This simple invitation is one that Jesus uttered many times in His earthly ministry 2,000 years ago and is the same invitation He extends to people today. It is the invitation to be a disciple, or a follower, of Jesus Christ. When we put our faith in Jesus, we decide to become a disciple of Him and follow Him in all the ways He is leading us.
Discipleship is where we forsake our old life — a life of sin, despair, and hopelessness — and choose to enter into a life marked by a relationship with God. Discipleship is where we learn to walk in Jesus’ ways, love how He loves, and live how He lives. It is where we live with full assurance that the life we live we live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself for us (Galatians 2:20).
Most of all, discipleship is where we learn and grow with Jesus Who loves us with a scandalous, all-consuming, relentless love and encourages us to show this love to others.
While the first two levels of engagement — design and discussion — involve passive consumerism, the discovery level is where people engage with content and conversation and pursue going deeper. Discipleship is the next level of engagement and comes after someone makes a decision to get real about their already existing relationship with Jesus or even puts their faith in Him for the first time.
You may be reading this and wondering why discipleship is so important anyway and how our digital engagement has anything to do with it. If you’re a church leader, you already know that discipleship is not only how the church grows, but it is commissioning from God Himself.
We need discipleship if we have any hope for the church to continue well into the future. Not only this but if we want to have churches full of committed believers and not just passive consumers, disciples must be made.
Our digital engagement also goes hand-in-hand with discipleship. We live in a highly digitized age where the majority of people spend a huge chunk of their time online consuming and engaging with content. The church is positioned in a unique time where people are looking for answers and often turn to the content they find online to find those answers.
We can meet people where they are (i.e. online) and invite them into the greatest relationship they will ever know — a relationship with Jesus.
People are also seeking a purpose in life and want to belong. A relationship with Jesus and with His followers is exactly the place where they can experience purpose and belonging.
We must remember that our content should encourage engagement digitally and physically. Anything we post or share must be with the heart of others in mind with the end goal of pointing them to Jesus. If our content exists for content sake, we have missed the point and missed the mark of what Jesus has called His church to do: make disciples.
In his book The Passion Generation, Grant Skelton looks at the problem we have with discipleship in the modern church, especially among millennials. The book talks about how millennials specifically are a generation who are among the largest and most influential in our time. Many in this generation have decided to have nothing to do with the church, faith, and even God Himself. Skelton believes this is due to our lack of proper discipleship in the church.
Discipleship isn’t just meeting once a week for a 1-hour coffee date with a believer. Discipleship is the act of doing life with someone. It is intentionally involving someone else in your sphere and saying “follow me as I follow Jesus.” To build a disciple is to say the same to someone else as you invite them to grow alongside you.
We don't always do this model of discipleship in the church today. We share mass amounts of content and expect people to just want to grow with Jesus. We miss the beauty of discipleship which is entirely about relationships. For too long we have been content with having great weekend services and great online content and have neglected that being a follower of Jesus is all about our relationship with Him and others.
This is what millennials and even those in other generations seek — true, authentic relationships. Discipleship is where engagement is cranked up a notch and the once consumer is now a dedicated participant.
The need for relationships does not mean digital content and experiences aren’t important — quite the contrary! Our digital content serves to further enhance the discipleship experience.
Social media can be one of the most helpful methods for digital discipleship. Although it is often marked by division and arguments, social media ultimately exists to connect us. We can build genuine relationships with people through our social media channels by engaging in one-on-one conversations. These conversations can be a great starting point and lead to more discipleship that happens in-person.
Video conference programs, such as Zoom or Google Hangout, can also enhance the discipleship experience and even enable discipleship to go beyond physical borders. Many churches turned to these programs during the COVID-19 pandemic to make a way for small groups, Bible studies, and other meetings to occur. We can still utilize video conferencing to build relationships when physical gathering may not be a possibility.
Discipleship is entirely possible and can occur in the digital sphere, the only thing we need is a willingness to follow Jesus and grow with others as we grow with Him!
Our online content has the potential to intrigue people, invite them to ask questions, and even lead them to know Jesus and grow in a relationship with Him. While some may think digital relationships are ingenuine and couldn’t possibly lead to authentic growth, digital discipleship is completely possible.
Our part to play as the church is one in which we willingly dedicate our time and effort to leading others and pointing them to Jesus. It may mean stepping out of comfort zones and pursuing real relationships with people who are seeking Jesus. Discipleship will ultimately lead a person to want to deploy into the world (both digitally and physically), step into a new level of leadership, and strengthen the church in a brand new way
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