Beginning with the End in Mind

Stage 14: First In the 914 Series: M2|P2 Aligning Materials & Methods with your People & Plan

I have a confession to make. I love The Profit, a show on CNBC featuring Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World and other companies. He invests his own money to help failing businesses turn into successful enterprises. His mantra: People, Process, and Product. His focus is on developing and aligning all three. With the right people, the right process, and the right product, the sky’s the limit. Every episode features a company that passes the product test in one way or another. Lemonis imagines that if he can develop and align the people and the process, (and sometimes improve the product), the product has a chance to multiply to be a large chain or franchise organization; the original location replicating itself time and again. He is able to be successful in this because of the wisdom he’s gained through years of experience and working with dozens of companies.

Every episode/product requires the creation of different processes. He likes to find companies that are (1) unique and (2) better meet some need than other existing companies. On each episode you’ll see him create processes that align with the end in mind and the people involved. I say create, because there is no book, PDF, or 3-ring binder of  one-size fits all processes for every company. To be effective, he must know (1) principles and values related to effectiveness; (2) the resources and logistics that are available for product and delivery; and (3) the wildly varied issues (positive and negative) that relate to the people:

  • Experience
  • Motivation
  • Passion
  • Conflicts
  • Relationships
  • Dreams
  • Goals
  • Abilities
  • Training
  • Values
  • etc.

On almost every episode, he works with people to help them overcome the “people” issues that are derailing their dreams. He works with people that you would think should move out of the way. He works with people that are in destructive relationships with their spouse (co-owner) and/or co-workers. And with some measure of grace, helps them become part of the success. Sometimes it works… sometimes not.

He sees in his mind’s eye “the end” – what the reality looks like if alignment can happen. And it’s with this end in mind that he strives to help businesses toward success. It is important to know that the end

  • is NOT the development of people
  • is NOT the improvement of the product
  • is NOT the creation of a process.

All of those contribute. But in a broad sense they are all processes, or enhanced by processes. They are not the end – the “thing” that we should be striving for. If they were, then one could just imagine, for example, that every entity would be successful if they could just convince their people that their life-long development (ie, learning) is the key. To continually join groups to study and learn is the key. To always be studying and learning is the key. Sound familiar? 

The people in our churches are every bit as messy as the people in the episodes of The Profit. However, if our ministry with them does not have an end in mind – if we cannot see what their lives and our church would look like… should look like… if we could develop them into replicating, Gospel participants (process and product), then we do not have a chance at getting close to that end.

We will fall into the “process” strategy: the things we are supposed to do. The things everyone else does. And by “supposed to”, I mean the idea that the greatest thing we can do is to become a mature Christ follower (become a better Christian, more like Christ, giving glory to Him). And the best way (the only way some know) to do that is through our our own self-help program (process).

  • Attend Worship weekly (because you’re supposed to)
  • Join a group (because you’re supposed to)
  • Memorize scripture (because you’re supposed to)
  • Have a quiet time (because you’re supposed to)
  • Keep a journal (because you’re supposed to)
  • Find some way to serve (because you’re supposed to)
  • Tithe (because you’re supposed to)

None of these things are bad in and of themselves. They can all be helpful in our spiritual development. But don’t miss this: Not one of those activities involves real world, hands-on, in the wild experience with anyone – especially the lost! (Well, some find a way to occasionally serve in the wild, but most serve inside the walls of the church or their group). And, don’t miss this… you would be hard pressed to find where Jesus emphasized this list in His training with the Disciples.

If presented as the way to apply scripture to our lives, rather than as some ways to synthesize the truth of Christ and His call into our lives, then what you are left with is the perpetual call to

  • Attend Worship weekly
  • Join a group
  • Memorize scripture
  • Have a quiet time
  • Keep a journal
  • Find some way to serve
  • Tithe

The Promise Unfulfilled

For the vast majority of believers, this is the “end”, the “thing” that their churches promote. If you’ll just do these things/follow this process, you’ll be more like Christ; you’ll be closer to Christ; you’ll be “mature”. This is how you follow Him and bring glory to Him. 

Jeff Bezos has rightfully said:

But if you’re not watchful, the process can become the thing… You stop looking at outcomes and just make sure you’re doing the process right …. The process is not the thing. It’s always worth asking, do we own the process or does the process own us?”

It is easy for church leaders to imagine what a successful process looks like. In fact, it is easy to work toward this goal, that our church would one day have:

  • All of our people attend Worship weekly
  • All of our people join a group
  • All of our people memorize scripture
  • All of our people have a quiet time
  • All of our people keep a journal
  • All of our people find some way to serve
  • All of our people tithe (can I get an Amen?)

Unfortunately, passionate, sold-out (ie, mature) Christ followers (what Bezos would call outcomes) rarely occur from this process. You may know, or think you know, one or two mature followers that came from following this process. You may know (or think you know) dozens or hundreds. In those cases, one of two things is likely true:

  1. We don’t share the same definition of passionate, sold-out Christ follower 
  2. Those you know had other, “more maturing” experiences in their lives. These may have come from opportunities presented by the church and/or through (un-scripted by us), God-ordained encounters and experiences.

The vast majority of believers do not sign up for this journey. Of those that do, most stop at some point. Not because of their maturity level, but because…

I’m Not Being Fed

No wonder that one of the biggest complaints of those who change churches or leave church altogether is the “lack of being fed”. We have promised them that all these things will feed them. That in doing these things, they will be able to feed themselves. And while these do feed followers, they do so in decreasing impact, as disciples grow through levels 1-8 (refer to the track chart):

  • Gain in Knowledge
  • Gain in Understanding
  • Gain in Comprehension

As our spiritual/cognitive skills move past the passive receiving of information into the need to analyze and evaluate, the standard list of offerings become less valuable, less nourishing, less meaningful. And so they feel like they’re not being fed. It fact, though they may not know how to express it, they are actually not being challenged, they are not being equipped, they are not being engaged, and they are no longer being changed like in their early years of development. Their experience does not match the promise.

Let me give you an example. Pause before you answer.

What is fundamentally more important: to be able to accurately quote a memorized verse (including the reference and translation) or to comprehend what the verse means?

Memorization can, and often does, occur without comprehension.

Comprehension can, and often does, occur without memorization.

Which is fundamentally more important for the disciple who is highly capable of analysis, evaluation, and creating ministry?

LEVEL 14 CREATORS

Let me give you an example of spiritually mature followers (Level 14) creating a ministry. It might very well have appeared on an episode of The Profit:  Century 1 AD.

