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: Is DBS owned by anyone, denomination or para church organization?

No, the Discovery Bible Study process was developed by an international team focused on simple disciple making which can be easily replicated by brand new believers and even lost individuals who are “Persons of Peace” (Luke 10-12). No one person or group hold a copyright or trademark to DBS. There are multiple lists of questions that different groups have used, but each catalytic team needs to carefully evaluate the purpose behind the format which is utilized. I, John King, was part of that international team and I personally crafted the question list used by Final Command Ministries.

There are eight questions which drive the Discovery Groups we seek to see launched. Each question serves a distinct function for lost groups which are open to gathering to hear from and interact with the Bible and one another. We discourage changing the questions from week to week because a fundamental goal is to model an easily replicated study format. We know lost people who start new groups using the same questions. Changing them every week requires that each facilitator will have to have greater knowledge and reduce the likelihood of multiplication, thus I believe it is unwise.

While that international team settled on multiple Scripture sets, the same did not happen with the questions, so there is some diversity. The question that we all need to answer is, “What outcomes are we hoping to see?”

Q&A: Why is “pace and purity” so important in a Discovery Bible Study?

Pace, as we use it, refers to keeping answers brief enough that everyone answers every question every session. People here in the U.S. are particularly time conscious, so answering in sentences, rather than paragraphs, actually encourages more participation by more people. Purity refers to sticking with the passage being studied that session, or an occasional reference to a passage the group has Discovered previously. This practice of “purity” protects people who are less familiar with the Bible from feeling incompetent and giving up on hearing from God.

Seventy-five minutes is the ideal time frame here in the US. Request the group members to commit to ninety minutes and end it at 75 so everyone will be pleasantly surprised. They may hang around longer, but the first three to four sessions it is critical to complete the eight questions in 75 minutes every session.

When a Person of Peace connects you to her/his household, your goal is to equip their “inside leader” to facilitate the Discovery process ASAP. It is absolutely imperative that an ongoing coaching relationship be maintained on a weekly basis with this “inside leader” since he/she will be hearing these passages for the first time. This is where you explore the joys and challenges of the ongoing group since you may not be a personal participant. In the ideal situation this “inside leader” will begin facilitating no later than the fourth session.

As a group begins to find joy in hearing, trusting and obeying God’s Word, the great temptation will be to invite other family and friends to join this existing group. As noted in one of my recent posts (https://dmmcoach.com/2021/03/25/addition-vs-multiplication/), bringing new people into existing groups is one of the quickest ways to get addition results rather than multiplication. Encourage anyone who wants to invite a new person to the group to rather invite that person to identify a group of 3-4 family or friends who might like to be part of a new group. Offer to coach that person in starting this new group. Remember, your goal is to see people come to faith and become disciple makers. Do not forget that second part of the goal!

Starting new groups out of the relationships identified within the first group is one of the best ways to avoid a group growing so large it can no longer accomplish the deep sharing it grew out of originally. Multiplying groups safeguards the original group’s capacity for depth and combines the power of multiplication.

Q&A: Why Apply DBS to Church Settings?

Question: If the Discovery approach was developed for family and/or friendship groups of lost people who are spiritual seekers, why do people try to use it in churched settings like Sunday School or existing Small Groups?

Answer: This is a perceptive follow-up question to my last two posts. There may be numerous answers given, but I want to share just a few. Some church leaders have become convinced that something desperately needs to change. The challenges that the COVID-19 “shelter in place” orders created have shaken many with the realization that hosts of people sitting in pews on Sundays are not self-feeders. Rather, the typical sermon and Sunday School teaching formats “disciple” people towards passivity and expecting the “expert” Bible students to entertain us with some new and interesting knowledge or new and interesting way of hearing the “Old, Old Story.” These leaders have likely heard stories that hold out hope that “Discovery Groups are pandemic proof.”

I celebrate that kind of opening. I pray many more reach this place.

Others have read or heard about DBS and think it might be a solution to recurring problems. Maybe it will re-energize Sunday School programs by making it easier to train up teachers. Maybe it will re-energize small group ministries which already exist. These two motivations are often fraught with lots of challenges.

I will attempt to help coach folks who start at these places, but often feel great skepticism in my heart. Usually I am not skeptical about the motivation, but the likelihood of success. Many who are participating in these types of settings prove unwilling to make the changes which are required. The typical participants often reflect the different types of soil present in Jesus’ parable which we call the Parable of the Sower.

Q&A: What Cautions Do You have for Us?

