Since Jesus formed the Christian church upon the confession and person of Peter, learning has been at the center of all her activities. Jesus’ prime method for establishing the church was discipleship. Discipleship was not merely something Jesus did in a classroom, it was how He lived and shared His very life with His followers. Robert Coleman noted in his landmark book, The Master Plan of Evangelism, “One cannot transform a world except as individuals in the world are transformed, and individuals cannot be changed except as they are molded in the hands of the Master” (Coleman 1993, 24).
Accordingly, Matthew recorded that Jesus literally recruited fishermen to be His first “fishers of men” with His new gospel of the Kingdom. Matthew 4:18-20 reads, “18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.” As stated in this passage Jesus did not recruit His first disciples from the Jewish schools of higher learning, nor the philosophical schools of the Greeks and Romans, however, He picked ordinary and unlearned men to do extraordinary things in the world (Acts 4:13). Coleman also noted this by writing:
They were indeed “unlearned and ignorant” according to the world’s standard (Acts 4:13), but they were teachable. Though often mistaken in their judgments and slow to comprehend spiritual things, they were honest men, willing to confess their need. Their mannerisms may have been awkward and their abilities limited, but with the exception of the traitor, their hearts were big. What is perhaps most significant about them was their sincere yearning for God and the realities of his life. The superficiality of the religious life about them had not obsessed their hope for the Messiah (John 1:41, 45, 49; 6:69). They were fed up with the hypocrisy of the ruling aristocracy. Some of them had already joined the revival movement of John the Baptist (John 1:35). These men were looking for someone to lead them in the way of salvation. Such men, pliable in the hands of the Master, could be molded into a new image-Jesus can use anyone who wants to be used (Coleman 1993, 23).
The main reason for Jesus choosing uneducated men as His first disciples was not that He did not value education (because this was the very thing He was going to do with them under His tutelage), but rather He most likely did not want to spend His limited ministry time upon the earth (roughly three years) to go through the lengthy process of retraining minds that had been taught to think in another way in regards to God. Jesus wanted teachable men and the ones He chose were prime candidates to learn and be taught the new and radical ways of God’s Kingdom. For example, in the realm of being creative and taking on new ideas, a child will speedily jump on new opportunities, whereas, an adult can be very hesitant and resistant. Contemporary artist Shantell Martin notes the following:
“If you ask a kid, ‘Can you draw?’ They answer, ‘Yeah, of course. Where are the pens?’ But if you ask an adult, they often say ‘Oh, no. I can’t draw.’ or, ‘I can only draw stick men.’ Through this infrastructure that we call the school system, or just the social system, we’ve trained creativity out of people. When you’re a kid, and if you can’t draw a house that looks like a house, then you fail. If you can’t draw a person that looks like a person, you fail. All those kids that had a crazy imagination, that were doing their own creative thing, and had their own unique style, they’re told ‘You fail, you fail, you fail.’ We all have that voice inside that says, ‘You can’t do that.’ And you have to overpower that voice. It’s definitely about patience and confidence. Unlearning is harder than learning” (Martin 2014).
Likewise, Jesus answered His disciple’s question about who was the “greatest” in the Kingdom of God by saying, “3 Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4). Paul, the last apostle chosen by Christ (after His resurrection), who was a learned man that studied under one of Judaism’s finest teachers- Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), noted the following, “What is more, I consider everything a loss [including his prior education] because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8) and “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21). As a result, Paul made it clear in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 who God was primarily calling to be His disciples:
26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not —to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him.
At the same time, after Jesus called His first apostles to be the founders of the church, they soon became consumed with fulfilling the Great Commission; “making disciples that make disciples,” by “teaching them to obey everything” Jesus taught them (Matthew 28:19). After Jesus’ ascension and outpouring at Pentecost Luke records in the book of Acts that the new disciples, “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching… [and] every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts” (Acts 2:46). The desire to learn was so great among the first disciples that it is recorded that on one occasion Paul taught them from morning until midnight and no one dared to leave, lest they miss a portion of the wisdom being poured out from God’s servant (Acts 20:9).
