Q&A: Do You Recommend “Pitching” the Text?

Original Questions:

What do you think about the general idea of using these kinds of passages (like the Sermon on the Mount) with Discovery? I know that narratives tend to work better than teaching blocks, but I have a preference for reading through blocks of text, in order to model what we expect people to be doing on their own, and learning to listen to God through all of the Bible.

Also, in the light of this list, how do you recommend “pitching” the text? Reading the titles (and those on your bookmarks), I realize that our general approach is just to introduce the text as “the next one to read”. We don’t ordinarily put a title on it. Probably because we want to encourage people to hear God speak through the text, without being prescriptive! But looking over the list, I wonder whether it is better, particularly in a church setting, to “orientate” the work that we’re doing. What do you think about this?

My Reply:

I did my Masters thesis on Matthew’s Gospel, so it holds a special place in my heart and mind. In church settings it is appropriate to go deeper, I believe. Jesus certainly gives his disciples “insider” information when they asked. If we want to transition from a consumer mindset, though, we must maintain some strong inductive rhythms. 


“Pitching” the text gives a group a heads up that we are hoping to mine it for certain insights. The whole series I sent you is certainly “pitched” as it explores the first Gospel looking for Jesus teaching and modeling of Kingdom definitions and callings for leadership. 

One of the unique characteristics of Matthew’s Gospel (compared the Mark, Luke and John) are the five large teaching blocks. Interestingly, in the first Gospel Jesus is said to have a threefold ministry (proclamation of the kingdom, teaching and healing). When he commissioned the 12 and sent them out (chapter 10), he empowers them to do two of the three. The one which is withheld for Jesus is teaching. Some commentators believe Matthew did this to parallel Jesus with Moses and the Pentateuch. I think that usually gets overworked. But Matthew contains that interesting directive:

““But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭23:8‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Everyone is discipled to the same Rabbi because we all have the same Teacher. His name is Jesus. Actually, the Great Commission is the only place in the first Gospel where the disciples are to teach and then, we teach people to obey all of Jesus’ commandments. 


Clearly other biblical books present the idea and importance of many of God’s people functioning as teachers. This is part of the spiritually empowered ministry in Ephesians 4. But Matthew emphasizes there is One Supreme Teacher. The rest of us are focused on getting others to listen to and obey Jesus. When you call the church to the Sermon on the Mount, it is appropriate to consider, weigh and explore who we are listening to and what his desired outcomes are as we explore. 


While we call it the “Sermon on the Mount,” Matthew actually tags it as teaching his disciples (Matthew 5:1-2). Much is made of the crowd, because we call it a sermon, but the first Gospel makes more of this being a setting where he is teaching his disciples and the crowds overhear. What does following Jesus look like? What should it look like? Jesus casts a kingdom vision in these three chapters which are very challenging and counter cultural. 


As long as the “pitch” is true to the context, I am okay with it, personally. I do much less of it with lost people. 

Question # 8: Serve?

“How can we help with one of the challenges shared earlier during Question # 2?” guides the group into meeting a need each week. It disciples them towards ministering to the challenges in the group, their families or their neighborhood.

Some DMM coaches make this question a follow-up to number 2, so they only have seven questions. I kept it separate and wanted all three of the obedience questions to come after the passage is explored. We need to hear from God before we go off doing things to make sure we are not operating in our own wisdom.

Often when groups are not family or friends they do not live near enough to each other to easily do this as a group. This makes Question 8 a bit challenging for many in the Global North. Some drop it. Others change it to praying for one of the challenges shared earlier in the Discovery Group time. My preference is we keep it as is and coach the group towards more creative ministry options.

I am writing this blog post on my phone while riding to Tallahassee, Florida. Debra (my wife) is driving at this moment. I am using my two thumbs to type it into the WordPress app. What if we used our phones to help with a challenge someone shared?

Often challenges deal with the need for encouragement. Can you encourage someone with a text message? What if you commit to send a favorite Bible promise to someone who is struggling with depression? Do you think that might bolster her spirits? What else could you do? What else could several people do for one of the group members?

