AND THE INTERNET
II. An Example of Internet Based Discipleship
Leaving Trails to Follows
Leaving Notes to See
III. A Model of Biblical Discipleship
in the Boat
out to Sea
back on Land
Over two thousand years ago God left
Heaven and walked with man. During this
time he called twelve disciples and asked them to walk with Him. As they walked He taught them, not just with
words but with His entire life. For 3
years they lived together and when it was over the religious leaders of the day
looked at these unschooled, ordinary men and “took note that these men had been
with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13) Three year earlier
they had set out on a journey and now they came back changed – empowered with a
mission of their own, “Go into all the world and make disciples…” (Mt
28:19) Over time this ever growing
family of disciples formed monasteries, seminaries, books, television programs
and churches. Although the mediums have
changed the principle has not – “I am walking with Jesus, do you care to walk
with me for a while?”
At the heart of discipleship is a
community that journeys together with the great teacher Jesus and learns along
the way. Since this community is spread
over the entire world I suggest the Internet offers one more way for members of
the global Christian community to walk together. The Internet is not the Community but one of
many trails the Community walks upon.
The Community are all those who walk with Jesus; who, although spread
throughout the world, are connected through the same Holy Spirit.
Part 1: An Example of Internet
summer of 1997 my brother introduced me to the Internet. In those days the Internet was still somewhat
young (and since it has not fully taken shape I would argue still is) and one
of my first thoughts was, “I wonder how this could be used for God?” So I sat down and I began to write a series
of lessons on how to grow spiritually in the same way that one would write a
devotional. But if discipleship is
walking together then writing a book is more like leaving footprints and trail
markers for others to follow which unfortunately is not walking very close to
each other. I still had much to learn
about bringing discipleship ministries to the Internet.
In 1999 I graduated from Bible School
and started a youth ministry in Kamloops,
BC. I began to disciple my students early Sunday
morning and I watched them interact with the questions, with me and with each other. I took those notes and I added them to the
web, but this time instead of just leaving a trail for others to follow I
invited my internet students to write their own comments. Now it looked more like people walking
together but in reality it was more like they came up behind me and left sticky
notes on the trail – “Look to the right to see a great view of the mountain.”
By this time
I had decided on the name “Authentic Walk Ministries” and had secured the
domain name www.authenticwalk.com. Once
again I rebuilt the entire site and I focused on making a clearly defined
program where the students would study seven core topics (What is the Gospel,
Overcoming Temptation, Prayer, Solitude, Worship, Service, Study and
Community). Students had to read through
all the notes, respond to them, put them into practice using any of the
suggested activities, and then rewrite them for their own care groups, youth
groups or Sunday School groups. When
they completed these steps they could apply to become a leader of Authentic
Walk Ministries. During this time
Authentic Walk grew from 700 students to the 1853 students we have today. However, only forty-eight students have
reached Level 2 where they reread the notes in a deeper fashion, fourteen are
on Level 3 where they are rewriting the notes and two have become leaders. My conclusion is that either the majority of
Christians online are not looking for a full discipleship program and only want
weekly emails to supplement their growth or our current system is not structured
to invite them into Community – most likely it is a bit of both.
interesting changes have happened in the above version of Authentic Walk’s web
ministry. First of all. whenever a
student submits a response a leader looks at it and personally responds to it. Perhaps one of my greatest joys is to see
students who came and their first responses where sloppy, not very thought
through and sometimes very condemning of others but through gentle
encouragement and the knowledge that someone cares enough to read their
response and even send it back, they have grown and write with a clarity,
compassion and desire to minister to other students that they did not have when
they first came.
change is that I have allowed one of my leaders to write the weekly devotionals. This has given me direct one-on-one
interaction with this leader as I proof-read her work and built it together
with her. Her writing has increased
two-fold in its effectiveness and students even write back and say how much they
grew through her ministry. In this way I
see myself walking with her and with the students that we respond to. This is in essence the focus of my paper, the
more we walk with the students we seek to disciple the greater amount of
discipleship we will have in their life.
The students who simply receive their weekly email are helped but not as
deeply as the ones who interact with other students and certainly not as much
as those who rise up as leaders.
I am currently in the process of
planning the next version of the web site based on that premise which is
summarized in the following image. The
front page will begin with a single walking person going across the
screen. The words will come up, “Do you
feel alone in your walk with God?” Then
lots of other little walking people will come from all over the screen
representing every part of the world, they will form together to make a cross
for it is around Christ that we grow, then they will go out and form what looks
like the Earth as a symbol of transforming our planet. This image, as I will show in the following
sections, is the pattern of Biblical discipleship – come together as the
Community under Jesus, rub off on each other, then go out to bring others in.
