Sept. 18, 2020

Why digital discipleship?

Why digital discipleship?

In this episode, I discuss why digital discipleship is so important to Christians.

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Be good and do good.


This episode of balancing the Christian life we answer the question why digital discipleship? Welcome to balancing the Christian life. My name is Dr. Kenny Embry. We'll talk about how to be better Christians and better people in a digital age. Let's go. Thanks for joining me. The next few episodes, I want to focus on an idea I've been passionate about for a long time. I call it digital discipleship. Although I wasn't the person who came up with that idea, or this term. Nona Jones is a Facebook employee and a Christian thought leader. She's written an excellent book on digital discipleship, and I share a lot of the same thoughts she has. I also got a lot of feedback from my last episode. In case you missed that episode, I talked to Wyatt Taylor about introducing digital discipleship tools to a church in Louisville, Kentucky. And I was both surprised and not surprised by the reaction. Yesterday, I interviewed two guys who started Appian Media, which does some amazing video work on YouTube, and recently started their own podcasts. I'll also feature a friend of mine who started an ethical leadership podcast. Both of those episodes are coming in the following weeks. We've already talked to a buddy of mine, Kris Emerson, who has a really great podcast called Excel still more. Again, I highly recommend you go out and listen to him as well. In other words, I know a lot of guys who are doing great work on digital discipleship, but I know that there are many of you who still worry about it. I get it. When I started the podcast in episode one. I said, I'm someone who thinks it's a great idea. I'm a cheerleader. And I think it's the natural extension of what Jesus started. When we go back to the Bible story. One of the things that impresses me about the biblical teachers is where we see them teaching. Jesus used a mountain. Paul taught in jail. Peter went to Cornelius his house. Yes, we read about Paul going to teach in the synagogue, it seems to me the teachers in the Bible went and taught where the people were. The Gospels and epistles are filled with relationships, conversations, and conversions. The power of the gospel is when somebody hears and follows the story of Jesus. It's when people help other people become better Christians. I don't mean this to sound melodramatic, just simple. Likewise, in the parable of the sower, God talks about spreading Christianity everywhere. How people decide to take it is up to them. But our job is to make sure everybody has the opportunity to hear. God asks us to spread the word, and then trust him to make others grow. In some ways, the call to digital discipleship isn't strange at all. In the last part of Matthew, Jesus tells his followers to go teach everybody what they know. We call it the Great Commission. The idea we can do it online. really isn't that revolutionary at all. What is revolutionary is what's happened to traditional media. When I was growing up, we had four television stations ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS. Some people like cable, and HBO, which showed unedited movies on TV, we had a handful of radio stations, most of them AM and a few FM, we had two daily newspapers, one filled with national and state news. And one filled with county news. We had two local movie houses one with the good popcorn, and one with the new movies went to die at a buck a show and where they would sell you the movie posters after they were done with them. We occasionally bought records or tapes, and we all thought CDs looked really cool, but who could afford a CD player and going to the grocery, we would occasionally get some magazines with celebrity pictures and articles about the lives they led three months ago, school had book drives, where you could bring home a sheet with book descriptions, and mark the books you wanted to buy from scholastic and a check from your parents, which would arrive in about a month or so if you're of a certain age. All this sounds familiar. The idea of getting a television show which would talk about Jesus or feature my local church, or make a movie which would play at the local cinema or make a tape which we could mass produce and handout or even get an article in our newspaper was unrealistic. The budget to make any of that happen was outside the discussion. few places have the right tools to make the stuff you might want to make. And getting the people with the tools and the expertise to make that stuff much less the ability to get people to make it available to watch read or listen was just never a real discussion. Unless you were Billy Graham. There was no way anybody would hear your message except at church on a Sunday with a preacher. Meanwhile, back at church, people who worship together would create a collection. If they were blessed. They would get a building get a mortgage, hire a preacher to they could pay a salary decide on a schedule, which allowed people to both work in worship, and figure out how they would obey God, you tried to get your neighbors interested in Christianity and Christianity often happened at the place with the mortgage and the preacher. Church was always the people. Nobody thought Christianity was confined to a building or a single day. It's just we always saw those people on Sunday, at the building with the preacher, the media consumed and the religion you followed, just didn't have much chance to mingle. And it was all tied to an event, which happened every Sunday, which was followed by lunch, and an app. preachers railed against the movies at the theater or the shows on TV. But nobody thought church would change the media, or that media would cater to the church. They were just two entirely different things. But the media landscape I just described is ancient history. The local newspaper hangs on in some places, but is largely dead. movie theaters somehow survive broadcast television is barely relevant. And radio has become more plentiful, but