The biggest threat to discipleship in the church today is in your hand right now. If not in your hand, it may be in your pocket or somewhere near you. At the very least, you know where it is.
It craves your attention and promises satisfaction. Its sleek lines and subtle curves lure your heart. You gaze into its glowing portal hundreds of times a day — swiping, tapping, thumbing your way down an infinite spiral of information and entertainment.
Yes, your phone is the biggest threat to discipleship today.
What Your Phone Knows About You
Think I’m overplaying the threat, making too much of too little a thing as an iPhone? Consider that your phone is in many ways your most intimate companion. It knows what you think, when you sleep, where you go, and what you long for.
Your search history reveals your innermost thoughts. Your Amazon orders reveal your idols. Your social media posts reveal your heart.
Like most adults, you’re probably waking your phone an average of 150 times a day. Smartphones have become seemingly essential to modern life, which is why many of us spend two or more hours per day on them.
The Technological Discipleship Gap
While people in churches have joined the broader culture in rapidly adopting new technology, churches themselves have been slow to address our new digital reality.
“There is a technology discipleship gap between the importance of technology in our daily lives and how effective Christian leaders are at discipling their people in proper technology usage,” says Ed Stetzer. Teasing out this theme, Stetzer writes in his new book,
Christians often have the same bad habits as everyone else, practices that damage not only their well-being and relationships, but also their spiritual vitality and witness. Despite these dangers, when was the last time your church taught on social media or proper media consumption? Substantive, disciple-making teaching on how Christians can develop godly technology habits? Aside from youth pastors warning of cyberbullying, when have messages touched on the way technology is shaping our lives or how our online behavior relates to our faith? I have heard plenty of sermons that address the problem of pornography, but I can count on one hand the number of times a pastor or Sunday school teacher discussed a more comprehensive online discipleship.
Technology seems to move at such a rapid pace that we barely have time to keep up with it all, let alone determine how best to use it. But instead of trying to develop wisdom around the topic, many Christians and churches have been too distracted to notice or, unwilling to make “blanket statements” about technology use, have decided to say nothing (I’m grateful that my church asked me and others to teach on the topic during one of our classes).
But our technological culture isn’t silent, which is why so many believers are being discipled by Apple and Google instead of pastors and elders.
The Need for Technological Discipleship
Unsurprisingly, our churches are filled with people whose tech habits largely mirror those of their unbelieving neighbors. Stetzer writes,
We found that technology and online habits of evangelicals largely mirror those of the general public, if not slightly exceeding them.
Your Facebook newsfeed probably attests to the fact that evangelicals like their social media, maybe a little much. Social media and technology are not all bad, however. “Our new digital technologies and social media platforms have untold potential to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Stetzer reminds us. But
At the same time, they can utterly lay waste to people, churches, and communities.
This is where discipleship is needed. With the rapid and almost unflinching adoption of smartphones and other technologies, Christians are in desperate need of shepherding, whether they know it or not. How can we not address the one thing that consumes slightly less of Christians’ waking hours than their jobs?
Effective Technological Discipleship
Technology is a discipleship issue. So what does effective technological discipleship look like? Stetzer:
Effective discipleship helps Christians to bend these tools in service to Christ rather than to become slaves to their destructive power. … At the same time, I encourage Christians to view local ministry within your community and through your church as the primary mission field of the believer. At a time where technology is making communication more isolating and distant, engaging our neighbors with the gospel has become counter-cultural.
What Stetzer outlines above is a thin outline of what effective technological discipleship might look like (he says he gives fuller suggestions in his book). But much more is needed.
I’ll be outlining a fuller approach in the days ahead here, along with explaining more about technology and its effects. Because, as Stetzer writes,
It’s a new world, one fraught with division and anger with the unforeseen capacity to bring them into our living rooms and church pews. Christians need to think carefully on how they can live and engage in this new world to the glory of Christ and the furtherance of his Kingdom.