Question # 6: Obey?

After listening closely to the passage, discussing some of what it reveals about God’s character, desires, plans and purposes and then thinking about the people in the story and ourselves, it is time to identify how we plan to respond to the passage personally. Highly collectivistic people groups may find it better to come up with a “We will…” Statement rather than an “I will…” Statement. Question 6 probes our intentionality to act on something we have heard from God.

“How will you put this passage into practice?” calls participants to application. It urges us to do more than acquire mental information, it calls for practice.

Jesus warned the audience for his “Sermon on the Mount” that to listen to his teaching and not actually doing it was an exercise in folly. Hearing Jesus and doing what he is calling us to do is foundational to withstanding the storms of life and not finding our lives collapsing around us.

Over time I work to coach group participants to develop S.M.A.R.T. “I will…” Statements. These will be Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic and Time-bound. Such coaching is intended to be a guard against disobeying through vagaries–ducking true accountability by not really making a commitment.

Modelling good “I will…” Statements and then actually working on doing them can lead a group to really opening their hearts to God’s Word and the transformation work of the Holy Spirit. You get to show the slacker a new way forward. If you allow their unwillingness to obey to drag you down, you miss an opportunity to show transformation. A good friend used to say, “If we keep doing what we’ve always done we will always get what we’ve always gotten.” If we want new outcomes, we must change our actions. Answering Question # 6 opens the door for new actions.

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.

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.

Question 4: God?

Of all the questions, this is the most impactful (in my studied opinion)! You will not praise him or plead his promises (intercede) if you do not know him and trust him. You will not dare to see yourself in the story if you don’t rely on him to change you. You will not hear his call to obedience if you disbelieve. You will not share if you have no hope. Your only motivation for ministering to others will be your anticipation that they will reciprocate.

Faith in God changes things. Faith in God changes you. Faith in God changes me.

Some call the usual Scripture set “Creation to Christ.” I call it “Discovering God.” That is our great need.

It is not that God is lost and needs to be found. No, we are lost and finding him gives our lives true meaning.

Asking, “What do we learn about God?” opens a Discovery Group up to focusing on the one character who appears in every story contained in the the Bible. While the next question helps us find ourselves, too, we quickly learn he is the main character. The Bible is ultimately about him.

Our lives have true meaning when lived in relationship with our Creator. Seeing how Jesus is the perfect reflection of the Father opens our hearts to the realization that he shows us God’s heart most clearly.

Many do not have first-hand experience hearing what the Bible actually reveals about God. Getting their “fingerprints on the Bible” exposes them to God’s heart.

As a young man, who came from thirteen generations of Buddhists (that they could count), read the passages from Genesis trust began to grow. He referred to God as “the One above all.” He declared, “This answers the questions I have been asking since I was a young boy!”

Question # 4 is the heart and soul of a Discovery Bible Study. I encourage you to ask and answer that question every time you read from the Bible!

Question 2: Challenges?

“What challenges do you see in your life, family or world?” gives permission to the household of peace and/or friendship group to share with one another the difficulties each one is facing. While a family or group of friends may already know many of these challenges, picking one to share reveals what is weighing on the heart of each participant. “What matters enough to you that you will bring it to the group?” is a significant insight.

Most mornings I send out a text message to ten different groups or individuals. It usually contains one or two verses and an observation or question based on them. I started doing that practice more than eight years ago because of a challenge shared in a group experiencing Discovery for the first time. One lady shared, “I need a new job. No, I actually need a better attitude about my job until I get a new one.” She opened her heart to the seven of us who were gathered.

Question 2 provides a disciple maker a great intercession list. Outside of the group you can and should pray fervently about each challenge which is shared. Whenever God chooses to give a breakthrough it will capture the attention of at least some of the group members. In West Africa there is a disciple making family who were having trouble with their air conditioner in an extremely hot, dry season. Through overt spiritual conversations with the HVAC repairman they found he was spiritually open to Discovery. Once a Discovery Group began at his compound, they discovered the water piped into the neighborhood had not flown in over a year. When it started again (but not for any of their neighbors) this produced ongoing conversations.