not nearly as powerful. The Internet disrupted the mall by making the ability to make the stuff you read, watch or listen to cheaper and easier to make and distribute. And media stopped being at the movie theater, television set or newspaper stand, and instead went to your pocket. The tools for digital discipleship aren't really new. The internet has been mainstream since 1995. On December 15 1996, I bought my first book on Amazon back when that's all they sold. Blogs have been around since 94. The first podcast came in 2004. YouTube came in 2005, and Facebook in 2006. Computers, smartphones and all the hardware has been around for 10 years or much more. But a few things have changed. I worked in television back when Bill Clinton was president. At my small station in Bowling Green, Kentucky. I saw us go from huge cassettes of tape to expensive computers, which allowed us to edit video digitally, the quality was okay, but the price was ridiculous. My station spent $10,000 on a camera and $9,000 on a computer to edit the video at shot. And the programs we had to learn were likewise ridiculous. They were hard to understand and harder to use today. Do I even need to say what we've got today, my son's two year old phone cost less than a week's worth of groceries when it was new, and can shoot and edit video, record audio and let them access more information than any library ever housed. You're not surprised? You already know this. Another important thing that's changed is how many people have these tools, and how many people use them. In 2013, approximately half of the people you met had a smartphone. This year, that number is closer to 80%. And people 49 and under have a 92% chance of having a smartphone. When you make that age under 30, the number goes to 98%. And as of 2019, over half of those over the age of 65. Also have one To put that in perspective. 96% of all US households have a TV. In other words, now is an interesting time. We have a history of mass media which has changed and a bunch of people with smartphones with them all the time. You can argue whether that's good or not. What's not really debatable is we're not going back. Look if I have my wallet and keys but forget my smartphone. I'm turning around and going back in the house to get it. It's that important if these are the tools we have, and if this is the message God has asked us to share, doesn't it make sense to learn these tools? The amazing history of Christianity is how it keeps changing the lives through the telling of one story. And that story can be told really well in the media, in text, audio, and video. Critics of digital signage. I often like to point out how none of this is a replacement for meeting together with others who love God. They recognize there's nothing magical about the announcements to songs and opening prayer, the Lord's Supper in a sermon. Those are acts of worship, they are God. And while we can bicker about the formulaic way those elements are often put together. God wants us to be physically together. I agree. God wants us together. But who said digital discipleship was a replacement for being together in one place. Look, the core of Christianity is to tell people about Jesus. Worship is one of those things. But spreading the word isn't confined to a building, to a time or to a medium. We also know how powerful the media is. We can force kids to turn off their phones and screens and we should on occasion, too much of anything isn't good. But once you're gone, they're back on their phones. And if this is where they're going, Christ needs to be there, too. I've heard that criticism of the evil on social media or pornography on the internet, addiction to stuff that's not very important, and how the internet is either a waste of time or destructive, Guilty as charged. And from the other side of the aisle. hypocrites still worship at church. People still sin. And it seems like nobody is perfect. It's amazing. When you put people together, both good stuff, and bad stuff happens. But I don't think anybody should argue against being in a church, because flawed people make it happen. And I don't think arguing away digital discipleship is helpful either, because parts of it are abused. But Christianity isn't a sermon. It isn't a website. It isn't a podcast or a YouTube series. And it's also not a church. It's not a worship service. Christianity is a relationship. And Luke 10 when he was asking about what's most important, Jesus said, to love God, and love others, the important part of Christianity is the relationship. Does God want us to worship together? emphatically? Yes. But how else do you create and maintain your relationships? Now, I don't know about you. But on our way home from work, my wife calls me. She talks I talk. She tells me what's on her mind, and I do the same. I gave her a birthday card this morning. I took some pictures of her to remind us of that time we went to New York before all the Coronavirus, craziness. The fact that all this is going through a medium is merely incidental to the people I love. I communicate through every medium I can. I love telling you about my friends. I love telling you about my wife. And I love telling you about my God. He's a great friend, and an amazing Savior. I said at the beginning of my podcast, I'm a cheerleader for digital discipleship. I think it's simply another good way to keep God where he belongs. It's a great way to share God and use properly. It's a powerful set of tools. Can they be misused? Absolutely. All tools can. But can they be used in a way to do good? Absolutely. CPD is a guy I barely know. But he gave me the best definition of blessing I've ever heard. A blessing, he said, Is anything that brings you close to God. And a curse is anything that takes you away. Let's use the tools of digital discipleship to be a blessing. Next week on the podcast, I want you to meet my son and some of his high school friends. This was an interview I did with them in July, about how they see the internet. I think you'll be surprised by their perspective. And I'm thrilled to introduce you to them. So until next week, be good and do good.