In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 2 So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3 Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

5 This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. 6 They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

7 So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.
Acts 6:1-7 (NIV)

To follow loosely with the analogy of The Profit, there was (is) 

  1. this life-changing product that was being 
  2. distributed by really qualified and committed  people via 
  3. some process

While it is not spelled out, it seems that the process involved the Apostles leading in this effort, but they were trying to do too much. They were doing the ministry of the word* (this was NOT studying for their weekly sermon), praying, AND apparently trying to feed all of the widows – and doing a pretty poor job of it.

So they created what we call deacons. Jesus didn’t teach them about deacons,  that they would need deacons, or what to have these deacons do. But they discovered a need. They understood the values and principles they were to follow (Jesus did teach them those things). So they created a ministry that 

  1. included leadership requirements and tasks
  2. aligned those with the values and principles
  3. vested the necessary resources and authority to accomplish the task
  4. And released seven into ministry who matured more in Christ in the days following than they ever would have if all they did was attend Bible Study and worship services.

*I would be remiss if I did not chase this one little rabbit about the “ministry of the word”. The “ministry of the word” is the ministry they were called to, best encapsulated in the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20).  [See: “Why We’re Not Making Discples] This was not preachers spending time studying the Bible and commentaries to prepare for next week’s message. This was taking the Gospel to the lost; hands-on, in the wild, sharing The Word. And in this passage, we see the result of them not devaluing their call to respond to the tyranny of the urgent (hungry widows): vs 7 says –

  1. The Word of God spread
  2. The number of disciples increased (lost who became saved) 
  3. Among those who were saved were some of the religious who repented

This is the Thing! This is the replicating, Gospel-engaged THING that all of our processes and people should point to.

If the word of God is not spreading in our church field, and the number of disciples (lost being saved) are not increasing, and the religious not repenting, then we have likely made the process the thing, rather than keeping the thing the thing.

What’s going on in the US today demands no lesser activity and engagement from those who would consider themselves to be in the “mature” range.

The M2|P2 Track Diagram

Some years ago, I ran across a diagram that describes the stages of discipleship in a circular fashion (included at the end of this post). It resonated with me for many reasons, some of which will become apparent through the articles in this series. I have come to find out that the original diagram was developed by Dr. Robert Coleman and was published in Discipleshift: Five Steps that Help Your Church to Make Disciples who Make Disciples (Chapter 3, p. 59) by Jim Putnam and Dr.  Coleman.

Future posts will speak to sequence of stages, from the above “track diagram”, but one cannot move through these tracks without having some idea of what the end is, so the effort today is to get that end in mind.

The M2|P2 Track Diagram can be used in a variety of ways. Its inception came by the need to illustrate why we’re really not making disciples. The Coleman Diagram is useful as well, in a variety of ways. It describes in very general terms either what the one being discipled needs to do and/or what those doing the discipling need to do. What it doesn’t do is speak to how and why that “doing/training/developing” should occur. And if we don’t get the “why” and the “how” right, we will reproduce those who know what to do, but not why or how. 

And then, as it goes with all things done by man, entropy will set in. The best defense against entropy is keeping the thing the thing; functioning to fulfill the “why”, and being willing to change the “how” and the “what” so that the thing is always the thing.

The M2|P2 Track Diagram above is blending of concepts. It includes:

  • The 4 quadrants (and 14 stages) from Dr. Coleman’s model. (Some of the layout and labels have been changed to help align the blending of concepts.)
  • Two tracks speak to the Stages of Blooms’ Taxonomy – a standard in Education that helps us identify the best learning capacity and process for people (those being discipled, in this case) at their best cognitive level.
  • One track speaks to leadership development. Simply stated, how much decision-making authority is needed for any particular stage of discipleship.

That was the 1000 words. Now the pictures to help.

This slice below from the diagram is Stage 14: The Ultimate End that is in mind.

What would be different at your church with just a few master trainers? But, before you answer that, please know this is not a reference to only Bible Study Leaders. This is a reference to mature disciples that “master train” others in the ministry that God has given him or her. One might be a Bible Study leader. One could be a Deacon or Elder. One could be an audio/visual technician or a member of the praise team.  (Note: at the end of this post is a partial list of needs/ministries that any church might consider as a path to developing mature disciples).

According to this model, a master trainer does far more than teach someone what to do.

They help them experience the “why”. And the way they guide that experience – the “how” – is designed to facilitate a sense of ownership of ministry. A calling of sorts.

Key Characteristics from the M2|P2 Track Model: Stage 14

To be a Master Trainer, you must:

  • Have at least one mentee – someone that you are replicating your ministry into
  • Be a spiritual grandparent – someone you have led to faith in Christ has led someone else to faith in Christ
  • Lead/Serve with intentionality – You are passionate about what you do. And you do it in alignment with God’s purpose for your life and the church
  • Be able to create – you are not dependent on PDFs, ring binders, quarterlies, or instruction manuals. You know how to analyze what is and what needs to be, and create processes and paths to bring them together.
  • Experience synthesis with God and His word. God’s call and God’s word is seared… immersed… blended… synthesized into the core of your being. It drives your decision making and life’s choices.
  • You are involved in choices and decisions that impact the understanding of, and the implantation of, the purpose of the church.

Now, with this description, what would your church be like with a Deacon Master Trainer, Parking Lot Master Trainer, and Bible Study Leader Master Trainer?

Yes, this is daunting! But there is good news. Unlike what it seems is every other discipleship model, your goal is not to turn everyone into a Stage 14 Master Trainer. In fact, you don’t have to have even one. But, in time, you’ll have one or more.

The goal is to develop disciples that land anywhere in stages 9 through 14. Let’s take a look at Stage 8 to get a glimpse of “why”.

Key Characteristics from the M2|P2 Track Model: Stage 8

  • A Stage 8 disciple is connected to a Purpose for his or her life.
  • Their spiritual development is like the social development of a young adult.
  • Many spiritual decisions may be characterized by self-centeredness and feelings
  • They can apply God’s word to their lives
  • They learn best by practicing application
  • They can be involved in decisions that impact any group in which they are involved.

What this means, is that Stage 8 Disciples, are basically living the Christian life for themselves. We should not look down on this stage. We all lived through, or are now living in, this stage. However, it is critical to understand that much of the material that is being used for “discipleship training” today is designed to speak to the “self-help” generation. It tells them how they can be personally closer to God, loved more by God, be more worshipful to God. And so their purpose is themselves – fixing up “this Christian” to be more pleasing to God.

