“Our message must never change, but the way we deliver the message must be constantly updated to reach each new generation.” – Rick Warren
Covid-19 has brought on a new generation of ministry, requiring us to shift how we reach those we minister to livestreams, video meetings, and messaging are just some of the tools we have been forced to work with in this season of pandemic that is filled with social distancing and self-isolation. A question lingers in this new reality – can we actually disciple people in an online environment?
Whether it was sharing a meal with tax collectors, journeying with the disciples, or teaching large groups – relationships clearly were foundational to Jesus’ discipleship. We seem to often equate relationship with being ‘in person’ and while there is no negating the value of in-person connections, we cannot make the mistake of thinking discipling relationships are limited to in-person opportunities. The Apostle Paul is probably the clearest example of an individual who was able to disciple from a great distance. We read Paul’s prayer in Romans 1:9 “I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.” He was discipling a community he wasn’t able to be with physically. Each of his letters were written to people he was distanced from, and these letters have become essential tools of discipleship for the church throughout history.
If Paul could disciple people over great distances with written letters, then clearly there are opportunities for discipleship in an online environment. Amidst feeling ill equipped and being overwhelmed, be encouraged and reminded that the Holy Spirit can do the work of discipleship in whatever way the Holy Spirit wishes to work. The question needs to shift from the effectiveness of digital discipleship to, “How is the Holy Spirit working through my unique gifts, skills and abilities to disciple people in this season of digital ministry?” Technology is not limited to computers. We may forget that letters and postal systems, telephones, in-person visits (when able) are all reliant on some form of technology. What technology is God asking you to use? Something new? Something familiar? Some of both?
God is faithfully at work in this season. He has equipped you and your local community of believers with what you need to be effective in discipling others in this season. God is desiring to work through you by the power of the Holy Spirit. Don’t worry about what other churches or pastors are doing, worry about what God wants to do through you. Learn. Grow. Be faithful to God and watch Him work wonders in this unique season of ministry.