We sat by the pool side by side, my companion and I. We watched the sun set, sipped on a glass of wine and talked quietly for hour and a half about the events of the day. Periodically we would briefly touch hands or exchange a quick glance. Rich dialogue emerged from questions and clarifications, from free exploration of ideas and possibilities, from active listening and unforced flow of thought.
We ended the conversation, both changed, both relaxed, both savoring the joy of having been heard by the other.
I have in front of me the NY Times magazine from June 7, 2015, an issue titled, “American technology is changing the world–whether the world likes it or not.” Yesterday, I listened to several speakers about the absolute necessity of integrating technology into the life of the church. I learned we must consistently and frequently insert our brands and ideas into the compressed world of the 140 character tweet. We must create worship services so flexible that they can change in an instant if new information, that never-ending flow that endlessly eddies around us, suddenly makes it necessary to do so.
There will be no loyalty from the millennials, so we oldsters are told. They’ll come, often only by electronic means, get what they want, and then leave. No such thing as long-term commitments. We must tweet, brand, post, produce; they will pick and choose and then move onto the next big thing.
But the human need for deep intimacy will not change. We all long to know and to be known. We need to touch and be touched. Nothing replaces the joy of the heartfelt hug, the hand-in-hand journey into the unknown.
The church as my generation (Boomers) has known it will inevitably disappear. That’s OK. It served a purpose, and did much good–as well as much harm. The new paradigm of the digital church will rise on the backs of the short attention spans and multi-tasking minds of the millennials and the generation following them. It will do much good and much harm.
But the mandate to make disciples, those who will follow Jesus to the cross, into death and back to life again does not disappear in the midst of the move to a digital church environment. Disciples are made, shaped, formed, taught by the one-on-one and the one with a few others. This is how love must be learned and practiced: face to face with one another, face to face with ourselves as the other helps us to see through the pervasive self-deception that infects all humankind. The digital world cannot replace this try though it might.
Discipleship relationships, like all human relationships, are messy, convoluted processes. Dead ends, failures, and dry deserts litter the paths and shape the journeys. A leader can find many followers but few will actually be disciples. Mass communication techniques are today’s equivalent of feeding the five thousand. But of those five thousand, only one named disciple, John, along with Mary, Jesus’ mother, hung on through the cross. Just small fraction ended up in the Upper Room when the Day of Pentecost arrived, the day the church was born.
For ten days, they waited and prayed. Ten days. Our current world makes it hard to wait ten minutes. But that is the world we live in and we must accommodate to it. We don’t, we die. That’s life. But as we do, we must not forget that our call to make disciples will always transcend current methods, always bring intense challenge, always remind us that many are called and few chosen.