I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the nature of discipleship. What is it, how do we do it and most specifically, in our highly networked world can we accomplish effective discipleship over social media?

Several years ago I was a part of an urban church that struggled with the way they communicated throughout the week. This was the late 90s, before the onset of the Social Media revolution. There was no such thing as Facebook, or Twitter or even MySpace (remember MySpace?).

It was my first experience doing church in an urban setting. I grew up in a small town of about 1500 people. Our church was made up of farmers and small business people. Everybody knew everybody else and we had the opportunity to interact in various was throughout the week as we went about our regular business. When I got married I moved to the city and for the first time experienced what it was like to go a full seven days without the opportunity for a single point of contact with any of my fellow congregants.

E-mail was a still a relatively new concept at the time and folks were just staring to embrace this technology as a way to spread news and updates during the week. The church secretary established an email list and sent out updates from time to time about things like service opportunities, upcoming events and just general interest. Sending a message out over this list was also how the board of directors chose to announce that they had just fired our pastor.


I won’t go into a lot of detail but about a year previously we had hired a new pastor out of the mission field who had never led a large urban congregation before. He was in a bit over his head and had a few theological disagreements with some powerful (i.e. wealthy) members. Rather than call a congregational meeting to explain the situation and take a vote the board of directors made the decision independently one night and sent out a mass email the next day informing the rest of the congregation what had just transpired. In today’s vernacular it would be the equivalent of making a status update on Facebook.

That whole experience, and the way in which it was handled shook the congregation to its very core. What followed were weeks, months and years of soul searching, conflict resolution and growth. Not to mention a new policy on the use of e-mail.

I was reminded of this event recently when a friend of mine got a little offended by a comment made on Facebook. The issue with Facebook and other social media sites like Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ is the same as the issue my former church had with E-Mail. While it is a great medium for exchanging information it is a terrible medium for conveying emotion. I don’t know the exact proportion (is it 75, 80 or 99 percent) but I do know that a very large amount of communication is non-verbal. Emoticons help but you cannot convey anywhere close to the proper amount of non-verbal cues for communication in a text based medium.

Which brings me back to this idea of discipleship. In its simplest sense discipleship is the act of mentoring and learning from a master. But it goes much deeper than that. Discipleship is a two way street, with people walking the same path, doing life together and learning from one another in ways that are far deeper and more meaningful than any teacher and student relationship. Asking questions and receiving answers or just general comments on Social Media, while potentially helpful in starting a conversation or keeping it going is easy and simple but true discipleship should never be limited to a text based conversation. We miss far too much true communication when we take away the physical, personal interaction.

We need to make an effort to make discipleship personal and interactive and Social Media isn’t enough of either of these things to do it effectively.

– What has been your experience with Social Media as a discipleship tool?

– What other things have you done to keep the social in your media use or to take the media out of your social interaction?

Feel free to send me your comments but if you really want to have a meaningful conversation, call me.



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