Face to Face VS “Friends List”
Let me say first of all that to my knowledge and understanding Facebook has never declared itself to be a “discipleship” tool. In all fairness the failure lies not with Facebook but with individuals who rely on or lean on Facebook for spiritual benefit or gain.
Second, let me establish from the Scriptures the biblical models of discipleship. A study of the Bible demonstrates that discipleship included both corporate training and individual mentoring. The clearest of all passages that I can think of for corporate discipleship is Acts 2:42,
“…they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42, ESV)
A stand out passage on individual discipling and mentoring would be II Timothy 2:2,
“…what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also,” (II Tim 2:2, ESV)
When one studies the methodology of Jesus, one will see that Jesus taught in large crowds and one on one with the disciples. Jesus became very intimate with his disciples as he trained them. Whether he was teaching and training the twelve or the inner circle of three, He was face to face with his disciples.
Let’s not engage in futile and fruitless arguments such as, “they didn’t have microphones, Power Point, television, or pianos, so we shouldn’t use them.” I am well aware that Facebook did not exist when Jesus was discipling both the crowds and His disciples. Don’t miss the point that effective discipleship is intimate and face to face not anonymous and digital.
Since the bible is clear on the intimate, face to face training and mentoring why would we reject such methodology for Facebook? Should we replace face to face catechism with face book simply because it is global? The answer is emphatically no! Cyber-social networks such as Facebook, My Space, and others cannot duplicate the dynamics involved that manifest themselves in corporate and individual contexts.
Marshal McLuhan observed, “We become what we behold. We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” [i] This tells us since Facebook as a medium of social networking on a global scale is far less personal, if not impersonal will have the opposite effect of what believers hope to have.
Encounters on Facebook are more likely to fail in discipling or mentoring individuals due to this lack of face to face encounters. Facebook facilitates superficiality and a smug self-satisfaction that one has done something glorious or majestic by “posting” a verse, a quote, or even a biblical teaching rather than true development of a soul.
In the first place, Facebook is designed to be “user-friendly” rather than demanding, expecting, confrontational, and or corrective. Secondly, there is no real means of exacting accountability of those whom we tweet, text, or post. Third, it is difficult to engage the heart, soul, and mind of a disciple without the dynamics of personal, intimate, face to face one on one encounter.
I know that many will respond vehemently that they don’t use Facebook as their exclusive means of spiritual maturation. Many are involved in local churches and are involved in one-on-one ministries. For this I am grateful to God. Nor do I want to discount those few times a verse or one liner might truly bless someone.
Many fear the local church has failed. Many criticize the church for being dead, cold, and lifeless. In many cases this is absolutely true. I visited a church yesterday that is in the final stages of death. I think a few in the small group of 27 people who were scattered through an auditorium that had been built for probably 200 knew they were moments from death. You will get no argument from me that some individual local churches need to close and be replaced. I would argue that they need not be replaced by cyber-space social networking congregations.
Some are beginning to think this way – “we choose our friends on line and whom we will “friend” why not choose a church online?” With Facebook pages, phone apps, and electronic media, one does not need to leave one’s home in order to visit, attend, or even interact with a “church.” Virtual “churches” and congregations can be found all over the internet. Of course this is not Facebook’s fault. However, the development of churches on line, in space, and on Facebook is just one more cog in the wheel of “spiritual consumerism.” One can certainly choose a cyber-congregation and customize it the way you would any other app on your found or computer.
This is why you can read such testimonies and statements in various electronic mediums as, “I hardly ever go to church. I stay connected through Facebook and I can do it from anywhere.” The consensus is one on one, personal and intimate discipleship is irrelevant when Facebook is everywhere.
To be continued…
[i] Marshal McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964), p. xi