On Being Discipled in an Internet Age

As the Oxford Declaration on Christian Faith and Economics states, “Technology mirrors the basic paradox of the sinfulness and goodness of human nature. . . . As we vigorously criticize the negative effects of technology, we should, however, not forget its positive effects.” 

It is easy to focus on the negative aspects of technology and the Christian man: distraction, access to pornography, isolation, etc. Discussing the dangers of technology is important, but we should not forget to celebrate the positive contributions of technology.

One example of a hugely positive contribution that technology has brought to men in the 21st century is the ability to find amazing quantities of high quality discipleship material. Among the dangerous websites, sources of distraction and bad doctrines, there are brilliant examples of phenomenal Christian content available and ready. It really eliminates any excuse that a modern man has of not being discipled.

Certainly sermons, podcasts, blogs, and e-books will never replace person-on-person accountability. However, never before have so many excellent resources been made available, often at no cost.

Are you struggling with your marriage? Go to Desiring God’s website and search for the sermon series on marriage. Watch it, read it, or listen to it. This can be done on your daily commute instead of listening to sports radio (one of my favorite ways to ease an hour long drive in traffic).

Is it just that you need more time of Bible study? Download some expositional sermons from Alistair Begg and follow his course of study. Then try to find the same passage preached by Matt Chandler, David Platt, or others. There is an immense reservoir of teaching available on the internet.

What if you want to know more about theology so that you have a firmer foundation for your faith? Some solid, evangelical seminaries like Reformed Theological Seminary put the lectures which were presented to their students and sent out to their online students to get course credit. You can get the content on many topics in an electronic format for free.

Also, many seminaries, like Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, are offering MOOCs. MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Class. You can get content similar to that offered to a seminary student through your home computer. Does this entirely replace the need for seminary? No, there are benefits to going to a brick-and-mortar campus and participating in a community of scholars. On the other hand, there is no reason for the lay person to struggle with hermeneutics while teaching Sunday School when he can take Danny Akin’s hermeneutics class for free.

Are you struggling in a conversation about inerrancy and different worldviews?  Vern Poythress wrote a book about it and has made a PDF version available for free on the website that he shares with John Frame. You can access a number of helpful resources for free from these two faithful scholars.

What about leading family worship? It may be that your church publishes an excellent curriculum already or that you are successful in developing your own. However, if you need help David Platt’s ministry, RADICAL, has produced some helpful resources. Joel Beeke’s book on the theology and implementation of family worship is available online.

The catalog of resources could go on and on. My point is simple: there are many high quality resources available at a low cost or even free because of technology. God is good. He provided the human ability for humans to invent this technology; it is now our responsibility to use it well.

Here are some practical steps to begin taking advantage of the available resources:

1.       Outline your goals. Before you start downloading every sermon in your favorite preacher’s archive, it is important to know what you are aiming for. Are you a seminary student trying to improve your preaching? Are you a layman seeking to broaden your knowledge in a particular discipline? Do you need basic discipleship and a bump up in your intake of Scripture? Once you know have an idea what you are aiming at, you will be able to target your resource gathering so you don’t get a formless mass of material that you will never use.

2.       Develop a strategy. This is completely dependent on your schedule and the patterns of your life. However, I found that if I didn’t have a playlist of sermons set up on Sunday evening, I would spend my hour long commutes listening to soap operas sports radio instead of listening to something that helped me to grow spiritually. Figure out what opportunities you have for using the available resources, then look for resources to fill the time.

3.       Have some favorites as standbys. During my five years of commuting an hour each direction, I found that there were sermons that I enjoyed hearing over and over again. I had a separate playlist on my MP3 player for use on those days where I needed to be encouraged about the importance of working, being a good husband and father, or having a call to ministry. When those days rolled around, I would find an old standby and listen for the encouragement.

4.       Be reasonable. There are millions of hours of content available on the internet. You could spend your entire week listening to the backlog of sermons out there. Therefore, it is important to have reasonable boundaries around the use of the resources and also to set goals that aren’t going to cause you to burn out. Trust me, you won’t really spend 20 hours each week listening to John Frame’s lectures in the long run. They are high quality, but at some point you’ll reach overload. Your chances of success will improve if you target “down time” you already have available and try to use those times more efficiently rather than trying to carve out more time from your schedule.

5.       Beware the trap of comparisons. As you listen to sermons and lectures online, it is easy to fall into the trap of comparing the preacher on your MP3 player to your local pastor. Most of us don’t sit under an Andy Davis, John Piper, or a Mark Driscoll. There are certain men that have been given talents in greater measure than others, or who have had opportunities to develop those talents more than others. Don’t expect your local pastor to as energetic as John Piper, as rational and clear as Tim Keller, or as engaging as David Platt. Nothing will kill your joy at your local church like comparing your pastor to some of these other men.

How do you use the internet as a resource for discipleship? Share your comments below.