Our Church Service on August 28 will take place at 4734 Samish Point Rd, Bow WA 98232 at 11 am

Building Relationships in a Digital Age - Technology and the Christian Life

May 21, 2023    Andrey Bulanov


1. Building relationships is the most important and complex calling in our lives.

2. Relationships are built on presence.

• We must see time with people as one of the most valuable things we can do.

• Presence is about truly taking people in and truly letting them in.

3. Relationships are fueled by conversations.

4. Relationships are proven in sacrifice


• What value do relationships play in your life? Has Jesus' love for you changed the way you approach others?

• Do you tend to over-simplify your relationships? Do you consider the complexity of the task of loving others?

• Do people in your life feel seen and loved by you?

• Are your relationships characterized by honest and life giving conversations?

Discussion Questions:

• How does the New Testament speak of the significance of relationships and love in our lives? Why is it so central to our identity as christians?

• What are some unique ways that technology impacts our ability to form deep honest relationships?

• what does it mean to be truly present for people? What does it mean to "take them in"?

• What are some reasons why we struggle with having deep and meaningful conversations in our relationships?

• Why does technology make it easy to be blind to our relational weakness? What do we need to do to mitigate these effects? Should we stop connecting with people through technology at all?

Scripture references:

• Ephesians 4:14-16

• John 13:34-35

• John 13:1

• 1 John 4:18-19

• John 15:15

• John 15:3-5


Our need for personal connection is one of the deepest aspects of our design as human beings.

Andy Crouch starts his book with these powerful words, "Recognition is the first human quest..." As soon as a baby is born, it spends about an hour in a state that doctors call "quiet alert"...

Though they can only see about 8 to 12 inches away, their eyes are wide open. They are searching, with an instinct far deeper than intention. They are searching for a face, and when they find one - especially one that gazes back at them - they fix their eyes on it having found what they were most urgently looking for." (Andy Crouch, "The Life We're Looking For")

Knowing and loving others is at the heart of our creation design, because we are designed to know and love God and others.

Scientists have discovered something called "mirror neurons" in our brains - aspects of our brains that detect and mimic any relational connection we have and observe with other people. They have concluded that a HUGE part of our behavior is our brain reflecting the actions of people we witness.

Its no surprise that technology REALLY blew up when tech developers discovered the gold mine of "social media" and all the ways that technology promises to enable us to stay connected to way more people than we ever imagined possible.

It turns out that because relationships are one of the most important parts of our lives, its also one of the areas where we are most prone to be manipulated.

This is illustrated powerfully in an program that was developed in the 1950's that was called ELIZA - explain.

This program was the first time that scientists started to realize that as human beings we will treat non living items with personal characteristics when we feel like we have a connection even though we KNOW its not a real person.

If you have seen Castaway you remember the same thing happened to the main character and his relationship with an old volleyball.

Relationship is at the heart of what we are created to do.

What the rise of social media and technology has also showed us is that as we develop personal connection to our devices, we also have a tendency to change how we treat REAL people and relationships.

You may assume that because of social media we all are becoming way more social, way more relational, we more deep in how we connect with people - the total opposite is the effect.

Depression is now the leading cause of disability worldwide, with over 300 million people suffering from it across the globe.

In 2017 the UK became the first government to appoint a “Minister for Loneliness,” followed by a comprehensive, £21.8 million “loneliness strategy” to address the crisis.

Understanding and prioritizing real relationship in our lives is one of the most important ways we as christians fulfill our mission, and this is a critical thing for us to pay attention to as we think about our lives as followers of Jesus in a digital age.

1. Building relationships is the most important and complex calling in our lives.

Ephesians 4:14-16

"14 Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. 15 But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into him who is the head—Christ. 16 From him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building itself up in love by the proper working of each individual part."

Notice how Paul explains the end goal of christians transformation - it is a life of relational love in the community of the church. This is the very DEFINITION of "growing up into the Christ" - of becoming like Jesus.

