Question 3: Accountable?

“How did you obey, share and meet the need from last week’s meeting?” invites participants to become mutually accountable to the other participants. This is woefully missing from traditional church gatherings (large proclamation settings, mid-sized and small group settings, also). We do not give one another true permission to ask, “Did you obey what you heard God say?”

Many people shy away from this kind of mutual accountability out of fear. They have personally been abused by a domineering leader, or know someone else who has. This fear produces an internal resistance to sharing an “I will…” Statement and nurtures resisting follow through if one has been given.

Each Discovery setting gives participants three ways to actually take meaningful actions in response to God’s word. Questions 6, 7 and 8 lead to an obedience pledge, the name of someone who needs to hear this story from the Bible and a challenge which the group can help overcome. Acting on any/all of these opens the active participants heart to walk out faith acts in response to the Holy Spirit. For example, we believe God often prepares Persons of Peace before the disciple maker ever meets with them. What if the Holy Spirit brings the person to mind for you to share with because he knows that person is ready for this word? Do we really believe God works in our hearts and minds when we open ourselves to him?

When participants attempt to obey, share and/or serve they may encounter resistance for which they are not prepared. Allowing them an opportunity to debrief what happened gives them the chance to be blessed by the group. We gain the privilege of “bearing one another’s burdens.” Maybe her heart was so sad because her sister rejected the story. Now the group can begin to pray that her sister’s heart will be changed.

No one is expecting perfection from these questions or the experiences they produce. We are coaching toward learning opportunities. Just like a soccer coach is not expecting perfection in dribbling drills, we know that the more practice people have in listening to God’s Word and then attempting to apply it, the better our obedience grows. Having a group who are cheering on our efforts builds us up to try harder the next time and eventually experience breakthroughs. Question 3 provides beautiful examples of testimony when God blesses our growing efforts. We are encouraged and others get to experience encouragement, too.

When you drop Question 3 it is a solid indicator that you are dropping Questions 6, 7 and 8. What you have then is not a Discovery Group, it is just a fellowship group with a weak Bible study. Please do not call that a Discovery Group because you have cut the heart out.

Who Are You Trusting?

In the story line of 1 Samuel, the encounter of David and Goliath contrasts the worldview of David with that of King Saul. God has chosen Saul to be the king the people thought they wanted. Standing head and shoulders above his peers, Saul is the one who is supposed to lead the people into battle. While the conversation between David and the giant is significant to the story, the one between David and Saul is crucial. It appears this story is taken out of chronological order (the general arrangement of the book). The narrator has already introduced David’s presence in Saul’s court when he comes to play the harp. David has already been anointed to be the next king in an earlier overview section.

The conflict with the Philistines and especially with Goliath reveals a fundamental difference between Saul and David–their views of God and how that affects their approach to warfare against their enemies. Saul relies on himself and his armor. Often the artwork illustrating this scene presents a boy who is twelve or younger foolishly trying to mimic an adult. Saul’s actions, though, are not foolish because David is too small, the issue is contained in the question, “In what/whom are you trusting?”

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.

 

Worldview Revisited

Eleven months ago I published a blog article that began a series addressing worldview:

These posts shared my reflections on an article, “Understanding Culture” by Lloyd E. Kwast, found on page 397 of  Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, Fourth Edition. Pasadena: William Carey Library. Through these six posts I explored the significant role that stories play in shaping a people group’s view of themselves, their beliefs, values and behavior.

Recently I was asked to share relevant parts of this material with a children’s education group. People from four different churches came together on a Friday evening. Most teach in regular Sunday School programs in traditional Western style churches, but several work with a program that has classes for inner city children who come from high crime and poverty stricken areas of our city. Some of these people are also involved in curriculum development.

[NOTE: Over the next several weeks I will write about this experience. I will also explore how to be intentional in developing the worldview of children. While I did not have the benefit of this material when my son and daughter were young, my first grandson is due to be born February 18, 2013. My responsibilities live on!]

More Blessed to Give?

Every teacher is selective! It does not matter whether you are using an inductive or deductive approach, you choose what will be taught and the order in which it is taught. Acknowledging this reality is significant. While it will not change it, you may become less accidental in how you exercise selectivity.

When I shared the critique of the Kenyan leader I was not wanting to be critical of the mission team–at all! I rejoice in what God has done through them. I rejoice in their willingness to be vulnerable. I rejoice that this subject was raised.

