Discovery Questions (an overview)

Over the last month I have reviewed the eight questions which Final Command Ministries recommends people use to facilitate the Discovery process. I wanted you to have access to the rationale behind each one. Asking the same questions each week quickly equips every participant to facilitate. It is repeatable.

Movements come from new groups starting new groups. In some nations this multiplication is more than 30 generations deep (within 15 years). More than one million new followers of Jesus have come to faith through this reproducible process. They have simultaneously been equipped to reach others by the process used in reaching them!

Why would you want to change this?

While I was taught to never write a one sentence paragraph, I left that sentence all alone. It is there for emphasis. It is the question I sometimes ask people wanting permission to edit the questions.

“The questions get boring,” and “These people won’t obey the questions,” are the honest answers I get when my question is answered. Truth be told, this is a clear sign you are working with the wrong people, if you want to start a Movement. Working with other people doesn’t mean you are giving up on them, though.

Sometimes people are not ready to change. Paul turned to the Gentiles when the Jewish people rejected his message about Jesus. He reveals to us he did it “to provoke the Jews to jealousy.” Maybe the best way to get one group of people to change is find the willing nearby and help them change. The first group gets to witness the power of the Gospel. Maybe, just maybe, their hearts will change, too!

Question 5: People?

“What do we learn about people?” is a question which opens participants up to discover the typical ways human beings interact with God and one another. Their answers often give insights into how they view themselves and other significant people in their lives.

When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment he started off by calling for whole-hearted love for God and then added the second greatest command, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). The people we are exposed to through Scriptures give us avenues to view our own heart condition from a safe distance. Exposing ourselves to others (via mutual accountability) can be scary until we learn whether or not they will deal with our inner secrets with truth and grace.

Through the pages of the Bible we see the human tendency to hide. We see our propensity to deceive as a form of cover up. We see that honesty can come at a high price, too. We are able to discover with how the Holy God deals with our sin, rebellion and cover ups. We get to explore what happens when people reject God’s grace. We do not have to suffer all the consequences of all the bad decisions we might choose. The characters in the Bible stories become cautionary examples.

But there are also models who are worthy of imitating. Coaching a discovery group to become conscious of people who will model exemplary responses to our Heavenly Father give us new ways forward. Repentance calls for changes in our choices. Sometimes we feel like our bad choice was the only way forward. But through Peter we learn that Judas’ actions are not the only option when we are convicted of our rejection or betrayal of Jesus. God has given us a incredible resource through the people we encounter within his Word.

Knowing what we should not do is often not enough. We need healthier ways forward. We need positive examples like Joseph, Daniel and Ruth. We need to watch Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus to see how true friends interact with Jesus. While this question is not nearly as valuable as Question #4, “What do we learn about God?” it is still very significant. Pay special attention when participants shift from third person pronouns (“he,” “she,” “they”) and begin to use first person pronouns (“I” and “we”) to answer Question 5.

Searching for COWs

Over the next several weeks I plan to write a series of posts looking closely at each of the 8 questions we recommend be used in Discovery Groups. I often receive questions about changing the way the questions are phrased and/or significantly modifying them. Maybe it will help if I give more of the rationale for why they are what they are and some of the thinking which has gone into even the order of the questions.

Before we dive into looking at the eight questions, I want to mention one of our strategies at Final Command Ministries. We look for what Gary Jennings (one of my teammates) calls the Coalition of the Willing. Jacob Crawford, a DMM practitioner and catalytic partner in New Orleans mentioned how helpful it is to be “looking for the COWs.”

Whenever you do exposure training with new church leaders and/or ordinary believers, be intentional in looking for those who open up to you and the training without you having to “convince” them they need to take this new direction. Decades of experience reveal that trying to convince the unwilling is frustrating for them and a waste of your time. Doing such exposure trainings (where you are exposing groups of people to the Discovery process and how it fits into the DMM cycle) is a time for broadcast sowing. Tap into the curiosity which is available, but look for evidence of willingness. Do not insult those who are resistant, but recognize they do not yet qualify for more time or energy beyond praying for them if you already have a significant relationship with them.

