Nonintuitive Discipleship

There’s a quality in digital design that every coder strives for. Builders of websites, apps, platforms, and interactive media insist that their products be intuitive.  

Intuitive means easy to use. Intuitive means it works like you expect it to work. Intuitive means you don’t need codes or combinations, protocols or owners manuals go use it.  

If a website wants you to buy something, there needs to be a big “buy now” button and an easy check-out process. If an app wants you to connect with friends, there needs to be Facebook integration or a smart “find your friends” feature. If a streaming service wants you to binge, it will queue up the next episode while the credits roll on the last.  

This insistence on intuitive design is one of the hallmarks of digital natives. My middle school son will dive right into an app, clicking and poking around until he learns how to use it. If I showed him an app and gave him a handbook for how to use it, he would ignore the book and figure out the site by trial and error. On the other hand, my parents are always looking for a digital guide. They say things like “I don’t know how to…” or “Can you show me how to…” or “Where did you learn how to…” as if knowledge of how to do a thing must precede the doing of it. That’s not how digital natives think, at least not online.  

This is not a blog about coding, so why do I bring this up? What does it have to do with scripture, culture, or civility? This: we live in an age of “click-around” discipleship. Our best new tools and ideas for making disciples seem to be about big events and content platforms. While those things are very good, I wonder if there are also older tools we would do well to remember.  

Possibly the most famous discipling relationship in scripture was that of Paul and Timothy. In his second letter to his young protege, Paul wrote this: 

You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 

Paul is not praising Timothy for figuring it out on his own, but for paying attention to his guide. Good discipleship ought to put us in places where we aren’t sure where to go next, where the “click here for the answer” button is hidden, and where we need a mentor so we don’t just “click around” through life until we figure it out.  

Intuitive design is a worthy goal for coding, but it probably isn’t for making disciples. Repentance is hardly ever intuitive. Dying to self is never a “30-day free trial” affair.