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Why does church innovation = technology? | Part 2

July 28, 2011

Last week I wrote a post making the observation that increasingly in the past 15 years or so, when we put “church” and “innovation” in the same sentence it almost always has to do with innovations in technology:

  • Podcasts
  • Simulcasts
  • Video venues
  • Online campuses
  • church apps
  • Facebook and Twitter accounts
  • etc
These are innovations and many of them have been used to help push the Kingdom forward. This should be celebrated. But the point I made was that while innovation in the place where church and technology intersects is good, what worries me is that almost all of our innovation revolves around technology. We are failing to push forward — using ingenuity and imagination in other areas of ministry  — some of the very areas that need it most.
To recap the other post: while technology is great a supplementing our flesh-and-blood relationships, it can’t and shouldn’t replace them. There is always a kind of natural distance when technology is involved and the truth of the matter is that discipleship and mission done well cannot be done at a distance. 
Not only can’t it be done well at a distance, we find ourselves in the midst of a discipleship crisis in the Western church. We are less and less effective at mission because we are terrible at making disciples who can do the things that Jesus and his disciples can do. What we need are innovations that revolve around making disciples, new methods, vehicles and ideas (most likely found in scripture and in the past) that will allow us to become great at this again.
Here’s my question for this post: Why?
Why do we find it easier to innovate something like technology and not something like making disciples?
Here are a few guesses…
  1. Innovating technology doesn’t require entering in the mess of people’s lives. It’s fun to write code, design beautiful apps or websites or come up with brilliant strategies to reach people we don’t know through means of mass, faceless marketing. Mission is really hard when it’s stepping into the mess of someone’s life. And let’s be honest…did it seem like Jesus was having a picnic discipling the twelve? Technology allows us a distance where we don’t really have to get dirty ourselves. We hope to get the same results while never really putting ourselves out there. The problem is that it’s impossible to do mission and discipleship without getting dirty, without truly investing yourself. We think innovating technology is easier. Well, it might be easier, but it definitely doesn’t get what Jesus wanted: missional disciples.
  2. Technology is always trendy and sparkly. Real discipleship and mission almost never is. It’s fun to do things that look flashy at the end. Technology will always be fun and sexy because it’s never going to get old…you just keep innovating. The Commodore computer was as enchanting in its’ day as the ipad is today. The atari was its’ generations PS3. We now have apps for everything and love them. And 20 years from now it will be something else that is just as exciting. But true discipleship and mission never really has a shiny luster, does it? And while we can innovate it to some extent, it will always be life on life, day in day out and messy. Just like it was for Jesus. Innovating technology is just more fun and appealing.
  3. We can learn to innovate technology faster than we can learn to disciple people well. You give me one month and a HTML 5 for Dummies book and I can probably build you a pretty good website. But that’s never the case in making disciples. It takes commitment. You have to be in it for the long haul.
  4. Many church leaders have never been discipled themselves. It’s at this point that we reach the apex of the problem. Would you want me innovating dental practices if I’ve never been a dentist? Would you want me to innovate your carbon combustion engine if I’d never taken a machine class? In the same way, so many leaders in the church aren’t able to innovate the things that Jesus asked us to do with his last breath (Make disciples) because we’ve never been discipled ourselves. We have a lot of people who have been trained to build and grow the organization of the church…but not people who can disciple people who will disciple people who will disciple people…
20 Comments leave one →
  1. Brian Williamson permalink
    July 28, 2011 5:36 pm

    Thank you. Would love to hear a series of posts re: number 4.

    Ie…”You know you’ve been discipled when….”

    What are the essential marks of one who has
    been discipled? (he is like the Master to be sure)

    Seems to me that on the one hand, some of us are unconsciously incompetent at discipling. We don’t know that we don’t know. On the other hand, some are more ready than they realize and simply lack confidence. Both are discipling issues impossible to breakthrough without being discipled.

  2. July 28, 2011 7:26 pm

    Most of these reasons revolve around the fact that discipleship is difficult, and therefore left untried (like that great G.K. Chesteron quote, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”)

    And there’s an element of truth in that, but I also think that if we want to see discipleship innovation take root in the North American church, we have to grapple with the unspoken assumptions behind most of our activity.

