It sounds simple and obvious, doesn’t it? Disciples follow Jesus. Notice this passage in Matthew’s Gospel:
Now when Jesus saw a great crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. (Matthew 8:18 ESV)
That’s a simple order, isn’t it? “Go to the other side of the sea.” That has to be the most simple and direct command that Jesus gave. What was the response of the crowd?
And a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:19-20 ESV)
One man jumped up right away…. “Yes Sir, Jesus! I’ll go wherever you want me to go.” I think he probably started humming to himself, “Wherever he leads, I’ll go. Wherever he leads, I’ll go. I’ll follow my Christ….”
Jesus warned this enthusiastic fellow to count the cost before agreeing to follow. Discipleship is not something to be taken lightly. Following Jesus is hard work. Jesus says, “Are you sure you are ready to give up everything? Enthusiasm doesn’t count for much when the going gets tough.”
Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:21-22 ESV)
Another person jumped up and said, “Yeah, Jesus, I’ll follow you. I’ve thought about it, like you said, and I need to take care of some things first.”
Jesus didn’t cut this guy any slack either. He said, “Either follow me, or go home. All or nothing.”
I imagine there were other responses as well. “Jesus, I’ll follow you as soon as my job is more stable.” “Yes, Jesus, I’ll be right there as soon as I finish school. My education has to be a priority right now.” “Jesus, you know that I want to follow you, but let me raised the kids first. You might lead me to places where I wouldn’t want to take the kids.”
So many responses to Jesus. How will Jesus ever determine who is sincere and who is not? How will we ever recognize the true disciples?
And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. (Matthew 8:23 ESV)
Doesn’t that sound simple? Jesus issues a command, and those who are his disciples obey by following him. The ones who speak up first are not necessarily disciples. The ones who delay and are admonished by Jesus are not necessarily disciples, nor are they necessarily NOT disciples.
Are you a disciple? Are you following Jesus? That’s the simple test. Start with Jesus’ most important commandments: Are you following Jesus by loving God and loving other people?
Find out more about Alan Knox on his website, The Assembling of the Church.
In my first three posts concerning Internet ministry (“What is it?,” “Evangelism and Discipleship,” and “Global Interaction”), I defined Internet ministry as “the use of online services, apps, functions, and technologies in order to serve people with the intention of helping those people grow in maturity towards Christ” and concluded that even if we pursue evangelism online, our ultimate goal should be discipleship – that is, not simply making converts, but helping people maturing in their walk with Jesus Christ. Finally, I encouraged those involved in “Internet ministry” to recognize the importance of personal, face-to-fact contact and example in discipleship.
In this final installment in my series on “Internet ministry,” I would like to continue discussing the importance of “face-to-face contact and example” by talking about using online interaction to further facilitate discipleship.
When I use the term interaction, I’m talking about communication that takes place in both directions. Now, certainly, it is possible to help someone without this kind of two-way communication. For example, someone could post a teaching based on a particular passage of Scripture, and someone else reading that teaching could benefit, without further interaction.
In reality, this is similar to the teaching/preaching found in many churches today. A person hears a teaching/sermon, but has no further interaction and no deeper relationship with the teacher/preacher. The person hearing can be helped with this type of teaching/preaching, but the amount and type of help is limited.
The way the Jesus and others in Scripture practiced and taught it, discipleship was interactive, in the midst of sharing life together, with questions and answers and follow-up and discussion and argument and another example, etc. It is possible to include this type of interaction using online resources.
The problem is that many who post material on the Internet consider the “posted material” to be the most important part of their work. In fact, that posted material is simply the beginning. Whether through comments or emails or phone calls or whatever, the further interaction with other people is often much more important than the posted material that began the further interaction.
Again, do not misunderstand me. Still, personal, face-to-face interaction is both important and necessary. But using various means, Internet ministry can be more interactive and, therefore, more effective at helping people mature in Christ and walk in a manner worthy of the gospel.
Of course, this also means that the way that we interact with people is as important (if not more important) than what we say (or write) in our posted material. If we react with hostility to someone who disagrees with us, it will completely nullify our post about the love of Christ. If we reject someone else, it hinders our message about the grace we have through Christ.
Finally, through interaction, we can demonstrate that we are also teachable – that we also need to be discipled – that we do not have all the answers – that God can and does speak to us and changes us through other people.
So, as we use online tools and resources to disciple others – that is, to help others grow in maturity in Christ – we should seek as much interaction as possible, always attempting to demonstrate the love of Christ in that interaction. In humility, we should admit that we do not have all the answers, that we are sometimes wrong, and that our relationships with others is more important than proving ourselves to be right.
In my two previous posts concerning internet ministry (“What is it?” and “Evangelism and Discipleship”), I defined Internet ministry as “the use of online services, apps, functions, and technologies in order to serve people with the intention of helping those people grow in maturity towards Christ” and concluded that even if we pursue evangelism online, our ultimate goal should be discipleship – that is, not simply making converts, but helping people mature in their walk with Jesus Christ.
In this post, I am will discuss one of the major benefits of serving people using online resources, and I will show how this benefit can also be a disadvantage.
