Chapter Twelve – Go Ye and Make NetCasters
When Jesus said in the Great Commission, “Go, therefore, and make disciples,” He was indirectly saying, “Go, therefore, and make NetCasters,” because every believer is called by God to publicly declare the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are all called to cast our nets—the question is where He wants us to cast them.
Now through the Internet and digital technology, every person is enabled to literally go into all the world! Millions of Christians log on to the Internet on an ongoing basis. For most people forty and younger, at least in the West, being on the Web is a way of life—and it is increasingly common for the forty-and-over crowd as well. It is now time to go beyond looking to the Internet to meet our needs—it’s time to begin caring for the needs of the millions of lost and hurting people who surf the Web every day.
Let the NetCaster Revolution Begin
With millions seeking spiritual truth on the Internet, there is now an incredible opportunity for evangelism and discipleship through digital devices. Every ten minutes, 460 new people use the Web for the first time. 1 Now is the time for individual Christians, local churches, parachurch ministries, and media ministries to reach out to these folks as true NetCasters—harnessing the power of the Internet to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Web evangelism gives believers opportunities to reach these people with the gospel right where they are, just as Jesus and Paul did. The worldwide impact of the Internet and the digital revolution will be as far-reaching—and most likely more so—as the invention of the printing press and the satellite dish. How the church uses this vibrant communication tool today could shape the fate of mankind for thousands of years to come.
“For the vast majority of Christians, the sunset version of what is happening (‘The world has come to an end’) eclipses the dawn version (‘It’s a whole new world out there’)” Christian futurist Leonard Sweet observes. “In a church blind to the world it is in, where it mistakes the dawn for a setting sun, those with open eyelids must reconcile themselves to the role of either seeing-eye dogs or bloodhound . . . How leaders of the church can sleepwalk into this future is beyond comprehension.” 2
With a hint of sadness, Sweet observes, “How many church leaders are on the short list of people who are changing the world?” 3
But it doesn’t have to be this way in the body of Christ. The time has come for Christians to make a difference in this world by embracing these monumental changes and harnessing them to see the fulfillment of the Great Commission. There is a need for the church to begin using the Internet and digital media as a means for taking the gospel to the nations.
I believe there is much hope in store for the world and the church—if only believers would leave the “stained glass” behind and take the gospel out into the world of the “plain glass.”
Sadly, the greatest hindrances to the church catching this vision is a combined fear of the dangers associated with the Internet (they are real, but we must confront them rather than run from them), and an eschatological belief in the world continuing to decline without hope until Jesus returns, causing in some a feeling of hopelessness and surrender to the evil in the world.
Western Christianity must also battle a fixation with materialism and self-centered success, causing an inward view toward self instead of an outward view toward the lost. This “me” mentality often results in a lack of vision for the church to utilize technology, travel, and communication breakthrough to see the Great Commission fulfilled.
As Leonard Sweet points out, the world gets it—the church doesn’t . . . yet.
But visionaries and pioneers in the world and in the church understand that we are in a momentous shift in technology, philosophy, and spirituality—one that rivals all other great shifts in human history.
One of the early employees of Apple Inc. said of founder Steve Jobs and his colleagues, “[Our] fundamental purpose was to innovate, invent, and lead an entire cultural revolution . . . All the people I met there, passionate young people, truly believed they were changing the world, not selling computers.” 4
The church in the new millennium must adopt this same mind-set toward the lost. What we do—in whatever area that each is called to by the Holy Spirit—can and will change the world with God’s grace and anointing.
Bold Christian leaders who have not hidden behind the stained glass—those who have taken Christ’s admonition to be in the world, but not of it; to be salt and light, not hiding the light under a basket—are stepping out into the calling that God has for their lives. They are asking God to give them creativity, strategies, wisdom, provision, and anointing to do the task ahead of them.
This may be a relatively small number of people compared to the millions of Christians around the world, but it’s remarkable what can be done when a group of believers step out in faith, trusting the Word of the Lord—just look at the early disciples.