I, too, have encouraged missions organizations to carefully consider the importance of giving in the earliest stages of discipleship. As you might have noted in one of my replies to a comment made on my last blog, I believe God’s giving nature is one of his core character traits. John 3:16 is pretty specific when it says, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…” Answer the question, “What do you learn about God?” based on this verse and you observe He is an extreme giver!

While I was not present when the referenced rebuke took place, the statement prompts me to believe these Kenyan churches struggle with a lack of needed financial resources which arise from a lack of giving. The problem with waiting to teach on giving is it does not become easier with time, it may actually become more difficult.

Acts 20:17-35 has long been the text that has most significantly challenged my thinking on giving. Here Paul meets with the leaders of the church of Ephesus and reviews their history and pulls back the curtains on some prophetic insights believers have been receiving regarding his near future. Paul is about to face “prison and hardships,” according to the Holy Spirit. With the potential that this may be his last time ever with this group, he warns them to be on their guard against those who will seek “to draw away disciples after them[selves].” By contrast, he reminds them of his lifestyle.

“I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”

Do we deprive people of the greater blessing when we fail to facilitate their discovery of the grace of giving? Are we as intentional in our behavior and explaining the purpose behind it as Paul was?

Pass It On

Four days ago I exposed more than 30 people to Discovery Bible Studies. We spent most of our three-hour gathering learning how to do an Oral DBS. But I also spent a few minutes talking about doing a written discovery process that is called a 3-column study. I gave each person a copy of a format that I have developed. One of the class members emailed me to ask for a digital copy of the form, so she would not have to re-create it. After I sent one to her in pdf she wrote back, explaining how she hopes to use this:

I have a lovely, bright and gifted 5th-grader who is having trouble understanding how important it is to have self-control over his tongue. I have been praying for him for a week or so, and I woke up in the middle of the night the other night with the idea to give him the 3-column bible study on a series of proverbs that have helped me immensely to control my own tongue. I believe it will be fruitful for this newly saved and baptized young man. I’ll let you know what God does!

Here is my reply to this teacher:

Years ago I was attempting to catalyze DBSs in the local jail. I started working with the one person I knew who was incarcerated there. He began a group study, to pass on what he was learning. When we knew he was soon to be released I asked him to pick the best candidate to keep it going. I started meeting with that guy, too. Every time the leader was about to be released we repeated this process.

Eventually I noticed generational degradation (copy a copy of a copy long enough and the quality deteriorates). It reached its lowest when the only guy who was an option had damaged his mental capacity greatly by using illegal substances—especially smoking wild mushrooms. His attention span and impulse control were negligible. I really agonized with whether or not I was wasting my time. But my bare-bones requirement for meeting with him weekly was whether or not he would do a 3-column study. He kept attempting to write one out, so I kept working with him. Months later this guy was transferred to the state penitentiary two hours away. Writing letters was our only contact. His last letter shared what he had recently discovered (all on his own) about the work of the Holy Spirit in his life. He wrote out the verses he had discovered, how he understood them and how he was trying to live them. It blew me away! I believe the Spirit “re-wired” some of his neural pathways. The 3-column studies became a spiritual discipline that the Spirit used to help him recover from some of the abuse he had done to himself.

While this young man you are working with is not that extreme an example, I praise God this approach may be a blessing for him! I pray it will equip him to experience Romans 12:1-2 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Two suggestions connected to this: keep the passages short (I suspect that you will already do that since you are going to use Proverbs) and do a 3-column study yourself, on the same passages. Show him your sheet when you read over his. Share with him how you are obeying–putting into practice—each passage. Model for him the process as well as teach him to do it and hold him accountable.

Blessings,
John King

Maybe you know a place where this process would be helpful. If so, just email me a request for the form (preacher at stonesriver.org) by replacing the spaces and “at” with the symbol. I will be happy to share this resource with you.

Pruning on Purpose

Are there areas in your life that need selective pruning? Are there places where you need to be opened up to the Son’s light so new growth can begin? Some growth can actually prevent fruitfulness. At a Disciple Making Movement gathering earlier this summer a guy at my table shared that he had recently planted a cherry orchard. He was being mentored by an older man who was very experienced. When he questioned how heavy the trees were being pruned, his mentor said, “If you want fruit, you have to hurt the tree!”

From the outside (un-experienced position) looking in, that is how some pruning appears. But the master gardener knows where strategic “hurting” needs to happen. This is guided by the purpose. With the azaleas, the issues were keeping them healthy, beautiful and within their space so their beauty could be appreciated without them encroaching on the sidewalks and parking spaces. For the cherry orchard, the purpose was not beautiful trees, but much fruit.