EDUCATION INNOVATIONS IN CHURCH HISTORY
After the timeframe noted in the book of Acts and the death of the last living apostle, John the beloved (approx. 100 AD), history records that disciples of the first disciples began to carry on the teachings of Jesus in new and creative ways. Since Jesus did not write down any of His own teachings personally, but worked through the Holy Spirit to inspire the writings now known as the New Testament via His apostles, the second generation of disciples were left with the task of organizing and preserving the documents, making doctrinal creeds (e.g., “The Apostle’s Creed”), and books to help summarize and explain those original teachings. These new writings were for the purpose of teaching and training the new disciples so that the gospel torch could be handed down throughout the ages until Christ’s return (Habakkuk 2:14).
For roughly the first 300 hundred years the church used its best minds to write defenses against the Roman and heretical antagonists of the day. The Romans were heavily persecuting the Christian church because they saw it as a threat to Cesar and to the unity of the Empire. The heretics, such as the Gnostics, felt they had much deeper and more accurate doctrinal truths that needed to overthrow the teachings of the newly founded church. One such author, Justin Martyr in the second century, is known for being the church’s first apologist because he wrote extensively to the Roman powers of his day lengthy defenses of the Christian church. Onward into the third century, Tertullian (who coined the term, “Trinity”), is considered to be the church’s first theologian (in a modern sense) because he used the canonized Bible to teach systematic theology. He was also a power defender of the faith against the Gnostic invasion.
Not only did the church use its wisdom from God to refute their rivals, they also established schools to instruct their new converts and rise up new leaders. The Alexandrian School, established in 185 AD, was a catechetical school “to instruct converts from paganism to Christianity” (Cairns 1981, 110). Then came the Carthaginian School, founded by Tertullian in northern Africa. Soon afterward in the fourth century, the monasteries began to spring up in various places as a means of both focused study and personal piety. Such leaders as Anthony (251-356), Athanasius (296-373), Basil of Caesarea (330-379), and Benedict of Nursia (480-542) organized and popularized monasticism, which served as a great contributor to Scripture preservation and prolific theological writing.
Later in the Middle Ages an “intellectual revolution” began with learned leaders like Peter Abelard (1079-1142) where the merging of human reason and Christian doctrine became organized with teachers and students (Shelly 1995, 195-196). From this revolution in learning came the first universities (Latin, universitas, which means, “a whole”) as multiple teachers came together in one place to teach different subjects to a variety of students from different nations. The first of these universities was the University of Bologna, which was established in 1088. Christians in England followed this pattern by establishing the University of Oxford (1096) and Cambridge (1134).
The Protestant Reformation, joining with the Renaissance revival of the 15th and 16th centuries, continued the advancement of organized education by establishing its first universities in Germany; the University of Tubingen (1477) and Philipp University of Marburg (1527). Not to long after the Christian settlers moved to North America they established their own schools of higher learning; Harvard University (1636), Yale University (1701), and Princeton University (1746). Sadly, over time, especially in the U.S., like with many other things in modern society, the church has lost its influence over the universities that it once had at their conception. For example read the inscription at Harvard’s Johnston Gates and see how far the school has fallen from their founder’s vision:
After God had carried us safe to New-England, and wee had builded our houses, provided necessaries for our livelihood, rear’d convenient places for Gods worship, and setled the Civill Government: One of the next things we longed for, and looked after was to advance Learning and perpetuate it to Posterity; dreading to leave an illiterate Ministery to the Churches, when our present Ministers shall lie in the Dust. And as we were thinking and consulting how to effect this great work, it pleased Got to stir up the heart of one Mr. Harvard (a godly gentleman and a lover of learning; then living amongst us) to give one-half of his estate (it being in all about £1,700) towards the erecting of a Colledge, and all his library. After him, another gave £300; others after them cast in more; and the public hand of the State added the rest. The Colledge was by common consent appointed to be at Cambridge (a place very pleasant and accommodate), and is called (according to the name of the first founder) Harvard Colledge.
Sadly, like Harvard, most of the schools named in this brief introduction and their student bodies have dramatically increased in secularism and decreased in Christian practice. Therefore, it is the intent of this paper to encourage the modern leadership in the church to seize the day and use all the technological resources available to further the great commission of the church with the usage of online educational models, specifically within local church discipleship programs.
Therefore, let those who are alive today add one more component to their ancestor’s passion for Christian education- technology. As a result, may the church be proficient in reason, Christian doctrine, and technology.