This is not the only meeting place
where the Community under Jesus meets for all around the world Christians get
together in Churches, Classes and Care Groups and they do this through
face-to-face encounters, books, TV and now the Internet. What Authentic Walk Ministries offers is
another place in combination with the ones mentioned above where Christians
will meet for a time, grow, and then move on to the next. It is a trail where the two paths of
Christians meet for a series of steps as they travel on their long journey with
Part II: A Biblical Model of
Stage 1: Getting into the Boat
day as Jesus was standing by the Lake
of Gennesaret, with the
people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, he saw at the
water’s edge two boats, left there by the fisherman, who were washing their
nets. He got into one of the boats, the
one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from the shore. –
question is: “Who is the discipler?” It
was Jesus who initiated this relationship with Simon Peter and it was Jesus who
was the teacher. Of course the word
“discipler” is used much more broadly and can refer to a person who is helping
another grow spiritually (be it through a meeting, a class, a book or a web-page). Christians are even told to “Go and make
disciples” (Mt 28:19) which really is just one disciple bringing a new disciple
to Jesus (ex. Jn 1:41-22). However, Jesus
is the only one who has mastered the content to be learnt, He is the only one who stays with a person for their
whole life, and He is the only one who knows the person completely and has
a complete plan for their spiritual growth.
What we often call “Disciplers” are really just fellow travelers that
Jesus brings alongside for a moment to bring part of the curriculum – in short,
walking companions – it is Jesus who is the real Discipler.
question is: “How can Jesus Disciple someone when He no longer lives on
Earth?” It was easy for Simon Peter to
be discipled by Jesus because Jesus literally walking into his boat (his life)
and began to rub off on him as they interacted. But despite physical appearance Jesus never
left Peter for He promised “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
(Mt 28:20b) Jesus explains how He does
The Counselor, the Holy
Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and
will remind you of everything I have said to you…It is for your good that I am
going away. Unless I go away, the
Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you…when he,
the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak
only what he hears…He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and
making it known to you.” (Jn 14:26; 16:7,13-14)
If Jesus were to stay physically on the Earth He could have
only been in one place at a time but now that He is in Heaven He has sent His
Spirit to live within every Christian.
Through this Spirit Christians are directly connected to Jesus.
At the heart
of discipleship is community. It begins with an invitation to “Follow me”
which preceding all the deeper meanings of being committed and learning it has
to do with simply putting down what one is currently doing and starting to walk
with Jesus. So for three years Peter and
eleven others walked with Jesus! It was
not all about teaching but about eating together, working together and just
being together, they were a community.
When Jesus left they continued to invite others to walk with Jesus. Now two millennium later people from all over
the world are walking with Jesus as one community.
Some people argue with me and say one
cannot disciple over the Internet because it is not personal community (by that
they mean it lacks face-to-face contact and so is somehow sub-human, not real,
synthetic or fake). To answer this I
argue that Christians, greater than any other group, believe in the reality of
one global community who although they have not seen each other physically are bound
together by the common tie of the Holy Spirit who connects them to the source
they hold in common – Jesus! Christians
in North America already have community with Christians in Africa
through Christ -- the Internet just provides a way for them to talk.
course, if the Internet was the only way a person was being discipled they
would be disadvantaged just as they would be disadvantaged if they only had any
other one method of expressing community.
Steve Woolgar’s and his team of researchers on the impact of technology
discovered that “Virtual technologies supplement rather than substitute for
real activities” For instance when email
became popular people began to dream of a “paperless office” the reality however is both the old and the
new ways become merged into a new way (ex. Leaving a memo on your bosses desk
to let him know you sent an email). Another principle that his team discovered
was that “The more virtual the more real” so
the more a person receives nourishment online the more they can give back into
their ‘real’ life. It is not a matter of
walking on just one of these paths, be it an Internet Ministry, Church Service,
or Care Group, but to go back and forth on several paths for our whole life,
intersecting with other Christians who help us walk better with the Jesus we
love. The Central principle to this is
that God, in His curriculum for everyone’s custom growth, has appointed many
people to use many ways to do this. “It
was he [Jesus] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be
evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for
works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Eph
4:11-12) So at times one will go to
Church, or join a community of scholars through books, or attend a youth
conference whom they will never see again or join a web community whom they may
never meet, all of these are good and together they form the journey of a
disciple with Jesus.