Love is not just a feeling or emotion. He says its a way of life, a life of transformed obedience to God's Word. It is the pinnacle of our journey as changing people.

What does a person look like, who doesn't just know a lot of smart things but actually lives them out? - Love.

How do I know if I am growing spiritually?

Answer - are you growing in your ability to love others well?

Notice how Paul sets love as the highest expression of life that is truly living out God's truth.

This of course, is perfectly in line with everything else the Bible says.

Jesus was asked - what is the most important commandment?

"Love the Lord your God with all your HEART with all your MIND and with all your STRENGTH - and LOVE your neighbor as yourself."

What does it look and feel like when a person perfectly lives out all of God's truth? There was one person who did - "and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory..."

And at the end of his life, Jesus says to his disciples,

John 13:34-35

34 “I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Relationships are CENTRAL to who we are, to our creation design as humans, and to our mission in redemption as we spread God's good news to the world. Loving others is at the heart of all we are to do.

Relationships are also COMPLEX. Loving others is not easy. Its not just an emotional disposition. It is immensely complex. It takes a lot growth. It takes a lot of change and learning and wisdom. People are complicated. WE are selfish.

If we established last time that as Christians we are to be people who fiercely pursue wisdom in all our lives, then we can add to that statement, that we are also to be the type of people who are fiercely pursuing growth in RELATIONSHIPS and our ability to love others well - to love others in a way that results in their growth, their encouragement, their own growth in love.

This is why for christians the pursuit of relationships and people must be one of the most important priorities in life.

Relationships are the most complicated part of our lives because they are also at the peak of our calling as followers of Jesus.

In an age of social media there is perhaps no word that is more drained of its true meaning than the word "friend".

What does it mean to have a real relationship? What does it mean to build a real friendship?

Today people can FEEL very connected, feel like they know someone really well - because they are looking at daily updates of their lives and commenting and liking that content.

this feeling of connection can sometimes be shattered in the awkward interactions people may have when they first physically meet a person that they have been following on social media.

There is a great temptation to flatten out the complexity it takes to form real relationships when you are able to constantly interact with people and feel very connected, but your doing it in a way that requires NO EFFORT, no change, no difficult conversations on your part.

We look at posts of people having a good time, a group of friends, a married couple, a church community - and we think "thats how its supposed to be, thats how relationships are."

Paul says speaking truth and growing up in love with others takes our whole being, our whole heart and the work of God as we learn to love others like Jesus loves us.

Its a messy and complex process. It requires a lot of patience, struggle, and humility.

When relationships feel difficult and challenging - THAT IS NORMAL. That is how its supposed to feel. This is because our selfishness is being exposed, and we are witnessing opportunity for growth, for inviting God's presence to change and grow us.

Just like an athlete is ALWAYS working to perfect his technique, his form and his strength - the life of followers of Jesus is always focused on the practical skill of loving others.

People are always the most important investment we can make in our lives.

How do we love others well? How do we love like Jesus?

I want to just give us three simple words - presence, conversation and service.

2. Relationships are built on presence.

"and the Word become flesh and dwelt among us..."

Its amazing that when God entered our world, he spent most of his life living - not teaching or leading.

And even in his three years of ministry, Jesus was so much more present with his disciples than they ever realized.

He would listen carefully to them, as they walked and talked among each other, not realizing he was listening.

He spent a lot of physical time with a select few men. Men who were not impressive. Men who needed constant reminding and redirecting.

The coming of Jesus into the world was the peak expression of his love was his presence.

And it points to how God in his whole being is so much more present in our lives than we realize.

Jesus said, not a hair falls from the head that he doesn't know about.

David said he stores all our tears in a bottle.

This is also one of the biggest ways technology impacts our relationships.

Technology conditions our minds to always be running to the next thing, always fidgeting about the next priority.

It also makes us anxious and insecure. It makes us always be thinking about what OTHERS think of us and how we look to them.

All of these things become mental barriers to TRULY being present with people, even when we are around others.