The Online Learning Revolution
What do Khan Academy, Coursera, Udemy, Moodle, Youtube, Wikipedia, and edX all have in common? They are all leading the way in the online learning revolution. Khan Acedemy, Coursera, and edX (founded by Harvard and MIT) all work with existing professors and teachers to share their classes for free online. Udemy is a hosting site for anyone to make and share their classes online in a very organized and effective way, either for free or for a minimal charge.
Moodle is a free online learning platform and virtual classroom that anyone can use to teach from. Even though Moodle does not come with its own streaming video and audio options, it is very easy to integrate a YouTube live streaming feed to it. Thus, making it an, “all-in-one” package for all teachers. As most already know, Wikipedia is the largest free online encyclopedia, that is currently almost identical in its reliability to other learning platforms, like the Encyclopedia Britannica (specifically in non-controversial subjects like math, science, geography, etc.) (Reliability of Wikipedia, 2015).
The online learning revolution is being felt in some of the most prestigious schools of learning, even in what are perceived to be the hardest and most complex subjects. For example, Peter Norvig and Sebestian Thrun led an online class on “Artificial Intelligence” from Stanford University to over 160,000 students online in 209 countries (Norvig, 2012). They designed their class and instructional videos, based on the findings of Benjamin Bloom from MIT, which indicated that one-on-one tutoring is far move effective than conventional classroom learning (Bloom, 1984). As a result, they made their instructional videos 2-6 minutes in length, with interactive questions and then “flipped the classroom” by having students watch the lecture on their own first and then do homework together in work groups. Then following Eric Manzur’s research from Harvard, in regards to peer-to-peer learning, they encouraged the students to find study groups online to do their homework with so the students could also act as the teacher (Manzur, 2015).
Since the class was just a social experiment with no real credit to earn, only about half of the students watched one video per week and just over 20,000 finished the course. However, the real accomplishment was the fact that the students who did participate from start to finish were able to fully learn the information just like the prior students had while being in the actual classroom. In other words, in a matter of 10 weeks instead of training just 200 students, the same professors with the same materials, using online learning models, effectively trained over 20,000 students- that’s an increase of 9900%!
Another example of the online learning revolution can be seen with Khan Academy, which is a free website that primarily offers elementary to high school level learning. They currently have 6 million unique students taking one or more classes every month, with an astonishing 25 million registered users (Khan Academy, 2015). The classes are made in a simple “watch and do” format. They are available anytime and go in order from beginner to more advanced. The founder, Sal Khan, came up with the whole idea while using YouTube to make instructional videos to teach his cousin math. Now with over 6,500 videos the concept has grown and is expanding to make education “for free, for everyone, forever.” Their current performance matches perfectly their motto, “You can learn anything.” They are a non-for-profit and need financial backing, however, as of now; this has not been a problem because they have received millions from Google and endorsements from billionaires like Bill Gates. Truly Sal’s tutoring video concept has caught the tech world’s attention and approval.
Moving on, much could be said about Wikipedia and how it has changed the world of encyclopedia-based learning by making its content open for all to edit and free for every one to read. Also, YouTube, has made it possible for anyone with a computer and a camera to share their ideas and innovations without any cost. However, most already know about the impact and potential of these websites. Therefore, it would now be good to focus more time on Moodle. Moodle is a free open source-learning platform (known as a “LMS,” “Learning Management Software”) that is used by schools everywhere. Even such noted schools as Trinity Evangelical Divinity School use its platform as a “virtual classroom.”
The brilliance of Moodle is not just that it provides a place for professors and students to interact with each other through assignments and homework, but that it actually can host the entire class from start to finish with the most technological features. In comparison, Blackboard (Moodle’s biggest competition), can cost thousands of dollars, yet it doesn’t even have as many functions (Software Insider, 2015). Moodle offers over 1,000 plugins with an option to translate the content into over 100 languages. Therefore, Moodle makes it possible for anyone with a website to host their online classroom for free around the world. They currently, have 65 million users, working with tens of thousands of schools and learning environments (ex., businesses, churches, and government training, etc.).
