It is possible you have never heard of the term distance shepherding.
Even if it is not a prevalent term in church language today, it is what we have had to embrace at some level over the past eighteen months. We are not only learning how to shepherd our flock via digital connections, we are also learning that the internet may well be the new “on ramp” for people far from God who are looking for spiritual stability in a chaotic environment. As we shepherd our on-campus congregation, we have the online congregation and a greater connection to the lost wherever they may be. We are learning that this online portal could become a training ground for raising up game changers as they move from computer screen to missional disciples who are impacting their local environment.
I recently had a conversation with a pastor (shepherd) who is genuinely concerned about how his church, and others, can seize the digital moment. In the hours following that meeting, I continually thought about what he had asked. Properly answering these two questions is paramount to properly responding to the opportunity to engage the cyber culture we minister in today. Here are the pastor’s questions:
- How can we use technology to allow people to respond to the message and invitation in real-time?
- Also, in a broader sense, recognizing that worship via livestream is here to stay, what tools are available to engage the online community in terms of evangelism and discipleship?
I will give a general response to the two questions. We will be providing a more detailed response by providing a training opportunity that will address the questions in more detail.
Digital First Responders
We are quite familiar with the term “first responder” in our culture. First responders can be defined as “highly-trained individuals who are the first to arrive on the scene of an emergency to render assistance.” Those who are tasked with responding to our digital audience become the church’s digital first responders. These trained first responders are the first to connect with online inquirers and begin the process of rendering assistance. The same basic four actions of a medical first responder is easily applied to spiritual first responders. Here is what they do:
- Respond as quickly as possible – Immediate action is important when dealing with those who are contemplating a response to the gospel. Responding in real time thwarts the enemy’s plan to steal the “seed” (Mk. 4: 3, 15) and prevents drifting away by someone who genuinely seeking spiritual guidance.
- Assess the situation – Through a series of questions, the first responder is able to assess the inquirer’s spiritual condition and know what is necessary to render spiritual “first aid.”
- Initiate a plan of action – The digital first responder should be prepared to provide compassionate care and share the life-giving gospel.
- Move the “victim” (person) – Just as a medical first responder arranges transportation to the victim’s next point in critical care, digital responders should be able to provide a clear pathway of next steps that lead to a journey into discipleship. It is also important to help the new believer move to an “in person” environment so that they find encouragement in body life.
Five Key Questions in the Distance Shepherding Process
Churches desiring to implement the digital first responder component of distance shepherding should consider these five questions.
- Embracing – Do we fully understand the importance of distance shepherding (online connection and training) and are we willing to embrace it as a part of our future ministry?
- Meeting & Moving – Do we have the structure in place to meet people where they are and digitally guide them from spiritual infancy to discipleship?
- Connecting – How do we connect new believers to a nourishing environment that leads to discipleship and life on mission?
- Discipling – We know that Jesus’ method of discipling was to “be with” his disciples (Mk. 3: 14). Online connection is often the 21st Century version of “being with.” What does the online version of discipleship look like?
- Releasing – Are we willing to release our online disciples to do ministry where they are?
Would you like to know more about how we can answer the two questions proposed by the pastor in paragraph two? The JBA will be hosting a Digital Shepherding Lab on Thursday, November 11th from 10am-12pm. More details and registration link coming soon.