What is God’s purpose for your life? Does he want you as a trophy? Is he tending you as a beautiful ornament to bring joy into an otherwise drab world?

Is God’s purpose for you to show off an abundant harvest? Recognize that the pruning will be quite different when the goal is fruitfulness. While a tree with thousands of cherries might make a beautiful photograph and feed lots of birds, one with one-third the cherries will make much better pies. That is why the person tending the orchard will strategically remove most of the cherries early in their growth so more nutrition goes into each piece of fruit.

Discovery Bible Studies can open us up to light from the Son. Obedience to what we hear from God can prune away the good things that are enemies to great fruitfulness.

 

 

Redeeming Obedience

Leading groups of people through a discovery process can be very rewarding. Recently I was part of a four-man team that introduced 55 people to the Disciple Making Movements strategy that has been employed in sub-Saharan Africa. They heard stories of the remarkable fruit God has been producing since 2006. Then we had them use the 8-Questions as a guide for exploring Deuteronomy 6:1-9 and Matthew 28:16-20 (combine these with Luke 10 and you have the three most significant texts for the paradigm shifts needed to experience rapid multiplication).

At first sight, some people wonder why anyone would couple Deuteronomy 6 and Matthew 28. These two texts actually both appear in the first gospel. They are commonly called the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:34-40) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6 when he is asked “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law” (vs. 36).

On the second day we debriefed the previous day by having the groups discuss what they found most valuable or encouraging out of the previous day’s study. When the seven groups were asked to compile a list of the top three, the collectively shared the following list:

  • Encouraged by simplicity.
  • Focus on the Word and obedience
  • Discovery Bible Study provides a simple and practical model.
  • The 8 questions provide a great template.
  • Redeeming of the word obedience.
  • Prayer is needed and focused on as one of the basics.
  • Story telling model – the stories of God at work come alive.
  • God is moving through people and prayer.
  • Whole groups are coming to Jesus.
  • B’s testimony – an answer to prayer.
  • Make disciples not converts.  Disciple to salvation.
  • The power of writing out the scripture.
  • People of peace are everywhere
  • Lay people are doing the work.
  • Growing sense of disillusionment among Muslims.
  • Don’t be afraid of small beginnings.
  • Sheiks and other Muslim leaders coming to the Lord.

“Redeeming the word obedience” is the one that really jumped out to me that day. What a beautiful way to express what many of us have been experiencing over the last six years. Few insights have brought more push back, though, in Western settings. Since many hear this discussion in the context of legalism they need to experience this redemption.

I urge you to spend some time noticing the role of obedience in discipleship. Yes, we are saved by grace. No, we are not teaching that we start by grace giving us a clean slate from our past sins and then we are expected to obey our way to heaven. Obedience is empowered by grace. To obey Jesus is to exhibit evidence that his grace reaches me. Read through John chapters 14 and 15 noting every time the words “obey” and “obedience” appear. Note the verse number and then note what promises are attached to obedience. Grace is God’s love language to us. Obedience is our love language to him!

Called to Die! (part 3 of 3)

Only Matthew contains the command to “make disciples of all nations.” If we are to accomplish this directive, we will need to learn what it entails in Matthew. (I am not implying that the same concept is not contained in the other Gospels or Paul’s writing, but that our first place for grasping what is meant by the phrase is to explore the context where it is used.)

How does Jesus make disciples in Matthew? He calls groups and individuals to follow him. He involves them in two parts of his three-fold ministry. He disciples them to the point of making the good confession. Jesus creates a setting where they discover his true identity. While the people believe he is John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or another of the prophets who has re-appeared, Peter knows better. Simon “Rocky” Johnson has grasped the heavenly revelation of Jesus’ identity! He declares that Jesus is the long-promised Messiah, he is the “Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).

But this recognition of Jesus’ identity and participation in his ministry of preaching and healing is not enough. At this exact moment Matthew tells us Jesus makes a second major transition:

“From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (Matthew 16:21). Peter pulls him aside and rebukes Jesus.

Did you get that? Immediately after confessing him, Peter rejects what Jesus says must happen.

I believe that disciples are people who know Jesus’ identity—they get the divine revelation. But we have always struggled with the implications of his mission. Many of us plunge into aspects of his ministry (preaching, teaching and healing). But will we take up our cross and follow him to death? In the first Gospel disciples are not ready to teach until they grasp his mission. You will not “teach them to obey everything” Jesus has commanded until you accept the world-shaking implications of his death.

I am not talking about being able to give a description of “substitutionary atonement.” Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26). Being a disciple entails self-denial. Here is the greatest challenge.