As a result of the all online learning models discussed, this author agrees whole-heartedly with the words of Sal Khan, found in the introduction to his book, The One World School House, “I believe that the way we teach and learn is at a once-a-millennium turning point” (Khan 2012, 1). Just like how the university model in the Middle Ages brought about holistic learning so students could have multiple masters and in the Reformation the printing press made it possible for every student to access the sources personally, likewise, today technology (via the online learning models) has brought about a new revolution of learning that can take the church and it’s mission of making disciples to greater effectiveness than ever before. Individual churches can make and post all of their discipleship and leadership materials online for free, in multiple languages, for the whole world to see and know God in a more robust way. Plus, Christian universities and Bible colleges can use today’s cutting edge technology to give their education away for free to the mission field- just like Harvard has done with some of their classes via edX!
The Basics of Contemporary Discipleship
Much has been written about discipleship in the last 50 years, not to mention the great work that was done by John Wesley and the Methodist Movement in the 1700’s. Two books that bare brief mentioning here are, The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and, The Master Plan of Evangelism, by Robert Coleman. Bonhoeffer’s book is looked at as the standard for what one might call, “the inner attributes of a disciple.” His book goes into great detail teaching the call to die to one’s self and live the life of love as taught be Jesus in the beatitudes. Also, he makes great points to encourage every Christian to remain committed to the church and communal spirituality.
On the other hand, Coleman’s book is the gold standard for what can be called, “practical discipleship.” He took the life of Jesus with His disciples and developed an easy to follow eight-step pattern: Selection, Association, Consecration, Impartation, Demonstration, Delegation, Supervision, and Reproduction. Surprisingly, in this author’s opinion, if one were to combine both books and add some modern stats, George Barna’s book, Growing True Disciples, would come out. Now since these great resources are well-known and easy to access. This section will focus more on what can be called, “The Basics of Contemporary Discipleship.” Consequently, this section aims to answer the two following questions: “What are the main components and methods the church should use to fulfill the Great Commission?” And, “What should be the desired outcomes of online discipleship models?”
First, answering the question about discipleship’s main components and methods, the church (i.e., “the local church”) should have a simple process by which they desire to make disciples. Simple Church, by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger, offers great suggestions into making a simple, repeatable, easy to follow discipleship plan. For example, a church could use and make a simple three-step process called, “Connect, Mentor, and Send.” The “connect” step would be Sunday services and life groups. The “mentor” phase could be different levels of class-based training. Lastly, “send” could be the final step in which trained leaders are sent out to replicate the process.
Second, contemporary discipleship should encourage individualized mentorship. Just like Jesus was hands-on with His twelve, so the local church must be hands-on with those they choose to mentor. Here is where the church takes a different direction than most of today’s online education. The church cannot just make videos for disciples to watch with questions to answer and then call it “discipleship.” It could rightly call those kinds of methods “training or schooling,” but it cannot call it discipleship. Discipleship, by definition according to Jesus, must be relational and personalized (e.g., “small group based or one-on-one”) (Mark 3:14).
Third, the church must use technology to assist its purpose in making disciples. Just like how the previous point affirms that the church cannot stray away from relationship-based learning, on the other side of the coin, the church cannot be afraid to move away from old methods. It’s not hard to imagine that if Paul was alive today that he would have a live webcast, Facebook page, Skype account, and a YouTube channel (or the like). The reasons would be obvious, if he could reach more people in the same day with the same materials, why not? In regards to, “doing whatever it takes” to win souls Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23:
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
The key section in this passage at the end should not be easily passed over, Paul said, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel…” The church must become “tech savvy,” so that by all possible “online methods,” some might be saved!
Lastly, the church needs to have planned delegation to release its people to be active disciple makers both in the church and everywhere the church goes. Some of the greatest ways that technology is being used in education is with “peer-to-peer” learning. The church must also utilize this technique, not only because it is effective, but more importantly, because it was the very intention of Jesus. In the Great Commission Jesus didn’t intend to make a pyramid structure where only the process of discipleship could be done via the top leadership. Rather, Jesus was creating a cell-like structure that would be able to branch out organically in multiple directions at one time.
Next, after the local church has these four components; a simple process, individualized mentoring, cutting edge technology, and planned delegation; the next question to answer is, “What should be the desired outcomes of online discipleship models?” These outcomes should be the kind of markers that Jesus taught His disciples to have so they could be effective in the Kingdom of God. Below are some simple, yet very important, indicators for successful discipleship models in the 21st century.