In addition to this - our phones make us feel hyper connected. We are constantly texting and calling and posting and liking and responding to people all day long.

This SENSE of connectedness makes it very easy be blind to how lonely and disconnected we really are.

It's not social medias fault that we are bad at relationships - we are bad at relationships because we are sinners. Social media just comes along and adds support and empowers our deepest sinful relationship weaknesses - it allows for a feeling of connectedness without sacrifice and growth, and it makes it possible to be more disconnected from people without realizing it.

• We must see time with people as one of the most valuable things we can do.

How many miles and how many hours did Jesus put in with his disciples on the road? How many late nights by the campfire? Cooking?

Some of us are more naturally social than others. To some it is easier than others.

But learning to love people like Jesus loved starts with how you VIEW people. Do you view it as one of the most important things you can do?

There is no price tag, no visible product - and yet it is the most valuable aspect of our lives.

As frustrating as the disciples were, we never get the impression that Jesus didn't want to be around them.

John 13:1

"Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end."

We may use the excuse of busyness - but its something deeper, it what we value.

• Presence is about truly taking people in and truly letting them in.

We can spend a lot of time around people and still not really build relationships. We can chit chat about endless things. We can laugh and crack jokes and keep everything superficial.

Being with people means really taking them in, really listening, really being here with them.

Its amazing how Jesus paid attention to his disciples more than they realized. He listened to them, and he shared his heart with them.

Being present with others is a vulnerable experience. BOTH listening and sharing. ITs scary.

The digital age of isolation makes us more and more anxious, like we are always on display, always being watched and recorded and evaluated.

Love is the only thing that teaches us to push out this fear.

1 John 4:18-19

18 There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. So the one who fears is not complete in love. 19 We love because he first loved us.

There is a powerful principle here! We have the capacity to drive out our fear and anxiety - fear of judgment before God and others - because we have been loved by him first.

The more you realize and meditate on God's love for you, the more it extinguishes the place of fear in your life, the more it grounds you in peace and enables you to real SEE other people, their lives, their needs.

Do ppl close to you in your life feel seen and known by you? Do they feel that you are truly present? Do they feel like you are constantly distracted? Do they feel like they have to compete for your attention?

3. Relationships are fueled by conversations.

Jesus talked, Jesus asked questions, Jesus spoke truth

John 15:15

15 I do not call you servants anymore, because a servant doesn’t know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from my Father.

"speaking truth in love we are to grow up into Christ"

Conversations are the building blocks of relationships.

It is easier than ever to be around other people and have the phone and entertainment be a mediating wall that protects us from the vulnerability of real intimacy.

Conversations are deeply interconnected with presence - because when we talk we learn to listen, to ask questions, to probe deeper and to speak truth.

Think about what it must have been like to sit at the campfire and talk with Jesus.

What kind of conversations they must have had. What kind of listener was he?

Maybe you have had the frustrating experience of hitting a cieling what some poeple in your relationship - because that person seems to not have much capacity to be interested or talk about anything that is really meaningful.

What prevents us from having deeper conversations in our relationships?

• We get bored.

conversations take time and energy.

There isn't an instant reward.

Its amazing how our tech age teaches us to constantly pursue being wowed and entertained - we end up being fascinated by very shallow and foolish things, but when it comes to truly beautiful and amazing things - we get bored.

C. S. Lewis has a beautiful passage where he challenges this. Who are the people that surround us in life?

People created in the Image of God, infinitely valuable - will live on in eternity.

Those for whom God came to die to save and restore. And we get bored?

If you have a correct view of people, you will find them endlessly interesting.

How is it that I get so attracted to a rectangular screen but get bored around real people?

• We get uncomfortable.

I saw an interesting scene this week - some business was having an even and people were lined up outside for it.

Something I like to do is to observe people in public. Its amazing to pay attention to people sitting at a table in restaurants - and how often you can find a family all dressed up and looking nice, with amazing food before them - but the atmosphere at the table is just awkwardly quite, with occasional comments or ideas being said.

