Thinking Biblically: Dialing Up Mature Disciples

Thinking Biblically is a vitally important aspect of the mature Christian’s life. For example, when we talk about a Biblical world view, what we mean is that one’s view of the world should align with Scripture, God’s window for us into His view of the world.

You can purposefully point your discipleship efforts at the level of Biblical Thinking that will challenge and grow those who are seeking a deeper Disciple life.

What does it mean to Think Biblically?

When you teach children, students and adults, and they memorize information and identify Bible facts, this indicates that knowledge exists, and they have the ability to remember.

A form of “thinking” is taking place, but if this is all they do, is this really what we mean by Thinking Biblically?

 When children, students, and adults can repeat in their own words one of the classic Old Testament stories – David and Goliath or Jonah and the Whale, for example, that indicates that they know something, that they have the ability to remember, AND they understand at least some of what they are saying – this indicates they have the ability to comprehend. which is a form of thinking.

But if this is all they do, is this really what we mean by Thinking Biblically?

When you teach students and adults, and they are able to “practice what you preach” – they do the things you suggest as applications to your teaching, it does indicate that they can remember and understand, as well as do what they’re told (apply), all of which are thinking activities.

Again, if this is all they do, is this what we mean by Thinking Biblically?

While doing what you’re told is a form of thinking, is this a sufficient target for our disciple maturing efforts?

If your students and adults can recognize concepts, even when different terms are used or disparate passages considered; if they can categorize information, discern the impact of one passage as applied to another passage, is this Thinking Biblically?

If they can engage in meaningful conversations like this…

Analyze the truth of the Prodigal parable (Luke 15:11-32) with Jesus’ encounter with the Rich Young Man (Matthew 19:16-22). Considering Jesus’ response, why do you think he resembles one character or another from the parable?

… is this now finally Thinking Biblically in a way that makes sense for a disciple?

Perhaps.

What if your students and adults are able to argue a point with you, with Biblical references, (whether or not they are right, partly right, or completely wrong), judge for themselves if something is Biblically true, or decide for themselves what actions, supported by Scripture, they need to take, surely THIS can be considered a disciple Thinking Biblically.

Yes, but…

Is God’s word so deeply valued and embedded in the very core of their being, that they are able to combine and organize Biblical concepts, ideas, people, resources, purpose, context, culture, and audience – and create a Biblical ministry or response to a need or challenge without having to read a book to find the recipe from how someone at some church three states away dealt with something similar?

In case you were wondering, all six of these categories do have a place in the life of a disciple. They are developmental stages. But too many stop at application. That may be because the vast majority of purchasable and downloadable resources drive toward remembering and application as the main takeaways from every lesson.

I’m not trying to knock application. It does have a place in producing mature disciples. The problem arises when the church or mentor expects the application level to be the pinnacle of the effort; that this will produce mature (synthesized) disciples. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to lead others to the solid food of synthesis by offering them the milk of remembering.

At some point, we must move past challenging disciples to remember God’s word and offering suggestions on how to apply God’s word to their life as the standard for spiritual maturity.

To mature disciples into the Creator stage, we need to stop being a source of knowledge, and become a source of wisdom.

If we have truly made and matured a disciple, we have led them in discovering the joy of the spirit-guided synthesized life with Christ. A mature disciple doesn’t need my regular contribution on how they might apply God’s word – they are in a deep relationship with the One who is constantly at work in and through their life. And trust me, God knows better what I need to apply – and what you need to apply – than does anyone else. His Word is incredibly sufficient to divide the joint and marrow of my life. He knows what I need to analyze and what next needs to root deeply in the core of my being.

Consider the above regarding the development of a mature, adult disciple, with these two similar questions:

(1)

How likely is it that a disciple is mature – has a deep, intimate walk with Christ – while at the same time is dependent on suggestions from me or the latest book to be their primary source for inspired “application”?

(2)

How can I expect a disciple, for themselves and by themselves, to Biblically…

  • Evaluate the truth in a bible study, sermon, small group, the latest Christian book or movie, and especially, the conversations and challenges by friends, neighbors, and family
  • Analyze gaps in doctrine or spiritual leadership development
  • Discover the joy of God speaking to them in the manifold depth of scripture
  • Create ministry and evangelistic opportunities by analyzing available spiritual gifts, talents, and resources, evaluating the culture of the area in question, and hearing God’s wisdom speak into them as He stirs this mixture in their heart

… if all of my discipleship efforts are encompassed by

  • Telling (lectures, sermons)
  • Scripture Memory
  • Literature driven studies
  • Fill in the blank questions
  • Video lessons

Cooks and Chefs

A primary difference between cooks and chefs is this: one follows recipes, and one creates recipes. One knows where the ingredients they need are on their shelves or in the store, and the other knows why untold numbers of various ingredients should or should not be included in their creation. Whether it is eye/hand memory, watching a YouTube video, or reading instructions from your favorite blog and recipe site, if this is your fallback cooking style, then you are a cook. There is nothing wrong with being a cook. I’m a cook. I have no aspirations to become a chef.