First, the disciples formed in the process should be Christ-like. Certainly, this can be easier said than done, however, there was and is, a real expectation on Jesus’ part and among the apostles, that Christ’s example was to truly be the standard for every believer, not just the spiritually elite. Therefore, disciples should pray like Jesus, live moral lives like Jesus, talk and walk like Jesus, and really be Jesus’ representation upon the earth. John, the apostle, said in his epistle, “In this world we are like Jesus” (1 John 4:17).
Second, the end result should produce people of courage, conviction, and compassion, in others words, world changers. No one can truly be taught and put into practice Jesus’ revolutionary teaching without becoming a revolutionary. The Father did not send Jesus so He could just be another “good man” within history that people could choose to admire from a distance without any real daily application or spiritual transformation. Rather, the very nature of Jesus’ incarnation into the world calls for the same kind of incarnational style of service to the world by all his followers. Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing” (John 14:12).
Lastly, disciples should be innovators and creators of new ideas within every sphere of their life (e.g., “the world of commerce, in medicine, charity, technology, in the family, etc.”). The doctor who has become Christ’s disciple, should be so inspired by the life of Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit, that he is willing to work harder than everyone else and try his best to glorify God by discovering the hidden treasures in his field. The same is true with the teacher, businessperson, sale’s rep, stay at home mom, and so forth. Today’s disciples should be a force of nature in their jobs and in the community so that the Kingdom of God will shine forth like light striking a diamond producing a myriad of reflections.
Merging Discipleship With Online Education
Now that the groundwork has been laid for the foundation and importance of education in the church, along with briefly describing both the revolution in online education and the basics of contemporary discipleship, it is time to merge it all together. Henceforth, there are four online education models that the local church should utilize for discipleship. They are: (1) The Virtual Classroom, (2) Flipping the Classroom, (3) Peer-to-Peer Teaching and Evaluating, and (4) Video Teacher-to-Student Mentoring.
Before giving each model their description and application, it is good to note the following three things. First, the local church is better equipped in technology than any generation before it. For example, in the 1950-60’s there didn’t even exist a practical way to disburse the local pastor’s messages to the all people, other than in person or in writing (TV placement was far too expensive for the average pastor). In the 1980’s just having a video distribution ministry (via VHS) was cutting edge and mostly only reserved for the larger churches. And even in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, to have a CD or DVD distribution of the pastor’s messages was both costly and rare comparatively to the hundreds of thousands of churches in the U.S. However, now every church that has a website and an inexpensive webcam can literally broadcast their messages around the world and make them available to anyone at anytime via the Internet.
Second, as technology gets better, it also gets easier. For example, when TV recording technology was in its infancy, one had to learn the complicated recording procedure for VHS players. These manuals were notorious for being hard to comprehend and the payoff would be short lived because each new show required a new complicated program setting. However, now in recent times cable companies have built “DVR’s,” (“Digital Video Recorders”) into their cable boxes, making recording a breeze. Even the most illiterate of tech users (Grandparents, children under 5 years old, etc.) can easily record their favorite programs and series. Therefore, the same is true with virtual classrooms, video and audio production, and chat boards. Now there are literally dozens of online companies competing with each to be the easiest and most affordable. Also, as mentioned before, many of the best programs are actually free, e.g., “YouTube and Moodle.” YouTube is a very simple and easy to use video hosting and live webcast production site. Moodle, is said to be by the leading voices in the industry, to be the easiest to use for virtual classrooms because it “makes designing and implementing a lesson plan a breeze… [and] is by far the most intuitive” (Best E-Learning Platforms, 2015).
Lastly, just as the world of online education has been growing at the speed of light so has the online resources and training for churches. For example, Ministry Grid, is an online training website with over 3,000 videos that churches can use for a minimal cost to train their leaders. It could work as a “stand alone” program or be implemented into new courses designed by local churches. Plus, there are many videos and blogs, like this project paper, that can help pastors and leaders use the Internet for their discipleship classes. No longer do church leaders have to wait to attend a training event or conference to gain the new skills needed to expand their programs or obtain innovating resources. Today, it all can be done from the Internet itself! In other words, “online educators are training other online educators!”
Now on to the four models worth using and implementing in the church for the sake of discipleship, the first is, the virtual classroom. A virtual classroom is a place online where a teacher meets with their students for the purpose of exchanging information. The teacher can post the following: (1) Audio/video lessons, (2) Reading assignments, (3) Group projects, (4) Tests and quizzes, (5) Discussion boards, and (6) Journal entries. As mentioned previously, Moodle, is a free online classroom platform that can accomplish all the things mentioned, both for free and with very little effort.
