Discipleship is a key purpose of the church, but defining how to make a disciple is a bit like nailing potluck Jell-O to a church flannel graph. Moving a baby Christian toward maturity is no easier than raising a child. Lots of parents have lots of opinions on how to raise children. Just as many church leaders have differing takes on what it means to train a dedicated disciple within the body of Christ. Discipleship is messy. You change a lot of figurative diapers.
It’s an oversimplification, but discipleship at its core is helping someone become more like Christ. Discipleship happens within the body of Christ as more mature believers train and equip those who are less mature. Can you disciple someone digitally? Of course! Tools like Ministry Grid are quite helpful in simplifying training within the church. Digital discipleship can’t be the sole method of equipping the saints, but using digital tools can augment the process of making disciples.
While I believe digital discipleship is beneficial to churches, let me offer three warnings:
1. Digital discipleship brings with it the temptation of isolation. I know I’m stating the obvious: Discipleship is always connected to a local church. The point of discipleship is to train up people within the body of Christ. A member severed from the body is gruesome. As with any digital tool, the temptation is to isolate the person from others. This isolation works for some industries—ATMs are convenient ways of getting cash at all hours without needing a bank teller. Isolation from the church, however, is a dangerous temptation because it creates a loner mentality.
2. Digital discipleship should not replace the gathering of people in the church. The Internet is not a church and never will be. You can’t have an online-only marriage. That’s a simulation, not a relationship. The same goes for the church. Digital discipleship is an excellent tool for enhancing a relationship that already exists. When discipleship becomes digital-only, it’s merely a simulation of the real thing.
3. Digital discipleship will not make the process of growing up believers any easier. Discipleship is hard work. Digital tools make discipleship better, not easier. If your goal with digital discipleship is to make growing believers easier, then you’re just being lazy. It won’t work. Scripture is quite clear. There is no easy path with discipleship.
Discipleship is the process of people in the church becoming more like Christ. Digital tools can assist—but not replace—the church in this process. Discipleship is never easy. Teaching people to pick up their crosses and follow Christ is hugely important but also complicated. Digital tools can help. Just don’t use them to replace the very body people should be in.