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

Answer: Please note that the question addresses a very specific context. The 8 Question DBS approach was not developed with the typical church setting in mind (be sure to read my previous post which is linked below). Whether you are envisioning using Discovery in a Sunday School setting or a traditional small group hosted in a church member’s home, you are applying the format for a setting which is significantly different than the setting for which it was designed.

Applying Discovery to a Sunday School setting will have immediate challenges regarding time frame and typical seating arrangements. But there is a difference that is of greater significance, which is the expectation of those who will participate.

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 lifestyle will require great love, patience, and perseverance. Role modelling coming up with good S.M.A.R.T. “I will…” Statements and then following through with obeying them during the week will be the best way to call participants to make this challenging paradigm shift. The convener of this type of group must set a new tone by his/her consistent practice outside the class experience.

Let’s return to the issue of time frame. Typically groups of 4-5 people need at least 75 minutes to complete the DBS process and even then they will have to be quite intentional in being brief during their responses to each of the questions. Much like grade school children using their “best” stall tactics to prevent their teacher from getting to the quiz, many adults drag out their answers to the early sharing questions to avoid those which are designed to move to application via obedience, sharing and service.

Whenever possible, having the chairs in a room arranged in small circles with no more than five chairs in each circle increases the likelihood of success. Starting promptly on time and keeping the smaller groups moving briskly through the questions is critical. Early into this experience it will feel “rushed” to the majority of the participants, so you need to expect resistance, push-back and/or passive-aggressive behavior. You are asking people to change their norms and even the self-proclaimed “change champions” often dig in their heels. You likely will need to have a private conversation with the most vocal resisters and ask them to refrain from leading a mutiny.

Keeping the make-up of each small circle consistent is critical to building the trust required to get to the level of transparency needed to establish a rhythm of mutual accountability. Mixing up the groups is another way the passive-aggressive opponents seek to sabotage the process.

Creating smaller sub-groups within a typical “Small Group” setting will also be needed to reach the needed level of mutual accountability to see true application. Life transformation does not happen by knowledge acquisition alone. When we learn about God and discern ways to obey him, but disregard taking action, we actually begin to disciple disobedience. Discovery entails experiencing the joy of responsive obedience.

Remember Jesus’ warning about mixing “old” and “new” practices:

“And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’” (Luke 5:37-39)

Q&A: For Whom is DBS Effective?

Question: Does God use DBS in the U.S. as an effective tool for bringing unbelievers to trust in Jesus as Savior and also become an obedient disciple of Jesus, or is this tool best used for the latter only?

Answer: Here in the U.S. and Canada, we find that Discovery Groups work well with spiritually interested lost people and also with maturing newer believers.

The longer a person has been churched, typically the more resistant they are (as a general rule) to the Discovery Group format. One factor is the expectation that Discovery calls for obedience, sharing and ministry every week and then the group holds one another accountable for following through with actual practice. People who have become entrenched in knowledge transfer often find Discovery troublesome.

Question: Why is this resistance so common and can anything be done to reverse this?

We’ve done knowledge transfer for so long, that it seems normal. Groups typically need an intensive, focused time of DBS to retrain ourselves for a new normal. It is absolutely essential that any catalyst for making this paradigm shift must model it yourself for others to follow you. So last week’s “I will…” Statement creates perfect opportunity to share an update with the group by saying, “Here’s how it went this week….” If you will not consistently provide a S.M.A.R.T. “I will…” Statement and then follow through, why would you expect others to do so? Model the new behavior you want to see. Be accountable and follow through.

Critical Elements for Starting (pt. 2)

  1. Serve with Purpose: This doesn’t necessarily mean volunteering at the rescue mission. The idea is to prayerfully begin to identify the needs of the community or group God is directing you to reach, and meet one of those needs which they highly value as a way to genuinely love on them in the name of Christ. It may be a for-profit service you begin providing. The goal is to genuinely care for the people with the love of God, and allow the Holy Spirit to open doors of opportunity to communicate the love of Christ. Our ultimate purpose is to create natural opportunities to interact with enough different people to find Persons of Peace. Some access ministries which are places for service are ELL (English Language Learning classes and other forms of assistance offered to refugees) after school tutoring at a laundromat near a trailer park, inner city boxing gym for troubled teens, halfway house for ex-cons, employment programs for released felons, coffee shops in city areas undergoing gentrification, etc.
  • Access Ministries open the door for finding Persons of Peace and lead to community transformation. Ministry should precede efforts to disciple people to Christ and evangelistic Discovery Groups must always be the end goal of ministry.  Timing is important and necessary so prayer and fasting open us to God’s insight and timing.
  • Scriptures:
    • Matthew 25:31-46 (Meeting needs serves Jesus).
    • Philippians 2:1-11 (Having the mind of Christ entails caring for the interests of others).
    • Acts 10:30-38 (Him doing good was a fundamental part of the message about Jesus).
    • Acts 3:1-16 (James and John heal the lame man and that opens doors for talking about Jesus openly).
    • 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 (Paul’s exemplary life involved sharing the Good News and loving care of people, too).
  • Activities:
    • Get your people into pairs and have them “role play” inviting someone to “read what the Bible has to say about marriage, child rearing, God’s character, or some other biblical topic.” Rotate all the groups and work through the room.
    • Go to a restaurant and tell your waiter, waitress: “We pray before our meals. Do you have a need which we can pray about for you?”
    • Prayer walk or drive through the neighborhoods where the people God is calling you to reach live and ask God to reveal a need these people have that will give you a way to serve them with the purpose of finding people who are open to spiritual conversations.
    • Celebrate successes!