Considering Moodle as an example for discipleship, the church would have to do the following four things: First, purchase a website for Moodle to be hosted on (or integrate it onto the existing church website). Second, watch some short training videos provided by Moodle (or others on YouTube) to learn how to set up the classrooms. Third, register the students on Moodle (this could be done in person to help assist). Lastly, begin placing the resources for the class onto the site.
Practically, here is how it could work with a local church discipleship program: First, make an announcement in church to start the discipleship 101 class on Thursdays at 7pm. Second, ask everyone interested in signing up to meet after church for a lunch, from 12pm-1pm. Third, at the lunch, the perspectives students could be told how the class will be both in person on Thursdays from 7pm-8:30pm, and online with an additional hour of work. Fourth, after those at the lunch decide if their going to join, the teacher could begin to sign them up to Moodle and teach them how to access the site on Sunday to do the work needed prior to Thursdays class.
Next, once the class started, the church could use Moodle for keeping attendance (both online and in person), posting up videos, doing class work, having discussion, and encouraging the students to journal. Plus, throughout the class duration the teacher could do evaluations of the students to insure that they are fulfilling the requirements needed to graduate the class in good standing. By using Moodle as a virtual classroom the church would be able to eliminate the need for “handing in assignments,” making and selling DVD’s and the like, because the video lessons (both prior to class and recorded in the class itself) can be posted for all to see for free, along with keeping good records.
FLIPPING THE CLASSROOM
Second, the church can use the model of “flipping the classroom” for the sake of better interaction when actually meeting in person. In the old classroom model the teacher gave the main information in person in the form of long lectures. Afterward, the teacher would assign homework for the students to do outside the classroom. Online education, like that of edX, has showed remarkable success by posting the main informational lectures upfront before the class so that when the class actually meets they can do projects and assignments together as a group. By doing the projects and assignments in the class, with both the other students and teacher present, it gives the chance to see who is really understanding the things taught or just receiving head knowledge. This is kind of “living out the lesson” is very important in the church setting because this was the nature of Jesus’ discipleship training. He lived out His teachings with His disciples and expected them to do the same (Matthew 16:13-20).
In practical terms flipping the classroom in a discipleship class could look like the professor making a short 3-5 minute video each week that captures the main points of the lesson and then ask the students to watch it and discuss it online in a Discussion Board. Then when the class meets together for the lecture, it could be cut in half for the purpose of using the other half of the class for group projects. For example, if the lesson was on humility, the class could be broken up into small groups and asked to go around to each student and ask them to share their most difficult challenge in overcoming their pride. Then the group together could give counsel and scriptural advice to each other so that they could overcome their personal challenges.
PEER TO PEER TEACHING AND EVALUATION
Third, the “peer-to-peer” teaching and evaluation model could be used both online and in the classroom within the discipleship context. Instead of having the teacher grade everyone’s assignments, the class could be divided up into “study partners.” This could be done for the whole duration of the class or for each individual assignment (picking someone new each week). Either way, the partners would be responsible to grade and evaluate another student’s assignments. Though this system may not be perfect, it has shown to be highly effective and save time.
Just for an experiment for this project the author asked a set of people online to read a discipleship lesson and grade each other. Then the author graded the papers and found that his grades were almost 90% similar to the student’s grades. Shockingly, where there was a difference, it was mostly in regards to the teacher being more gracious, whereas, the students graded each other more strictly.
Practically, the discipleship teacher could use this peer-to-peer evaluating and mentoring if they asked each student to find someone every week to grade their peer’s assignments and then offer helpful advice. To safe guard the integrity of the class, the students could protest or challenge the grade and advice given by their fellow student if they felt they were treated unfairly. Since everything would be documented, the troubling situation would be easy to resolve (instead of, “he said, she said trials”). Therefore, by using this technique, the teacher could feel confident that each student is getting the attention they need and that they are growing at a healthy rate compared to their peers. Plus, the teacher would be free to spend more time one-on-one with those they felt needed it most.