Q&A: Multiple Questions

Actual Questions:

1. Compared to topical study in small group discussions where we can discuss from various passage from bible, if we stick to one passage don’t we miss other key principles from scripture about same topic? 

2. When we ask questions of what can we obey from the passage, should it be group obedience or as per what person discovers? If it is based on what person discovers then wont we miss on key principles that they miss?

3. What shall we do if some members in the group are not obedient to their commitments made in last week?

My Responses:

  1. Please remember that the Discovery questions and approach were developed for lost families and/or friends who are open to exploring the Bible together to especially discover what God is like. One of their fears of church people is that we have them at an unfair disadvantage because we are familiar with the Bible and they are not. Staying with one text is for their benefit. But this can be good for ordinary church members, too. If there are multiple passages related to a biblical theme, then work through them one at a time as a small group. Then spend a session (every 6-8 weeks) tracing out the insights that flow from the collection of passages. In this scenario, every participant will have been part of discovering from all of the passages together. The insights which are traced out will be more widely shared because of the earlier group times. Most of our thematic studies are dominated by a few who expect others to absorb and accept because we have declared it so, rather than guiding a process where people discover for themselves whether or not it is from the Lord. Trust the Holy Spirit.
  2. In highly individualistic cultures their “I will…” (obedience) statements will most likely be based on what each individual hears from the passage. Yes, there is some risk attached with this, but the same is true of deductive teaching or other forms of inductive study. More significant than the statement of what they are going to do, is what they actually do in obedience to what they hear from God. In collective cultures it may be more valuable to coach the group toward a shared, “We will….” Statement of obedience. If they hear from God an action to take and they act on it, their hearts will become increasingly open to hearing from Him. Drawing attention to good quality “I will…” Statements (after everyone as shared their own) often results in those with weaker statements beginning to make better commitments and actually working on obeying them. What happens in the group gathering is significant, but what happens outside is often more transformational. Trust the Holy Spirit to work before, during and after the Discovery gathering!
  3. Modelling making good “I will…” Statements, doing what we commit to do in them and then transparently sharing what happens when we attempt to obey is the best path forward with the resistant. Do not shame them. Love them. Ask privately if there is a way you can come alongside them to see a different outcome next week. Most importantly intercede for them throughout the intervening week. Trust the Holy Spirit to work in their life!

Q&A: How Do You Balance Grace and Obedience

Here is the actual question which was raised at the Salt & Light conference: “Setting aside cheap grace (believing without obedience), does the approach of emphasizing obedience lead to moralism and works-based salvation mindsets (my works save me and approve me before God). How do you help keep a balance of obedience and the disciple’s affections for God and grasp of grace?”

Our first question, asked of every passage we study in a Discovery Group, is “What is revealed about God?” Proper obedience grows out of a burgeoning awareness of who God is and what causes his heart joy, concern and deep passion. People can only be expected to respond in obedience to the degree we are coming to know and trust God. Responsive obedience is what we are calling for in obedience-based following of Jesus.

As some have noted, “Obedience is the love language Jesus calls for from his followers.” He often points out, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

A Muslim brother and sister were working through the Creation to the Cross scripture set years ago in Nashville. Isaiah 53 is the bridge passage which is the last Old Testament text before the group moves into the Gospels. After a careful multiple readings of the text and defining any new words, my friend asked, “What do we learn about God from what we have just heard?” The brother took a while to respond with his head slightly bowed. Looking up he responded, “God loves us,” and unprompted he added, “My how the Suffering Servant loves us!”

The obedience we model and call for in a Discovery Group is simple and relevant to what the day’s passage reveals about God and the characters in the story. Sometimes we may need to use the S.P.E.C.K. acronym to help people identify how they might obey. Does this passage mention a Sin you wrestle with committing? If it does, then how can you prepare yourself for you next temptation in this area? What is the model a Prayer or Praise form in this passage you could imitate? What is the Promise it contains which you need to claim? What action does someone take in this passage which can serve as an Example you should imitate? What is the explicit Command given in this text you could start obeying? What important Knowledge in this passage is significant enough to memorize?

