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Home > Issues > 2013 > Summer > Discipling the Hyper-Connected

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.

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Related Topics:AuthenticityCommunicationMentoring
From Issue:e-ministry, Summer 2013 | Posted: July 17, 2013

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Displaying 1–5 of 6 comments

Ivy Phillips

September 07, 2013  2:49pm

This is such an insightful article! Our generation is sorely lacking in spiritual fathers! It seems to me that hardly anyone takes the time to understand and mentor young adults, so we grow up lost and searching for a direction that will take us somewhere. It touches my heart to read this because it lets me know that there are people out in the world who care about our generation and are willing to take the time to know us, hear us, and help us as we make our way into maturity. I think it is wonderful that Pastor Chris is able to take social media and use it to build relationships. Great article!

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Kathryn Heldman

September 06, 2013  10:15pm

The development of Media into Social Media is widespread. I've often wondered if it has caused my generation to be less effective communicators in the absence of a screen or keyboard. I find it's often hard for many of my close friends to have a conversation yet, very easy for them to type one. Still, having grown up in the media era, I can't help but love it and remain amazed by its growth. Having been a subject of a social handshake or two via both PC and Dr. Blake Rackley, I know how effective it is. Even though we put statuses, tweets, and pictures all over the internet for all eyes to see, we tend to believe they get lost in the sea of incoming updates. We assume things will go overlooked and we will remain unseen just as in a crowded hall. To hear someone say, "I loved that picture you posted," or, "I noticed your status," or, "you seemed sad in your tweet," not only opens the door to a relationship, it affirms worth - worth of being noticed in an ever growing crowd. Inspiring!

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Beverly Trevisol

September 06, 2013  2:56pm

What a wonderful testimony of two Christian men using modern technology and social media to connect with our younger generation, opening doors for witnessing, mentoring and sharing Christ's love. To be a good disciple of The Word, we must first be open and approachable. By making themselves accessible to students and using the communication tools familiar to this generation, Chris and Blake are able to take the first step into the lives of their students, paving the way to a deeper relationship. Thank God for both of them and their dedication to discipleship. Enjoyed this article so much!

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Nate Hogan

September 06, 2013  9:10am

Maxwell’s skill at observing and connecting with the college students proves that technology can be a place where relationship can begin. His narrative begins with distance but moves to deep relational connection. Older generations criticize modern social media and technology as an erosion of healthy boundaries and substitution for authentic relationship. Yet Maxwell is diligent to point out that technology is not a substitute for relationship, but a tool to build relationship. In speaking to his colleague Dr. Rackley, it is evident the reader is to adopt an attitude that is not culture-centric. I say this for the benefit of older generations who may be more critical of social media. One may assume that Dr. Rackley is immersed in technology. Yet the article reflects that the author and the professor do not consider themselves to be. Instead, modern technology utilizing social media is merely a means to an end, relationship. They develop their relationships with personal contact (that is, the real old fashioned way). Gen Xers and Baby Boomers ought to seek to cross generational lines to build a familial church. It is apparent that Maxwell and his colleague do so. Maxwell’s observes that Millennial’s hunger for mentorship. Older Christ- followers should willingly make personal connections to be present with young Christians and offer the presence, love, and guidance they crave. In summary, Maxwell’s observation that technology should be used as a tool for building discipleship relationships is wisdom for the more “mature” among us.

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Richard Robertson

September 06, 2013  9:08am

This is an amazing article! I was in Spiritual Formation 1 class taught by Chris, and he truly ministers this way. His ability to adapt to culture and trends to reach out is such a blessing to have in my life. Blake Rackley is also great at this concept. Both always seem to know when exactly I need a text or call. I honestly would not be the man I am today without these two guys ministering to me. Chris is always finding neat little ways to meet his students where they are in their lives. I have watched as he has helped so many students' lives change because he was willing to be there for them. Thank you Chris for tackling this unnecessarily sensitive topic!

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