If there’s one thing I’m grateful for, it’s that I was born before the digital age. No, don’t worry: this is not one of those longing-for-the-days-of-yonder posts. I’m just saying that I am grateful to remember a time where everything and anything digital didn’t exist. That’s because it helps me in analyzing the changes that technological progress has brought—and where to embrace or resist these, especially when it comes to discipleship.
As a long time youth worker, discipleship is at the heart of what I do. But I’m interested in discipling both others and myself, or rather, letting myself be discipled. Both of these processes have changed dramatically over the years with technological advancements like social media, smart phones, and wifi. But the same advancements have changed us as well; technology has impacted us in a way that we may not always be aware of.
I want to explore what discipleships in the digital age looks like in three posts and see how technology had affected us—and how we can adapt.
I Want It Now
Because my husband was a computer geek, we were early adopters of the Internet. That meant dialing in (or up) and waiting for the connection to get through. Or not. It also meant practicing a lot of patience as you waited for pages to load, or games to load for that matter. I remember loading games from a cassette player, which took forever!
The same was true when buying something: you either had to go to a store, or if they didn’t have what you wanted, you had to order it and wait for it to arrive. Limited choices were a fact, especially if you didn’t live near a big city.
And TV shows were a matter of watching every episode as it was broadcasted and not a second sooner. And re-watching movies meant renting them from the video store—and taking the time to be kind en rewind before returning them.
If you wanted something, you had to wait for it.
This has changed dramatically and with it, our expectations have changed as well. No one wants to wait for a website to load; we click away if it’s not fast enough. We pay extra to get faster shipping and we binge-watch shows as soon as they’re released on whatever streaming services we prefer. This is the age of instant gratification.
We want it all and we want it now.
[Cue the classic Queen song…]
[Video via YouTube]
Discipleship and Instant Gratification
What does this mean for discipleship? By its very nature, discipleship is a slow process that requires discipline and patience. ‘One does not simply become Christ-like’, we could say with a wink to a well-known meme. Developing godly habits and, even more important, godly character takes time and practice. It’s anything but instant gratification.
Moreover, being a follower of Jesus will come at a cost beyond the efforts of discipleship. Jesus was crystal clear about this—and history has shown it to be true as well. At some point, being a Christian will come at a cost.
This cost of discipleship runs counter to the culture of instant gratification. That doesn’t mean we give up however, or that we attack this culture or those who embrace it. The fact is that Christianity has always, always ran counter to the prevailing culture—specific circumstances in certain times and areas being the exception.
What discipleship in this day and age means is first of all awareness that this process is different from what our culture is used to. We can highlight the contrast between this slow process and the instant gratification culture without condemning the second. It means being explicit and clear about the costs of the process and of the ‘result’.
Let’s not forget to look at the other side of discipleship as well. If we are the disciplers, if we are building up (young) believers in whatever role, we need to let go of that same instant culture as well. Too often churches and organizations have abandoned programs, events, and approaches for not getting immediate results. I’m not saying that evaluation should be out the window, or that statistics and numbers have no place, but they should never be the only deciding factor.
Too much focus on results can also lead us to become fake, deceptive even. Relational ministry is the prime candidate here, where we build relationships with non-Christians or young Christians in order to…See, there it is. The ‘in order to’ means we have a result in mind, an ulterior motive beyond just building relationships. That tension is normal, yet at the same time dangerous. If we are too focused on the results, the ultimate goal, we will never be able to authentically invest in those relationships. And it will show.
In the next post, we’ll talk about the need for speed and how this affects discipleship.
How are you impacted by the ‘I want it now’ aspects of our culture?
Does it show in your own discipleship and how you disciple others?
[Photo via Pexels cc]