Alexander Bell invented the telephone he thought its primary purpose would be
to deliver news reports and symphonies to the people. Only later when presented with undeniable
evidence was he convinced that it primary going to be used to help people
communicate with each other. Similarly, many people approach the web as if
it was “an Information Super-Highway” alone but from the time Universities
connected to each other to share information they quickly learnt it was a way
to connect with each other. For example
if they changed the name of their files they could “chat” online (“Hi_How_are_you.txt” becomes
“I_am_doing_fine.txt”). The Internet, is
not so much about documents but how they are linked together, that is the
revolution of the hyperlink. “And, most
important, the Web is binding not just pages but us human beings in new
ways. We are the true ‘small pieces’ of
the Web, and we are loosely joining ourselves in ways that we’re still
many things, the Internet is primarily about connecting people through a giant
inter-global community and there is no inter-global community as large as the
Church which needs to be connected.
Stage 2: Putting Out to Sea
he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into deep water, and
let down the nets for a catch." Simon
answered, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught
anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets." When they had
done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to
break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them,
and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon
Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord;
I am a sinful man!" – Luke 5:4-8
At the heart of discipleship is a
community that journeys together with the great teacher Jesus and learns along
the way. Simply subscribing to a
community is not discipleship but rather being part of a community that walks
with Jesus. It is putting out to sea
with Jesus and standing in awe of whom we are beginning to see Him as. In all my searches I have never found a
discipleship pill which I can give away and people will instantly be
transformed, instead discipleship takes place over time as God uses me and
others to reveal Jesus to these people.
Discipleship is about rubbing off on each other.
This was the essence of
His training program – just letting His disciples follow Him. When one stops to
think of it, this was an incredibly simple way of doing it. Jesus had no formal school, no seminaries, no
outlines course of study, no periodic membership classes in which He enrolled
His followers. None of these highly
organized procedures considered so necessary today entered at all into His
ministry. Amazing as it may seem, all Jesus did to teach these men His way was
to draw them close to Himself. He was
His own school and curriculum.”
During this time they learnt from
each other as they rowed together in the presence of Jesus. For instance, at one point as they traveled a
storm developed and the waves began to sweep over the boat. In their worry they woke Jesus who simply
replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” and rebuked the wind and
waves and it was completely calm. Of
course they asked themselves, “What kind of man is this?” (Mt 8:23-27) and that is the point for through
their journeys they were learning that Jesus is the kind of person that you can
trust no matter what happens. That is
the kind of thing you can only learn by being with someone!
So they walked along the streets and
rubbed off on each other, “Who do you think is the greatest among us” they
asked for isn’t it normal for a community to argue and even struggle together?
And out of such struggle Jesus came and picked up a child and taught them what
it means to be the least and the greatest. (Mark 9:33-37)
And Christians still do this
today. We get together in places called
Churches and we learn how to walk together.
We pile our kids onto buses and send them on mission trips not so much
to change the world but to teach them they can make a difference, to show them
the Church is bigger than our small town, and so they can smell the person
beside them on the bus and learn to love each other. We get our adults together in a care group
where they wrestle with the Scriptures and with daily life, they support each
other and help each other find Jesus in their life today. This concept of a community that walk
together is summarized by the revolution of coffee – this simple act of
spending time together and sharing the joys and sorrows of life then subtly leaving a deeper person.
The Internet is not all that much
different. People come together from all
around the world, they share ideas, they argue, they laugh, chat and grow. Is it possible to be discipled online? That is one of the questions I was asking myself
as I sat down to write this paper so I wrote my students and asked them how
Jesus has used the Internet in their lives, here are some of their responses,
5 years ago I answered a personal ad on Crosswalk.com and e-met Remo.
Remo and his mother, Iris run the "Reaching Hand Society" in the
state of Orissa in India.
He tells me of their struggles with Hinduism, witchdoctors, and true
persecution because they - as Christians - are a hated minority. I tell
him about the neighborhood children around our church that I work with - and
the problems of abuse, drugs, neglect, and hopelessness. I don't ever
talk about persecution because hearing about what Christians go through in India
has taught me that being called "holier-than-thou" at work simply doesn't
count. We share our victories and our joys. Through my friendship
with Remo I have learned that our cultures are different, the way we worship is
different, the way we look is different - but our God is the same. – Valerie
Internet has been an absolute life line to me spiritually. I have found
so many Christian resources here. I am learning continually from your
e-mail bible study and from the online bible study by Dr. Charles
Stanley. I also download and listen to lots of sermons, but of course,
doing the Bible studies, makes you think, so are complementary to the sermons
and encourage you to participate, to think and to study, not just to listen.…The
internet has brought me into fellowship with other Christians from all over the
world that I would otherwise never have met, and of course we encourage each
other. It is wonderful. So yes, the internet is a very big part of my Christian
life, and of course, I am able to order Bibles and Christian books online too,
which they don't stock in my local bookshop here in Lincoln, England (its
a very small shop) compared to the American one.
