Effective Discipleship in ‘Digital Babylon’

Recently, David Kinnaman, CEO of Barna Group joined Trent on the Cause+Effect podcast to unpack findings from a groundbreaking three-year research study of young Christians whose faith remains resilient, even in ‘digital exile.’ We hope this insight informs your decisions as you seek to reach and disciple this emerging generation.

“The tribe of Issachar understood the times and knew what the people of God should do.” 1 Chronicles 12:32

The world is changing. And when it comes to understanding the times in church and ministry, there’s no better place to start than with the platinum level of social research provided by Barna Group. Not only do their findings help churches, organizations, leaders, and parents understand what’s happening in our culture, they tell us what to do about it.

Barna CEO David Kinnaman shares fresh insight around Christian millennials and Gen Z in his recent book, Faith for Exiles. These findings are incredibly important to understanding young Christians and the shifting landscape in which we find ourselves.

Here are a few high points of Faith for Exiles

As Christians, we’re living in a digital Babylon.

In scripture, Babylon is seen as an archenemy of the people of God from the early days of captivity to the final judgment when it is thrown into the seas.

Babylon can also be seen as a reference to the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. It’s the city of man and everything set up against the Kingdom of God. Babylon says, “We can do it ourselves! We can make a tower tall enough. We can figure out all the big vexing problems of the world. We got this!”

It’s the philosophy of life without God.

And in many ways, the technological tools available to us today are reshaping what we think about what it means to be human. It’s an expression of the Tower of Babel, the notion that human beings are just fine without any kind of prehistoric myth of a creator.

So, as we try to make a case for the belief that God exists and is involved in the affairs of people, digital Babylon is our context. It’s the setting of our movie.

And it’s changing the very nature of how we live.

But here’s some good news…

There is a group of robust young Christians who are resilient in the midst of digital exile.

Findings from this study show that 10% of Christians ages 18 to 29 are what they call ‘resilient exiles.’ And there are five correlations to this resiliency: Identity in Jesus, cultural discernment, meaningful intergenerational relationships, vocational discipleship, and countercultural mission.

These resilient disciples are not just thinking nice thoughts about Jesus.

They truly believe Jesus is speaking to them in a real and personal way. They seek to hear His voice and find deep joy and satisfaction in following Him. The whole of their identity is being formed in what He says about them as children of God.

Not only is their identity secure in Christ, they are connecting the dots between what they are called to do and what their interests are vocationally.

They want more than to simply be churchgoers on Sunday mornings. They say, “I’m a Christian entrepreneur. I’m a Christian who is created to do some good in the world. God has intended a destiny for my life from the very beginning of time.”

And as far as their attitudes towards relationships, the resilient disciples are light years ahead when it comes to maintaining deep friendships. They have people around them who are open and honest about their weaknesses. They feel as though they are loved and they belong in the world. They are relationally whole.

So what does all this mean for ministry leaders in 2022, seeking to reach the next generation?

It’s not about making people happy.

If you want to make more impact in our current digital Babylon, measure things that make a difference in formation. If you follow the breadcrumbs back to the reasons why you’re doing certain things in ministry, you might find that it’s actually more about making a human being happy rather than pleasing God.

We may think we’re measuring the right things but this research lays it out for us: Identity in Jesus, cultural discernment, meaningful intergenerational relationships, vocational discipleship, and countercultural mission. These five guardrails to effective discipleship in our current culture are worth measuring and exploring.

Is what you’re doing helping to grow young people in deeper intimacy with Jesus? Is it giving them a cultural discernment based on scripture and meaningful relationships? Are they being vocationally discipled and formed into a countercultural witness?

One day we’re going to stand before Creator God and be accountable for what we did with our lives and ministries.

So while it’s still called today, let’s focus on what matters.

For more insight into the latest research concerning Christianity and the emerging generation, check out The Cause+Effect podcast episode, Finding Faith as an Exile with David Kinnaman. You can also find David’s book, ‘Faith for Exiles: Five Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon‘ anywhere books are sold.

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