A Case for Analog Disciple Making

Is digital on the way out? Is analog on the way in?

A new book by David Sax, The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter, focuses on recent movement away from digital technology and back toward “real things” like vinyl records, board games, hardcover books, and face-to-face education.

I’ve experienced this phenomenon. A few years ago, when I was riding the bus to work every day, nearly half the books I read were on my Kindle. Today, that number has plummeted to maybe 10 percent or less. I am back to reading print and enjoying the experience more than ever.

I am not alone. Last year, hardcover books outsold ebooks, something that would have been considered unthinkable a few years ago.

The Revenge of Analog‘s analysis goes beyond “nostalgia” for past possessions. According to Sax, we invest physical objects with significance. There is something about pulling a book down off the shelf and thumbing through all our notes that is irreplaceable by an ebook, no matter how many highlights we made.

To be clear, this book doesn’t claim that digital innovations will disappear, or that we will see a massive retreat from a digital future. But Sax does believe that in a digital world, certain physical objects become morevaluable, not less. In other words, the revenge of analog does not mean that ebooks will now go away. It means that print is not dead, nor will it die, and what is printed may matter more.

Analog Classrooms

The same goes for education. Sax points out the rise and fall of the MOOC–the Massive Online Open Courses–that began in 2008 and took off in 2012. Today, the MOOC phenomenon has receded, due partly to “dismally low completion rates for those who enrolled” and “mediocre achievement rates for the few who finished.” Some studies show that more than 90 percent of people who enrolled dropped out.

Sax believes the key to education is the teacher, and no matter how good your digital strategy is, the classroom experience cannot be fully replicated online. He writes:

“Teachers are the key to analog education’s past, present, and future, and no technology can or should replace them. Not because they have the most knowledge, but because without them, education is no more than facts passed back and forth. If you want facts, go read a book. If you want to learn, find a teacher.” (202)

Sax also points out the community aspect of a physical classroom, where everyone is learning something together.

“Analog education, which happened in classrooms between teachers and students, and between students and other students, was more than just the transfer of data. That was the basis. But what teachers did, and could only do in the flesh-and-blood, person-to-person environments we call schools, was to take that raw information and mold it into knowledge.” (203)

Analog Discipleship

I wonder what this refocus on flesh-and-blood engagement will mean for discipleship. We live in a time when it is easier than ever to access good content.

  • You can download podcasts or listen to great preachers from our era or previous eras.
  • You can subscribe to the Great Courses and walk through various subjects.
  • YouTube may be a wasteland of cat videos and movie clips, but it’s also a place where you can find lecture after lecture from some of the most eminent scholars in the world.
  • Without ever leaving your living room, you can read all the books you want from the ancient church fathers. You can find Puritan literature for free online. Dozens of books from last century’s writers, like G. K. Chesterton, are available on Kindle for less than a couple dollars.

Now, it is easy for people to have access to all of this knowledge and think that this is the path to discipleship. Watch the right content, download the right lecture, read the right Bible study, and you’ll grow as a Christian. It’s never been easier to get great content.

But you need more than good content to disciple you; you need godly Christians. While content from Christians may aid in your discipleship process, you need real-life flesh-and-blood, Spirit-filled Christiansaround you to help you become more like Jesus.

There is no such thing as digital-only discipleship. It’s all analog, because we are embodied people who long for real life community that goes beyond virtual hangouts. Furthermore, pursuing knowledge apart from relationship can become a vice instead of a virtue, the kind of knowledge that puffs up but does not edify.

Disciple-making is accomplished by modelers, not just messengers. We develop not merely through cognitive transfer, but also through witnessing the lives and choices of other disciples we encounter on our way. Perhaps this is the reason why the Old Testament emphasizes meditation and memorization of Scripture alongside conversations about the Law that take place in the daily rhythms of life.

The teachers who make the biggest difference on our lives are those who not only give us knowledge but who know us well enough to speak truth into the specifics of our lives, to give counsel from their vast experience and biblical storehouse. That’s why we can have confidence that analog discipleship isn’t going away any time soon. This is the one-on-one discipleship that builds up the church and changes the world.

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Trevin Wax

Trevin Wax

My name is Trevin Wax. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. My wife is Corina, and we have two children: Timothy (7) and Julia (3). Currently, I serve the church by working at LifeWay Christian Resources as managing editor of The Gospel Project, a gospel-centered small group curriculum for all ages that focuses on the grand narrative of Scripture. I have been blogging regularly at Kingdom People since October 2006. I frequently contribute articles to other publications, such as Christianity Today. I also enjoy traveling and speaking at different churches and conferences. My first book, Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals, was published by Crossway Books in January 2010. (Click here for excerpts and more information.) My second book, Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope(Moody Publishers) was released in April 2011.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
— Glenna Hendricks
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright

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