The final instructions that Jesus gave his disciples before ascending to Heaven was simply to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). The question that follows is simple: How are we to go and disciple others?
When my grandson was about a year old, he would take a cell phone, hold it sideways, then slowly spin it around from the back to the screen, and keep rotating it. Everyone was perplexed by this action until I realized that his entire life he had seen the back side of multiple cell phones and then shortly afterward someone would turn it around and there would be a picture or video of him. He had learned that when the rear of a cell phone was facing you, then your picture would be on the front. In a small way, he was being discipled on the use of a cell phone. And now at three years old, he enjoys taking pictures and videos on cell phones and then watching them. He is what has been called a “digital native.” He is growing up in a digital world which will be a key element in how he is discipled.
From the example of my grandson, I would like to point out two key components:
- People around him had embraced technology
- This discipleship was not intentional. It was natural
Let me expand on these thoughts briefly.
I find that there are those in church leadership, especially children’s ministry where I serve, who have not fully embraced the use of technology in ministry. Children are discouraged from bringing electronic devices. And in certain areas, if they do, the device is taken away as they walk through the door. Many adults are not comfortable using technology in a church classroom and struggle to adapt. If we do not embrace technology as a discipleship tool, then as the next generation grows, the church will not be able to effectively reach them. Technology must be embraced as a tool.
This discipleship was not intentional, it was natural
There was no premeditated thought about teaching my grandson how to use a smartphone. It was a natural learning process because he saw us using it. So often we think that there is something special that we need to do to share the things of God with others when in reality, we just need to have it be a natural part of our lives. People will see and follow our example as we follow Jesus. Think of the words of God through Moses in Deuteronomy 6 where we are instructed to teach (i.e. disciple) these things to our children when we go about our daily activities. When we sit, when we stand, when we walk, when we lie down; discipling is on full display as a natural part of our lives when we follow Jesus.
Technology is a tool
Digital discipleship is not some new-age phenomenon that supersedes the way of Christians over the past 2000 years. Technology needs to be treated carefully because it does have weaknesses. We must be careful in how much screen time a child has in their day. We must remember that technology is a tool. Nothing will ever replace face-to-face contact. But with the right relationships in place, technology can do things to supplement and enhance the lives of Christians both small and tall.
Let me give you some practical examples of how you can use and encourage the use of technology for digital discipleship in your church.
- In the classroom, use lyric videos, powerpoint, videos, and other digital resources to complement your lesson, not as the main source. Again, personal relationships are key, not the tool of technology.
- For younger children, use storybook Bibles and apps, like the Bible App for Kids from YouVersion. This app will read to your child with wonderful graphics and interactivity allowing you to sit with a child learning the things of God on their level.
- For elementary aged children, use Minecraft. Yes, I know that Minecraft is not a Christian product that talks about the things of God and all content may not be appropriate for children. But the reality is that if you mention Minecraft in a group of children, you will make an instant connection with many of them. While Minecraft is not designed to share the things of God, it does offer many object lessons relating to them. Not to mention, things can be built in the game to help direct others to God. I have had children build Noah’s Ark in their Minecraft world and used several screenshots of things I have made to enhance a lesson. By using Minecraft, you are joining their “outside” world making connections that reap eternal benefits as they may now use Minecraft to share the things of God with their friends. For examples visit http://www.pbjkidzone.com/category/lessons-2/minecraft-lessons-2/
- Another tool for elementary aged children is a game entitled The Aetherlight. It is an allegory of the Bible. As the child plays the game, the parent receives e-mails sharing the Biblical correlation to the storyline of the game. This is a great way to have conversations about God based in a digital medium that children can relate with.
- For youth and adults, a text message of encouragement can be a great digital discipleship tool. A simple note that you are praying for them, a Scripture, etc. is a small effort that can go a long way.
- For families and any group of people, YouVersion’s Bible app is another great tool where you can read the same plan with others and discuss it. Parents can read Scripture with their children and adults can read together. Discussion can be held online or more preferably in person, around the dinner table or elsewhere. The key to using this form of digital discipleship is once again the interpersonal, face-to-face, contact and discussion.
- Social media: instead of complaining about the government and others, use social media to share God’s love with others. Join groups that will be edifying, encouraging, and be able to speak the truth in love. Iron sharpens iron. And we need to stop banging our swords against rocks and work to sharpen one another.
- Videos are popular with the digital generation. Consider making a video message for your child at different milestones in their life encouraging them in the Lord that they can watch on demand on a private YouTube channel.
There is no special formula for discipleship. We look to technology to make our lives easier and even to give us less responsibility at times. (Self-driving cars and auto-correct are just a couple of items that come to mind) Sometimes we think that if we have just found the right app, we will be able to disciple others much better. The reality is that we need to embrace where we are today. The Aetherlight, which I mentioned earlier, is a great tool, but if the parent does not embrace it and use it as a discussion starter for their child, then it fails to meet its discipleship goal, not because of a fault in the game, but because the parent did not invest in the personal relationship aspect of the digital discipleship.
May we see technology as a tool, and may we see discipleship as a natural part of our day, not something that we need to add to our already busy schedules. Invest in the relationships you already have. And may these tools above allow the message of Jesus to drive deeper into the lives of those people God’s impacting through you.