But most importantly, every chef began as a cook. And every cook consumed food before ever contributing to the meal plan. That’s a solid development plan: consumer, cook, chef.

I would imagine that you’ve tried at least one recipe that you saw or found online. It looked amazing. You said to yourself, “I’ll bet I can make that.” That’s what cooks do. They follow someone else’s instructions. They produce tasty dishes that contribute to the consumer’s experience and expands their repertoire. They do not create these dishes. A chef did that. A curious and creative soul that understands the chemistry of the ingredients, the resulting effects of mixing each, they type of oil to use, the time and temperature to set, the value in letting food stand or not, before and/or after cooking, and a host of other types of information.

Who knew scrambled eggs are supposed to stand after beating before cooking? I didn’t, but I learned it from a chef at 64 years of age. I still don’t do it. Because I’m a cook.

Unfortunately, far too many churches and church leaders today think they are discipling spiritual “chefs” when they are, in fact, only discipling “cooks”.

How many “chef” disciples does your church aspire to develop? A good goal is somewhere between not enough and too many. Why not consider 10% as a goal just to get your “creative” juices flowing.

Consumer Contributor Creator
1Maturity LevelBaby > 
Immature
Immature >
Maturing
Maturing >
Mature
Strategy2Delivery3Academic
w/ Labs
4Interactive w/ Life Change
DietMilkSolid FoodSolid Food
ExampleCustomerCookChef
AbilitiesRemember
Understand
Appy
Analyze
Evaluate
Synthesize
1Maturity Level – Refers to spiritual age, not chronological age.
2Delivery – Telling (eg, preaching and lecture based bible studies)
3Academic with Lab Activities – Lecture, reading, and “try this” applications.
4Interactive with Life Change – Conversational and thought-provoking bible study with hands-on experiences

There are untold numbers of books and resources available today that call out the problem of Consumer vs Contributor church members. It is true that high tides raise all ships. If your “high tide” is to mature your member disciples to the stage of a Contributor, it’s no wonder that there are so many Consumers in the church. What might happen if you developed a strategy and process to mature 10% of your adult believers to Creator disciples? What might that do the enhance your ministry of developing Contributors?

When you, as the leader or mentor, take steps to guide growth into these deeper areas of discipleship, rather than trying to foster growth via resources developed without these deeper areas in mind, those you disciple and mentor will grow further and deeper in the Christian life. They will spend less time seeking, finding, and following the next book, blogger, or lesson, and instead, they will, with growing eagerness and wisdom seek, find, and follow the Lord and his will for their rest of their lives. They will find this in His word, along with experience, mentors, authors, and wisdom from close friends. But they will always measure everything against the wisdom in His word. They will quote God more often than their favorite author or TV preacher. And they will quote God more often in context – correctly and purposefully. They will understand Him more fully and pray more closely in His will.

Consumer strategies are easy to plan, easy to deliver, and easy to measure. If your evaluation of spiritual maturity involves questions like this …

  • How many did you get right?
  • How many verses have you memorized?
  • How long did you read the Bible today?
  • How many days did you read the Bible this week?
  • For God so loved the ____________________

… then you are evaluating the Consumer. Remembering and Understanding are easy. But there is no natural bridge to cross over to the deeper four. For the sake of those you lead and mentor, you have to choose to change how you lead.

The kind of thinking that goes into Consumer strategies is not at all the Biblical Thinking that will reach our world for Christ and strengthen our churches for generations to come.

…the maturation process for a disciple stagnates without challenging growth opportunities at the level at which God has enabled us to be challenged.

Application can be more challenging, but often is it not. If the application is to read more, memorize more, pray more, and attend more, then this is really just applying Consumer level maturity. I am not saying that reading, memorization, and praying are wasted activities. I am saying that becoming a mature disciple requires one to  think biblically from the very core of their being about all aspects of their lives. And to create mature disciples, we must engage with them at those levels of development.

Contributor level builds commitment into the disciple’s maturing path. Application at this level is more about serving and sacrifice – acting on God’s direction and following His lead. It empowers contributing to ministry that has been created by someone else, and often requires the direction and accountability of those ministry leaders.

