I was a pastor for fourteen years, and still have countless conversations with pastors. Many of the challenges and issues that pastors face in discipling and teaching those in their churches have remained the same since I was pastoring over 25 years ago. But there are also many new challenges for pastors, including helping Christians navigate digital technologies and social media platforms.
Ed Stetzer, who serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College and is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, makes the case that Christians desperately need discipleship in this area. Here are a few quotes from his article “The Technological Discipleship Gap”:
We have all these new technologies and online platforms by which to instantly react and to amplify the loudest, most divisive voices. We are a society where everyone has a megaphone and an increasingly smaller capacity to resist using it.
…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.
…Christians have seen the emerging digital marketplace, and rather than thinking critically about its nature and effects, they have dived in. Innovation for the glory of God, we tell ourselves, even though we know that innovation for the expansion of the platform is often closer to the truth. Discipleship may not even cross our minds.…Our new digital technologies and social media platforms have untold potential to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ. At the same time, they can utterly lay waste to people, churches, and communities.
Effective discipleship helps Christians to bend these tools in service to Christ rather than to become slaves to their destructive power.
For more, see Ed’s book Christians in the Age of Outrage: How to Bring Our Best When the World Is at Its Worst. I also highly recommend Tony Reinke’s book 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You. You might also like to check out these past blogs: 10 Questions to Help Us Analyze Our Smartphone Habits and The Growing Body of Research Says Yes, Your Smartphone Really Is Changing You and Your Family.