Dismissing my spiritual formation class, I walked to the window and gazed across the campus. I noticed five students sitting together—three on a bench and two on the quad's grass. But they weren't talking to each other. They made eye contact only with their phones. They were so close, yet so far apart.
So I decided to enter their world. I texted one of them, "I can see you." Then another, "I am watching."
From my perch on the third floor, I watched them. They began laughing and looking around—and telling the others about the texts. They had a common goal: to find me. When they did, I waved and came downstairs to join them. They put aside their devices, and we enjoyed a time of conversation and laughter together.
In making disciples, it isn't enough to glance from the window and notice. We must teach relationships. We must design groups for growth and apprenticeship. We mentor and coach. But how can we meet this multi-tasking audience right where they are, while also guiding them toward deeper interaction with Christ and each other?
We welcome modern technology but we dare not end our connections there. Is there a way to reach Millennials through digital media while guiding them gently toward stronger relational ties?
A Spiritual Father
Digital natives still desire mentoring. My friend Josh knows the pain of seeking a father. His earthly father was enslaved by addiction and eventually left his family, but Josh still looks for an example, a servant leader, a mentor. Josh says, "The absence of a father is like a handicap; it leaves members of my generation broken. We're constantly in search of that love and acceptance we didn't get from our fathers. Many have looked for it in things like sex. We build relationships out of lust instead of love. Spiritual fathers are crucial. They teach us how to love, how to live in community, how to be in a family. Those things are almost impossible to learn alone. Some never get it, so they turn into absent fathers like they had."
Josh and I began our conversations through email and text. We engaged in brief conversations in group settings. But we needed to move from a third floor window view to level ground, to dialogue, to togetherness. Josh says, "Chris and I began talking at a campus restaurant. Soon I opened up and told him about my struggles. From there, we continued meeting for food and conversation. Trust was built over time; I saw that he was genuine. Now he continues speaking over my life. His influence has taken root and helped changed me from the inside."
A New Status
Though face-to-face interaction is best, I still use modern means of communication. By engaging social media, I can connect with a 20-something that may tweet if he's depressed or just facing overwhelming challenges. When we read words of sadness or deep hurt, we might be tempted to simply dismiss them as just another Facebook friend working through their problems. Paradoxically, in our high-tech world, we are better able to broadcast our feelings, yet there's also a tendency to ignore these hard realities.
After reading one such post, I didn't respond on Twitter or Facebook. Neither did I call; I've found phone calls don't have the same effect on today's young people. I needed to initiate the conversation correctly. So I sent a simple text, asking if I could pick him up and drive him to church. His response? "I'll be ready in 10."