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.
A couple of months ago, I was asked to write a post about Internet ministry. Since I was preparing to leave for Ethiopia, I said that I would write the post after I returned. As I was studying and thinking about the topic, my post turned into a series of posts.
In this first post, I want to define what I mean by the term Internet ministry. Now, to be completely honest, this is my definition. While my definition may be similar to others, I wanted to define the phrase in a way that expresses what I think about ministry itself. So, I’ll begin my definition with the term “ministry.”
As many, many scholars have pointed out, the English term ministry comes from the same Greek term as the English term service. “Ministry” is “service” and “service” is “ministry.” In the New Testament, there is not difference. So, in my definition there is no difference either. “Internet ministry” is “Internet service.”
But serving whom? In Scripture, service is also directed toward other people. While it may be beneficial to do something that benefits only yourself, this is not service. For example, if I write a book, but do not show it to anyone, it is not an act of service. It only because a possible act of service when I then share that book with others. So, “ministry” or “service” is directed toward others and interacts with others in some way.
Thus, “Internet ministry” is “internet service directed toward and interacting with other people.”
Now, what about the “Internet” part of the phrase “Internet ministry?” For this series, I will include any technology, app, or function that uses the Internet as “Internet.” That may seem obvious, but this means that both email and cell phone apps could be included in the phrase “Internet ministry.”
On the other hand, simply having a computer program does not mean that I would include that program in the phrase “Internet.” For example, I often use BibleWorks, but I would not include that software package in the term Internet.
There is at least one more statement that needs to be made about “Internet ministry.” I’m writing this from the perspective of a child of God – from someone who desires to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ. As such, my intentions in serving others is so that those other people will be drawn to the love of God and begin following him as well. In other words, I want to see people grow in maturity toward Jesus Christ as the ultimate goal.
So, I could give a hungry person food as an act of service. But as a child of God, I also give them that food to demonstrate the love of God and to attract them to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This idea is not found in the terms ministry or service but should always be found in the life and actions of a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Thus, as a Christian, my idea of “Internet ministry” must include the idea of helping someone grow in their understanding of God and in maturity in Christ.
So, “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.
In 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul reminds the Christians in Thessalonika about the time that he spent with them. Paul probably only spent a few weeks with the Thessalonian believers. However, it seems that he made the most of that time.
This is what Paul says:
For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed--God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved--so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last! But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you--I, Paul, again and again--but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy. (1 Thessalonians 2 ESV)
What can we learn from Paul’s example:
1: Continue making disciples in spite of difficulties.
2: Seek to please God, not people.
3: Do not try to persuade people by your rhetoric or your method of teaching or your arguments.
4: Do not make demands on people, even if you think you may have the right.
5: Gently care for people.
6: Share your life with people, not just your words.
7: Work hard serving people and serving with people.
8: Continually encourage people to walk with Christ.
9: Give God all the glory when people grow in maturity.
I don’t know about you, but I think I still have a long way to go before I am following Paul’s example. While I can see where my life and discipleship has matured in some of these areas over the last few years, I can also see where I have much more need for growth.
Primarily, I think the first item is one of the toughest for me. Paul suffered greatly at Philippi – he was imprisoned. Yet, he continued to make disciples. He did not let the difficulties distract him from his purpose.
I tend to be distracted much more easily. If something goes wrong or if life gets difficult, I tend to withdraw and forget or ignore the fact that I am supposed to be making disciples. Sometimes, I let my circumstances dictate my level of obedience. I can learn from Paul here. I can learn to trust God and follow the Spirit in spite of my circumstances, allowing him to strengthen me.
What about you? Have you seen growth as a disciple-maker in your life? In what area or areas do you still need to grow?
When Paul left Timothy in Ephesus, he either left a letter with him or sent a letter to him in order to help his young apostolic coworker (1 Timothy). In part of that letter, Paul wrote to help his friend understand who should be recognized (or appointed) as elders among the church (1 Timothy 3:1-7).
In this section, Paul describes what kind of person should be an elder. There are many different descriptions within this short passage. But, for this post, I want to focus on one sentence (in two verses):
He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? (1 Timothy 3:4-5 ESV)
This passage is often presented as an indication that elders are “managers” over the church. However, the verbs used indicate something different.
To begin with, there are two important verbs used in this passage: “manage” (in vs. 4 & 5) and “care for” (in vs. 5).
First, the verb translated “manage” comes from the Greek verb προΐστημι (prohistemi). This verb has a wide range of meanings, including “be over,” “superintend,” and “managed” and also “aid,” “care for,” and “give attention to.” So, as the ESV translates it above, this verb can definitely mean “manage.”
In the passage above, the verb προΐστημι (prohistemi – “manage”) demonstrates the relationship between the elders and their families, especially their children. Again, in that context, “manage” would work.
Next, the verb translated “care for” comes from the Greek verb ἐπιμελέομαι (epimeleomai). Unlike the verb above, this verb has a much more narrow range of meaning: “to take care of a person or thing.” This verb cannot mean “manage.”
The verb ἐπιμελέομαι (epimeleomai – “take care of”) is only used in one other passage in the New Testament – in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan:
He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.” (Luke 10:34-35 ESV)
It’s clear from the context above what “take care of” means. It means “to render aid” or “offer support”… it does not mean “manage.”
Now, remember, Paul is making a comparison. He’s comparing a person’s relationship to their family and suggesting that the familiar relationship will be an indication of their relationship with the church. Paul describes the familial relationship with a verb that could mean either “manage” or “care for.” But, he describes the church relationship with a verb that could only mean “care for.”
Regardless of what Paul is saying about the elders’ relationship with their family, he is definitely not saying that the elders are to “manage” the church. Instead, he is saying that elders are to “care for” the church, much like the “good samaritan” took care of the wounded traveler.
By the way, there is another Greek verb that falls within the same semantic domain (meaning) as the verb “care for” (ἐπιμελέομαι – epimeleomai). Which verb is that? The verb that is usually translated “shepherd,” which is also often used to describe elders.
[I wrote a similar post about 3 1/2 years ago called "Manage his own household?" However, the Greek fonts became corrupted during a database upgrade, so I decided to rewrite the post here.]
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.