Introduction to the Selfie
For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of a “selfie,” you clearly don’t hang out with many teenage girls. A seflie is a picture you take of yourself on your phone and then text to a friend. The picture is usually silly, goofy or weird. Common selfie stances include: eyes closed, nose scrunched, mouth open in a scream; fist under the chin, lips pursed, stank face; etc.
I too was unfamiliar with the idea of a selfie until I spent a summer working with 11th graders at a Christian leadership development program. As a counselor for this program, my most important role was to build mentoring relationships with the girls I was leading, offering them discipleship and support as they grew in their relationships with the Lord. After the summer ended, I was expected to maintain these relationships to a certain degree. And, after spending weeks with each group of girls, I of course wanted to.
Unfortunately, distance proved an issue. I live in Austin, Texas. Most of the girls live in Tulsa or Fayetteville. How would I be able to maintain healthy and helpful relationships with these girls when I was so far away? How could I remind them that I cared for them, that I was thinking about them, that I still prayed often for them?
Learning to Speak the Language of High School Girls
In the biggest surprise, at least part of that answer was selfies. Of course I also employed other methods of communication—I called them, Skyped them, texted them, saw them when I was in Tulsa over breaks, etc. But weirdly enough, the selfie also entered my arsenal of relational ministry tools.
The girls would text them to me, I’d text them back. It was a quick and easy way throughout the day of keeping in touch with these girls. There wasn’t necessarily anything profound about these interactions. The selfies were rarely accompanied with a Bible verse or a life-changing piece of advice, but they were often accompanied with reminders that I loved each girl.
These selfies were one small way of reaching out to these younger believers in a way they felt comfortable with, a way of “speaking their own language” if you will. In the same way that missionaries going over seas prepare for their mission work by familiarizing themselves with the culture they’re preparing to enter into, so I also ministered to these girls by acclimating to their culture.
I think it’s important that we think about how we’re ministering to those around us. The burden of responsibility lies on those of us ministering, rather on those being ministered to. We need to change our ministry tactics rather than expecting the receiver to change how they learn, understand new things, or receive love.
If you’re reaching out to a certain person, figure out what language they speak. If they’re intellectuals, talk about the gospel intellectually. If they understand things with their heart before their head, then talk about the gospel emotionally. Like Paul writes, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22b). Become all things to all people. Meet someone where they are. Learn a new culture—even if it is that of high school girls.
Let’s get back to the heart of discipleship. It doesn’t have to be complicated or overly-structured. It can be beautifully simple. Many times throughout the Bible, we see examples of simple discipleship. We see Jesus eating with his disciples, Paul encouraging “his son” Timothy through letters, older women instructed to raise up younger women by setting an example in Titus.
In Thessalonians, Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica, “Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the Gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Thessalonians 2: 7b-8). In this example of Paul’s ministry, we see that he isn’t simply focused on preaching to the church in Thessalonica, but he’s also focused on sharing his very life with those he cares for.
Time and time again, we see older believers sharing their lives with younger believers. With this comes teaching, rebuking, and mentoring, of course. But I imagine it also involves mentors loving and spending time with younger believers, with no fixed agenda. By texting selfies to these high school girls, I try to share my life with them and by so doing, hopefully share the love of Jesus with them.
I think too often we can over complicate discipleship and in doing so, forget why we’re even discipling. My desire for these girls to know more of Jesus comes from a true love for them. I care about them, so I want them to follow Jesus more and more every day. When we’re discipling, shepherding, rebuking, or teaching, we should always do so out of a place of simple, true love.
Remember that the heart of relational ministry is the relationship itself, not some need to cross off duties or tasks on a “discipleship to-do list.” Instead, love people in a true and simple way, and one in which they best receive love.