All the way to Jerusalem the twelve are going to bicker and quarrel over who is the greatest. It seriously looks like they will all fail their final exam. In actuality, they do. Peter denies he knows Jesus. They all scatter. We know what Judas does.

But Jesus’ resurrection is God’s answer to our failures. Matthew tells of only two of his post-resurrection appearances (Matthew 28). He sends the women from the tomb to remind his “brothers” to go to Galilee “to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go” (Matthew 28:16). By obeying Jesus they reveal they are finally ready to be sent out as teachers. But note with me once again, their teaching is narrowly defined—“teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

I believe we damage ourselves with a Harmony of the Gospels approach, because we miss the unique depths of each of the Gospels. I am convinced Matthew’s five great teaching sections grapple with core issues of discipleship:

  • chapters 5-7 the teaching on the mount in Galilee
  • chapter 10 the sending of the twelve
  • chapter 13 the parables on the Kingdom
  • chapter 18 the teaching on greatness in the Kingdom
  • chapters 24-25 the teaching on the mount of Olives.

Each section ends with the same phrase: “And when Jesus finished these sayings…” (Matthew 7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1). These large blocks of material should be prominent in our discovery studies on the nature of discipleship. But we also must give careful attention to how Jesus made disciples—his actions—as well as what he taught. Making disciples calls us to follow Jesus!

Who Is a Disciple? (part 2 of 3)

Now that you have spent time investigating the appearance/disappearance of the term “disciple,” let’s move on to consider one of the New Testament books where the word does appear. I will confine myself to Matthew’s Gospel.

When different people use the same term, they often have nuanced connotations. This is why graduate theses and dissertations require their authors to define terms as they are using them. While the old adage, “Words don’t mean things, people do!” overstates the matter, there is a kernel of truth embedded into this memorable exaggeration.

“Disciple” appears 81 times in Matthew. Seventy-seven uses refer to people who have been called into a transformational learning relationship with Jesus. The four exceptions (Matthew 9:14; 11:2; 11:7; 14:12) heighten this point because there the followers of John the Baptizer are being differentiated from Jesus’ disciples.

Matthew sub-divides his presentation of Jesus’ story into three sections by two uses of the phrase “from that time on Jesus began to” (Matthew 4:17; 16:21). The first section reveals the hidden identity of this man, Jesus. Yes, he is the son of David and the son of Abraham (1:1), but he is also the beloved Son of God (3:17) who brings much pleasure to his Father! His genealogy and birth narrative place him squarely within Israel’s salvation history and reveal that Israel’s amazing God has even been known to work through women who were the objects of others whispers!

Until the narrative moves from the man to his ministry, there is no mention of disciples. The second major section opens with the notice that “From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near’” (Matthew 4:17). His ministry was done “throughout Galilee” and consisted of “teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good new of the kingdom of heaven and healing every disease and sickness among the people” (Matthew 4:23).

The first mention of “disciples” is found in Matthew 5:1 when they are differentiated from the crowds. Jesus began to teach the disciples and the crowds overhear this introduction to discipleship. The first gospel does not call chapters 5-7 a sermon. No, Jesus teaches on the mountainside. This is not a call to repentance. This is teaching par-excellence!

To this point we have only been introduced to four by name. Peter, Andrew, James and John have left their boats, nets and Zebedee (father of the later two) to become “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:18-22). In following Jesus they witness his teaching, preaching and healing ministry. But they also find themselves being called to a radical, life-changing application of Jesus’ amazing, authoritative teaching (Matthew 7:24-29).

Please note, “disciple” has only been used once (Matthew 5:1). A disciple of Jesus must do more than hear his three-chapter teaching! (The crowds hear it and are even amazed at his authority.) Jesus closes by revealing that his hearers will either be wise or foolish (Matthew 7:24-27). They will either build on rock or sand. What is the actual point of delineation? Jesus said, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24).

Matthew’s first and last texts using this word stress the importance of practicing Jesus’ teaching. His final directives are spoken to the “the eleven disciples” who put into practice his call to meet him on this mountain where he had earlier told them to go. Now he will involve them in the teaching component of that three-fold ministry.

Yes, he had earlier “called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness…preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near’” (Matthew 10:1, 7). But only Jesus teaches in Matthew—until the final scene.

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18b-20) Jesus declares.

The only teaching disciples get to do in the first Gospel is to teach the disciples they make to obey all of Jesus’ commands. Disciple-making entails going, baptizing those being discipled and teaching them to obey everything the one with all authority has commanded.

Who is a disciple?

Everyone who hears Jesus’ teaching and obeys it.