the workplace. This is not what is disputed.

What is strange to me though is that this news is being treated as an omen rather than an opportunity.

Today, many pastors and Christian writers are expending a great deal of energy to stave off the impending digital “doom.” The last few years I’ve heard more warnings about me tracking my “like” totals on social media than all other possible human vices combined. That’s weirdly imbalanced to me.

This morning, I read an article on Christianity Today called “How Podcasting Hurts Preaching: Sermons belong in church, not our earbuds.” I think it accurately represents a common fear the church has towards our increasing technological habits.

Here’s the conclusion of the article:

Promoting sermon recordings sends the message that the congregation can just as meaningfully hear the message in the car, the bathroom, or the train commute as in church on Sunday—which cheapens the value of the sermon and the church gathering.

Disembodying the message and the congregation keeps pastors from plausibly promoting the embodied message of our embodied Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. By podcasting the content of the sermon, churches unwittingly promote the same cultural gnosticism of digital media’s disembodied form that is itself a primary driver of declining church attendance.

Now really is a good time to ask, “What would Jesus podcast?” The answer is: nothing. In fact, Jesus was so against any form of mediation that he never did anything unless he was there, live, in person, embodied, to see to it personally.

The writer clearly values embodiment and physical presence as it pertains to church attendance and community worship. That’s a good thing. Prudence is a necessity. And yes, the church has done more imitating than innovating when it comes to using technology. Certainly, a major issue we need to address from within the church.

But here’s the irony–I would never have even seen this article if it wasn’t posted on my Twitter feed. You cannot reach me without technology. And I cannot reach you.

What baffles me is the indictment of technological mediums like podcasts as the reason why millennials are the greatest church-skipping generation or why we are facing a faith crisis in this country today. Church services are boring so blame the podcast. Pastors cannot compete with the rest of the world so attack smartphones.

I am skeptical. It’s just too easy of an answer.

It’s like a Christian doctor in the 1960’s saying, “People seem to care less about their mortality because they don’t have to deal with polio anymore. Let’s withhold the polio vaccine so that people have a reason to go back to church and turn from their worldly ways.”

That would be a ridiculous way to get people “right” with God. And I am arguing that the underlying thesis of the article such as the one I shared above is equally ridiculous.

Someone once said, “Technology does not change us. It exposes us. It’s a mirror.” I think this is true.

Our podcasts are not the problem. Our smartphones are not the problem. I am the problem. You are the problem. But what is compounding the problem further? Our unwillingness to look towards the horizon of a new world and see the vast opportunity God has laid out for us.

This century, salt and light must go virtual. God is calling us to a digital Babylon. But we are fleeing like Jonah when we should be ruling like Daniel.

Digital Discipleship

The answer to our technology problem is not just learning about the pitfalls and limiting our exposure. It’s also incorporating prudence and skillfulness into our discipleship. But there is something more important–a vision.

We simply don’t have a vision for how to leverage the power that is on our smartphones and laptops to glorify God.

Maybe your experience is similar but I have never heard a sermon where the practical application was “Go out and create content. Share your love for Jesus on a vlog.” I’ve never been directly inspired to create a Youtube channel or crowdfund a project that shares the Gospel in creative new ways. Why not a new non-profit with people on the other side of the world? Why not vlog every day and talk about faith? Why not create a movement that fights for social justice and changes?

We need to relook at what’s in our hands. We need to recognize that there is a cavern of opportunities for us to excavate right underneath our fingertips.

Most people are now on facebook, youtube, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter FOR GOOD. It’s not going away, O’ hopeful Pastor. And there is more to come. This is our new reality. And I praise God for it. In 15 years, we won’t be contemplating whether technology should be embraced or not. We will be neck-deep in it. In 15 years, we won’t be asking the questions we are asking today.

But in order to be good stewards, we must change our mindset about what is prudent and wise. Yes, the world has become filled with noise. Millions of videos, photos, articles, and songs are being created and uploaded every day. Why add to it? Because we have the GOSPEL of Jesus Christ.

Let the Gospel contest with the world. Let it enter into the arena of ideas. I think it will prove to be a worthy challenger to the narrative of this world.

Would love your thoughts!

Grace and peace.

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2 thoughts on “the church needs digital discipleship

  1. Got the right finger on the right artery! Thank you.
    Now, how do we affirm healthy embodiment and healthy disembodiment? They tend to eat each other up.
    I loved the application idea: create a vlog. That we can do!
    My next preaching opportunity will have a digital so what. You bet!
    Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Min’s thought is very provocative yet productive and I like it. The digital age does bring a whole new concept to church that she had never encountered before. One of the prime example of a group of people using Youtube to do great deal of good for believers is the project called “Bible Project” it has added a great value in my understanding of the scripture.

      Like

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