Rapid technological advances are constantly changing the way we communicate with each other, allowing us to connect faster and more frequently than ever before. We can communicate with someone across the globe as easily as with someone in the next room. Yet the connections we make are often so shallow that we still feel isolated from each other, longing to truly know others and have them know us.
God offers us deep, personal relationships with Him and each other when we connect through Jesus Christ. But how can we follow Christ’s call to make disciples through personal relationships when so much of how we communicate is in impersonal cyberspace? That’s possible when we focus on using technology to build relationships with others in fresh ways that help them grow spiritually.
Here’s how you can use technology to make digital disciples:
Expect the Holy Spirit to interact with people online as well as in person. Keep in mind that the Holy Spirit is at work wherever you interact with people, even in cyberspace. So pay attention to the Holy Spirit’s promptings when you relate to people online, and believe that God will use the connections you make in virtual communities to draw people to Him just as powerfully as He will use face-to-face connections.
- Be creative when looking for ways to connect with people online. If you post a thoughtful blog, you can motivate the people who read it to discuss faith in thoughtful ways that lead them to fresh insights. If you use a Twitter message to link to a Christian charity you support, you can encourage others to support that same charity’s work to fight injustice. If you include a prayer request for a sick or injured friend on a Facebook status update, you can mobilize many people to pray for that person. Ask God to show you other ways that you can engage people online to grow closer to Him and reach out to others with His love.
- Transform fleeting connections into lasting connections. While it’s easy to make quick and shallow connections with people online, it’s more challenging to develop those connections into meaningful friendships that last. However, if you commit to staying in touch regularly with the people you meet online and discussing issues that matter with love and respect for each other, you can turn fleeting connections into lasting ones.
If you wouldn’t say it in person, don’t type it online. Keep in mind that it can be more tempting to communicate online in inappropriate ways that it is to do so in person, since you can’t immediately see how other people react to what you say. So ask God to give you the self-control you need to communicate with others in kind, respectful ways, even if they’re being rude to you. Remember that you represent Christ to everyone online who knows that you’re a Christian.
Distinguish between remote intimacy and real intimacy. Keep in mind that relating to people exclusively online will give you the chance to develop only remote intimacy (learning information about them) rather than real intimacy (experiencing fuller details about them, such as their voices, facial expressions, and body language). Also, people may be more willing to reveal their personal thoughts and feelings in person than online. So whenever possible, try to arrange some face-to-face meetings with the people you interact with online. Since you can only use two of your senses – sight and hearing – online, be sure to engage your senses of smell, touch, and taste when you meet with people in person, such as by sharing a meal together. When meeting isn’t possible, keep in mind that the real people are more complex than your ideas of them based on the information you have about them.
Distinguish between information and knowledge. The Internet is great tool for storing and distributing information, but don’t rely on it to think for you. Rather than just passively receiving information online, reflect on it and analyze it so you can absorb it into your mind as knowledge, which will actually help you make better decisions instead of just washing away. Particularly when you’re gathering information about Jesus, go beyond just getting to know more about Jesus to applying the information so you can know Jesus more through changed attitudes or actions.
Search for God at least as much as you search online. It’s easy and quick to find staggering amounts of information through using an online search engine like Google. However, the ease of acquiring information that way can lead you to feel more powerful than you actually are and make you impatient with how long it sometimes takes to hear answers to your prayers. Remember that even though the Internet has been built to respond to your needs, you’ve been created to respond to God, and not vice versa. Keep in mind that God doesn’t owe you answers and you can’t demand that God respond to you on your terms, but God can offer you real wisdom, which goes far beyond the information the Internet can provide. Spend at least as much time praying as you spend searching for information online.
Don’t let moments flash by too quickly for you to learn from them. Technology has sped up the pace of communication so much that sometimes you can fail to digest the meaning of what you experience online. Ask God to help you notice and learn from important moments in your online communication with others that can teach you valuable lessons.
- Take technology Sabbaths. Periodically schedule some days or time blocks of several hours when you take a break from technology completely so you can enjoy silence and solitude. When you’re unplugged from technology, you can reflect, pray, and notice God speaking to you in fresh ways. Then you’ll be rejuvenated to engage others through technology again, making digital disciples.
Adapted from Digital Disciple: Real Christianity in a Virtual World, copyright 2011 by Adam Thomas. Published by Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN, www.abingdonpress.com.
The Reverend Adam Thomas was ordained to the Episcopal priesthood in 2008 at the age of 25, making him one of the first priests from the millennial generation. His unique voice in the faith community emanates from a combination of his youth, honesty, humor, and tech-savvy nature. A self-described nerd, Adam writes the blog wherethewind.com, belongs to the Christian Century Blogging Community and Day1.org, and knows everything about Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Whitney Hopler is a full-time freelance writer and editor. You can visit her website at: http://whitneyhopler.naiwe.com/.