Theological Education for Digital Natives, Evangelical Focus

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The truths of the gospels are immutable and eternal. This does not only mean that they are always the same, but rather that they must be applied at different times in history and in different cultural contexts.

Our role as Christians is that of understand how such truths are applied here and now; to the questions of our contemporary world.

In addition to having a thorough knowledge of the Bible, we must also understand the environment and the people with whom we share the gospel through cultural and sociological research.

Through a case study of the Invisible Collegea teaching institute offering courses in theology and philosophy in Brazil, we analyze the above questions, with a focus on digital natives and generation Z.

A generation can be defined as a portion of the population that has experienced similar social, cultural and technological events.[1]

Even though there are some specificities based on local contexts, it is important for us to understand the general characteristics of a certain group, their preferences, tastes, lifestyles, dilemmas and desires.

The more we understand a certain generation, the greater the likelihood of communicating effectively with people of that generation and contextualize the gospel for them, apply biblical truths to contemporary challenges. [2]

The native digital generation, made up of people born between 1996 and 2012 (also known as Generation Z), was given this name because of a key characteristic: it is the first generation to be born and raised in a context where digital technologies were already widely available for the general population.

They have never known life outside of today’s ubiquitous digital technologies.

These technologies are essential for the daily life of this generation,[3] be used for a wide range of daily activities such as: communicating with friends, sending resumes for job offers, ordering food, studying, researching stores and restaurants, and monitoring physical activities.

In short, it is a generation that carved itself out being just a click away from any essential. Everything is accessible and easily available via a smartphone.

Image via Lausanne Movement

In 2019, we asked ourselves the following questions: What options would there be for people who want to pursue theological studies but cannot attend a traditional seminary, whether because of high cost, a lack of time or geographical constraints? would prefer content that reflects biblical orthodoxy; and are of a younger generation?

Very few options that we know of are available. So we thought of a way to contribute to the theological formation of these people.

Our initial proposal was simply to make available, free of charge, a guide to theological studiesso that each interested party can use it in the conduct of their individual studies.

Subsequently, when we realized that there was potential and that we had to move forward, we officially created the invisible collegea school specializing in theology and philosophy for digital nativesa segment of the public that, by 2025, will represent the majority of the working population.[4]

Studies have clearly shown that people are interested in the highest quality theological learning. They want options that don’t forego rigor, but are contextualized and adaptable to different routines and realities.

What we have done here at Invisible College is just a small contribution to that. There is still a lot of work to do!

From its initial foundation to its development to this day, we have always tried to answer these questions: How to offer a flexible pedagogy, but without loss of quality?

How to tell this generation of digital natives the importance and relevance of theological studies? How to offer a relational environment even in an institution that operates in a completely digital format without any physical premises?

The answers we provide form the backbone and characteristics of the Invisible College. Each seeks to adapt to the generation of our target of interest: the digital natives.

1. Storage

The first noteworthy feature within our college is that of offering curation. The blessing of having access to everything, anytime and anywhere, can become a curse if the right direction is not given.

We live in a time when a Brazilian student can have instant access to books, lectures or courses given by anyone from anywhere in the world.

However, how can we choose what we consume? What books should we read, or how to start?

To meet this need, one of our main work projects is that of content orientation, organized in a didactic way and made freely available to everyone.

2. Guardianship

The second characteristic is our didactic methodology. The main characteristic of the Gen Zers is to be multiconnected.

This means almost simultaneous participation in different social groups, work, studies, friends, church, social projects and, in many cases, the absence of a strictly established routine, due to the new job configurations for work at remote or hybrid. [5]

It is also a generation that seeks protagonism in its activities and initiatives. In this way, we bring back a methodology of yesteryear, the tutoring system, used by universities like Oxford and Cambridge, although adapted to the digital context.

This methodology assumes a small number of courses, different from more traditional courses. In addition to lectures, students have contact with colleagues and tutors in regular meetings to discuss content, where learning takes place in a relational and collective way.

3. Communications

The third characteristic is our means of communication. Being able to discern the communicative specificities of the people we want to reach is an essential element so that what we offer is taken into account and becomes relevant for them.

