Because life is a series of edits

Adapting to Digital Discipleship?

In Calling, Church, Internet, Technology, Thought on January 10, 2010 at 8:08 pm

Most readers don't consider me a Luddite when it comes to technology, but some may be surprised that I tend to be a slow adapter/adopter when it comes to new stuff. Consider:

  • I recorded three of my own CDs before I actually owned a CD player.
  • My first cell phone was a late-90's Ericsson (I don't own or use one now by choice).
  • My first iBook was second generation.
  • My current MacBook is second generation.
  • Our iMac is second generation.
  • Our iPod Shuffle is second generation.
  • Our iPod Nano is second generation.
  • My iTouch is second generation.
  • Our current video player is a 12-year-old dying dual VHS/DVD player, but I don't even know what options are out there if/fwhen it goes.
  • It took me a year or so to come around to Twitter, but I'm liking it (enough) now.

Here's where I've been more on the technological front-end of things:

  • With the exception of a six-month sabbatical in 2005, I've kept one of several blogs since August of 2003 (TwentySomeone (2003-2005), Seminary Tychicus (2005-2007), and Second Drafts (2006-present).
  • I was on MySpace and Facebook pretty early (a fact my students still don't believe).
  • I got a Gmail account as soon as the service was available. I
    also got in early on GoogleWave as well, but the tide is out right now on that, at least for me.

I suppose the main observation I make is that, with the exception of Twitter, I tend to be on the cutting edge of technology when it's free; anything I have to pay for I tend to wait to see how it turns out (and it usually takes me a cycle to justify spending money, though if I had the money, I'd probably spring for Apple's rumored iTablet/iSlate the first time around).

What does any of this have to do with the price of eggs in China? I'm getting there.

This weekend, an acquaintance emailed about an opportunity to do some research that would eventually be part of Monvee, a website/database designed to be a systematic approach to (for lack of a better phrase) "digital discipleship". Pastor/author John Ortberg seems to be the main name attached to this initiative (though there are several other endorsers), and while I'm not that familiar with Ortberg's present ministry, I know he was involved with Willow Creek for ten years, particularly in the area of spiritual formation.

Spiritual formation, apparently, is what Monvee is all about; in fact, it claims it is "the future of spiritual formation" (no expectations there). If you watch the preview video, you can get an idea of what Monvee understands spiritual formation to be in terms of meaning and methodology. In the video, co-founder Eric Parks sums it up this way: "I like to think of the Monvee…as the eHarmony for my spiritual life, but instead of finding a mate, Monvee discovers how I'm wired and how I grow best." (Note to Parks: Comparing Monvee to eHarmony is not going to win me over to using your product. Bad analogy.)

After you complete Monvee's three-minute survey, Monvee apparently helps you discern what your spiritual needs are, how you best learn, and how you can grow and best connect with God. Monvee then customizes a plan – "a spiritual guidebook for life" – that covers four areas: time (practices); mind (books, videos); relationships (mentors, groups); and experiences (service). It then pulls and ships all the materials you need right to your door, prints email reminders for what you're supposed to do each day, and somehow tracks your spiritual progress in real-time.

But wait, there's more: If you're a church leader who uses Monvee with your entire congregation, Monvee can provide "a spiritual dashboard of insight into how your church is growing…on a live and on-going basis…with real data, in real-time, and about real growth."

Here's my question: Is my hesitancy to support this "digital discipleship" justified or is it just another example of my technological tendency to slow adaptation/adoption?

From my perspective, the pros are that the technology seems well done, and for someone with absolutely no help, I could maybe see how this could be useful initially in self-analysis and resource selection. But the cons run along the line of the rampant individualism this could promote, the dependence on database diagnostics rather than the Spirit of God for one's sanctification, and probably just how Parks ends his video with "Let Monvee help you find your way" (creepy).

What do you think? Would you buy in/encourage someone to buy in or not? Should I?