Evaluating the maturity of a disciple at this level is more nuanced. One has to evaluate the gifts, talents, skills, and experiences against the commitment and sacrifice of the Contributor to best guide them toward greater maturity. This requires that the mentor be a Creator kind of disciple. It is not possible to lead others where you have never been.

To mature disciples into the Creator stage, we need to stop being a source of knowledge, and become a source of wisdom. Your role is no longer to tell, but to engage with thought provoking questions and hands-on experiences, guiding them to discover for themselves rather than being dependent on the discoveries of the speaker or author of the day.

Think about the last Bible Study or mentoring relationship you were in as a participant or leader. Was there:

  • Much reading (remembering and understanding)
  • Scripture memory (more remembering)
  • Video instruction (watching & listening – again, more remembering)
  • “Fill in the blank” type questions (remembering and understanding). Including being asked to:
  • define things
  • list things
  • recall things
  • paraphrase things
  • share things
  • explain things
  • watch and listen to things

These are all developmental methods that align with the basic capabilities of an elementary school student. This is not to say that mature disciples did not pass through these strategies on their way to maturity or that they couldn’t at times need to or benefit from activities like this. It is to say, however, that the maturation process for a disciple stagnates without challenging growth opportunities at the level at which God has enabled us to be challenged. I am convinced that, for years, we’ve not listened when our members tell us they are not being fed. The diet of the Consumer (elementary) discipleship strategy is really only milk, regardless of whether we think it is solid food – every cook knows this. And every chef.

If the bulk of your disciple maturing efforts peak out at Remembering. Understanding and Application, these efforts generally produce less mature disciples than strategies that drive through Analysis, Evaluation, and into Synthesis.

I’m not saying these mentors or disciples lack faith or love Jesus any less than anyone else. What I’m saying is, based on how God made us, and the examples of the various levels of maturity we see in scripture, some of these things are not like the others: not as deep, not as memorable, not as life-changing. And the church can do something about it. If you are a mentor – or want to be a mentor – you can do something about it.

Maturing Disciples: Examples from Scripture

Let me preface this section by saying there is very little ink used in scripture about Jesus “making” the 12 into disciples. Oh, it is reported (“Come follow me…” Matt 4:19), but the vast majority of the Gospel accounts follow them in the maturing process after they were made into disciples.

Why is this important? If you are leading people to believe that “making disciples” is synonymous with “discipleship”: studying, praying, applying, worshipping… then you have effectively dropped evangelism from the Jesus model. (See Making Pie…)

Jesus took 12 men that were not followers and gave them the opportunity to follow Him. They did. When they put down their nets (and tools of their other trades) – when they gave up their own lives for the lives He had for them – they became disciples. They were made. They certainly were not mature at this point, but this is when they were made (11 of the 12 anyway). For three years, Jesus matured them. But they were made first.

When you examine the lives of Biblical characters that had the greatest impact on this world, that were in fact world-changers (Acts 17:1-7, esp. vs 7), you will be hard pressed to find one that merely remembered, repeated and applied. In fact, you will be hard pressed to find where this was any part at all of Jesus’ disciple-maturing process.

There are many named and nameless encounters where Jesus engages with people who have existed in one level, but in that interaction, were challenged to change and grow deeper.

Water You Walking About? (Matthew 14:28-33)

Peter saw Jesus walking on water and asked Him to “say the word” so he could join him. This very public “maturing” step was one of many that Peter experienced. The “faith of a child” that helped him do what he was told was quickly replaced by a normal fear. The logic of what he was doing overwhelmed that simple faith. While one might praise Peter for this act of child-like faith, the wise see that Jesus was maturing Peter’s faith. It would need to be greater than that of child to carry out his mission. This is not something that could be taught, remembered, or applied. It had to be a feet-on experience, and failure was beneficial to the developmental goal.

We see the other end of Peter’s faith-maturing journey when, without hesitation, he commanded the poor beggar to “rise and walk” in the name of Jesus, the very thing he would always so vividly remember as an early failure in his own faith.

Pick a Parable

Consumer developmental levels lean into the concept that the Bible means what it says. Creator levels lean into the concept that the Bible means what it means. While it is certainly true that there is much in scripture where both of these concepts yield the same understanding, there are many that don’t. If this is something you would choose to debate, first begin by explaining to yourself why there are so many men in America that still have two good hands, two good feet, and two good eyes. (Mark 9:43-47)

Pick a parable, any parable. Jesus never meant for the audience to focus on what He was saying. At worst, He wanted them to be confused. At best he wanted them to analyze and evaluate what He was saying to discover for themselves the relationship between their own lives and the Kingdom of God.

