I have existed under this neat nomenclature for some time, but pondered the point of all that makes me a Digital Disciple.
I am a blogger, a Tweeter, a Facebooker, a LinkedIn type of man. I have dabbled with YouTube and even enjoy sanctuary in the Holy of Holies, Empire Avenue. Yes, I ‘do’ digital and I am manifestly a disciple of Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God. However, something about it all niggles at me from time to time, something that doesn’t at all concern me in all other aspects of my practitioner Christian life.
As a priest, and one blessed with the oversight of a parish in London, my day is filled with many varied things. Some of that is overtly faith-based, like prayers and services and the like. Other things may be along the ‘I’m a good listener’ line, where I visit people, wearing a collar, simply to listen and maybe to make plans with them in some way. A considerable part of this Vicar’s life is that which falls into the large ‘management’ basket, where I spend hours in meetings, pawing over accounts, managing people in various ways. The thing with all these aspects of my professional religious life is that I see the point of it because it it bears a specific fruit.
When people first engage with Social Media, they will have felt as I did probably – self conscious, self-centred and self-serving. Writing a blog post to no-one in particular is as strange as talking to an empty room and arguing a point in that space. My first Tweet felt much the same, and the hard thing about those moments is that David M Cloake was in the very centre of it, no-one else and certainly not God. As I have written over a span of years that sense has diminished but I think in large part because I am surrounded by folk who are supportive, and for the most part, the converted.
When I lead services in my church, it is with the hope that new people may come inside, see, enjoy and stay. When I sit with people and listen while wearing collar, there is the hope that in so doing, I present Christianity as a gentle and loving presence that is capable of listening and not dictating or arguing with itself. In sitting through many meetings, it is in the hope that the buildings and processes are put in a state that enables discipleship, fosters hospitality and clears the obstacles from before the willing and the seekers. Put in the bluntest ways, in all of these things there seems to be an evangelistic ‘bottom-line’, a gross-margin of mission, a Godly profit.
Social media is, in many ways, a means for those on the ‘inside’ to share their experience with others on the ‘inside’. This is no less the case in Christian social-media circles as it is in the fanbase of Justin Bieber or the pundits hovering around a Party Annual Conference. Utterances are made, with the intention (implicitly or explicitly) that those who will understand will reap the rewards of those digital moments. Please don’t misunderstand me though, faithful reader. I love the life that social media brokers for me, but in my wider work, and indeed in my former working life, the point to life was in its ‘bottom-line’ or its yield.
One issue that I have with social media in a Christian context is the terminology. I am uncomfortable being able to count my own ‘followers’ and take no real pleasure from the knowledge that I ‘influence’ X number of people. The fact is, I am the follower and I am the one influenced. Without them, there would be no more words – no more point. However, the other issue that I have with Christian social-media is that it often feels like a big Club – but one with no easy way to join if you are not of the right creed or context. The big question for me is whether or not digital discipleship has any evangelistic dimension, or if it is simply (and wonderfully) a mutual self-appreciation society. Are in this for our sake or for God’s sake? If a seeker ‘overheard’ my Twitting, would they turn to Christ? Has a single vowel or the merest scintilla of a thought from my bloggy outpourings brought any single human soul an iota closer to God? These are questions that I cannot answer, but I feel I should. I want to feel that what we ‘do’ as digital disciples and therefore as digital witnesses is to testify to the Truth, not just loving back-slap those who already know.
Whilst I cannot conclude my thinking in a wholly positive way, I acknowledge that great use of all of this to my own personal discipleship. I am a broader Christian, a better informed Christian, a more readily supported and sustained Christian and for that I love this digital life. If that makes me a better Christian, then perhaps its purpose is served if a purpose exists and indeed if a purpose is needed. However, I shall continue to pray that someone, somewhere, can say with absolute clarity that because of this this digital community, they came to Christ.