Why You Need a Coach

A few years ago my job title at Final Command Ministries was changed. It actually happened while I was out of the country and I had no input on the shift. To be perfectly transparent I was a little miffed.

Regretfully my upbringing did not prepare me well for that kind of situation. I earned my strokes as a people pleaser for decades. This was surely a contributor to me staying in school for so many years. Read the assigned material, participate in group discussions, study hard for tests and then write papers–the path to academic success and educational strokes.

But most formal education does not really reward disagreeing. Yes, I know it should, but it rarely does.

My former job title was Director of Training and Strategic Access. It was long and I helped craft it. The first half fit a lot of what Western Christians get–the need for training. But the second half was a bit mysterious and if someone asked me about it, their curiosity gave me permission to peel back the onion layers at least a little.

But who needs a coach?

Sure, we all want our children to have the benefit of a good coach when they participate in sports. Ideally, she/he will have played the sport in high school or college and have a good ability to model and drill the team toward greater cohesion and improved abilities.

I had coached basketball and baseball for my son, since I had lettered in both at my small high school. Later I coached my daughter’s soccer team even though I really had no personal experience to draw on (thankfully a good coach of my son’s soccer team suggested the strategy is much like basketball).

Yes, we all want our kids to have good coaches. But what adult wants to admit they need a coach?

Global Coach, that’s my job title. It was picked because that is really what I try to do, regardless of where I am. Even when I hold training events I am really sifting through the group looking for the few who sense they will need a coach.

It takes a special measure and variety of humility to acknowledge the need for a coach. There is a vulnerability needed that most adults prefer to avoid by acting out our best two-year-old selves–“I do it myself!” Then there is the challenge of knowing whether or not a particular candidate is the right coach for me. Maybe I sense I need one, but I will feel foolish if I pay him lots of money, invest time and energy and still don’t succeed.

Global Coach sounds grander. But who is going to believe that? If I get these disciple making principles so well, then where is the proof? Where are the people who’ve taken my coaching and their fruit is evident? Those are the unspoken questions I always anticipate.

But how do you answer those questions with integrity and not “blow your own horn?” How do you tell the ways God has used you without taking credit for works he accomplished?

Why do you need a coach? That’s a great question. You don’t need one to start lots of first generation Discovery Groups–a half-decent trainer can get you started doing that in about two hours if you will recruit a group with whom to experience it.

But you will need a coach if your goal is generations of groups starting groups where some of them become churches planting churches.

Bible Engagement in the US

Ponder with me what the recent findings of a Barna research project reveal about people who increased their active engagement with the Bible implies about the potential for starting Discovery Groups focused on reading the Bible:

Bible Engagement Survey (2017)

https://www.barna.com/research/state-bible-2017-top-findings/#.WkZTtFV-C84.facebook

Increased Bible Engagement = Important Part of Faith Journey
More than one half (56%) of those who report an increase in Bible readership attribute it to their understanding that Bible reading is an important part of their faith journey….Second to this response, many people point to a difficult life experience that led them to search the Bible for direction or answers (39%)…. Seeing how the Bible changed someone they knew for the better was an important motivating factor for 30 percent of adults, as was being asked by someone they know to read the Bible (20%).

What might happen if your friend going through a difficulty was invited to read what the Bible has to say about that issue? What if you invited folks to read what the Bible actually says about God’s nature? Just because some of the people you know are Bible skeptics, don’t assume they all are.

While the first group may be most likely believers already, the other three groups are not so likely. Who can you invite to read the Bible? Which of them might become the case study for an improved life? Start praying she will be open. Take the plunge and invite him. Oh, and when he says “Yes,” be sure to ask, “Who else in your social network might join us if you invited?”