This kind of simple obedience, as a response to what is being revealed about God’s character, becomes an open door to truly learning to “follow Jesus.” Obedience to King Jesus is at the heart of being a true disciple and it is absolutely essential to becoming an intentional disciple maker!

Church as the Gathered

Here in the West, we think of church as “gathered.” No doubt, you must gather to accomplish some of the “one anothers” and other functions of church (as the body of Christ). But what we generally fail to recognize is how much our cultural individuality impacts how we understand “gathered.” We often overlook the household language of scripture.

The gospel was planted into existing households.

Church was not primarily isolated believers who come together to act like a quasi-family. The gospel took root in the families, friends and employees that were 1st Century Roman households. It is not that church took the household structure.

Because we start from an individualistic bias, we miss this. Because we start from an individualistic bias, our strategies and tactics are often damaging to households, and thus extractional. Yes, there are times when some members of a family will come to trust in Jesus and others will reject them because of that, but Disciple Making Movements want that whole household to hear the gospel, interact with the gospel and not make their decision just because they incorrectly view the gospel as a Western oppressive intrusion.

This is why we evaluate our approaches to insure that they can be reproduced within any existing culture that highly values close-knit, multi-generational families. This is why we work to disciple the whole household to faith. The last thing we want is for the household to feel like Christian families do when one of their children converts to the Moonies or another cult–“they kidnapped and brain-washed” her/him.

Too much of the church planting talk is about gathering unconnected individuals and trying to get them to act like family. Real movements come when the gospel is being planted into existing family/friendship structures where people are discipled to trust and obey Jesus.

[NOTE: I originally wrote this as a comment on an article by Felicity Dale (http://simplychurch.com/on-cpms-and-dmms/). She moved it and a couple of other comments to her main page and there has been some interesting dialogue there. I decided to re-post it here on my site so that my networks could interact with it, also. You probably ought to check out the other dialogue.]

How Deep Is The Well?

No, I am not suggesting anyone else has to open a non-profit coffee shop (while I am also not opposed to you doing that, but if you do, let me connect you with Rob so you can benefit from his experience). I am telling you this true story to illustrate that “first steps” are going to be greatly impacted by where you are on the journey to making disciple-making disciples (true replication).

While we say we don’t, most of us really want the ease of a “one-size-fits-all” strategy. We don’t want to spend the time getting to know a coach/mentor who will ask a gazillion questions about what we are already doing in order to answer the question, “What are the first steps I ought to take to reach this God-sized vision and overcome my dissatisfaction by pressing through the resistance I am already facing?”

In our heart of hearts, we know that canned answers will not work. But we also know that change is going to mess with our lives. That is why we stay in dead-end jobs. That is why many stay unhappy in their marriages–the work of change will be demanding. We dance the dance we dance because we won’t do the hard work of learning a new dance and doing it long enough that it becomes our new norm, our new default.

Our default evangelistic strategies, developed to reach individualists, isolate people from their existing affinity groups (family and/or friends). Perpetuating them will contribute to extraction and undermine any true movement potential! We have seen the enemy and he is us.

The Well rooms

Too much work has gone into making The Well different to tack on traditional missional strategies. Our post-Enlightenment young adults are wary of the communitylessness of my generation. They want authentic community. Those who are disciples want to discover ways to plant, water and harvest the gospel within their affinity groups, wherever possible, rather than ditching them for surface-level small groups which are not authentic. They go to third spaces looking for something meaningful

First Steps???

I continue to worship with Stones River. They also insisted I continue to serve as one of the six shepherds (“elders” sounds old and within our fellowship these groups tend to focus too much on things deacons should do and no one focuses on spiritual leadership, so we decided a name change might remind us and the members of our family that we are attempting to have a different focus). While I gather with Stones River, when I am in town, I travel a fair amount internationally and domestically. These are the times when it is hard staying in the loop, but I have a deep trust of the other men with whom I serve. Nine out of the next ten weeks I will miss our Sunday gathering, but I will be able to participate in the Monday evening shepherds meetings.