    JR Rozko articulated it really well with his comment on the first post in this series, and wrote a good post in his blog outlining the issue. I’ve also written about the issue a couple times (“Forgiveness Isn’t the Whole Gospel” and “The Gospel, Evangelism, and Discipleship” which you reposted here – thanks!)

    Essentially it comes down what we think salvation is. If it’s merely agreeing with a few propositions so we can get into heaven when we die, if that’s what it’s really ABOUT, then of course all we’ll do is innovate new ways to attract people to hear that message and “say the prayer,” so to speak. Our goal defines the path our innovation takes.

    But if salvation is something bigger, like participating in the life of God, joining with him in what he’s doing now (which I would argue is a far more biblical definition), then it makes perfect sense to make disciples, because if we accept the invitation to live with God in his kingdom now, we very quickly learn that we don’t know how to do that. Thus discipleship, because Jesus knows how to do it, and he promises to teach us and empower us to do it.

    If our goal is truly initiating people into life in God’s kingdom now, we will naturally innovate discipleship. Again, our goal will define the path our innovation takes.

    The problem is that many churches try to “add” discipleship to their already-existing paradigms, without deeply examining their soteriological assumptions, which tragically lead them to invent tricky new ways to “get the word out” and remain impotent in their ability to make disciples.

    So we need to find ways to ask a deeper question, I think, if we really want to move churches toward building a discipling culture. We need ways to confront the underlying assumptions that lead us away from discipleship.

    Like my friend Michael Rudzena said the other day, “Sometimes it isn’t the problem that needs troubleshooting, it’s the paradigm.”

  3. July 28, 2011 8:15 pm

    Mike Breen, I think you are hitting on something here. This is bold of you to put out there but definitely needed. It seems there are two different, yet related, subjects being stated in this entry. Tech is definitely an amplification and never should be a means as stated on the previous entry. I have been an IT guy for quite some time now and I wrote a paper in university on the subject of putting too much of your self out in the public eye. This was just when Myspace and Zanga had just come out. Facebook hadn’t even been thought of at that point. I had read another article where it was stated that facebook is no more than a place to Brand yourself rather than truly be a means to properly communicate. I’m sure that like many other things out there that social media started out legit but has morphed into the only means by which some people communicate with the outside world. I would assume to say that the drive may very well be fear of rejection that has caused a lot of this. So, how can we, as a church, step away from merely seeing tech as the only way to innovate? We can ironically look to our past for examples of how innovation was done without the use of modern day tech. For instance, in the book Practicing the Way of Jesus by Mark Scandrette they do that very thing. They look at examples from scripture where Jesus had given His disciples a discipline to put into practice and then He held them to it when they would then come back and discuss it with Him. How very Kairos of Him, eh? Scandrette states that they have found a sexy yet innovative, creative way to approach these disciplines without losing the core intent of the discipline. I would say that this is quite an innovation as well as gearing toward the second portion of this entry, being discipled. Scandrette goes on further to say that we have seen Jesus as Savior but have forgotten how to see Him as Lord (ie Rabbi/Teacher).

    • July 29, 2011 8:21 pm

      Aaron – FB, Twitter, MySpace, Google+, Friendster 🙂 are about projecting false and narcissistic selves as much as a face-to-face coffee can be. We all have our masks – its just more obvious online. I’d love to hear your thoughts on authentic discipleship – I’ll bet you’ve got some great ideas.

      • July 31, 2011 3:32 am

        First off, thank you.
        I read below that someone had stated that “discipleship” is not in the Bible. I’ll place my thoughts on that as a comment under their post.
        I find that a lot of people focus on the “do nots” and things that are not in the Bible. This is strange to me because there are a lot of people who can’t tell you what’s IN the Bible with absolute surety due to our subjective/postmodern society. It’s more fun to focus on the do’s than the do not’s. I’m still working on this portion in my life, so I am no exception. Sorry for the rant, now back to topic.