The NetCaster Uprising
Internet evangelism pioneers are paving the way, crying out to the church, “Things don’t have to be like this. People who have lived in darkness can now see the Light—through the light of their computer screen!”
Now we need rank-and-file Christians to capture the vision of using every tool on the Internet and mobile media to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Using the latest technology to spread the gospel has been part of God’s evangelism strategy for the church since the beginning. Throughout church history, Christians have harnessed the power of technology to make the gospel relevant and accessible to their generation. In the last one hundred years, modern innovations in radio, film, television, air transportation, and satellite communication made it possible to quickly and efficiently take the gospel around the world—reaching more people than earlier generations would have dreamed possible.
It appears that God has once again taken us beyond our wildest dreams by giving us the Internet as a dynamic evangelistic tool—a means of communication that synchronizes all previous media tools and makes them available to all people in their own languages.
Today more people are accepting Christ through relationships built on the Internet than ever before—and the church is just scratching the surface of what is possible!
Final Fishing Tips from the NetCasters
In order to catch fish, a NetCaster must know where the fish are gathering and what kind of bait they’re hitting on. Tony Whittaker encourages NetCasters to draw the lines of contextualization in evangelism wide in order to relate to seekers online and lead them to Christ. “The problem with the Western church is that we have not really learned the lessons that the missions community has done over the last century and more, in terms of,
• learning and studying the culture;
• presenting the gospel in contextualized terms; and
• understanding people groups, and how the gospel usually flows across relationships with people who are within the same or a similar cultural group.
“Mike Frost, an Australian missiologist, has pointed out that the era of ‘Christendom is over—get used to it.’ We need to use the missiology insights and techniques that have been employed in the last fifty years in missions outreach to reach the Western church. The tendency is just to do the same stuff that used to work. Or we think used to work. Just shout a bit louder.”
“There is going to have to be some change at the top of a lot of organizations for it to really take off,” says Debra Brown of Hope House Church in Second Life. “But then there is this viral thing. The Time person of the year was who? It was you. And that is kind of the essence of the change we see. It is the power of one. And really one person can reach the whole world.
“You put the right video on YouTube and all of a sudden you are a hero for the day and everybody in the world is watching your video. The tipping point is you—and you and you and you. People like us.
“Who am I? I’m just some person who’s doing an MDiv. But it’s people like me—or the Tony Whittakers who just sit behind a computer—and now we have Internet Evangelism Day.”
“I’m forty-eight,” says Drew Dickens of NeedHim.com, “and enough of my brain is still driving a Monte Carlo in high school that I can still fake my way, with a straight face. I can talk to postmoderns and seem almost relevant. But I’m having to push. I’m having to stretch to do that.
“There is a site called notreligion.com that we use as a model of postmodernism. It’s something that we constantly have to remember. If I’m going to design sites, they’re going to look like a forty-eight-year-old, and we’re going to have Just as I Am playing in the background—without meaning to. So it’s a constant push for us to stay relevant to that group.
“Postmoderns are not going to read through ten pages of text to get the gospel. I’m constantly searching YouTube for just homemade junk that speaks to this culture. It’s relevant. It’s compelling. It’s edgy. It’s fresh. So we’re looking to do something with YouTube as well.”
When talking about how to motivate people to get involved in Internet evangelism, Dickens quotes Ron Hutchcraft. “If you don’t have the want-to, the how-to doesn’t matter.
“It’s so true. We spend so much time talking about what color our site is. Should I use Sharing Jesus without Fear? Should I use Alpha? Should I use this verse or that verse? We spend way too much time on the how-to. My question to him has always been, ‘How do you frame the want-to?”
“I can frame the how-to. I’m ordained and I have the diplomas on my walls, from Evangelism Explosion and everybody else. I always tell this to our volunteers who come to us all nervous about how-to. I tell them, ‘Here’s what’s going to happen. We’re gonna give you a script. You’ll read it once and you’ll throw it away. That’s fine. That’s what we want you to do. You’ll get on a call and you’re going to quote Romans 6:23 rather than 3:23, and you’ll say Ephesians 2:9–10 instead of 4–8. And all of a sudden the caller is going to start crying and say, ‘Yes, that’s what I want.’ And you realize, ‘It’s not anything I said.’ It’s not the how-to, it’s the want-to.”