Stage 8 Disciples are not motivated from their core

  • to serve others
  • to be mentored
  • to share the Gospel
  • to practice sacrificial, generous giving
  • to become a mentor
  • to lead ministry

I don’t have to ask what your church would be like with a room full of Christians like this. Putnam and Coleman refer to them as “converts but not disciples”.

We should never be satisfied with an end that only challenges people to apply God’s word to their lives.

But again, this is a stage that every Master Trainer will go through. The difference is, what end do you have in mind for your discipleship ministry? Are you going to CHOOSE to CREATE those methods and materials that align with your people and plan, in order to make that happen?

Hint: Choose to align your materials and methods with your people and plan!

You may not have plan yet. So, what. CHOOSE that as you CREATE it, it will be in alignment with the people in your circle of influence. CHOOSE to use methods that challenge and motivate those you disciple. (“Challenging” and “Motivating” are not at all the same things as “Inspiring”.)

Your alternative is to keep downloading materials, buying quarterlies, watching DVDs, attending conferences and buying the latest book on how someone else did something that you think might work for you. All of these should be considered in the beginning stages of discipleship development, but in decreasing use. To have 914 Disciples, you must model analysis, evaluation, creating and choice if you are going to replicate yourself.

  • Yes, it will be harder.
  • Some ideas won’t work.
  • Some people will be uncomfortable.
  • Some will argue and disagree.
  • Some may leave your church.
  • But Master Trainers never will – save God calling them elsewhere.

But you’ll be in good company. The above pretty much describes the three years Jesus spent developing His disciples, as well as stepping into the M2|P2 914 strategy.

But what about those PDFs, DVD’s, or ring binders you buy with methods and programs that have worked for others? Unfortunately, “worked” is in the eye of the beholder. Are we saying that their purpose was fulfilled or are we saying that they got some folks to participate? As for the authors of the material, I’m sure it worked for them because they CREATED that which they’ve written about. And the state of the church in America is bearing testimony to the effectiveness of churches trying to break out of cocoons that someone else built (and already broke out of). We should all know and value that strength and wisdom comes from the breaking out so much more than from copying.

If you can’t see past Stage 8/Application, then this is the best you’ll get, with many at Stages 3-7, and very few at Stage 1-2:

And you will rarely experience the life-changing, world-shaking ministry of developing 914 disciples. The more you develop disciples toward this target range, the more you will also drive your engagement with Levels 1-3. Keep in mind that Levels 1-3 is where the world-shaking life-change of scripture happens. It is the most critical. And it will only flourish in your church if you have disciples in the 914 range.

How to Get Started

Do NOT look for a book or resource on how to do this. I’m not saying that you can’t learn from books. But you’ve used books. If you can’t Analyze, Evaluate, and Create by now, then it’s time to exercise THOSE muscles.

Engage your people (spiritual gifts, talents, experience, leadership) in developing the ministry.  Breaking out of your own cocoon is where you gain strength and wisdom. You miss both if you try to implement what someone else has already done. This is why authors of the best strategy books tell you to NOT just do what they’ve done. You gain no strength or wisdom by copying their work.

Seek out mentors to give advice. But develop these ministries conversationally with your members. They may very well feel “better fed” than they have in a long time.

These are all ministry areas that could be led by mature Christians, should the church leadership decide that 

  • there is great value in creating these ministries in alignment with their mission and
  • there is great value in releasing believers into ministry
  • there is great harm to true discipleship by doing things the easy way (yourself) rather that developing others

A Short List – How could you align your Methods and Materials with your People and Plan to create world-shaking, life-changing ministries in these areas?

Basic Training for All – Led by a Volunteer! (Yes, they will need to be trained by someone who can create ministry by replicating themselves.)

  • The Implications of Our Purpose and Values (How Your Ministry/Service Aligns with the Purpose of our Church)
  • The importance of meeting monthly for social/equipping
  • The importance of serving monthly for purpose/hands on training
  • How to Pray for those you serve
  • How to share the Gospel with those you serve
  • How to recruit team members
  • How to train team members
  • Budget Planning
  • Budget Requests
  • Reporting Process
  • Accountability
  • Suggestions
  • Crises in your Ministry/Team
  • Meeting Management
  • Resource Requests

Ideas of Ministries That Could be Created

The people that join ministry “groups” like these will find their fellowship, friendship, and spiritual maturity in the ministry group in which they are engaged. There will be no need to also join a “home group” or Bible study group.

Before you discount this list, check out what this this story about mass wedding for cohabitating couples has in common the the creators of the first deacons: https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/september-web-only/megachurch-mass-wedding-cohabitation-pastor-bryan-carter.html

  • New Member Orientation
  • Benevolence
  • Counseling
  • Deacons
  • Elders
  • Facilitation Skills
  • Conflict Management
  • Evangelism
  • Community Networking
  • Coaching – Community Sports and Church Sports Teams
  • Running a Sports League
  • Recreation
  • Drama
  • Administration
  • Ministry Entrepreneurship: Creating in Alignment
  • Guest Reception
  • Decision Coaches
  • Decision Follow-up
  • Facility Management
  • Prison/Jail Ministry
  • Support Group Ministries
  • Running Ticketed Events: Concerts & Community Events
  • Instrumental Training
  • Praise Team
  • A/V Team Training
  • Missions
  • Church Planting
  • Technology Support and Repair
  • Shut in/Homebound
  • Hospital
  • Parking Lot
  • Hospitality: Coffee/Refreshments
  • Hospitality: Home Groups
  • Home Repair Teams, including
  1. Plumbing
  2. Roofing
  3. Carpet
  4. Minor Electrical
  5. Painting
  6. Fencing
  7. Aerating
  8. Lawn Maintenance
  9. Landscaping

Final Thoughts

Alignment Happens by Plan or by Accident. Any disparate individuals or groups that are in relationship with one another will align with the attribute that has the greatest influence on the engaged parties, whether planned or not – whether order or chaos. For example, if your Bible Studies are driven by material, you can expect your participants to align with that teaching, regardless of whether that teaching helps move your church towards its purpose or not. And if it is “not”, then your church is aligning toward chaos. For example, if the purpose of your church involves sacrificial living, and the Bible studies you offer center on spiritual self-improvement, then you may well be aligning toward chaos.

Dr. Robert Coleman’s Diagram

Leading In to the Walls

You cannot lead anyone further than you’ve already been. And if you want to lead someone well, you need to travel that road a while. Travel that road often.