In this way, without renouncing the rigor of the content, we have an aesthetic approach that is both visual and verbal, to dissociate the idea that theological studies are archaic, boring and irrelevant for people who do not exercise a function in the church.

The course names, the titles of the different modules and the choice of images and colors in our advertising materials are always thought of in context and as being appropriate to our target audience, breaking some stereotypes that many people have about the theology.

Theological training for digital natives

Even though significant progress has been made when it comes to digital natives, it is clear that many challenges lie ahead. Such the challenges are intrinsic to this generation, similar to those encountered in the local church, in evangelism and discipleship.

In the daily routine of our school, we have perceived that students are becoming more and more inattentive and anxious. There are several factors behind this. Here are some of them according to the research and studies that have been carried out.

As far as their inattentiveness is concerned, this is probably largely the result of the alternating, if not simultaneous, relationship between different social digital environments.

In general, a person is connected to a messaging application (with its many groups and individual conversations), a platform for the work team, an electronic messaging system and at least two or three social networks. Notifications arrive at any time.

Connectedness could also contribute to anxiety, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Indeed, the context of the network is ideal for sharing information, feelings and opinions, and the Gen Z feel comfortable with this situation.

In comparison, around the world, social media shapes expectations and behaviors and generates negative impacts on self-love, self-esteem and confidence.[6]

On the other hand, due to connection and the need for relevance, digital natives care about social transformation and environmental sustainability, and they strive to make a difference in the world through volunteerism.

Everything that has been done so far has only been a start. There are other practical questions and requests that still need to be addressed, to help this important generation not only know the gospel, but also live the gospel in their daily lives.

We need biblical wisdom to use social media correctly, understanding its relevance and importance, instead of just demonizing these media. On the other hand, we must also reject the unrestricted use which has led to serious problems, especially in terms of mental health.

The big question is: how to propose a balanced and healthy use, recognizing the benefits of technological advances but without idolizing them?

We have also need to search biblically for answers for this anxious and insecure generationwith affective maladjustment and a fragmented identity.

The solution is not some kind of superficial faith that makes people feel good, but rather an authentic faith that understands the reality of the human condition and follows in the footsteps of Jesus.

To finish, that all the vitality and disposition of people dissatisfied with the status quo be channeled for the common good, promote human dignity and justice, all for the glory of God.[7]

Kaiky Fernandez is a member of the Farol da Esperança Christian Church in Brazil. He graduated in Graphic Design from the Federal University of Goiás (UFG), with a specialization in Marketing Management from ESPM in Rio. He is the strategic coordinator of the Invisible College and a student of theology.

Pedro Dulci, has a doctorate from the Federal University of Goiás and is the co-founder and coordinator of the Invisible College. He is also a full-time pastor at Bereia Presbyterian Church in Goiânia, Goiás, Brazil.

Jhis article first appeared in the May 2022 issue of the Lausanne Global Analysisis and is published here with permission. To receive this free bimonthly publication of the Lausanne Movement, subscribe online at www.lausanne.org/analysis.

1. Jason Dorsey and Denise Villa, Zconomy: como a geração z vai mudar o futuro dos negócios, translated by Bruno Fiuzza and Roberta Clapp (Rio de Janeiro: Agir, 2021), 45.

2. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, O drama da doutrina: uma abordagem canônico-linguística da teologia cristã, translated by Daniel de Oliveira (São Paulo: Vida Nova, 2016), 276.

3. Philip Kotler, Hermawan Kartajaya and Iwan Setiawan, Marketing 5.0: tecnologia para a humanidade, translated by André Fontenelle (Rio de Janeiro: Sextante, 2021), 40.

4. Philip Kotler, Hermawan Kartajaya and Iwan Setiawan, Marketing 5.0: tecnologia para a humanidade, translated by André Fontenelle (Rio de Janeiro: Sextante, 2021), 41.

5- Jobs that alternate between face-to-face work at the company’s headquarters and remote work.

6. Jason Dorsey and Denise Villa, Zconomy: como a geração z vai mudar o futuro dos negócios, translated by Bruno Fiuzza and Roberta Clapp (Rio de Janeiro: Agir, 2021), 75-76.

7. Editor’s note: See Steve Moon’s article, “Reaching Gen Z with the Gospel,” in the March 2021 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis, .

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