Thank you for your ministry, and others like them, you are a blessing to
so many people, more than you can know. - Patricia
have friends all over the world that I connect with regularly (at least once a
month) many whom I have never met in person. They know that I pray for
them and are real people to me. I care for them like I care
for my friends that I see every week in church or go out for tea with in the evening.
I often write to my friends and I type my prayers right into the notes I write
to them. – Betty, Authentic Walk Leader and Mentor for powertochange.com
I can say that I am amazed at the quantity and quality of Christian resources
on the Internet – a place often thought of as the devils territory! – Gemma
really amazing because I have a whole library at my finger tips. History,
commentaries, bible versions, you can even find Christian classic books in pdf
version. – Annointed
am retired now, and loving it… With Authentic Ministries Online Discipleship, I
have the time to relearn who I am, what the Word is about and to learn anew
what I once cherished. Getting to better
know both God and Jesus. …bring me back to the way I once believed as a young
person, and for me that is a Godsend! – Terry
Internet offers three contributions to the Christian community that other forms
do not offer as easily. The first is
that it brings Christians together from all around the world and thus helps them
see beyond their cultural assumptions.
The second is that allows for students to share their deepest struggles
in a place where they can be anonymous. Finally it allows Christians with any number
of interests, questions, and personality types to find others like themselves
whom they may never find in their tiny city of a 100,000.
and more people seem to be searching for community these days, both on the Net
and in the offline world. At the same
time, community – in the sense of a ‘place’, real or virtual, where one can
find fellowship and a sense of belonging -- is becoming harder to find.... In
all of these virtual communities, kids are baring their souls. Discussions that would make a youth pastor
cringe are frequent on Christian youth forums.
Kids who feel like outcasts in their schools find solace on the Net.”
argued that Internet provides one more way for disciples to intersect paths and
grow but what are some of the ways they do this? A common method is to allow students to write
their one response to what they are reading.
In this way the web site owner becomes a tour guide that starts the
students down a path but as they go they get to talk about it and share ideas.
method is to allow for chat. A very effective
site that uses chat well is called PowerToChange.com which received 652,471
visitors in September 2003 from 167 countries and led 1,014 people to Christ. One of their primary methods is to invite
people to their page to learn about issues they are concerned about and then
sending them into a chat room to engage with other Christians. Sometimes they even host an hour of prayer
where a moderator will guide the guests (Christian and non) through a process
of taking prayer requests and then taking turns praying for them.
method is seen in a new trend called “Blogging” where anyone can write their
journal online and others can read it and get to know them. Trinity
is incorporating a strategy similar to that by allowing all their students to
have their own web page where they can share news about their lives, events,
photos and interesting web pages.
Students can then subscribe to their friends page and get updates on it. Pratt
and Puloff (leaders in online education) write about the need for such
need for social connection is a goal that almost supersedes the
content-oriented goals for the course.
Students need to gather in cyberspace, just as they do on the campus of
a university. To accomplish this, they
need to establish a sense of presence online; that allows their personality to
come through to others in the group.
This may create a sense of freedom, allowing otherwise unexplored parts
of their personality to emerge.
method is an even newer technology called “Wiki Wiki” which is Hawaiian for
“Quick Quick” and it allows one person
to start an article and then anyone else to come along and edit it. Its initial application is a Worldwide
Encyclopedia but if it was applied to a Community of Discipleship then each
member could have a role in forming a guide to Christian growth thus increasing
both ownership and breadth of thought.
Stage 3: Stepping Back on Land
Jesus said to Simon, "Don't be afraid; from now on you will catch
men." So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed
him. – Luke 5:11
only meant for part of the journey! In
this model a boat symbolizes a place where disciples get together and help each
other grow closer to God. For instance,
every week Christians go to Church, learn together, then go back and minister
to the world. The same is true for Youth
Conferences, Books, and even Web Pages.