My Bachelor’s Degree is in Math Education. With that degree, I was able to teach all levels of high school math in an era before calculus was standard fare. I taught Algebra, Geometry, and Computer Science (this, before the first PC was sold in the US.)

To get that degree, I had to take Number Theory (where we spent time in base 2 and base 7 instead of base 10). I had to take four semesters of calculus. The only reason I didn’t fail that last semester is the prof chose to not fail me. There were two take home exams that semester. We were given a week to accomplish each. I attempted to answer all 7 of the questions on the mid-term and passed that one. I don’t remember the specific details of the final, but it was only 2 questions. The first question left me staring into space, wondering what in the world I was supposed to have studied for the 4 prior months. I never got to the second question. The first question went something like this:

In a cage you have a male and female bunny. Under normal conditions, bunnies reproduce 5 time per year with 4 kits per litter. In the water supply for the rabbits, you introduce a small ratio of alcohol, that ratio increasing by a certain amount over time. Alcohol serves to impede the reproductive rate of bunnies at a certain rate by volume over time. Assume that the litters, over time, average out to have the same number of males and females. Bunnies are able to reproduce beginning at 8 months old. Based on these conditions…

How many bunnies would you have after 24 months?

Not only did I have no words, I had no math. Not for bunnies anyway.

But what the number theory and calculus courses did do for me was take me a long way down that math road. Past potholes, pitfalls, and precipice. I could teach Geometry and Algebra in my sleep because of the depth of training I received.

You certainly can choose to journey together down a new road, but you can’t lead anyone. You’ve not yet seen the potholes or precipice. You’ve not experienced the detours and difficulties. And you’ve never found the amazingly powerful truths the exist beyond the pitfalls that cause most to turn back. Leading someone requires experience. Often, enough experience to fail and succeed.

If you agree with this, then let’s consider one implication.

Evangelism is Dead
I grow weary of hearing the erroneous conclusion of oft-cited “survey” that tells us the difficulty in reaching people for Christ. “If we don’t reach them by a certain age”, the report goes, “then the chances of reaching them grow dim.”

The tipping point age used to be 18, then 16. Now, according to some, it is 12. If we don’t reach them by the age of 12, then our chances of reaching them diminished significantly.

And in every church that I’ve heard this quoted, it is used to promote the idea that we need to invest more in our children’s ministry and preteen ministry. After all if we don’t reach them in those ministries, they won’t be reached. And in many churches, this translates to reaching them before the age of accaountability. Reaching them before they comprehend their need. Reaching them before they can possibly understand the verses we’ve had them memorize or the prayer we led them to pray.

So you don’t miss a serious implication, let’s agree that “reached” does not mean attendance or presence or participation. “Reached” in this context refers to one giving their life Christ. So then, the serious implication is that in so many cases, the children may have gone through the motions, but they are not “reached”. We have effectively applied spiritual millstones around their necks.

The warning raised by the stat caused us to Lead In to the Walls – to turn inward to those who were already among us or will find us under their own steam – inside our walls. The real solution would be to Lead Out in to the Wild – creating effective ministries that turn outward – where the real need is.

How did we get here?
We got here because you can’t take anyone further than we’ve already gone. Our churches are filled today with people that made their salvation decision for Christ inside the walls of the church. The number of believers that are passionate about evangelism that actually practice evangelism in the wild seems to have diminished faster than the reachable age.

So, to paraphrase how this oft-cited quote is misunderstood, “If we don’t reach the children for Christ that are already in our walls or will come inside our walls by their own effort before they turn 12, we may not ever reach them”.

A corollary to this is something like:

“What we’re doing doesn’t work for those in the wild, even though it is supposed to. We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing and just blame the difficulty on the lost people – they’re just harder to reach.”

That oft-cited quote should have raised alarm bells to develop evangelism efforts in the wild. We should have created opportunities that took advantage of the system that would have us removed from schools and the public square. We didn’t do that because you can’t take anyone further than you’ve been. And our churches are lacking critical mass in people who met Christ in the wild, to help move the church out to the wild.

I don’t have any stats, but in the last six churches that I’ve been a member of, only two of the pastors practiced and talked about experiential evangelism in the wild – reaching the lost where they live, work and play.

Unfortunately, neither of those two ever trained anyone while we were there – they never took anyone with them to learn this increasingly rare behavior. In both cases, the church members were always glad and excited that people got saved. Just never glad and excited enough to demand that their pastor train them in a hands on, experiential way. But to be clear, I know for a fact that these pastors were challenged to take members out and train them. They just didn’t.

Of greater misfortune, three of the remaining pastors did not practice evangelism in the wild. They were glad when people got saved in their church, but they had no stories to tell, no effort to share of them reaching people where they live, work, and play.

And of greatest misfortune, one of those pastors admitted to me that they had never led anyone to Christ in a one-on-one conversation. Certainly people had responded to a Gospel presentation before, but no experience with personal evangelism.

Sadly, in all six churches, from the tepid challenge to “tell your story” to a strong admonition to share the gospel, not one of these churches leveraged their God-given resources to build a church-based evangelism effort. They limited there challenge to the individual. “You. You go. You go to your friends and family.” And even one of them actually said, “And we (the staff) will be here if you need anything.” (See “The Problem With My Neighbors” to understand why this has never worked broadly in the US.)

Let that sink in.

The reason that students and young adults are harder to reach has little to do with their social, emotional, or educational development. It has everything to do with these facts:

  1. We think disciple making is the activity of improving the spiritual state of saved people.
  2. We think the process of disciple making is best done by telling believers what to think instead of training them how to think.

If we think disciple making is fundamentally about working with saved people, then we make evangelism optional. The Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20), then, does not include it. Therefore:

  • it is not required by Jesus (not to mention)
  • uncomfortable for us (and finally, after all)
  • it is the pastor’s job

We therefore don’t need to be concerned about it other than to be happy when it accidentally happens.

You can’t lead anyone where you’ve never been. So we have effectively killed evangelism. That is why it is harder to reach people over the age of 12. Not because they are hard to reach, but because we’ve stopped doing the hard work of reaching others in the wild.

If you’ve never been trained, go to your pastor and demand it. Demand that he connect you with an evangelistic mentor for the express purpose of learning how to share the gospel in a hands-on, experiential way.

Now I know for a fact that you’ve been challenged, too.

Two Reasons Why We’re Not Making Disciples

We didn’t “learn” either one of these things by reading a book. We learned them experientially. We’ve heard the announcements from the pulpit, read them on our church websites, attended discipleship groups – be they D-groups, small groups, community groups, Sunday School, or any other name that promotes the idea that “disciple making” happens better in small groups or in circles.