How does a NetCaster get a Christian to the moment of clarity when he decides, “I’ve got to do this”?
Dickens answered, “The prophet Nathan came to David and set him up. I did that in a Sunday school class. I set them up. I asked what would they do if they had a friend who said, ‘I’m just not sensing God at work in my life.’ What are some things they would tell the friend to do? So the class said this and that, and then somebody said, ‘I’d tell them to share their faith.’ So I pulled the whole Nathan thing and said, ‘You’re the friend.’
“I’ve told people from the sales perspective we all ask ourselves, ‘What’s in it for me?’ So what’s in it for me to share my faith online? You need to be prepared to answer that question. You know what it’s like when you share your faith. Talk about some of those benefits. Some people may be convicted by the fact that it’s a command. For some it’s a form of worship. Being ‘guilted’ into it, that’s worked for us before.
“Somehow you need to find a way to force them to look at themselves and realize what they’re not doing. Campus Crusade did a survey and found that only 1 to 10 percent of Christians are active in sharing their faith. That information may compel people to say ‘Wow, I need to do more of that kind of thing.’”
Dickens quoted Spurgeon who said, “If the lost be damned, let them leap into hell over our bodies as we are grasping at their ankles. For let no one go there un-prayed-for or uninformed.” 5
“That carries with it a certain level of the attitude that ‘You’re going to hell through me. If you go, you’re going through me first.’ That takes a certain level of passion that a lot of people don’t have.
“Testimonies are powerful,” Dickens concluded. “We’re much more motivated to help the one than the thousands. We see the picture or hear the story of the hungry child. Here’s the child in my lap. We can hear that millions die or millions go hungry, but it changes when you see the one child on someone’s lap. So I think testimonies that talk about the one are powerful.”
Return on Evangelism Investment
Talking about the 1.3 million people who received Christ through Campus Crusade’s online Global Media Outreach in 2007, Allan Beeber observed, “There are people on the boards of these ministries who are business people and will look at this when they eventually get the data. Unfortunately most ministries either don’t have that type of data or are not reporting it. But once thinking chairmen and members of the board begin asking the right questions, they’re going to be saying, ‘Wait a minute, you’re telling me that for thirty thousand dollars, which is equivalent of half a staff member, we saw as much evangelism as an entire ministry? And we can track this? Why aren’t we doing more of this?’
“Of course, you’re always going to have the perception, especially by the older generation, that these are electronic. They aren’t real people. But you read the e-mails and you say, ‘Uh, I’m sorry, these are real.’
“So the technology is the only thing that’s changed. Long-distance evangelism and discipleship are the biblical model. And we cannot have a computer answer people. We need to have real people answering people, using the computer. The expression is—and it is not something I came up with, I’m simply repeating it—our strategy involves using high touch with high tech. And I’d say that’s essential.”
Just Do It
Johnnie Gnanamanickam points out that one of the most important things to remember when diving into evangelism through the Internet and Web 2.0 is to experiment. “Don’t try to get it all right. Start small. Do something today and just keep innovating. Incremental change is what you need, so keep trying several things.
“Start out small, but be ready to scale quickly, because some of those ideas flop and don’t go anywhere, and some of those become YouTube and are really big. And when they get really big, it happens overnight. So that’s generally the thing to do. Just pray for direction and do something today. Ask the Lord for direction and don’t worry about being perfect. Do something today and keep building on that.
“Keep doing the things that work. And throw away the things that don’t.”
John Sorensen of Evangelism Explosion is excited at the potential the Internet holds for taking the Word to the world. “I think that the Internet has made possible the land of the storyteller again. I think we’re getting back to the day and age when a storyteller will once again be king, if you will.