        Ok, so, great ideas: well.. I have had lots of failures. This is for sure. I still tend to fail but I think that is KEY. Most of the time we want perfection and so we never try. Some people, including my self, have talked them self out of trying or experimenting because of fear (of all kinds).
        Discipleship, is something I have found is best one on one, “flesh on flesh” as Mike states. And for all my tech friend’s p2p (not the file sharing kind).
        Pardon me stating the obvious but being a disciple is not a state of being but rather a walk with the master. (Any thoughts?). I can’t call my self an apprentice unless I have had a lot of time with the Master and He, now get this.., is always on the move. Yes, He has times of sabbath rest but He keeps going. So, I would think that if we are not walking then we are not following in being a disciple. Now, I speak of walking not as a thought, or ethereal “thing” but rather as being intentional much like an artist who leaves a mistake in their painting and decides not to paint over it and hide it. It is a walk into being vulnerable to the Master, revealing your wounds, mistakes, and crud so that He can correct us to walk more like Him.
        In a more practical sense my latest push for being a disciple has led me to some interesting people. I met a guy named Mark Scandrette and although I am sure that there are things to which we don’t agree, one main thing he spoke about caught my attention. He and his friends decided to experiment with one of the 40 or so disciplines that Jesus gave His disciples, so that they (Mark and friends) could “see what happens” if they followed it as stated in the Bible. They proceeded to sell their stuff and give to the poor and then came back together and talked with one another. He speaks of experiencing peace and joy that he and his friends didn’t think was possible in this day in time. Note: that being a disciple is not done alone but rather in clumps of people who can hold you accountable to try these disciplines one by one. Mark and his friends continue to do this and have grown tremendously because of it. He even states that it has become fun and exciting! This is much different than the picture we see of Christianity from our younger years of institution. I took sabbath with my wife and it was difficult at first because I come from a workaholic background but after half the day I felt more relaxed and in tune than I have felt in a LOOOOOOOONG time. So, we are going through the 44 disciplines one by one.

  4. July 29, 2011 1:03 am

    Mike, your past two posts have been so clear, concise, and challenging! I want everyone I know to read them! Thank you!

  5. Cheryl Potts permalink
    July 29, 2011 2:07 am

    Couldn’t agree more Mike. You are spot on. I’ve just spent the weekend with 29 women teaching them about Jesus’ model of discipleship and modelled the circle as a helpful tool to enable them to do the same with others. It is messy, they shared their messy lives with me and one another and came away enriched, felt overwhelmingly cared for and loved. I lead huddles where i spend alot of my time discipling women in the everyday stuff of life. It’s a bit like having teenagers again. But much better than trying to feed and herd cats any day.

  6. July 30, 2011 2:52 pm


    Much agreement when you write…
    “we find ourselves in the midst of a discipleship crisis in the Western church.”

    Maybe that’s because we’re NOT following the simple blueprint Jesus left us.

    Don’t think the problem is technology. 😉 And Discipleship is NOT in the Bible.

    Think most of today’s so-called church leaders, pastors, whoever, do NOT
    even know what a “Disciple of Christ” looks like or the pattern Jesus left us.

    Jesus did tell “His Disciples” to “Go and make disciples” in Mat 28:19:20 NKJV
    And then He tells us how – in one short verse.
    **teaching them to “observe” all things that I have commanded you**

    Sounds simple. Read the four gospels, do what Jesus did, and “His Disciples did.
    Teach what Jesus taught and teach what “His Disciples” taught.

    Makes an interesting study.
    Make a list of what His Disciples “observed” Jesus doing.
    Make a list of what Jesus taught “His Disciples.”

    If the word “Disciple” means – learner, pupil? Then…
    A “Disciple of Christ” = A learner, pupil, learning directly from Jesus Christ.
    “His Disciples” learned from Jesus then – “His Disciples” learn from Jesus today.
    Discipleship, discipling, being discipled, is NOT found in the Bible.

    Here is some of what Jesus taught and commanded “His Disciples”

    1 – NOT to be called teacher for you have “ONE” teacher, Christ. Mt 23:8
    2 – NOT to be called leader for you have “ONE” leader, Christ, Mt 23:10

    Kinda hard for someone who desires to be known as a “Teacher and Leader”
    to teach – “Disciples of Christ” are NOT to be called “Teacher or Leader.”
    And NOT one of “His Disciples” called themselves “Leader.”
    They ALL called themselves “Servants of Christ.” 😉

    If someone calls themself a “Teacher or Leader” are they a “Disciple of Christ?”

    So, leaders today have to innovate, write books, charge for conferences that teach
    the commandments and doctrines of men, to try and make a disciple.

