Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Media’s Reshaping of Discipleship

Written by: on April 3, 2014

It was August of 1979 when I loaded up my household goods and my family and drove to Toccoa, Georgia to attend Bible college.  The plan to make this move had been activated two years earlier and most everything had gone well, except the economy.  Unemployment was high and interest rates were higher yet.  My house had not sold when our family left town for the drive to Toccoa.  My wife and I had made a couple of earlier trips and had purchased a home in Toccoa.  I look back at the picture of my life at the time with wonder.

I was a factory worker who had recently discharged from the military.  My work experience included four years as an Air Force baker (pies, cakes, cookies, etc.), gas station attendant, Christmas tree harvester, chef’s helper, bar tender (on Sunday morning no less at a veteran’s bar where the “service” started every Sunday at 10 a.m.), and saw mill worker.  I had often worked three to four jobs at once to make the check book balance.  As I drove to Toccoa I was the owner of two houses, each with a mortgage, I had a family with a wife and three children and one dog, seventy-five percent of a liberal arts bachelor’s degree, and no job!  I wish I could report that my faith was strong and though that might have been true, I think my naïveté was stronger.

To make a long story short, I finally landed a job at a furniture factory as a computer operator in the late afternoon and evening time.  The computer person at the factory was a very sharp lady who was an excellent mentor who turned a young man who did not even know what a computer was into a data processing computer operator.  That job kept my family eating and paying the bills for the next three years.  Then, during my seminary days, I was the operation’s supervisor at a bank for their data processing department.

My days were too stressful and packed to stop and consider how much computer technology had changed my life.  After graduating and moving to a pastoral position I purchased an apple macintosh computer just after they began making the cream colored disk driven funny looking boxes.  I could not live without a computer and have never been without one since.  Although, I must admit, I am in Ukraine as I write this post and I am using an ipad.  I left my computer at home for the first time ever.  This is a test trip of sorts to see if I can manage without the computer and lighten the travel load by carrying only a tablet.  So far so good.

When I began reading New Media 1740-1915, I wasn’t quite sure why Dr. Clark had assigned the book.  But after working through the text I began to see how the media developments had been the result of developing technology and how those same developments were, in turn, shaping the culture.  As I read I began to consider how media development has impacted the art and science of making disciples and the lifestyle called “discipleship.”  The editors of the book state clearly their purpose, “Ultimately, then, this is a book about framing: about how particular habits and media of communication frame our collective sense of time, place, and space; how they define our understanding of the public and the private; how they inform our apprehension of “the real”; and how they orient us in relation to competing forms of representation.” (Page xvi). Indeed, the journey to make disciples has been powerfully impacted by new media. Just as the zograscope gave the viewer a new perspective of a public place, media development gave bible study leaders new tools to visualize actions of faith. The flannel graph was to the church what the zograscope was to “polite” society.

I was particularly taken by the author’s conclusion at the end of chapter four regarding the internet (page 106). The statement challenges the reader to consider how the internet is a tool that is shaping global and economic development and societal communication habits to the extent that the “users” of the internet have become conscripted to it; slaves to the tool on the road away from the very destination to which the traveler first intended. Away from a sense of connectedness and financial security and into a cauldron of relational and financial impoverishment.

I read with great curiosity the chapter on the telephone and the Amish community (page 139 ff). I was humbled by the commitment to community to which the “old order” held fast. The various media reviewed by the book and the resulting impact on culture slowly but surely crept into the church as well. As I think about making disciples here are some of the thoughts I have regarding the impact of media on the subject.

I think media has facilitated a “content” oriented approach to discipleship rather than a “lifestyle” or behavioral approach.
Technology has encouraged the student of scriptures to find answers fast which puts pressure on the contemplative exercise that takes time.
Access to biblical information has certainly been increased and is available to everyone equally (the common worker can access the same material that a seminarian can access).
The community aspect of discipleship has eroded and a false sense of security is promoted by virtual community.

How has your discipleship been enhanced by new media?
How has your discipleship suffered due to new media tendencies?

Gitelman, Lisa, and Geoffrey B. Pingree, . New Media 1740-1915. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003.

About the Author

David Toth

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