“You look at the stuff that’s popular on YouTube today, and it is the folks who really have the ability to capture somebody with a story. There are very few how-to type things that people are going to go to. I don’t think you’re going to see a how-to video become popular—unless it’s how to do something that’s radical or weird.
“But you can capture the world with a story.
“For a long time there wasn’t the avenue that a person had to release something worldwide as it is right now. We’ve seen a lot of industries shift. There used to be a day when in order to be an audio or a video engineer you had to be a technician. You had to have a pocket protector and tweak your knobs, and stuff like that. It didn’t used to be that way. It used to be that you had a flatbed, and it was the storyteller who got to do the editing. In today’s world, the technology has been given back again. The storyteller has the tools. You can create movies in today’s world.
“You can create a movie today with a high-definition camcorder. That’s the world we live in. And the sooner that people realize that they have that kind of capacity to engage that kind of an audience with a story, we’ll begin to raise up and applaud storytellers.
“I think it’s an exciting time for us,” Sorensen explains, “because, frankly, we’ve got the greatest story ever told. We’ve got the corner on the truth. So bring it on. Within Christian ministry we’ve got to applaud that. We’ve got to expose that. We’ve got to lift up young men and women who are going to be able to tell phenomenal stories.”
Dr. Sterling Huston of the Digital Evangelism Network anticipates great things ahead for those who will take seriously God’s call to evangelize the world through the World Wide Web.
“We have seen dramatic change in the last ten years from when Web first became available publicly and we saw that 100 million people were suddenly online. That has only accelerated over those ten years to the 1.7 billion approximately online now. It is moving from what was dominated by English as the primary language, to now Chinese is the second largest language on the Web. I believe the center of gravity of activity for this is actually moving to Asia where they have such great technological growth.
“Just as we’ve seen dramatic growth in the last ten years, I believe the growth will be even more dramatic in the next ten years. My great concern is that the church will get so far behind the curve that it cannot catch up. My great vision is that we can stimulate and release a lot of entrepreneurial individuals, organizations, and churches to say, ‘This gives us a tool and an outreach to fulfill what is Jesus’ timeless mission to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. And not only to take the gospel there, but also to provide a mechanism that begins the process of making disciples in every tongue and every nation.’”
The Implications of the NetCaster Revolution
I am convinced that we are at a dramatic crossroads at the dawn of this new millennium. In philosophy, Western thought has shifted from modern to postmodern. In technology, we have shifted from analogue to digital. We have shifted from the Industrial to the digital age. In the church, I believe we are shifting from a pastoral-centered focus to a truly fivefold-centered practice—from the ministry of the professional clergy and parachurch worker to the ministry of the saints.
And now is the time for the saints to grab the reins of digital technology and run with the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ!
This is a climactic, five-hundred-year shift, more dramatic even than the shift from medieval times to the era of the Enlightenment.
Unlike many Christians today, I don’t believe that the world will continue to grow darker unchecked until the earth is filled with evil and followers of Jesus Christ are hunkered down in caves, waiting and praying for the Rapture. Scripture tells us, “The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, shining brighter and brighter until midday” (Prov. 4:18).
Over the last forty years of tumultuous change, as the world shifted from the modern to the postmodern era, the church has taken its fair share of hits. What was once culturally accepted as a Christian norm in the West has shifted dramatically. The church has found itself outside the cultural mainstream. Many believers have had a difficult time understanding this massive shift from a Judeo-Christian society to a post-Christian, pantheistic society. Instead of holding the place of respect in the community, churches have become more and more marginalized in our cities and towns. And instead of confronting the culture with the truth of the gospel, despite the changing societal winds, many churches and individual Christians have shut themselves behind the heavy wooden doors of the church, pretending that the world is still the same as it was in 1955 when Eisenhower was president of the United States.
I have often said, “Cynicism is redundant.” We already know what the problems are—anyone with intelligence can see the difficulties we face in the world today. We don’t need people who think they are smarter than everyone else telling us what is wrong.