How ironic it is that we have learned experientially to “teach” passively. 

  1. We have “learned” that disciple making is the process of improving the spiritual state of saved people.
  2. We have “learned” that telling people what to think, rather than how to think, is the disciple making process

Reason #1: Improving Our Spiritual State

This is the flaw. The re-definition so that what we do appears to match what scripture says. Disciple making doesn’t happen better in small groups. Disciple making doesn’t happen at all when everyone in the room is saved. Disciple making can only happen when at least one lost person is in the conversation. And disciple making can only occur when that conversation is about accepting Christ as Lord/Savior. And disciple making ONLY occurs when one without Christ accepts the salvation of Christ – in that case, a disciple is made.

Maybe you want to make a bank teller. You wouldn’t go get a bank teller, stand them at a different window (small group) and announce to the world, “Look at the bank teller I made”.

Maybe it’s a doctor you’d like to make. You wouldn’t go get a doctor from Mercy General and take them to All Saints Urgent Care and say, “Look at the doctor I made.”

Making disciples, like doctors and bank tellers, starts from scratch. You start with someone that can become a doctor or teller; someone that is not a doctor or teller, and then you make that person into a doctor or teller. You make disciples by taking people that are not disciples and introducing them to Christ. If they accept Christ, then you are free to announce to the world, “Look at the Disciple Christ made.”

The only reason that we need more people in medical school is that we need more doctors! We certainly don’t need to keep people in medical school because the school needs to keep their enrollment up.

If you’re reading this, then you’re likely very familiar with this passage – Jesus’ “famous last words”. aka, “The Great Commission”:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “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 28:19-20

But odds are you’ve never been in a church that actually does this in a deliberate, replicable way.

With doctors, and bank tellers, there is an end in mind. Training is designed to produce the intended result. Unfortunately, for the church, the end that is too often in mind is passive behaviors that can be held accountable – “being discipled” rather than being and doing. What is the end in mind for the “disciple making” ministry in your church?

  • More people in a small group study?
  • More people having a quiet time?
  • More people memorizing scripture?
  • More people journaling?

Did Jesus take saved men and instruct them in bible study, quiet time, scripture memory and journaling? Or did He engage them in active, hands-on, experiential learning that aligned with the challenging conversations He had with them.

None of these disciplines, in and of themselves, are bad. What is wholly insufficient is that today, these are the marks of a disciple rather than the making of disciples; rather than being actively engaged in world-changing, life-changing ministry.

Some will certainly say, “But those disciplines create disciples that do what you’re saying.” 

To that, I have to ask you if you have noticed the state of the church in the United States – the church that has emphasized these passive disciplines as self-contained behaviors for decades? Organizations that emphasize these disciplines are not producing disciple makers unless they are combined with purposeful hands-on, experiential learning. And here’s the kicker – whatever personal spiritual disciplines you might ascribe to Jesus’ training with the Twelve, those disciplines followed rather than preceded their engagement in hands-on, experiential learning.

Unfortunately, It’s just easier to take a headcount of how many are doing the disciplines.

I once heard a sermon out of Acts 4. One of the points that the speaker made was that because (in vs 13) Peter and John were “…unschooled, ordinary men…” we didn’t need to be trained either. We just need to trust the Holy Spirit for boldness like Peter and John did. I found that very odd, because in the aforementioned passage, Jesus commanded that disciples be taught (trained, schooled…?) to obey everything He taught. And, while it should be obvious to anyone who is more than just a casual reader of scripture that the Priests and Sadducees in this passage were referring to Peter and John’s lack of “priestly training” or “training in the traditions and Law”, it should also be obvious that Peter and John had spent three years in intensive, hands-on, experiential training with the “Master Trainer” before He told them in Matthew 28 what to do with all that training!

Jesus sent them into a world where NO ONE was saved. NO ONE had come to salvation (save the smattering of people that had been committed followers with the now Apostles). There is no possible way to interpret Jesus’ command to “make disciples” as “gathering saved people in small groups to improve their spiritual state”. (That activity is contained in the subsequent command… “teaching (training) them to obey everything I commanded…”)

You see, what Jesus did with Peter and John (and at least 9 others) was – and don’t miss this – He made disciples. He took those who were not saved and brought them to salvation. And in the process, He trained them in everything they needed to know for them to make disciples and in turn train those new disciples. He experientially trained them in the Gospel message, in the meeting of needs and giving of grace SO THAT they could share the Gospel message. The Holy Spirit took trained men and made them bold in sharing the Gospel message. We cannot expect this to happen from passive classroom or small group teaching. Training requires active, experiential learning.

No Fear

I was once a member of a church where one of the well-respected volunteer leaders liked to teach “Share Jesus Without Fear”. Unfortunately, there was no uptick in sharing, no stories of folks in the church sharing Jesus with or without fear. In a telling personal, private moment with just a few key leaders, we were all asked to share the last time we had led someone to Christ. This individual could not think of one time – he was almost 60 years old at this time – and he could not think of one person that he had led to Christ. He had grown children whom someone else must have led to Christ. You may not be surprised that this church is now closed after a 30 year existence. Not because of this one individual, but because of the pervasive idea that disciple making is a passive classroom activity designed to improve the spiritual state of those who already know Christ.

When we don’t agree with Jesus that the starting point is those without him, we are left with what is effectively a death spiral like the one illustrated above. We are left then, to begin with those that already know Christ. In our effort to be obedient, we continually strive to “teach” them more and more how to be like Jesus, how to be closer to Jesus, how to please Jesus – all without training them – without giving them the intensive, hands-on, experiential training required for boldness and leading others to that saving relationship with Christ. (You might consider that this would please Him most of all.) This is a death spiral because we have to find new and “better” ways to communicate the same truths over and over again. This is untenable due to the decades-long life Christians lead as they seek to be more like Jesus without making disciples. More and better is only temporary. Solomon said it best, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

Most will stop attending regularly over time. Most will drop out over time. Some will relocate to other cities. Some will pass away. Some will change churches due to preferences, splits, life-stage changes, etc. And the reality of today – many will just stop attending altogether. Most churches are dependent on disciples moving into their area to maintain attendance levels. They are also dependent on this “new blood” for leaders – disciples that have been trained elsewhere.