Question 8 is going to be a follow-up to Question 2. As a result other trainers only have 7 questions because they make it 7b. I chose to keep all three action nurturing questions at the end of the study so responses will possibly be shaped by what God says through the passage. Making notes of the responses to # 2 is important because Question 8 will be a bit later in the process.

I do not get upset when the response to a challenge happens early, but now you know my rationale. The reality is you can facilitate a Discovery however you please. But if you make changes, please do so prayerfully and with the recognition that your alterations may have unintended consequences. If you get less fruitful responses, it is at least possible that is because you have removed something which was more significant than you realized.

Question 1: Thankful?

If you search for DBS questions you will find multiple lists which are quite diverse. But they almost all begin with some version of the following question: “What happened last week for which you are thankful?”

Some think of the first two questions as “Ice breakers” designed to get a group started talking. Please remember that ideally a Discovery Group will happen within a household of peace. Here you have a family and/or group of friends who already have meaningful relationships. They do not need an ice breaker like a group of relative strangers do who are pretending to be family (many efforts to change the questions are actually driven by this “strangers” context).

In the household of peace this first question is designed to invite the group into a spiritual conversation. What has been happening in your life which produces gratitude? This is a powerful question which allows a group of active listeners to communicate, “We care about you and really want to know what you see as good.”

For Discovery Groups that become overt, intentional disciples of Jesus, this first question lays the foundation for praise. While the household of peace will not know or trust God enough to overtly praise him, yet, they are being discipled toward praising him once they come to surrender to his reign.

This question is crafted to get us to look for good. After a rhythm has been established of asking this question, spiritually open people will start taking note of good outcomes during the course of time between meetings. Rather than arriving unprepared, these seekers will have multiple options to choose one from that they enjoy sharing with others. Those who choose to make a written record of these good experiences may well become future psalmists who compose hymns of praise after they gradually discover that the God of the Bible is the “giver of every good and perfect gift.”

Starting with this question avoids the trap of starting off focused on what we do not have. It unlocks the power of gratitude and disciples people on the path to faith toward praising the Creator of the universe for his provisions and holiness.

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: 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 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!

Q&A: If a Discovery process is facilitated entirely by not-yet-Christians, and Christians aren’t even present, how can harmful errors be avoided or even noticed?

Persistent and consistent coaching of the Person of Peace or another inside leader of a Discovery Group is the way DBSs avoid heresy. It is instructive to realize that 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians were letters Paul wrote to a group of believers in Corinth. Clearly that church had its struggles with false teaching and false practices. The founder, Paul an Apostle, did not stay with that young church indefinitely. But he had ongoing relationships with some of the people there and those insiders kept him informed.

Ongoing relationships with key leaders of a family or friendship group are critical to coaching a Discovery Group toward faith, becoming a church and guiding them to plant additional generations of churches. Early DMM trainers used the acronym M.A.W.L. as Model, Assist Watch and Leave. More recently some have changed the L to Launch. Leaving never referred to Leaving Alone.

The good catalyst recognizes the longer he/she is a personal participant in a Discovery Group, the greater the risk that the Group will develop a stunting dependency upon her/him. The goal is to model good Discovery. Assist an inside leader (someone the family or friendship group already looks upon as a leader) to be a good facilitator and then Launch that person into the role.

Weekly meetings with this Inside Leader provide opportunities to identify problems which are arising, recognize theological errors which may be surfacing and coach this leader to healthy corrective studies and practices. Personal presence is not the only way to bring correction, otherwise Paul would have dropped everything to return to Corinth. It is very possible for an Outside leader to stay too long and cause far greater problems than arise when he/she leaves too soon.

Also, we must recognize that the Discovery process has been developed to ensure that the actual teacher is the Holy Spirit at work through the Word of God which is being explored in each gathering. How much do we really trust the Holy Spirit? Are we more confident in our abilities or the power of the revelation of God contained in Scriptures?