Instead we need visionaries who have the audacity to take God at His Word, to believe that “those who the Son sets free are free indeed” (John 8:36) to seek Him for the answers to the problems that face mankind, and to go to work among lost and hurting people to make a difference in this world.
For each believer today, it is imperative that we ask, is it the sunset, or the dawn?
It is time for the church to stop complaining, whining, and wallowing in self-pity and instead move out in the anointing, energy, provision, protection, and creativity that is ours both through the Edenic Covenant—“Let Us make man in Our image” and “they will rule” (Gen. 1:26)—and also the New Covenant in Christ—“All authority has been given to Me . . . Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:18–19).
Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II will go down in history as the men who through the casting of vision on the one hand, and the constant implementation of political pressure on the other, helped to bring down the Berlin Wall and collapse Communism in Europe. Not long before the end of his presidency, and before the end of the Cold War, Reagan gave students at Moscow University a preview of what was coming on the earth when he said, “Like a chrysalis, we’re emerging from the economy of the industrial revolution—an economy confined to and limited by the earth’s physical resources—into the economy of the mind, an era in which there are no bounds on human imagination and the freedom to create is the most precious natural resource.” 6
Across the globe we are seeing hopeful signs, even amid the dangers of militant Islam and Hinduism, even amid the strongholds of false religions in Asia and Africa, even amidst the stronghold of secularism in Europe and America. Across the world the religious walls are coming down, making way for the gospel to be preached to all people groups. Technology is making it possible for the Good News and Judeo-Christian cultural ideas to be spread through the Internet, mobile digital media, satellite television, radio, and print communication.
Contemporary travel allows people to move quickly across the globe and to see the wonders of the world—to be exposed to new ideas and to the freedom that comes through biblical truth, the Christian lifestyle, and Judeo-Christian ideas.
There is a historical shift of nations toward democracy and the corresponding freedoms of conscience, the press, and religion. People who encounter these ideas are no longer willing to be kept in religious and political prisons. New winds of freedom are blowing, and mankind is shaking off the shackles of secularism, communism, false religion, and totalitarian government.
Modern medicine and clean water are curbing the spread of diseases. Modern farming and food preservation techniques are eliminating hunger in most of the world.
E. Calvin Beisner points out that “on the average people produce more than they consume in their lifetimes. That is why growing human populations, far from threatening to create poverty and to exhaust natural resources, promise instead to create wealth and to multiply resources. Remember this: on the average, every mouth born into this world is attached to two hands—and, more important, to a mind made in the image of God to be creative and productive. That is why wealth is increasing.” 7
In the groundbreaking book Discipling Nations, Darrow Miller comments on Romans 8:19–22: “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”
Miller gives this optimistic interpretation. “Here we learn several critical facts: (1) creation’s fate and ours are inextricably bound together; (2) God’s work of restoring all things to Himself is a process, a story, that will one day be consummated; (3) man has been commissioned to be a part of that process; and, by extension (4) science and technology are tools in this process.” 8
I couldn’t agree more.
I don’t think it’s getting darker and darker in the world and that the devil is alive and well on planet Earth. I agree with Larry Tomczak’s observation, “The devil may be alive, but he’s not doing well. In fact, he knows his time is short.” 9
The Convergence of Technology, Communication, and Faith
All indications are that we are at a dramatic crossroads at the dawn of this new millennium—and much of the impetus for this revolution can be connected to the opening of conversations worldwide through the Internet.
Now is the time for the church to rise up into its proper place of dominion and creativity—believing God for strategies to reach the nations with the gospel so that all may know of God’s plan of salvation. Jesus said, “the Kingdom of God suffers violence and those who take it, take it by force” (Matt. 11:12). It is time for the Church to take possession of all that has been promised to us and like Caleb said to Joshua, declare that, “We’re as strong today as when God promised this land to us, so give to us this mountain!” (Josh, 14:11–12, author paraphrase).
In Christ and for the church and the world, using the dynamic tools on the Internet and through digital technology, I believe the best is yet to come!
NetCasters, arise and go forth—your day has come!
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