By Jacqueline J. Holness
Youth minister Dan Seaborn likely created the most popular Christian pop culture question ever when he posed the question to motivate his youth group in 1989. In four words it crystallizes the essence of what we should aspire to as Christians. And it can be applied to anything. For example, what would Jesus do in finances? What would Jesus do in Hollywood? What would Jesus do in the White House?
I wonder what Jesus would do if he lived in the digital age? I believe he would be a huge fan of digital discipleship! I “googled” the term “digital discipleship” and discovered a book by Adam Thomas titled, Digital Disciple: Real Christianity in a Virtual World (Abingdon 2011). I haven’t read it, but I just might pick it up.
Evangelism and Discipleship
As I considered the concept, I thought about evangelism in the context of discipleship. Most Christians know we are supposed to evangelize, meaning we are to tell others about Jesus Christ. But I wonder if we are content to leave the discipleship aspect of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) to ministers, youth leaders, missionaries, and others in positions of authority in the church. The truth of the matter is that members of the church will always outnumber those in leadership positions, and so the Lord is depending on individual Christians to disciple others as well. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 6:1, “As God’s coworkers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.”
With the creation of Facebook, Twitter, Google and other social media platforms, it is easier than ever not only to evangelize but to make disciples. Anyone can create a digital sphere of influence, and we can use such platforms to cultivate real flesh and blood relationships that transcend the virtual world.
As many of my close friends know, I am a Facebook addict. After my daily quiet time with the Lord, I find myself checking my Facebook account each morning before eating my breakfast. I comb through status updates (information and pithy phrases that capture how people are feeling and what they are thinking) of my Facebook friends with glee, wondering what unearthed treasures I will discover. Often, when watching a television program some of my Facebook friends are also watching, I enter into online conversations with them about the show (which end up being as entertaining as the show itself). You may feel this is simply mindless entertainment—and it could be, depending on how you use the medium.
But in the two years or so that I’ve had a Facebook account, I have had numerous conversations with my Facebook friends about the Bible and my faith. Many of the conversations stemmed from my blog posts that are programmed to appear on my Facebook page. I blog about my experiences as a Christian and issues that affect modern faith. I also post links to controversial articles about Christianity all over the world, hoping to spark online conversations. Many of those conversations and connections have led me to attend events (and even a convention) at invitations from my Facebook friends.
Events and Relationships
This represents one difference between evangelism and disciple-ship. Evangelism might be seen as an event—the presentation of the gospel or a response to Christ as Lord and Savior. On the other hand, discipleship may be viewed as an ongoing relationship. And you don’t have to be a church leader to do it. In some ways it seems that speaking from behind a pulpit might restrict the type of interaction one person can have with another. For instance, I have a few Facebook friends who are ministers, and I cannot imagine them exchanging the barbs I have been known to rattle off in the flurry of a “hot topic” Facebook conversation.
Christians have unprecedented opportunities today to engage millions of people through Facebook, Twitter, and other means of online communication in ways that demonstrate our faith and invite others to consider the claims of Christianity. That’s just what Jesus did among his disciples while he was on earth.
Jacqueline J. Holness, a member of Central Christian Church in Atlanta, Georgia, is a correspondent for Courthouse News Service, and author of After the Altar Call: The Sisters’ Guide to Developing a Personal Relationship With God, (Nevaeh Publishing, 2012).