Spiritual Formation In Online Education – Matthew Bell, Online Contributor
When I started teaching Spiritual Formation in 2015 I remember a couple of conversations with friends asking me how exactly that could be done? How do you teach the spiritual disciplines through the internet? How do you teach someone to fast, pray and meditate in an online course? The internet is for cats and memes, how could it be for Jesus? All of these are really good questions and I’d be kidding if I said I hadn’t thought of all of them (except the cats) myself.
The internet has exploded in the last 20 years to the point where almost everything is done online. From shopping to socializing, the internet has changed the world in a dramatic fashion. It’s easy to see why many look at this with suspicion. For all the good the internet has done one could argue it’s just as destructive. Morally speaking, the web is a neutral tool that can be used for both good and bad depending on the user and we hear a lot about the bad, but can we redeem the internet for God’s purposes? Can we use the internet to advance God’s Kingdom? I truly believe that where you heart is, there your technology will be also.
Back in 2012, Grey Matter Research released a study that seemed counterintuitive. They found that,
Among online Americans, Internet use for religious purposes is particularly common among the young. Fifty-seven percent of online adults under age 35 use the Internet for religion, compared to 48% who are 35 to 49 years old, 36% who are 50 to 64, and 31% who are 65 or older.
Over half of young people in America search the internet for questions on religion and that’s across religious/non religious lines. The same research found that over 91% of those surveyed who identified as evangelical use the internet daily to aide in their spiritual walk. The question for me became not how do I teach Spiritual Formation online but how do I catch up to what many are already doing!
Every single day the things we do on and offline affect our spiritual formation. As a famous preacher said, “everything is spiritual.” An online course examining spiritual formation presents a unique opportunity for those participating because not only is it inexpensive but it allows the student to practice their formation in everyday life. The classroom is your living room, your dining room table, the coffeeshop you’re finishing a project in, or your child’s bedroom as you lead them in prayer.
Every week I’ve seen students practice the spiritual disciplines within their contexts. From a single mom leading her kids through a time of fasting and prayer, to a student leading their youth group through a devotional from a church father who lived over 1800 years ago, it’s been amazing to see students thousands of miles apart grow closer to God. The web has enabled them to not only be discipled but to go out into their contexts, their world and maybe even eventually the entire world and make disciples.