David Watson used to describe Cityteam (the organization where he worked when he invited me to assist in some of his trainings) as a “pull me” organization rather than a “push you” one. He would do these week long trainings which focused on the Critical Elements of Multiplying Movements and then wait for the people who would reach out for more training and/or coaching. Even that was going to be contingent on finding out what efforts were being made to implement some elements. “What have you done since the training to respond to it?” was the kind of question he would ask.

Are you raising up intercessors? Are you practicing the Discovery Group strategy with your family or friends? Who are you sharing these concepts with who might become part of a Disciple Making team? Have you started making a list of lost people that you already know who you can have overt spiritual conversations with them? These and other questions like them are asked to assess a willingness to go beyond a mere intellectual exercise.

When you start exposing those who are already believers to Discovery, and they “don’t like it,” what does this reveal? They are not COWs. Stop trying to drag them into this. Leave them alone and find other people to share with you in the journey. Early exposure to Discovery becomes a way to gauge interest. Deal appropriately with the information this litmus test reveals.

Q&A: Do You Recommend Changing the Questions?

Actual Question: “In DBS, after reading the scripture, the 3 key questions asked are: 

1. What does this scripture tell you about God?

2. What does it tell you about mankind (fallen man)?

3. What change do you want to start to see in you by the Holy Spirit’s help?

My question: Have you considered adding a question before the last one, inviting people to talk about what Jesus did to the fallen condition of man, and to remember the power that Jesus enables, so that the Gospel becomes the power to change, rather than just our will?”

My Response:

Many have changed the questions, for many reasons. Some do because they get bored asking and answering the same questions week after week. But it is that repetition that allows lost people on the way to faith to be able to start Discovery with their family and friends. “Who are you doing this to benefit?” is the question I want to ask these adapters.

Obviously, the form of question # 3 above introduces the work of the Holy Spirit prematurely, if the group is primarily composed of lost people. It has been inserted by the person who wrote the question. The actual questions I recommend people ask after the passage has been read twice, retold and any details noted which were omitted in the re-telling are:

  1. What do we learn about God?

2. What do we learn about people?

3. How will you put this passage into practice?

Why would you want to insert the suggested additional question? What do you hope to accomplish by inserting it. If the participants are not yet believers, they likely do not even know there is a Holy Spirit. That is one of the biblical truths we believe they need to discover from the pages of the Bible rather than depend on our observations about him as their entre into knowing him. I suspect the inquisitor is thinking about a group of Christians doing Discovery and the need to get them to think about what God is calling them to do, rather than depending on their feelings, emotions or self-will. That is not the setting the DBS questions were developed for use. Maybe many who profess to be believers are so much in need of these additional questions because we have never really expected them to directly apply the Word of God to their lives.

Q&A: How do you encourage Christians who are very happy to sit and receive teaching from the ‘qualified’ to engage with this discovery model? What has worked for you?

Working through strategic preaching/teaching plans which expose these people to Kingdom texts which produce a Kingdom expansion call motivates some. How will passive people be called to “get on the pitch” rather than being only consumers?

Do not focus too much attention on the resistant. Invest time, energy and passion into the willing. Build a team out of these. “Start small to end big; focus on the few to win the many.” are two related the counter-intuitive statements that were learned by on the ground teams in Africa. You will not succeed in getting large numbers of people to take up new approaches at the same time. Their rhythms keep them doing what they are doing. Who are the people who are willing to learn new rhythms?

Celebrate the stories of breakthrough which come from the efforts of your team. As success begins with your team, their stories have the potential to provide the “social proof” which is required by the 84% who are middle or laggard adopters. Focusing too much attention on the slower adopters increases their resistance, but often sidetracks you and your team. Read through Acts and pay special attention to how much attention Saul/Paul gives to the Jewish people in the synagogues who rejected his proclamation.

Focusing on the willing is not about giving up on the resistant, though. It is understanding that they need proof. Give it to them. Get to breakthrough and more will join you. Yes, I know you wish they would help you get to breakthrough, but do not allow that to distract you.