One of the nails in this coffin is the often stated purpose of this effort. For ME to be more like Christ. For ME to be closer to Christ. For ME to know more of His word. For ME to be equipped. This is exacerbated by the implication that we’re never close enough, know enough, or equipped enough, because we must always be in a group… learning.  (Please re-read the Great Commission and identify the part of the passage where it’s all about you.)

A second nail in this coffin is the lack of new disciples. This is the root of why thousands of churches are closing each year. We are too busy being trained to be better – or not being trained at all – to spend any time or concern making disciples.

Don’t hear me say that there is an endpoint to what we can learn from Christ and His word. But please do hear me say that Jesus thought that three years of His “classroom”, “apprenticeship”, and “guided learning” were enough. Do hear me say that I believe it was never His intention that we spend our life’s spiritual energy on learning everything that can be learned. Paul battled with “learning based” folks like this (Gnostics) throughout his ministry. But what Jesus did do after three years was set them loose on the world to do and be. But He didn’t just tell them to go and find something to do. He gave them specific instructions. He knew before He trained them what their assignment would be and He trained them for that end. 

Jesus knows that we learn so much more by doing and being than we do in a classroom or small group. He knows this because he made us – and he made us to be experiential learners. And it turns out that it is not nearly so necessary to manufacture motivation for people to “learn more” or “follow closer” or “be more like Christ” when they are actively involved in the life changing work he calls us to. The work itself reveals how much we need him, how wonderful he is, and this drives our seeking after him all the more. This is one of the reasons why it is true, that if you want to get something done, ask a busy person to do it. They are already motivated.

Let’s all agree that we’re not nearly the trainer that Jesus is/was. Since that’s true, let’s all agree that three years may be a bit ambitious. However, we do have His word and the Holy Spirit, so can we agree on six years? Nine years? At what point should a disciple be more about doing and being than about classroom learning? If that point never arrives, then perhaps we should just admit that what we’re really about is gnostic-ship training instead of disciple-ship training. How much easier it would be if only Jesus had said, “Go into all the world and teach them everything you can think of.”

And this then, is why most people have never experienced this deliberate, replicable ministry. Churches do groups and classes well. While key leaders have better hearts and intention than this, unfortunately the win for the church is maintaining head count. The win for some is increasing headcount. But whether it is the number of people in the morning service or the number of people in groups, the gathered quantity is still the win. 

  • How many have been released into ministry? 
  • How many life-changing efforts are led by non-staff disciples? 
  • How many disciples have been trained with the end in mind that they will be part of a church plant or  mission team? 
  • How many disciples have been trained to replicate themselves? 
  • How many disciples HAVE replicated themselves?
  • How many have been trained (the Jesus way – active, real world, hands on) to lead others to Christ… to actually “make disciples”? 

These “wins” are very different than the headcount wins of most programs. While I love hearing about people getting saved in worship services, I would much rather hear about a continual flow of people receiving Christ in the wild because disciples were trained to do what Jesus commanded.

Try This

Create a four year plan for ministry growth and development. In that plan, list the leadership and service positions that will be necessary for the success of that plan. Then set 10-25% of those positions specifically for the placement of “newly made disciples” that were then subsequently trained with this end in mind, so that they can complete the assignment for which they have been trained. And then you better get after it! You can’t wait for year four to roll around to decide it’s about time to lead someone to Christ and see if they’re up for being trained in this way. You need to start now and never stop.

Or try this. What spiritual gifts are present in your church? What ministries would benefit from leaders with those gifts? Create a training pipeline to develop leaders with those ends in mind, so that they can lead in ministries that either exist or are on your drawing board. But whatever you do, make sure you train them to be disciple makers, too.

Reason #2: Telling Them What to Think

You may think that people are thinking for themselves in your group discussions. But in fact, most aren’t. If you are using any form of curriculum the way it is intended to be used (there may be rare exceptions to this), then you are preparing to tell your group what to think. Each lesson has several points, generally contained within the context of the passage (see Acts 4:13 for the problem with this). As the leader, you spend your time studying the material so you tell/lead your group to learn the points contained in the lesson. At the end, the win is for the  participants in your group to agree with what they have been told to think.

Because finding volunteers for this type of effort has become increasingly difficult, DVD lessons by inspiring speakers are available for anyone to use. In these cases, the leader only has to ask questions that he/she has been told to ask, so they can discuss what they’ve been told to think, albeit having been told in an inspiring way.

The problem here is that inspiration doesn’t last. Inspiration and conviction are not the same thing at all. Inspiration evokes enjoyment.  You may hear things like, “That was great!” or “I really like the way she phrased that.” Or “I’ve never thought of it like that before.” And “That was so inspiring!” 

Those are really positive and affirming messages. None of which speak to any conviction or life change.

Conviction evokes life change. Inspiration generally lasts until the next problem arises, even if it is a traffic jam or argument on the way home from the group.

Inspiration, however, does raise the bar for the next small group experience. You’ll need to continue to find inspiring material to keep participants engaged. Once you’ve enjoyed an inspiring teacher who does all the work for you, it will be hard to go back to something not as easy or inspiring. 

You will also likely run in to the common complaint of, “I’m just not being “fed”, because once someone already thinks what you’ve told them to think, telling them the same things under cover of a different lesson or different teacher really is less filling.

No Room for Error

Years ago, after relocating to the east coast, we were visiting a variety of adult classes in a church that we later joined, in order to find one that would work for us. But in one of the 7 classes we tried, this one is most memorable. I arrived before the leader, to a room with the chairs in an open horseshoe. At the open end was a small desk and chair. The leader came in with his three-ring binder, took the seat at the desk, and after announcements and prayer, began to read his notes to the group. It was hard to find a way to participate, because any comment would have been an interruption. One hour of being told what to think. 

If you don’t allow for thought, for discussion, for conclusions good and bad, then you can be sure of three things.

  • No one will disagree with what you tell them to think
  • No one will learn how to think
  • No one will actually know why they think what they’ve been told, and their “beliefs” will wither under pressure.

Generalities are Only Helpful… Not Truth

Some years later, I attended an adult Bible study for the first time at a church we were visiting. The leader had his notes in front of him – a sheet of paper with single spaced bullet points (FRONT and BACK) – with the apparent intention of getting through them all in the hour. Being new, I tried to take a passive position. If you know me, you know this to be a futile effort most of the time. The topic of the day appeared to be “yeast”. Lots of passages about yeast. Lots of bullet points about yeast.

