In my two previous posts concerning internet ministry (“What is it?” and “Evangelism and Discipleship“), I defined internet ministry as “the use of online services, apps, functions, and technologies in order to serve people with the intention of helping those people grow in maturity towards Christ” and concluded that even if we pursue evangelism online, our ultimate goal should be discipleship – that is, not simply making converts, but helping people maturing in their walk with Jesus Christ.
In this post, I am will discuss one of the major benefits of serving people using online resources, and I will show how this benefit can also be a disadvantage.
Of course, the benefit that I’m talking about (as indicated in the title of this post) is the global connection, meaning that by using online resources we are able to connect to people all around the world. Until very recently (less than 100 years), if I wanted to communicate with someone in another country, it would take days, weeks, even months or more. Today, I can talk with people from every country on the planet in seconds.
In previous generations, the only people who could carry on conversations with people of different religions were those who traveled to different countries, or those with neighbors who were part of different religions. Today, anyone with a computer or cell phone with an internet connection can communicate and interact with people from any number of belief systems.
So, the ability to communicate with other people has been drastically improved through the use of online resources. Because of the advancements in communication, many have compared the invention of the internet to the invention of the printing press. And, in many ways, the two inventions are similar. Both inventions dramatically increased the ability to communicate ideas.
This then, leads to one of the disadvantages of this new global connection. But, let’s take a step back and consider the practices of the apostles and other Christians as demonstrated in Scripture. Often, Peter, Paul, James and others would desire to communicate with other believers in distant lands. They would then write letters – often dictating the letters to others who could write – and then send those letters by couriers, a process that could take weeks or months to complete.
However, neither Peter nor Paul nor James nor any others mentioned in the Scriptures relied completely on long distance communication methods. The letters were generally sent with other people who were to live among the recipients and help them with any problems they may have. Thus, the long distance communication was combined with personal interaction.
In fact, in many of Paul’s letters, instead of simply telling his readers what to do, he would remind them of how he himself had lived while he was among them. Thus, the letters were only part of an ongoing process of discipleship that included past interaction and present interaction. In other words, these people knew one another face-to-face, not just through letters.
With the advantages of today’s global connectivity, it is easy to lose sight of the importance of face-to-face interaction. As we help people walk with Christ, no written words – no matter how eloquent – can replace a living example.
It’s easy to hide behind a computer screen and never interact with others face-to-face. We must never allow our “online” ministry to replace the process of building mutually discipling relationships with other people that God brings into our lives. In fact, internet ministry should work to supplement – not replace – our service to other people in our neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, etc.
So, as we attempt to disciple people using online resources, we must remember that internet ministry – as with other types of long distance communication – works best when it is accompanied by face-to-face, personal interaction, either with us or with other Christians who can demonstrate a maturing faith by example.