Q&A: When & how do you invite people to believe & obey Jesus for salvation in a DBS?

We invite people to believe and obey Jesus for salvation when they are showing evidence that they are trusting him enough to become obedient in small, simple ways. We do this primarily through the passages which allow them to Discover what happens when people in the Bible are coming to faith in him and obeying him.

Everything participants discover sticks with them better and becomes more powerful for them. Premature calls to faith and obedience can result in premature births and we know preemies have great risks and require extensive neonatal care. A “normal” gestation period is the preferred route. But we always stay open to the miraculous movement of the Holy Spirit. For example, if a Muslim person in a Discovery Group has a dream of Jesus while the group is still in the OT passages, we likely would transition into relevant NT passages corresponding to the theme of the dream. Later we will return to our previous place, but we trust God to know better than we do.

One of the “counter-intuitive” insights summarizes this concept. It says: “Start prepared to take a long time making strong disciples, but stay open to the miraculous acceleration of the Holy Spirit.” The Creation to Christ Scripture set contains 26 passages. If you study one a week, then it will take six months (with weekly Discovery gatherings and no interruptions. There are lots of evangelistic strategies which are much quicker than this Discovery approach. But our goal is not to just have people make professions of faith, we desire to also equip them to becoming disciple makers.

Multiplication requires raising up many disciple makers. The goal is to equip every person coming to faith to lead others to faith by the same strategic approach used with them and their family/friends. Replication, coaching and building a culture of intentionally focusing on outreach are critical for multi-generational movements. This approach starts slow. It proceeds slowly. The appearance of speeding up comes when more and more disciple makers are intentionally making disciples who are making disciples.

The tragedy is that many believe they can be faithful disciples to Jesus without ever making other disciples. Remember his words to the fishermen he called to follow him?

Our global experience reveals that when people come to faith by hearing God’s word, they open the conversations about what living by faith looks like in their life. Pentecost was a response to people coming to the conviction that they had contributed to the crucifixion of the Son of God. Let’s be sure people have experienced some of what the Word teaches about Jesus before we call them to faith.

Q&A: Should you lead in a prayer or song of worship in a DBS with unbelievers?

My conviction is worship should arise from faith. Calling unbelievers to participate in a prayer or song is presumptuous. We do disciple them toward these two activities by use of the first two questions we ask: “What good thing has happened this week?” Or it might be stated, “What are you thankful for which has happened this week?” Here they are becoming grateful as they are discovering God, the One who gives every good gift. The second question is, “What challenge are you, your family, or someone in your neighborhood facing?” Their answers to the second question informs me of things I will begin to privately intercede for in the participants’ lives. This sharing begins to disciple them toward interceding so when they come to faith in God, we will explicitly build those rhythms of singing praises and praying for one another.

Why would we feel the need to push for praying and praising prior to faith? That’s the question I urge you to ponder.

Many Christians act as though they assume faith can only arise in a context of a gathered church. Our conflation of evangelism and edification lies at the root of these thoughts and assumptions.

Discovery Bible Studies were not developed for those who are already believers. They were designed for those who have little or no Bible knowledge, but who are open to exploring what it says about spiritual themes and/or questions. Let’s stop allowing our preconceived ideas shape everything.

Q&A: Do you have any suggestions on who to invite to a DBS?

It is best to have intentional overt spiritual conversations with lost people. Those who respond with curiosity and receptivity should be invited to host a Discovery Group where they will invite some of their family and/or close friends to join them in participating. You may have to take them through 2-3 before they will invite others to participate and that is fine.

Other believers can be invited to participate in a multi-week experience of DBS as part of a training program to get them to begin using the format in their own disciple making efforts. But mixing this type of group with the one mentioned earlier is not preferable. Lost people are often concerned that they know so little of the Bible that their ignorance will show, so they hold back if they are with too many people who know much more than they do.