And then he said it. Yep, he pulled on that thread that made passivity futile for me. He said, “Every passage of scripture that refers to yeast is a reference to sin.” He had done two things in his effort to tell this group of people what to think: 

  1. he had drawn an incorrect conclusion
  2. he had announced it as something that we should learn, know, and agree with

I spoke up, interrupting his delivery. “What about the passage where Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to yeast?” (Matt 13:31-33)

And then he doubled-down. Because he had taken a stand, he wasn’t going to back down, so he said something to the effect of, “Well, that’s also a reference to sin if you look at it the right way.”

To which I said, resulting in many head nods in the room, “We’ll just have to agree to disagree.”

He then continued with the bullet points, telling us what to think.

How much better if he had just asked us to discuss the differences and similarities between Matthew 13 and any one of the other passages from which he drew his conclusion. One of the things that surely would have arisen out of this effort to train people how to think would be this: Generalities can be helpful, but we shouldn’t take them as absolutely true.

100 Years

I had the opportunity a few years ago to lead a training session for a group of adult Bible study leaders – there was more than 100 years of experience in the group of 12 or so leaders.

To begin, I asked this question:  “Tell us a story about someone in your group whose life has changed as a result of your Bible Study?”

Silence was the response. What seemed like many minutes went by. Finally, one leader said that a member of his class had begun reading the Bible every day.

100 years of Bible study and one person is reading their Bible regularly. Not to diminish the change for that person, but…. wow.

This was an established church that used curriculum for all of their classes. For years – members of this church had gathered together to be told what to think by someone who had spent hours studying a lesson so they could tell them what to think.

The Jesus Experience

This is not what Jesus did. Jesus made the disciples think. He made them decide. He made them discuss what they thought. And (hold on now) he let them live with the consequences of thinking badly and making mistakes. He let them learn experientially.

Oh, yes, he did do a lot of telling, too. Just look at the Sermon on the Mount. Lots of telling there. Jesus was both preacher and trainer. He preached to the crowds. He trained the few.

His training of the few was different than his preaching to crowds. He asked questions. Not because questions are good, but because the kind of questions He asked caused his followers to learn how to think. And he allowed for wrong answers and bad conclusions. He allowed them to learn from each other. He used comparisons and contrasts to generate deeper level thinking. He used analogies and parables and required that they think through the meanings and implications of the ideas and concepts he was leading them to comprehend and synthesize into their lives. 

(Note: compare for yourself the difference in impact of a concept that is learned vs that concept comprehended vs that concept synthesized. Yes, you’ll have to think. Google and dictionary.com might be helpful.)

Jesus first made disciples – “Come follow me!” – and they did. Then He trained them in everything they needed. His training sessions were generally one to a few questions, followed by a wide variety of hands-on learning experiences. Followed by debriefing sessions. Followed by more training. Over three years, he trained them through the experiential learner’s model: (1) I do it and you watch. (2) I do it and you help. (3) You do it and I help. (4) You do it. He then sent them out to (5) do it with another watching.

His small group sessions would really have only been theoretical without the real world training. They may have “learned” what He said, but they would not have “LEARNED” what He said. You can’t train people how to share Jesus without fear (and expect bold, Holy Spirit results) if you don’t take each and every one out and show them and then enable them with you to share Jesus, first with fear, and in the repeated experience, without fear. (See “The T-Ball Approach” in the post, The Problem With My Neighbors.)

You can’t train someone (and expect bold, Holy Spirit life change) how to lead a Bible study by handing them a piece of curriculum and telling them to follow the directions.

You can’t have effective deacons and elders by waiting until they’re approved by the church and then give them a book to read on their responsibilities.

The Great Commission is not a linear list of commands; it is a circular, replicable “so that” life cycle. Mature beings are capable of reproducing. And He intends for us to do that.

OR
  1. Go (so that you can) …
  2. Make Disciples (so that you can) …
  3. Teach (train) them everything Jesus commanded (so that they will)…
  1. Go (so that they can) …
  2. Make Disciples (so that they can) …
  3. Teach (train) them everything Jesus commanded (so that they will)…
  1. Go (so that they can) …
  2. Make Disciples (so that they can) …
  3. Teach (train) them everything Jesus commanded (so that they will)…

We really can and should be making disciples. Reach out if you’d like to explore next steps for your ministry or group. You can leave a comment below, or email me at eli.bernard@idiscover.xyz.

Illustration and Dissonance

2 Timothy 3:16 tells us God’s Word  “is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”

  • Teaching – Giving instruction
  • Rebuking – Identifying where a mistake has been made
  • Correcting – How to return to the correct line of action or behavior
  • Training in Righteousness – How to never need rebuking again!

These four useful “turns” of instruction of God’s word can be very helpful in developing engaging and life-changing lessons. The beauty of the facilitating the self-discovery of truth is that it greatly enhances the effectiveness in our culture for communicating the most difficult of the four, “rebuke” and “correction”. People generally will change their mind about something if they discover the truth for themselves. We are all prone to resist rebuke and correction when it comes at us head on.

We live in a culture where the masses at church love the teaching and training, but resist the rebuke and correction. Yet, we know from our own childhood and from raising our own children, that rebuke and correction are vital to to the entire training process.

Here are some other “turns” on lesson development that may prove useful to you, especially on the more familiar or more difficult passages as they come through your curriculum.

Supportive (and Illustrative) Passages

Other Bible passages that reveal more information regarding the concept of the lesson, or illustrate the point of the main passage can be a significant part of an engaging lesson. Have participants compare and contrast the information in each passage. This is not the same is proof-texting, where you find a trove of passages that use a word or concept out of context from the main passage, in an effort to “prove” some point through and abundance of textual evidence.

Dissonant Passages – As a facilitator, a tremendously effective approach to life changing Bible study is to cause “cognitive dissonance” in the minds those in your study group. Cognitive dissonance is the process where what a person believes to be true is confronted or conflicted by something else that seems to be true, but is in conflict with the original belief. Cognitive Dissonance is especially helpful in correcting misguided beliefs, passages taken out of context, extra-Biblical material, and experiences and opinions that are contrary to Biblical truth. It can also be very effective in reinforcing and establishing Biblical belief systems.

The right Icebreaker can lead participants to express what they believe to be true on the concept at hand. Then, as the passage(s) are studied, the Biblical truth will cause the mental dissonance that will lead to change.

Example: Icebreaker:  What is the Biblical process for dealing with conflict between believers? (If there are believers of any level of maturity in your group, someone will refer to Matt 28.)

Question somewhere in the lesson:  “Explain why you think that Paul did, or did not, sin in Galatians 2:11-14?