Jesus brings them into people’s lives for a time because that is part of
time when Jesus was on Earth His disciples watched Him as He healed people and
preached the good news. In private they
got around and talked about it then Jesus sent them off to do the same (Mt
10:1) They were not transformed over
night but after three years Jesus said to them, “Go into all the world and make
disciples…” (Mt 28:19) Their three years
together could be summarized as “Get together”, “Grow together”, then “Go into
all the world”.
This is the
same strategy that I used in my youth group.
I found twelve young people who wanted to grow and I made a team. We spent time together watching movies,
planning youth events and going for soda’s at McDonald’s. They watched with joy when over 200 of their
peers came to thirty hour famine and they each had a part. We saw each other struggle and we prayed for
each other. Over time they started to
dream and I tried to release their dreams and make it happen. When I left that Church they kept the youth
ministry running with their kids programs, skate nights and fellowships. The reason for their success is that I
believed in them and sent them back into their world one step at a time in
order to transform it.
I try to do
the same on the Internet. For some
reason God has brought the students to this web page as part of His curriculum
for their lives. For a moment our paths
intersect and I get to grow with them.
The goal is to build a community where people walk together for a time,
are challenged, and leave knowing the Jesus they walk with better. Currently I do this by responding to their
posts and encouraging them in what they are doing, through the lessons I
challenge them to put the material into practice, then I invite them to become
leaders. Based on the testimonies I
received from my students (see above) Authentic Walk Ministries is having an
effect on their life; however, Authentic Walk itself is still on a journey of
expressing Christ’s Community. In order
to enhance Community I need to give the students more opportunities to be
involved (so we can walk together instead of just having them follow behind);
specifically, every student needs to have a place where they can write their
own devotionals, respond to each others questions and increasingly grow in
their online ministry (by giving them opportunities to teach, moderate, develop
resources and position in Authentic Walk Ministries). Since this, like all other discipleship
ministries, is only a supplement there needs to be different levels of
commitment (just receiving emails, anonymous reader of articles, active
respondent, moderator, and leader). The
biggest change however will be the presentation of what it means to be part of
this sub-community; whereas before it was helping oneself to articles, now it
will be coming together to help each other grow closer to God. This will be expressed through the new image
(explained above) of a many walking people coming together around the cross
then going out to change the world and lived out through increased emphasis on
discussion, contribution and becoming a leader.
happens when two or more Christians walk together for a time, grow from each
other, and then go along their way on their lifelong journey with Jesus. The common bond between them is not a Church,
or a book or a Web Page but Jesus. He is
the great discipler who has a custom plan for each of His disciples. Every Christian has been invited to join a
great Community of followers of Jesus who help each other along the way. The Internet is provides a powerful way for
Christians to connect from all around the world and point each other to Jesus. The emphasis of online discipleship is not to
get people to read content but to walk beside others who are walking with Jesus
and to let that relationship rub off on them.
Careaga, Andrew. eMinistry: Connecting with the Net
Generation. Grand Rapids,
Brittney, “Developing Personal and Emotional Relationships Via Computer –
Mediated Communication”, May 1998. http://www.december.com/cmc/mag/
Richard R. Transforming our Days: Spirituality, Community and Liturgy in a
Technological Culture. New York:
A Crossroads Books, 2000.
Grenz, Stanley and Leighton Ford. Created for
Community: Connecting Christian Belief With Christian Living. Baker Book House, 1998.
Hagel, John III and Arthur G. Armstrong. Net.gain:
Expanding Markets Through Virtual Communities. Boston,
Massachusetts: Harvard Business
School Press, 1997.
Hanks, Billie Jr. and William A. Shell. Discipleship:
The Best Writings from the Most Experienced Disciple Makers. Grand Rapids, MI:
Zondervan Publishing House, 1981.
LaRue, John Jr. “The Internet: Blessing or Curse for
Pastors.” Your Church. (Mar/Apr 2001),
Neuharuser, Peg and Ray Bender, Kirk Stromberg. Culture.com:
Building Corporate Culture in the Connected Workplace. Toronto: John Wiley & Sons Canada, LTD.,
Rheingold, Howard. Smart Mobs the Next Social
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Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books Group, 2002.
Palloff, Rena M and Keith Pratt. Building Learning
Communities in Cyberspace. San Franciso, Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1999.
Priebe, Chris. “History of Authentic Walk” <http://www.authenticwalk.com/ FAQItem.php?art=392&c=&id=12>
indexed on Nov 23, 2003.
Weinberger, David. Small Pieces Loosely Joined. Cambridge, MA:
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All Scriptures taken from the NIV version of the Bible.