When it comes to Christian discipleship, technology gets a bad rap.
I asked some friends what words describe how technology affects their discipleship. They responded with words like “distraction,” “hindrance,” and “temptation.” But they also said more positive things like “learning,” “organization,” and “prompt.”
Despite the positive influences of our digital devices on our lives, many of us don’t see those gains carried over into our discipleship to Jesus.
So how can we use technology to aid our discipleship? We start by reminding our devices of who’s in charge.
TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR TECHNOLOGY
Our phones are so distracting because we extend open invitations for them to be present in our lives. We grant them permission to interrupt us as often as they like and at a schedule that suits them. When we allow phones that kind of access to our lives, it can feel like we’re working for them—not the other way around. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
These days, most phones let you configure your notifications to varying degrees of detail. You can turn off the noise or banners that are triggered when a new notification arrives. App makers often use methods because they know all those pops, dings, and vibrations nag at our inner completionism. This is why I’ve disabled the little numbers in red circles displaying how many unread notifications I have for apps like Facebook and Instagram.
In my better moments, I also find it helpful to check in on email and social media on a set schedule (say once an hour) rather than leaving it open in the background. Checking less frequently is more satisfying, because there’s a higher chance of actually having new content to read, and it also stops Twitter and the like from sucking all my attention in the meantime. I find it helps to leave my phone in another room during family mealtimes for the same reason.
These practices and others like them are necessary for benefiting from digital technology without being overrun by it. Take control of your technology or your technology will take control of you. Once you have taken control of the most obvious ways that your phone distracts you, there are plenty of ways that your phone can support discipleship.
SOME WAYS TECHNOLOGY CAN SUPPORT YOUR DISCIPLESHIP
Determining how best to leverage digital devices in your discipleship goes back to considering what being a disciple of Jesus is and what disciples of Jesus do. For example:
“Blessed is the one . . . whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night” (Ps. 1:1). There are plenty of apps out there to help you meditate on God’s Word like YouVersion, the ESV app, or Bible Gateway, but there are also apps and websites full of helpful resources that can help deepen your understanding of the scriptures (like the site you’re reading now!). Also, don’t forget that you get to choose who you follow on social media. It’s worth taking stock every now again if the people you’re following are filling your timeline with helpful and uplifting thoughts that point you back to biblical truths or if you’re just reveling in controversy and triviality.
“Pray continually” (1 Thess. 5:16-18). Gloriously, we can pray at any time without requiring any fancy technologies to connect to God. But at the same time, technology can be tremendously helpful for providing a structure to our prayer life. How many times do I find myself praying the same superficial prayers over and over simply because I can’t think of anything richer off the cuff? That’s partly why I developed an app called PrayerMate—to help you and me draw up lists of all of the different areas of responsibility in our lives and the different people and topics we want to pray for in each area, but also downloading suggested prayers for those people and subscribing to prayer feeds from various Christian ministries and churches. Other people find more general apps such as Evernote or Trello helpful for achieving the same purposes.
“Love one another” (John 13:34). Christians are meant to be marked by radical love, whether for those inside or outside the church. Used well, digital technology can be a great tool to help us love others, from checking in with a friend to see how they’re coping, sharing prayer requests with running buddies, or setting reminders for when you need to send birthday and anniversary cards or follow up with somebody. But love can also be about what we don’t use our technology for, like putting our phones away before coming to the dinner table or being sensitive to how the content we share will affect others.
TECHNOLOGY WILL CHANGE YOU
From the list above, you can see that there are all kinds of ways digital technology can help us in our discipleship. But as mentioned earlier, there are also many ways it can take our eyes off Jesus. When discussing the merits of technology, however, we must not make the mistake of assuming technology is completely “neutral,” or thinking that all that matters is how we use it. That’s often what we mean when we refer to technology as “just a tool.”
In his excellent book From the Garden to the City, John Dyer warns against this simplistic understanding of technology through the example of a shovel. A shovel is a tool that can be used for good or for bad. But it doesn’t matter whether you use your shovel to do good, such as planting a tree, or for more nefarious purposes, like covering up evidence of a crime. Either way your shovel will be changing you. Dig enough with good or bad intentions and the effect will be exactly the same: blisters on your hands. And if you keep digging long enough, those blisters will become calluses.
Our technology always changes us, often in subtle yet important ways. We need to be proactive and vigilant in regularly evaluating what those effects are to ensure our technology is helping rather than hindering our Christian discipleship.
And perhaps above all, we need to pray, because ultimately our use of technology is simply part of growing as disciples of Christ today. We need him to work in us by his Spirit to use it well and not to be mastered by it.
Andy Geers is a software developer from London, where he lives with his wife Elise and three young kids. He runs an app called PrayerMate and the related charity Discipleship Tech, which is using technology to help people grow in their relationship with Christ. He also co-founded a community of Christians in the world of technology called Kingdom Code UK.