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?

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 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.

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: 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.