Often this is also because people are on their phones.

Sociologists have identified that its about at 7 minutes in a group conversation that someone has to break through the small talk and ask a real question or share something meaningful.

Why is this so challenging?

Conversations take intentionality and courage

It is when we take the step to talk about the things that are truly meaningful to us that we begin to really share life together.

I am not talking about the fact that everyone needs to get really deep and complex, and some ppl will say, "Well I am not that deep like you"

No, its about being able to talk about what is really going on in your heart and mind.

We ALL have meaningful struggles, questions, challenges.

Social media teaches our brain to only run to the things that we like. It rewires our brain to avoid anything that goes against our ideas.

It makes us more and more incapable of uncomfortably facing our own pain, or the challenging parts of other people.

You can't evaluate your relationships based on how many texts or reels you send to a person. You have to evaluate your relationships based on the quality of REAL CONVERSATIONS you have had with that person.

Think about how awkward the world would get if EVERY SCREEN disappeared.

We would have to work through that anxiety and discomfort and ask REAL QUESTIONS and share real life.

One can only imagine the atmosphere that morning on the beach after Jesus had risen from the dead, he made breakfast for the disciples and as they are eating he asks a question, "Peter, do you love me?"

This conversation was very uncomfortable for Peter. But it also had a very powerful restorative effect on him, because in it, Jesus invited Peter to a deeper participation in his mission.

My wife has graciously helped me grow in my ability to be more intentional and ask good thoughtful questions that draw people out.

When you think of the people who would consider friends -

are those friendships marked be consistent, healthy, honest and real conversation? Do the conversations in your friendships really enter into the deeper aspects of who you really are? 

Or are you still hiding the biggest and most important parts?

what is your definition of friendship?

Do your conversations and relationships reach into challenging and painful aspects of peoples lives and bring healing and encouragement?

its not just about the courage to ask, but about the skill and wisdom of bringing real healing

Are people encouraged after spending time with you?

Is your home a place of interesting, enlightening conversation?

Parents - do your kids feel like you are generally available and accessible to talk?

What does meal time feel like in your home?

4. Relationships are proven in sacrifice

Our digital age often makes our digital identity more important than our physical identity.

This is really visible in the relational world.

No matter how many likes or texts or reels we send. No matter how many I love you and wow you are so amazing we send - our relationships are truly meaningless if we are not willing to show up and give ourselves to people physically.

Perhaps you have experienced it in a special way - when someone really comes through and shows up to help.

We are embodied creatures and we cannot escape the physical aspect of relationships.

If I think i am connected to a lot of people and feel like I have a lot of relationships with people, but my life does not include in it regularly showing up for people, sacrificing my time and my money for them - i am living in a delusion.

What does it mean that "you are close" to someone?

Have you showed up for them and spent yourself? Have you walked through difficult seasons of life with them?

John 15:3-5

3 Jesus knew that the Father had given everything into his hands, that he had come from God, and that he was going back to God. 4 So he got up from supper, laid aside his outer clothing, took a towel, and tied it around himself. 5 Next, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel tied around him.

Here is the beauty of the christian gospel - that God doesn't just have good thoughts and good intentions and good words for us.

That God physically entered his creation, the author wrote himself into the story - to redeem and restore us, to give us his love and his presence, to bring forgiveness of sin.

There is something powerfully physical about the gospel. To take in the incarnation, to consider the life of Jesus, to think about the cross and the empty tomb.

It makes you think very differently about the people in your life.

At the very heart of your ability to really love people and build relationships is your own experience of the love of Jesus. this is the key. This is what changes everything. Its what fills you, makes you want to slow down for others, be there fore them in real life.


• What value do relationships play in your life? Has Jesus' love for you changed the way you approach others?

• Do you tend to over-simplify your relationships? Do you consider the complexity of the task of loving others?

• Do people in your life feel seen and loved by you?

• Are your relationships characterized by honest and life giving conversations?