the road ahead

Virtual Discipleship
April 28, 2009, 4:40 am
Filed under: ministry, spirituality


Is it possible to mentor/disciple someone over the internet? What kind of relationship is created when the primary relational contact is via computer? Does the Great Commission allow for the internet?

There are discussions taking place now among those in the Christian-based social networking world on this very subject. Personally, I believe that in these digital days, unless we embrace the internet as part of our discipleship plan, we will fail miserably to connect at deep levels with individuals.

Take a look at this research on the church and social networking. Has this had an impact on your life?


11 Comments so far
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I think I would be hard pressed to say that “deep” one on one discipleship could take place via the internet – to me one of the most important parts is that eye to eye time that you would have, and not via a web cam – To me it’ the same premise of a D-now weekend with guest leaders/speakers who come in but “hand-off” to the local leaders the ongoing discipleship that needs to take place. People are going to hurt, laugh, enjoy and all of that, how are you there to hug, cry with, laugh with if you’re not there?
Just my thoughts –

Comment by mark ramsey

Some mentoring/discipleship aspects can be handled in writing through e-mail and IM. Video services such as Skype and Google Talk make it easy to talk and interact over the internet, but nothing is better than sitting down together, eye to eye, to talk about spiritual things. Discernment often works better in person. Internet mentoring is better than no mentoring and should be part of the process when distance is involved.

Comment by James Ferrier

I don’t think online mentoring would work very well for me, but I would be willing to try it (it may even surprise me). As for the younger generation, I think it would work and could be valuable to reach others. Today, so many friendships, discussions and relationships are maintain online. We must embrace and adapt.

Comment by Michael

I am in the process of developing a hybrid of virtual & personal discipleship. I am working with several youth for whom I am personalizing discipleship material through web pages created for each student. They will be able to print the material to work on, but we will discuss it through a combination of e-mail, SMS, and face-to-face as circumstances allow. I believe the last is a requisit for real discipleship to take place. Discipleship must include accountability, and that must be personal. To sum it up, I believe the virtual world can be a tool in discipleship but real human contact is a necessity. A disciple can’t immulate the mentor if they don’t see their life.

Comment by Scott Maxwell

Actually I’m glad to see you addressing this question.I’m all for discipleship in any format and I believe to continue to reach the next generations we’d better stay on the cutting edge of their preferred type of communication. I see my seventeen-year-old downloading podcasts of her favorite pastor’s sermons and I have a small window into what may be our biggest opportunity to disciple teenagers.Twitter, Facebook, blogs and podcasts are invaluable tools for this. I just hope the majority of good ministries catch on.And one last thing before I go, I also feel that way about e-books. I hope our publishing world embraces them. God bless you,
Suzy Parish

Comment by Suzy Parish

Your point on “deep levels” is paramount. Certainly one-on-one has worked. Yet, it has been documented that discipleship best happens in the context of group. Using social media is not a means to an end. It is a wonderful tool in order to NETWORK one to a local group of believers. I participate in a “discipleship” forum on Facebook only for the purpose of stimulation and thought, not acting as personal discipleship for my necessary growth. I do that in group.

Comment by Ron Harvey

Hi Dr. Miller (being formal because of the media),
To expand on my previous post, my observation of Internet discipleship sites leads me to conclude that most do not take into consideration the individual needs of the disciple. They are formatted to teach specific principles with a question answer format (similar to most written material). Some provide a blog experience where individual feedback is available taking it closer to a real discipleship experience, but I am convinced that the discipleship experience needs to be even more personal than this. Not only do we need the ability to dialog with the disciple, but we need to actually frame the material and questions for each disciples life experience and Christian developmental stage. This is time consuming, but investing in a persons life takes time. It seems that most sites see the Internet as a resource to influence more people at digital speed. I am becoming convinced that the internet has the means to influence more people, but we need to remember that Jesus dealt with each of His disciples individually. Peter was not like John, and Jesus didn’t treat him as though he were. If we are to take discipleship on the Internet serious, we must take each disciple’s place in life and their Christian experience serious. By the way, I am also finding written Discipleship material limiting in the mentor/disciple process. Even with written material the mentor must take the time to present the information in a personal manner with each disciple. In summation, if the Internet is used as a quick way to simply reach more numbers it will be a failure in the area of real discipleship. The Internet and the virtual world can be a viable tool in discipleship, but it will take work as I am discovering!

Comment by Scott Maxwell

Discipleship is Life.(Not theory or just christian principles)
And the web 2.0 is part of our virtual life, so it will be a very helpful tool to help the process of making each individual into the image of Christ.
My wife for example has the opportunity to advise many young women. They feel more comfortable to open their hearth. Sometimes, face to face, on the phone, etc. Internet is another space, but a very prominent one.


Comment by David Reina

Thanks Mike, et al – great comments, and especially realizing the fact that there is a need, dare I say dire need and ever growing.

Discipleship in simple terms is influencing others for and in Christ, through teaching, mentoring, etc. Moreover, to cause a renewal, thought and transformation for one to follow Christ and in turn disciple. In essence, discipleship is about learning with heart, mind and soul.

We are discipled in other ways, small groups, one on one interaction, over lunch, in our colleges and seminaries, from the pulpit, etc.

The Internet is the next great venue to accomplish this. The more Christian presence, the more opportunity for discipling.

Comment by David Brownlee

I think the Internet can be part of mentoring and discipleship, and may even have advantages that face time does not. More on that in a moment. However, and this is a huge however, if mentoring and discipleship are only done online, then the important aspects of being formed in Christ in the context of community are left out. On the Internet, both discipler and disciplee show the other what they want to show. They can choose their words carefully. They can hide their feelings. There’s no benefit of body language, eye contact, or touch. No one will see how they treat their spouse or kids or the waitress at the coffee shop or the guy who cuts them off on the freeway. If they’re having a bad day, they may just choose not to interact that day and the opportunity for seeing how Jesus fits into our sin and brokenness is lost. There’s not much opportunity for “on-the-job” training–that is, mentoring in real life and in real time. So I think ideally we will have face time as well as internet time.

HOWEVER, there are a couple of advantages to internet. Obviously one is that it overcomes distance. WHen those we have discipled move away, or when God gives opportunity to build friendships with people in limited access countries–these are a couple of examples of how internet can help in disciplemaking where other means may not be available.

Also, and this is just my opinion, it seems that sometimes people will reflect more deeply when they are forced to articulate their thoughts in writing. The process may slow some busy folks down and cause them to reflect more, which is usually a good thing.

Just some thoughts . . .

Comment by Cynthia

We were just having this conversation yesterday with some other pastors at The #orange09 conference in Atlanta GA. It is vital that the church continues to be relevant to our ever changing culture, but I’m finding that for the most part, the Church has always been behind the curve when it comes to having a presence online. (a quality presence at that!)

I think the great commission DOES include the Internet, but here is the question: can online interaction/community do the same thing that in-the-flesh interaction/ community does, or is it just a means to an end of getting those online plugged into a local church?

Comment by Anna Meadows

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