  • The Prodigal Son? Jesus was not talking about the family of a rebellious son. His meaning was a comparison of ungrateful Jews and soon to be born again children of the king.
  • The Lost Sheep? Not about sheep.
  • The Sower? Not about farming.

The Bereans (Acts 17:1-12)

The Jews in Berea got it. They analyzed and evaluated what Paul was saying with what their scriptures (Old Testament) said. This is an example of Contributor and Creative Maturity that should be a model for maturing disciples. They didn’t compare Paul’s teaching to their feelings or opinion, to their culture or what someone else said about God’s Word, or to Paul’s earlier teaching. They compared what he taught with the Word of God.

Missionary Paul (Acts 9)

Paul demonstrated his love for Christ and his commitment to His call in his self-evaluation in this passage. We have no record of Jesus or the apostles giving him Consumer or Contributor level instructions that resemble anything like the wide-ranging strategy he describes. He evaluated the community he was in at the time, (“… to the weak, I became weak…” vs. 19-22) and created ministry and evangelism opportunities by leveraging his gifts and talents to that end (“… so that by all possible means I might save some.” v. 23).  This was Biblical Thinking at its finest!

And then there were times that Jesus did not respond in a way that we might think he would. His answers sometimes are not direct – they are instead intended to cause cognitive dissonance, self-evaluation and deeper analysis of truth.

The Rich Young Man (Matthew 19:16-28)

Here’s a man that has followed the Big 10 list since he was just a lad. But deep inside he must have known it was not enough. He knows he hasn’t followed them perfectly, but he would never admit that out loud. He knows others who say they follow the Big 10, and he knows they don’t follow them perfectly as well.

Imagine if your “discipleship” path had concluded at “follow this list of 10 things” for the rest of your life and you will be a mature disciple. But don’t miss what Jesus did in response to his question.

On the surface, Jesus just gave him another list. But in the manifold wisdom that only comes from God, what Jesus effectively did was cause cognitive dissonance (intellectual conflict that demands resolution) by supplying a comparative list. The message is clear. Your list is insufficient. Your application is without merit. Give away everything that you value and value only me.

Follow.

Me.

We don’t know if this man ever came to faith in Christ. We do know that Jesus challenged his entire belief system by that simple response. He made him think without affirming or ranking his works-driven life. “Get rid of everything you value and follow me” is a very short list – one that is undefinable, unknowable, unmeasurable; it can only be experienced. Yet this is the beginning of the kind of experiential knowledge that made world changers out of the Disciples.

Dial It Up: How does one become a Creator mentor?

Take a look the graphic below. The verbs (not exhaustive) in the outer area reflect developmental abilities associated with the meaning of the 6 stages of Discipleship – two stages for each category (Consumer, Contributor, Creator).

Evaluate the person you are mentoring. Where is he or she, and what might be a good next growth step based on these developmental goals (verbs).

In your Bible study, with them, pose questions using these verbs. And engage them in experiences that rely on the same verbs.

For example: If you are working with someone who is moving into Creator. Pick a verb, say, “prescribe”. You can then ask the same question about any number of passages in scripture that are the basis for various church structure, doctrine and polity positions. One question per week may very well wear you both out 😊.

Support/defend (two more verbs) your response to the following.

  • Baptism: Which passages are prescriptive, and which are descriptive?
  • Deacons and/or Elders: Which passages are prescriptive, and which are descriptive?
  • Giving: Which passages are prescriptive, and which are descriptive?
  • Evangelism: Which passages are prescriptive, and which are descriptive?
  • Worship: Which passages are prescriptive, and which are descriptive?

For every prescriptive response, you could follow up with something like, “let’s imagine the implications of a church that does not follow this prescription.”

For every descriptive response, you could follow up with something like, “taking into consideration the culture of our church and surrounding community and create a proposal for what would enhance the ministry of our church, while staying true to the Bible, our values, and our mission.

Dialing Up Mature Disciples

Thought provoking questions. Hands-on (feet-on?) Learning. This is how Jesus matured His disciples.

These kinds of questions are challenging – taking God’s word deep inside the heart of those so engaged.

The activity takes the mentor and mentee out of the small circle of self (consumer) into the world of creating for sake of the Gospel and those in need of it.

This is Thinking Biblically. Purposefully. Maturing Disciples that know God’s word and ways so much greater than simply reading and reciting it.

iDiscover can help. Reach out to eli.bernard@idiscover.xyz to discover how.

NOTE: The post is not a commentary on preaching content or style. It is speaking specifically about small group and mentoring strategies for developing mature disciples. While worship services and sermons are certainly part of a disciple’s experience, they will never be the core of a deliberate discipleship strategy. Jesus preached to crowds, but He discipled 12. The differences are significant.

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