Of course, the benefit that I’m talking about (as indicated in the title of this post) is the global connection, meaning that by using online resources we are able to connect to people all around the world. Until very recently (less than 100 years), if I wanted to communicate with someone in another country, it would take days, weeks, even months or more. Today, I can talk with people from every country on the planet in seconds.
In previous generations, the only people who could carry on conversations with people of different religions were those who traveled to different countries, or those with neighbors who were part of different religions. Today, anyone with a computer or cell phone with an Internet connection can communicate and interact with people from any number of belief systems.
So, the ability to communicate with other people has been drastically improved through the use of online resources. Because of the advancements in communication, many have compared the invention of the Internet to the invention of the printing press. And, in many ways, the two inventions are similar. Both inventions dramatically increased the ability to communicate ideas.
This then, leads to one of the disadvantages of this new global connection. But let’s take a step back and consider the practices of the apostles and other Christians as demonstrated in Scripture. Often, Peter, Paul, James, and others would desire to communicate with other believers in distant lands. They would then write letters – often dictating the letters to others who could write – and then send those letters by couriers, a process that could take weeks or months to complete.
However, neither Peter nor Paul nor James nor any others mentioned in the Scriptures relied completely on long distance communication methods. The letters were generally sent with other people who were to live among the recipients and help them with any problems they may have. Thus, the long distance communication was combined with personal interaction.
In fact, in many of Paul’s letters, instead of simply telling his readers what to do, he would remind them of how he himself had lived while he was among them. Thus, the letters were only part of an ongoing process of discipleship that included past interaction and present interaction. In other words, these people knew one another face to face, not just through letters.
With the advantages of today’s global connectivity, it is easy to lose sight of the importance of face-to-face interaction. As we help people walk with Christ, no written words – no matter how eloquent – can replace a living example.
It’s easy to hide behind a computer screen and never interact with others face to face. We must never allow our “online” ministry to replace the process of building mutually discipling relationships with other people that God brings into our lives. In fact, Internet ministry should work to supplement – not replace – our service to other people in our neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, etc.
So, as we attempt to disciple people using online resources, we must remember that Internet ministry – as with other types of long distance communication – works best when it is accompanied by face-to-face, personal interaction, either with us or with other Christians who can demonstrate a maturing faith by example.
In my previous post, “Internet Ministry: What is it?,” I defined “Internet ministry” as follows:
“Internet ministry” is the use of online services, apps, functions, and technologies in order to serve people with the intention of helping those people grow in maturity towards Christ.
What what kind of service can be included in “Internet ministry”? Is this evangelism or discipleship?
The short answer is, “Yes.”
First, in Scripture, evangelism is part of discipleship. “Discipleship” is simply the process of helping someone live in a manner that honors Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. “Discipleship” is helping someone else mature in Christ.
Evangelism is the process of proclaiming the gospel with someone or some group. This is the first step of discipling that person or group.
Note that evangelism is different from apologetics. Apologetics is presenting arguments in support of one’s beliefs in order to show that those beliefs are reasonable, cohesive, coherent, and consistent. So, apologetics may or may not include a presentation of the good news.
Evangelism, on the other hand, focuses on the good news of Jesus Christ and the fundamentals of trusting Christ for salvation and life. As such, evangelism is part of the process of helping someone live as a disciple of Jesus Christ – that is, discipleship.
Thus, Internet ministry – if it is truly ministry (“service”) – is a part of the process of discipling others. This process begins with evangelism, but must not end there. Remembering that “ministry” includes interaction with others, “Internet ministry” must continue beyond evangelism to helping the new believer follow Jesus more closely – that is, to mature in Christ.
(Note: I believe this is true of all evangelism, not just online evangelism: Evangelism must include the intention of continuing the discipling process.)
So, an “Internet ministry” (or any type of service) that focuses on proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ to unbelievers must include the further service of helping new believers grow and mature. Why? Because our goal as disciples of Jesus Christ is not to evangelize (only), but also to make disciples. Our goal is not converts, but disciples.
When we proclaim the gospel to someone, we are (whether we realize it or not) beginning the first step of discipleship. So, when we proclaim the good news, we should understand that we’re asking the person or people to begin to share our lives with us so that we can help one another grow in maturity in Christ.
Yes, there will be occasions when these types of ongoing discipling relationships are not possible. But they should be the exception, not the rule. We should not plan to use the Internet only to serve people through evangelism. Instead, we should understand that evangelism should include further discipleship, and so include discipleship in our plans to serve people.
Jesus told his apostles, “As you go, disciple all nations…” (Matthew 28:19-20). If this command applies to us (and I think it does), then we should seek to disciple other people wherever we go. If we go across the oceans, we should seek to make disciples, even if that includes evangelism. If we go across the street, we should seek to make disciples, even if that includes evangelism.
And, if we go online, we should seek to make disciples, even if that includes evangelism.
Alan Knox is a PhD student in biblical theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a web developer. His interests include PHP and ecclesiology. His dissertation topic is the purpose of the gathering of the church in the New Testament. By God’s grace, he tries to live what he is learning about the church.
He writes about how our understanding of the church affects (or should affect) the way the we live our lives among other brothers and sisters in Christ. He's found that many aspects of our understanding of church (gathering, leading, teaching, etc.) are woven together such that it’s almost impossible to focus on only one aspect.
Find out more on his website, The Assembling of the Church.