Inviting one other person who is training to become a Multiplier to sit in on a Discovery Group comprised of a lost family/friendship group can be very valuable. But you need to coach this person before they meet in this setting. They absolutely must not “show off” their extensive Bible knowledge! They need to model a humble learning spirit. They must obey their own “I will…” Statement and attempt to share with the person they name, if they are to return. Their greatest contribution will be serving as a role model of someone on a Discovery journey.

Many Christians will not do what is discussed in the previous paragraph, regretfully. Those who will not, will botch a Discovery Group.

Q&A: How do you deal with the very tough and difficult Scriptures?

Tough and difficult Scriptures are best studied after people have Discovered enough about God to trust that He loves them and only wants their best. When they have that level of trust in Him, they will be willing to explore the places where His Word confronts their lifestyle choices.

Too often, disciple makers who know one of the “hidden sins” of a lost person or household feels the need to confront that sin with a “head on” passage, or worse yet, with a personal rebuke. If the Holy Spirit produces that feeling, take action ASAP, but what if that feeling is really motivated by your own fear that other believers might condemn you for being too “soft” on sin?

Do you remember the saying Jesus quoted in Matthew 1:17: “We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.“ (NIV)? Jesus used this to probe the charge that John the Baptizer’s choices to not eat and drink brought the charge that he “has a demon,” while Jesus’ choice to have close fellowship with sinners brought the same people to say, “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.“ (vs. 19). Consistency cries out, you cannot have it both ways.

Do not allow your fear of “what others may say” drive you to taking a premature action. Always do what the Holy Spirit prompts you to do. After people have established faith in God, forged through a process of hearing his Word and seeking to respond in obedience, they they have a foundation of trust strong enough to withstand the challenges of learning that some of their actions run contrary to what the Word reveals. Never rush this process because of your fear of what others may think or say. You know your heart is to see lives transformed and your trust in the Holy Spirit to bring conviction is strong enough to overcome your fear!

Q&A: What cautions do you have for our church to make this as effective as possible?

Most church goers have experienced a long and consistent process of being expected to learn new data more than applying that learning directly to their lives. Transitioning to an obedience-based form of living as a disciple will require great love, patience, and perseverance. Role modeling the importance of coming up with good S.M.A.R.T. “I will…” Statements and then following through with them during the week will be the best way to call participants to make this challenging paradigm shift.

Because preaching and teaching has been so focused on learning new information, or reviewing what we already know in “innovative” ways, many traditional church-goers will resist it, eventually. There will be a “novelty” attached to Discovery initially which is often misconstrued as true willingness to make hard changes. Do not be deceived.

So, I am offering three cautions:

Caution number 1: Realize the lack of initial resistance is not the same as long-term acceptance and buy-in. It is likely an indication that your folks are open to taking it for a “test drive.” Seize this opportunity since it may be how you identify the people who are open to learning a new way to make disciples.

Caution number 2: When the resistance does come, be prepared to offer alternatives, or be prepared to “blow it all up.” Here in the U.S., people value their independence more than they value your leadership. As a wise elder told me when I was a young pastor, “People here will either vote with their hands, their wallets or their feet.” I would add, most vote with their mouths expressing dissension, long before they vote with their feet by leaving for another local church. This is more likely to happen when the idea of change is being led by the pastor or another key leader.

Caution number 3: Develop a “pilot project” to suggest as a next step for those who weather the storm of the eventual resistance. without an alternative way forward, your passion will die or drive you away from those who disagree. Realize some dissent is not bad or wrong. It is often grounded in your personal inability to answer legitimate questions. When people are encountering disciple making thinking for the first time, they have lots of questions. Too many “I don’t know” answers can undermine their confidence in you.

Identifying a pocket of lostness in your city/region where it is abundantly obvious that there is a great need for the gospel and suggesting the idea of raising up a team to reach that place can be a more fruitful way forward. People who are resistant can “bow out” by noting that is not “where God is calling me to reach.” Because our culture is “truth” focused more than “shame,” we bristle at the idea of giving people a “face-saving” way out. Why force them into a corner? Why not give them an opportunity to watch and see?