    They will teach anything but what Jesus taught.

    Why isn’t what Jesus taught “His Disciples” important? 🙂

    • July 31, 2011 3:33 am

      Well, I would like to address that before I get to ideas of authentic discipleship. Keep in mind that this is merely an idea off the top of my head. If I were to follow after an architect and try to learn the trade from them then it could be stated that I am an apprentice (disciple, learner of that trade) of that architect. The act of following in the footsteps of that architect would be apprenticeship (discipleship). I would literally be taking a noun of disciple and placing it into a verb tense which in essence would serve to remind me that not only am I a disciple but I engage in the identity of a disciple which is discipleship. I would not need to mention the word “discipleship” due to the statement that my master simply told me to go and make disciples. So, I am to assume the role of “discipler” and take on an apprentice (disciple)? We both being brother’s would then follow the commands (disciplines) given to us. I, being the one with more time with the master would then have the opportunity to guide the disciples who have less (or even no) time with the master.

    • July 31, 2011 2:35 pm


      Have “you” ever made a “Disciple of Christ?”

      • July 31, 2011 6:00 pm

        This seems like it is a trick question so I’ll answer it like this: After repenting and believing in Christ I began to practice what Jesus asked His disciples to practice in their daily lives and in doing so I have provided an example and have intentionally led others to do the same. They in turn do the same and also “make disciples”. So, hopefully that answers your question. We are asked to make disciples. We engage in the act of walking like Christ. We have to be active we can’t just merely be. The act of engaging in being an apprentice is called apprenticeship. So, the act of engaging in walking as a disciple is called discipleship. It really doesn’t matter what it is called as long as transformation is taking place in our lives and the lives of others. So, I ask you the same question. Have “you” ever made a “Disciple of Christ?”

  7. jeffandwendy permalink
    July 30, 2011 7:47 pm

    Mike. Thanks for the great post. I would love to hear your thoughts on how the discipleship crisis in the west is related to our cultures obsession with celebrity. Not that church leaders necessarily pursue celebrity, but its presence in our culture definitely drives much of how we practice church. Do you think that since technology spreads celebrity brand it is the route we unconsciously head? (verses spending three years investing in the same 12 guys?)

  8. August 1, 2011 3:54 pm


    I appreciate your explanations and your use of the word aprentice.
    I served a 4 year apprectiship in one of the construction trades. 😉

    That’s kinda the way I see Jesus with “His Disciples” also. Jesus took “His Disciples” into the streets and they “Obeseved” what Jesus did – obeying His Father – always. Always *obeying* the “ONE” who lived within Him. “Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me.” John 14:10.

    Then He sent “His Disciples” out to do the same things He did…
    With very few instructions. (Let your peace remain – or – shake the dust off…)
    They went out – Obeying the “ONE” who lived within them…
    They were “Led” by the Spirit… NOT “Led” by man…

    John 5:30
    I can of mine own self do nothing…
    but the will of the Father which hath sent me.

    John 8:28
    … and that I do nothing of myself;
    but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.

    John 5:19
    …The Son can do nothing of himself,
    but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth,
    these also doeth the Son likewise.

    John 14:10
    …the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself:
    but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.

    To me, that’s what Jesus taught “His Disciples” to *observe* in Him…
    The Son can do nothing of himself – BUT… what he seeth the Father do…

    They were to “Trust and Obey” the “ONE” who lives in them…

    IMO – the problem with your apprenticeship analogy for “us” making disciples is – sometimes we pass along our “un-christ like” nature as well. Now this poor would-be disciple now has to un-learn our junk, our agenda’s, our undeveloped beliefs and our “error.” Just like I had to un-learn some of the “error” taught to me by those who said they were discipling me. But – they weren’t really interested in making a “Disciple of Christ.” They were interested in me beliving the way they did. They were making disciples after themselves. 😦

    Eventually, after many years and many tears,
    I had to go to Jesus directly and get it from Him.

    Jesus is the best at “making disciples.” Yes? 😉

  9. August 1, 2011 3:57 pm


    You ask…
    “Have “you” ever made a “Disciple of Christ?”


    When I thought I was “making disciples” as I was taught by my “Leaders,”
    all I accomplished was making a disciple of Amos and what Amos believed.