VIDEO DIRECT MENTORING
Fourth, the local church discipleship program could use the online method of “direct student to teaching mentoring” via videos. As Khan Academy showed, YouTube videos done correctly, can actually simulate the experience of a having a tutor. Even Khan himself, noted that his first student (his cousin), preferred the video tutoring, because she was not under any social pressure with him being present (i.e., “trying to please the teacher”) and was able to stop and rewind the lesson as often as possible until she fully learned the lesson (TED Talk, Khan, 2011).
Therefore, the teacher of the discipleship class could really focus on making videos that are not just “lecture based,” but rather “tutor based.” Meaning, instead of just reading the materials and teaching as one would in the traditional sense, the video could assume that the teacher is just talking to one person and make simple points that would be easy to understand. As mentioned before, Peter Norvig and Sebestian Thrun, led an online class on “Artificial Intelligence” from Stanford University and used this technique very effectively. Thus, the difficulty of the subject doesn’t affect the method. Simple and more personal is always better when it comes to teaching because no matter how complex the subject is, it can always be broken down into a conversational video with easy to understand points within a 3-5 minute timeframe. This might mean the teacher will have to lengthen the time he or she spends on one lesson, but if the class is truly designed to make disciples, the extra time will be worth it.
In the local church, this method could work great because the videos would help each student feel informed and connected to the teacher’s wisdom before he or she lectures on the subject. Plus, if the student has questions they can discuss them with their peers beforehand on the Discussion Board. Lastly, when the student finally comes to the Thursday class, they will have grasped the main concept, found the answers to all their questions, and understood the teacher’s main points. As a result, they will be ready to interact with the things that have learned, moving from information, to transformation!
The church has led the way in education at various times in history with the development of the university model and the printing press. Now today the church needs to continue its influence by using online education models to further the Great Commission. This paper set out to offer some helpful guides to merging the best of online education and discipleship. Consider some of the author’s conclusions made after researching this subject.
First, the church has an opportunity, like never before, to bridge the language, geographic, and cultural gaps in discipleship with the use of technology. Like with Standford’s class via edX, the church could easily hold discipleship courses with 160,000 students in 60 different countries at one time studying together! With some practice and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, every church could prayerfully adopt another church on the mission field (like in the 10/40 window) and begin to train them as they are training they own people. Just imagine what it would do for a local church in Fort Wayne, Indiana to do weekly assignments, peer evaluations, and discussion boards with someone from Pakistan or Indonesia. Not to mention the spontaneous relationships that could be started and fostered through video chatting and social networking.
Second, local pastors and church leaders don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time they want to train their people in something new. As this online discipleship revolution grows, churches around the world, will be able to share their resources with each other for free, just like they do in Khan Academy. Hopefully in the near future this will happen. Sadly, most websites that offer such things today for the churches still have a fee (e.g., “Ministry Grid”). Therefore, it is the hope of this author that groups of educators wihtin churches and Bible Colleges will join together in a way similar to Khan Academy and give it all away!
Lastly, and most importantly, discipleship is much more than just head knowledge and the gaining of information. It is inward and outward spiritual transformation, the formation of Christ in both the individual and the universal church (Galatians 4:19). Therefore, technology must never take the place of physical interaction and personal relationships within the church. That is why small groups and the like will always be a necessity in making new disciples. Humans need humans to grow and develop into the image of God. This was Jesus method from the start, God working within people to make other people His disciples. Therefore, the church must make sure that technology never changes that, but only compliments it (Matthew 28:19-20).
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 Certainly, both Jesus and the writers of the New Testament, especially Paul, could be considered the church’s first apologist and theologians. However, these titles apply to the above-mentioned leaders because of their role in using the Bible (with the newly formed NT) as their means of teaching. Plus, since they used the Bible as their main source, they were able to outline its main teachings in a way unique to the authors and Christ Himself. At the same time, it is the author’s conviction that whatever good the early church did, it was only because of Jesus’ atonement and the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit, thus all credit goes to God.
 This kind of organic cell like structure, versus the rigid pyramid style of top down organizations doesn’t mean that the church should not operate with submission to godly leadership. Rather, it means that the church structure should be open for all kinds of growth to happen spontaneously, yet under the watchful care of the elders and deacons (Hebrews 13:17).
 For example, if someone were simply to go to the “Amazon Book Store” online and type in their search bar, “Online Teaching,” they would see a plethora of books that are designed to help teachers design online courses (within many different platforms) that are effective and practical.