Theological education for digital natives, Evangelical Focus

The truths of the gospels are unchangeable and eternal. This does not only mean that they are the same as always, but rather that they need to be applied in different moments in history and different cultural contexts.

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

Besides having a deep knowledge of the Bible, we also need to understand the environment and people we are sharing the gospel with through cultural and sociological research.

Through a case study of the Invisible Collegean educational institute offering courses in theology and philosophy in Brazil, we analyze the above issues, with a focus on digital natives and Generation Z.

A generation can be defined as a section 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, its preferences, tastes, lifestyles, dilemmas, and cravings.

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

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

They have never known a life apart from the pervasive digital technologies of today.

Such technologies are essential for the daily lives of this generation,[3] Being used for a wide range of daily activities such as: communicating with friends, sending curriculum vitae for job vacancies, ordering food, studyings, searching for shops and restaurants, and monitoring physical activities.

In short, this is a generation that has been carved out by being only a click away from any essential item. Everything is accessible and readily available through a smartphone.

Image via Lausanne Movement

In 2019 we asked ourselves the following questions: What options would there be for people who wish to do theological studies but are unable to attend a traditional seminar, whether due to high cost, 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 have thought of a way of contributing to the theological education of such people.

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

Subsequently, when we realised there was potential and a need to move forward, we formally set up the Invisible College, a school that specialises in theology and philosophy for digital nativesa segment of the public that, by 2025, will account for the largest portion of the active workforce.[4]

Studies have clearly shown that people are interested in theological learning of the highest quality. They want options that do not renounce rigour, but which are contextualised and adaptable to different routines and realities.

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

From its initial founding to its development through this day, we have always tried to answer these questions: How can we propose a teaching methodology that is flexible, but without loss of quality?

How can one tell this generation of digital natives about the importance and relevance of theological studies? How can we offer a relational environment even in an institution that works in a fully digital format without any physical premises?

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

1. Curation

The first characteristic worthy of note within our college is that of offering curation. The blessing of having access to everything, at any time and at any place, can become a curse if the correct guidance is not given.

We live in an age where a Brazilian student can have instant access to books, lectures, or lessons given by any person from anywhere in the world.

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

To meet this need, one of our main work projects is that of providing guidance regarding content, organised in a didactic manner and made available to anyone, free of charge.

2. Tutorship

The second characteristic is our didactic methodology. The Gen Zers’ main trait is that of being multiconnected.

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

This is also a generation that seeks protagonism in its activities and initiatives. In this way, we bring back a methodology of olden times—the tutorial system, used by universities like Oxford and Cambridge, albeit adapted to the digital context.

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

3. Communications

The third characteristic is our means of communication. Being able to discern the communicative specificities of the people we wish to reach out to is an essential element so that what we propose is taken in and becomes relevant to them.

In this way, without forsaking rigour of content, we have an aesthetic approach both visually and verbally, to dissociate the idea that theological studies are archaic, boring, and irrelevant to people who do not hold office in the church.

The names of the courses, the titles of the different modules, and the choice of images and colors in our publicity materials are always thought of in context and as being appropriate for our target audience, breaking some stereotypes many people have with regard to theology.

Theological education for digital natives

Even though some significant progress has been made when dealing with digital natives, it is evident that many challenges lie ahead. Such Challenges are intrinsic to this generation, similar to those experienced in the local church, in evangelism and discipleship.

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

In relation to their inattention, probably much of this is the result of the alternating—if not simultaneous—relation between the different social digital environments.

In general, a person is connected at the same time to a messaging app (with its many groups and individual conversations) in a platform for the work team, in an e-mail system, and at least two or three social networks. The notifications come in at any time.

Connectivity could also contribute to anxiety, both quantitatively and qualitatively. This is because the network context is ideal for the sharing of information, feelings, and opinions, and Gen Zers feel at ease with this situation.

By comparison, in the world, social media molds expectations and patterns of behavior and generates negative impacts with regard to self-love, self-esteem, and trust.[6]

On the other hand, because of connection and the need for relevance, digital natives show concern for social transformation and environmental sustainability, and they strive to make a difference in the world through volunteerism.

Everything done so far was just the start. There are other practical questions and queries that must still 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 make correct use of social media, understanding its relevance and importance, instead of just demonizing such media. On the other hand, we also need to reject the unrestricted use that has brought serious problems, especially with regard to mental health.

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

We also need to biblically seek answers for this anxious and insecure generationwith misadjustment of affection and a fragmented identity.

The solution for this is not a kind of superficial faith that makes people feel well, but rather a genuine faith that understands the reality of the human condition and follows the footsteps of Jesus.

Finally, may all the vitality and disposition of people dissatisfied with the status quo be channelled for the common good, to promote human dignity and justice, all for the glory of God.[7]

Kaiky Fernandez is a member of the Farol da Esperanca Christian Church in Brazil. He graduated with a degree in graphic design from the Federal University of Goiás (UFG), with a specialization in marketing management from ESPM in Rio. He is a strategic coordinator of the Invisible College and a student of theology.

Pedro Dulci, has a PhD 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 the Bereia Presbyterian Church in Goiânia, Goiás, Brazil.

This article originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of the Lausanne Global Analysis and is published here with permission. To receive this free bimonthly publication from 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: technologia para a humanidade, translated by André Fontenelle (Rio de Janeiro: Sextante, 2021), 40.

4. Philip Kotler, Hermawan Kartajaya and Iwan Setiawan, Marketing 5.0: technologia 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 office 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 article by Steve Moon, entitled, ‘Reaching Generation Z with the Gospel,’ in March 2021 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis, .

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