  1. having only read your post, and being a technology early adopter by trade, i would say your hesitation is justified and i would not encourage someone to “buy in”.
    my main reason is that i think Monvee starts off on the wrong foot in catering to a “technique oriented society”.
    i remember someone i respect pointing out that a great flaw of online dating services is that you are matched with people who have a large degree of overlap with yourself. however, in love, and perhaps to a degree in discipleship, it is often those with opposite (or at least, with a much lesser degree of overlap in personality) which are able to mutually edify one another the most. from how you described Monvee, i believe it would fall into the same trap (sameness = compatibility).
    additionally, this feels too consumeristic, too “create your own buffet” … i might even employ the old ethical test, “what would society look like if everyone did this? would it be worth living in? if not, then i should not participate.” (somewhat similar to how i came to allow our children to be vaccinated).
    what would happen to local churches if everyone had an online disciple from some other church who they rarely, if ever, physically met?
    discipleship is also a big word for a lot of vary different kinds of relationships. there are “disciplers”, “spiritual-guides”, “coach”, counselors”, “teachers” and “sponsors” (taken from Connecting, by Paul Stanley and J. Robert Clinton) … the point is that Monvee sounds like they reduce “discipleship” down to one simplistic model and do not account for the various kinds of discipleship relationships that God uses to grow His people.
    another reason i don’t like this, and do not think it is a matter of technology adoption, is that i have found in good discipleship relationships (in many of the above sub-categories this works) that service is huge. the disciplER serving the disciple, and visa-versa, is a large part of what Christ uses to grow us. i do not see how Monvee accounts for this em-bodied aspect of spiritual growth. perhaps they fall into the trap of thinking that only the mind-spirit are important to spiritual growth and that the body is not necessary; whereas i believe the physicality (meeting face to face, hugs, handshakes, kisses (culturally relevant and not inappropriate), tears, comforting, seeing one another’s facial expressions, working together on some task (making food for the poor, etc)) these things are ESSENTIAL to spiritual growth, as much as good doctrinal/technique transfer.
    so, these are some of my initial reactions/thoughts. as i said, i did not read/see their material, so i’m probably very wrong in my assumptions. i’m open to correction and changing my mind.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts, Steve. Megan and I joke that if we went the eHarmony route, we would NEVER have been “matched” due to our differences. I know it’s worked out for some folks (and that’s great), but making that analogy for spiritual development seems especially problematic.
    Stanley’s and Clinton’s book is helpful indeed (Paul was actually a “coach” of mine when I lived in Colorado Springs), and I would recommend it to anyone regarding discipleship.

  3. First, is it FREE?? My thoughts… With self-assessments, I tend to think of myself more highly than I ought rather than with sober judgement, so I’m never sure the results reveal the true me. And when I consider my own spiritual growth, (as well as emotional and relational), most has occurred as the result of late night dorm chats, hard conversations with co-workers, practicing ministry, feedback (wanted or not) from my husband, bantering with other moms over coffee, and of late, convicting handouts from a certain biblical ethics teacher. I’m sure the tools Monvee offers will be helpful, (and your input or research will be valuable) but not to replace face-to-face time that most of us currently lack as we already spend more and more time in front of computers (as I am now!). But I do like the idea of a customized plan as I agree that we differ in how we find meaningful ways to engage the Lord.

  4. Umm.. I’ll just say, “No” lest I fly into a rampage.

  5. As long as this does not lock our pastor/shepherds in their offices analyzing all the data. It may also offer an even more impersonal approach to an already impersonal way of doing church! [mega church] I guess I will have to try it first, surely the small group or bible study aspect must be highly promoted! I do feel as though discipleship is most effectively accomplished “man to man” so to speak ! The whole internet thing is so anonymous and seems to offer just another way to not get physically involved! Unfortunately the brilliant minds that come up with these programs [IIOOIIOOOOIIOOOO] are not usually the ones on the front lines when the mom has cancer, or the dad runs off with his secretary or the parent languishes over a wayward child I am praying for MonVee that it may sense the great need for personal interaction …. and prioritize it very highly on the list of “to dos”

  6. If MonVee was offering 90% of there earnings to charity …. that would be a big plus! Lets see, a million tech savvy christians @ 72.00 dollars a copy = 72,000,000.00 That kind of cake would go a long way in a church planting mission !

  7. Good points, Mark. Maybe the “personal interaction” should just be a fixed parameter, regardless of who’s taking the survey.

  8. I saw your blog and thought I would encourage you to stick with your hesitation. I just put out a blog about the same time as you. Feel free to check out two of them at: and
    God bless!
    Jeremy Strang

  9. you absolutely are justified. This is just another excuse to not KNOW people in person and try to ‘manage’ the Holy Spirit. When one does not have the Holy Spirit, or the church has grown too fast for us to keep in contact with one another (which means, IMO it is too big and has outstripped its leadership/leadership’s maturity level) they come up with all these ‘tools’ that make you fill out surveys and turn you into some sort of bar graph or chart in order to tell what needs work in your life or the church’s life. This is akin to reading tea leaves and just as Biblical.

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