Throughout scripture we see the importance of personal contact. There must be a personal connection for discipleship to take place. Discipleship involves investing into the life of a person and this is best done at close proximity. But discipleship is not the same as ministry because it discounts a lot of work that takes place in and out of the church.
Without a doubt, Jesus made the most impact on His disciples. He invested the most time into them and was the closest to them. In turn they turned the world upside down for Him. But Jesus certainly ministered outside of this setting. He ministered to the crowds. In a gathering of 5,000 men (likely 20,000 when counting women and children) people weren’t even close enough that all could see Him well and yet He still ministered.
Likewise, Paul traveled and formed new churches and made personal contacts everywhere he went. Paul obviously had a lasting impact on those people. But Paul was able to minister to far more people through his letters, to people whom he did not have contact with. The letter to the Romans is perhaps our deepest theological book and it is written to a group of people that Paul had not even personally met but longed to see. Paul obviously ministered to people who were far away from him and many that he would never even meet.
Today’s world is redefining proximity. If I wanted to, I could have a video conference with a person on the other side of the world. Our opportunity for personal impact has been greatly extended. And our reach for ministry, regardless whether it is discipleship or simply teaching the Bible, is greater than ever. You’re either reading this online or you are reading a copy that has been printed from the internet. In an instant we can share information with people from all over the world. This allows to minister to anyone at any time of day without leaving our homes.
I have run a website for over 10 years and have been able to share my thoughts and writings with well over a million people in that time. My main website alone attracts over 150,000 visitors per year. Paul certainly had a greater impact on the people that he ministered to but thanks to technology I can minister to more people in a year than Paul could have dreamed of.
In the end, discipleship needs proximity but ministry can happen from the comfort of our homes and extend to the furthest parts of the world. There is a difference, some would say quantity over quality. A discipling relationship takes much more time and effort but will produce greater results within one person. Other types of ministry can reach a greater number of people without making as great of an impact as a discipling relationship.