Starting next Sunday, I will be driving about forty miles to do some training at another church. The Well storySome of their folks have opened a non-profit coffee shop as an intentional outreach. The business was deliberately organized as a fund-raising mechanism for water projects in third-world nations. The name is appropriately, The Well.

Recently, they launched three Sunday evening worship experiences that happen in one side of the coffee house. They have met eight people who have expressed some interest in further spiritual discussions. But how do these caring Christians conduct these conversations in ways that are non-manipulative and hold the greatest hope of bearing spiritual fruit. They hope Discovery Groups will be helpful.

Newly Saved Produce Real Growth

Before they can assist you, you must remodel, retool, and/or retrain near neighbors. They intuitively realize that what they already know to do will not succeed. Doing it harder, faster or in greater quantities will only produce reprisals. Getting Christians to reach out to the unengaged is a demanding work. Just telling them they “ought to” will not produce positive change. If that is all you have–don’t!

Realize you are going to have to remodel this house, while you live in it. You must be a part of this church, or you will not change it. Sure, you can pick up some of the malcontents who have already left, but they bring their own set of problems (many have not left the strategies of “the church” from which they departed, they are upset that they could not lead the coup to overthrow the dictator to become the new dictator).

But all of this remodeling work is a means to an end–if your goal is movements. Real replication is only possible when it starts happening among the lost. That is where multiplication takes place. These near neighbor believers are critical because of proximity, cultural awareness, language capacity and the potential that you can replicate yourself in them. But the real work has to be done among the currently lost people group.

How Do We Change?

Before you paint a clear picture of a new way forward and stoke the fires of dissatisfaction, be sure you know at least a few of the first steps toward the new vision. No, you probably will not know how to map out the full path the change will demand, but you must know how to take the first steps to open the way to discovering the next steps.

In 2005 I was captured by the vision of movements. Rapid replication resonated within me. It connected to the history of my spiritual family. A handful of spiritual leaders trained up thousands of “lay” leaders. They reassured farmers, cobblers and shop keepers that they could understand Scriptures. Simple people obeying simple Bible directives found their lives transformed. They became the conduits for reaching their families, friends and communities.

But I did not know how to help the mildly intrigued picture themselves getting started doing the same kinds of things in 21st century America. Talk of what happened when this region was the western frontier of the U.S., what was happening in Northern India and what was starting in West Africa did little to help these people.

The vision captured my heart. A trip to a West African nation that had only recently come out of a bloody civil war heightened my dissatisfaction. I left there amazed and troubled. It all coalesced in my self-talk, “They are doing so much with so little; we are doing so little with so much!” I was compelled to see change happen here.

 

Not the First Time

About three years ago I counseled my daughter and son-in-law when they were developing curricula for that inner city program. They had asked me if some of the materials that were being used overseas could be utilized if they could adapt them for age appropriateness. I provided them with a copy of the “God and Man” material written by Dell and Rachel Schultze for the New Tribes work in the Philippines. I also suggested which lessons might be a priority to use since they needed to reduce the number of sessions. Both had served as volunteers for years, prior to becoming the coordinators and Bryan, was a licensed educator.

The “God and Man” material suggests the following characteristics of God be taught and then explore significant biblical passages to learn to identify them:

  1. God is righteous. He is holy, just, and good. He does not have any sin.
  2. God is all powerful. He can do anything He wants to do.
  3. God is all knowing. He is the source of all knowledge. He knows how to make  everything. He knows every thought, every word, and every action of all people.
  4. God is the source of all grace. He is the source of everything that is good; love, mercy, pity, goodness, kindness, caring.
  5. God hates sin. He has no sin. He will judge all who sin. He will punish all who sin.
  6. God keeps his promises. Whatever He has promised He will do, even if a long time passes.