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Long distance discipleship can bear great fruit

If you’re a high touch, relational person, you may have an aversion to using technology to help you disciple. My own experience is that it can be an effective tool in my disciple-making toolbox. Yes, it’s just one tool, but it’s made possible dozens of long distance discipling relationships for m…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
If you’re a high touch, relational person, you may have an aversion to using technology to help you disciple. My own experience is that it can be an effective tool in my disciple-making toolbox. Yes, it’s just one tool, but it’s made possible dozens of long distance discipling relationships for me.
Without it, I might not know Gabe Landes, Uche Izuora, or Emmanuel Sadiq. God has used technology to grow my relationship with each of them to a point where they feel like sons in the Lord and to where I’m hopeful that we can do a lot of long-term damage for the kingdom together.
Obviously the web can only take a relationship so far, but I’ve learned that it can do two things really well:
a) introduce you to people and
b) convey information.
What it can’t do is be a substitute for true relationship. It’s a flat medium; to go deep with people, you need to be with them. That said, I’ve been amazed at how far it can take you.
My relationship with Gabe Landes is the best example I’ve got of how God can use technology. He started out as a blog reader, then he became more of a
participant in the blog community, then he introduced his wife to the blog community, Heidi,
then they became leaders in it (leading online small
groups and mission trips), and now we’re dreaming together about
planting the kingdom around the world. Some specific fruit:
  • Together we’ve funded orphans and disaster relief in Pakistan
  • Led online groups on listening prayer
  • Organized a leadership retreat
  • Gone on vision trips
  • Begun planting churches together
We’ve found that technology can get the ball rolling on projects and create the possibility for taking the relationship deeper in person.
Taking what I’ve learned from my relationship with Gabe, I know that to go to another level with Uche or Emmanuel, we’ll need to meet in person. Although we communicate regularly by email, phone and skype, we’ve formed a trust relationship and talk about how we might one day minister together, until God makes a way for us to meet, there is a ceiling on the relationship.
Some advice if you’re wondering how to start: 
1. With an offer (see I’ll disciple you)
2. With a project (this post is an example)
3. With a small group on Fishmouse (a site built just for discipleship)
4. On Facebook
5. As you develop online relationships, realize that you have to move your communication to a more personal level if it is to progress. Ultimately, you’ll need to meet.
6. Maintain protocols in cross-gender communication. 

Comments (8)

  • Hey friend…I am a beneficiary of your graceful long term discipling. Thank you. The reality is technology is sucking the life out of a thoughtful Jesus ethic. That’s my simple perspective…It gives many self appointed “leaders” the false sense they are “discipling”. That is not you Seth…but friend it is many, many others. Trust me…I love you…..

  • Wow Seth. I had in mind to create a blog just like this. I agree about email and online social networks. Since meeting my squad, I’ve been using Facebook waaayyyyy more frequently to keep in touch. I’ve hardly used FB in the past cause I prefer in-person communication, but I quickly realized that FB is a poor way to develop and maintain a relationship. It can get things started and transmit information, but the relationship will, like you said, hit a ceiling until you meet in person. Or it will sort of halt development unless you continue to meet in person. There is only so much you can say in a few sentences, and people are more than their words and their ideas.

  • Seth,

    Tonight I was at a bonfire with some Christians friends and someone commented that social networking does not build relationships. To a certain degree, I would have to agree with that comment. The unstated purpose of social networking is to create as many artificial relationships as possible. However, it can also be used to extend the connection between people whom God has bound together. The problem is that both synergies co-exist on Facebook. You can share intimate relationship with dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, and then two lines later, be subjected to a “fart joke.” It’s no different than being at the corner pub…anything can happen.

    Fishmouse, and other specifically Christian applications, were built to foster private, protected online environments for Christians to build relationships. Let’s hope the Body of Christ embraces more and more similar technologies to enable the Word of God to be spread in any way possible!

    Thanks for the plug,


  • I have had the privilege of being a disciple of Gabe’s even though he lives on the other side of the country. I am grateful Seth for your discipleship relationship with Gabe, because he has passed it on to me. Jesus can be multiplied in others through any means he chooses. I was skeptical at first of a discipleship relationship through email and phone calls. But it has been the most significant experience that has led to a closer more intimate relationship with God and activation for his kingdom. I would premise to say it takes just as much work as a healthy face to face relationship where both learn to lean in on each other and be immediately transparent and honest. What has been most impacting is that Gabe through his heart and passion has made me excited to dream for God’s Kingdom again, and we have had the opportunity to do this together.

  • Love your heart for long distance relationshijps. We have developed a system for Online Discipleship and Training which you might find useful. You can check it out at Arkeo.com

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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