    Never made a “Disciple of Christ.” A learner, pupil, learning directly from Jesus.

    Matthew 16:24-25
    Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me,
    let him **deny himself,** and take up his cross, and follow me.
    For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever
    will lose his life for my sake shall find it.

    Luke 14:33
    So likewise, whosoever he be of you *that forsaketh NOT ALL that he hath,**
    he can NOT be my disciple.

    These few verses alone convicts me that I can’t make a “Disciple of Christ.” 🙂

    Never figured out – How do you get someone to “Deny Themself?” 😦
    Never figured out – How do you get someone to “Forsake All?” 😦

    In my experience…
    With all the books, seminars and conferences about making disciples…
    All I’ve ever witnessed and been a part of is…

    ***Man making disciples of “Their Denomination,”

    Baptists making disciples of Baptist beliefs.
    Lutherans making disciples of Lutheran beliefs.
    Assembly of God making disciples of Assembly of God beliefs. Etc. etc…
    NOT making “Disciples of Christ.” Learners and pupils of Jesus.

    ***Man making disciples of “Their Movement,”

    Evangelicals making disciples of Evangelicalism.
    Pentecostals making disciples of pentecostalism.
    Fundamentalists making disciples of Fundamentalism.
    NOT making “Disciples of Christ.” Those who learn directly from Jesus.

    ***And Man making disciples after “Themselves.”

    Acts 20:30
    Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things,
    to draw away disciples after them.

    In my experience…
    Jesus is the only one who can make a “Disciple of Christ.”

    And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold:
    them also I must bring, and they shall **hear MY voice;**
    and there shall be “ONE” fold, and “ONE” shepherd.
    John 10:16

    One Fold – One Shepherd – One Voice

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

    • August 1, 2011 6:04 pm

      Amos, this makes me hurt for you. I am truly sorry that the leadership that has been shown to you is a bitter pill. I too have received that as well but I grew wise because of the grace and mercy of God, as it seems you have as well.
      I agree with most of what you are saying. We have to make disciples in such a way that points to Jesus. I agree. I also know that humans, regardless of how much we “try” to be perfect like Jesus was with the Father, that we all fail and have large amounts of bias but this didn’t discourage Jesus from telling us to go and make disciples. Being the body of Christ requires that we always continue to push forward into our single worship of Jesus alone. We must not stop in spite of our own fallacy. We by nature hate God because of the fall and sin. It is because of Jesus and salvation that we are able to go contrary to that sin nature. We must intentionally push toward Jesus while knowing that we tend to gravitate toward sin. If this wasn’t true then Jesus wouldn’t have gone to the wilderness to be tempted.
      So, the question comes down to how do we make disciples if this truly is what we are being asked to do? Notice that it doesn’t say make salvations. This is interesting because then we HAVE to rely upon the Spirit to make salvations. We cannot do that. It’s beyond our ability. We can only lead them to the door. They have to knock. We teach them to observe (do/walk) the ways of Jesus Christ (Messiah). To do this we must first walk in that way our self. Jesus said He only does what He first sees the Father doing. He was engaging in apprenticeship of the Father. If we mimic Jesus we are engaging in apprenticeship. If, other people, before they receive salvation, mimc us as we mimc Jesus, they too are engaging in apprenticeship which in a lot of ways is what we call discipleship.
      The word disciple in the Bible comes from the time when scholars were considered masters and would have a classroom full of disciples (students) but they were also required to obtain a mastery level at which time they too could take for them self disciples of their own. With this picture and understanding we are called to master the way of Jesus which is to only do what the Father is doing. Then we are to teach others to do the same.
      Yes, I agree with denominations getting out of hand and making it “man’s” way of doing things. This is a shame but it no way will I allow that to make me bitter, depressed, fearful or anything else that keeps me from engaging in Jesus and His discipleship of the body. God is bigger than my bias or denominations. Even the “un-repentant” see this. They see the fallacy and bias of man and still see Jesus as higher than all of that. Why do we as Christians have a hard time seeing that?

      • August 1, 2011 8:29 pm


        Thank you – Your compassion is accepted.

        And yes – the “Spiritual Abuse” does cause you to turn to Jesus. 🙂

        His mercy and grace is the best. 😉

        Be blessed in your search for truth… Jesus…


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