CAUTION:  As always, you must stay in context when interpreting the Bible. However, a temporary (deliberate) misinterpretation may affect the desired results. ALWAYS identify the misinterpretation, and it’s place in the process you’ve just completed. Most Christians have heard a pastor employ an effect like this at one time or another. For example, a pastor encouraging his congregation to read along with his sermon passage may say, “According to Romans 3_23, some have sinned. Correct?” While the truth is, ALL have sinned, the pastor as used this technique to cause a little dissonance, to reinforce the truth in the minds of his congregation.

Maintaining context is a huge need in our culture. The concept of a lesson may focus on an experience with context more than on any one Biblical truth.  Helping Christians learn how to “rightly divide” God’s word is always a valuable lesson. Many believers today think that they should interpret the Bible through their on lives and experiences, when in fact, it should be just the opposite: we should interpret our lives and experience through God’s word.

The Meaning of Forgiveness in an Abusive World

by Eli Bernard & Bethany Persons

Words matter. Rather, the meanings of words matter and by that, we mean – words matter.

At the risk of stepping into the universe where the reader’s meaning often matters more than the author’s meaning, our attempt here is to speak to what The Author meant by this amazing word that we misuse. While focusing on the Author’s meaning can be helpful for analysis and open dialogue, comprehending it is much more vital to the “peace that passes all understanding” (Phil 4:7) in our own lives.

In the recent weeks, there has been a flurry of devastating reports about those that teach, expect, and seemingly demand forgiveness as a response to a horrendous assault. We are afraid that the way the word “forgiveness” is perceived – perhaps by those assaulted and to many who enter the conversation only through media – is as

  • a sort of magic wand, whereby the assaulted or offended waive away any consequence or responsibility of the offender “because that’s what good Christians do” or
  • a weapon used to silence the assaulted, demanding greater spiritual maturity from them than their attacker.

Forgiveness is not a magic wand and it does nothing to remedy the attack or solve problems larger than the one experienced by the one assaulted. To weaponize forgiveness in order to silence those assaulted is a reprehensible power play, worthy of any Pharisee Jesus encountered.

We do not know what the intention or heart is of those who have advised forgiveness in any of these reported or many unreported offenses. We were not there. We did not hear their tone or the full context of their comment. We only know how it reads in the media – and it is that reading that prompts this response.

  • Forgiveness does not absolve the offender of guilt
  • Forgiveness does not bring resolution to implied or apparent larger problems
  • Forgiveness does not abdicate the responsibility of the offender
  • Forgiveness does not eliminate the need for accountability
  • Forgiveness does not supersede the necessity for consequences
  • Forgiveness does not demand or imply the restoration of relationship

One of the things that we should do is strive to understand the full meaning of what The Author meant by the words that He used. And He never used the word “forgiveness” in these ways.

Visiting the Example of the Author of Forgiveness

Jesus’ death is the price that was paid for our forgiveness. He loves us and died for us. And because He forgave us, we have eternal life with Him. While this is true, it is a too-simplistic and gap-filled explanation of the magnitude of that event, and it does not suffice.

Jesus did indeed offer us – the whole world – forgiveness by his death/resurrection. But no one – no one in the whole world – received forgiveness simply because it was – and is – available.

Forgiveness is for the benefit of the offended, wounded and the assaulted – not for the ones doing the offending and assaulting.  We know that flies in the face of contemporary religious thought. But it is to the benefit of the wounded and offended to offer it, not to the benefit of the abuser/offender. The offended offering forgiveness should have no fear of the offender receiving it absent true repentance. It matters not what words they say or actions they take. Only true repentance aligns with true forgiveness. Additionally, since forgiveness does not imply or demand the restoration of relationship, the offended need not fear some obligation to the same.

Jesus offers forgiveness, not because we need it (although we absolutely do), but because He wanted to offer it. The fact that we need it does not mandate it. The fact that God wants a relationship with us is what mandates it. Certainly, we benefit from it should we receive it. But it is not possessed by anyone who does not demonstrate their desire by repentance. The unrepentant are not forgiven. As much as we need forgiveness, it is not to our benefit; it is to His.

“But wait, what about…”

  • Confessing with my mouth and believing in my heart (Rom 10:9)
  • Saved by grace through faith (Eph 2:8-10)
  • Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved (Acts 16:30-31)
  • Praying “the sinner’s prayer“
  • Asking Jesus into my heart

Without delving deeply into these for their own merits and implications, unless repentance is the attitude of the heart, then these are motions merely gone through; insufficient regardless of sincerity. To be clear, asking without a repentant heart is to ask vainly. Believing with an unrepentant heart is not the belief that leads to salvation. (James 2:19)

“But wait, where do these passages say I need to repent?”

This question illustrates a telltale failure of contemporary preaching and curriculum driven teaching. It is the whole Bible, not any one passage that gives us the whole truth. John the Baptist, Jesus and the Apostles preached repentance from the beginning of their earthly ministries (Matt 3:2, Matt 11:20-21, Luke 5:32, Luke 13:1-5, Luke 15, Acts 2:38, Acts 13:24).  We don’t forget about that just because we’re reading from a different passage. To do that is tantamount to Jesus saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near, but you won’t need to do that if you just wait until Paul writes Romans 10:9.”

To do that is tantamount to Jesus saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near, but you won’t need to do that if you just wait until Paul writes Romans 10:9.”

Let’s say that you asked me for my favorite biscuit recipe. I might tell you:

In a large mixing bowl sift together ½ tsp salt, 2 cups of flour, and 1 tbsp of baking powder. Cut in ½ cup shortening with fork or pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Pour ¾ cup of buttermilk into flour mixture while stirring with a fork.

After rolling out, cutting, and baking the biscuits, you offer me one – one of the blandest, most tasteless biscuits I’ve ever had.

“Where’s the salt?”, I ask.

‘Oh, I didn’t think I needed to add it since it was the first thing you said. I thought I only needed to add the stuff that made them look like biscuits.”

Forgiveness is the way for the wounded and offended to release the offense, to not carry the grudge, to not hold it to the account of the offended. It is because this is how the Author understands forgiveness that eternity with Him is available – He does not hold our sin to our account. He, who first loved us, has made that possible by offering forgiveness. That is to His benefit because it is He who first wanted a relationship with us.

Forgiveness has no effect or impact on the offender until the very high and humbling price of repentance is paid. Forgiveness is good for the forgiver. The only impact on the offender is that it is available. It is not received simply based on that availability. It cannot be claimed by the offender simply to gain its benefit.

Forgiveness allows the forgiver to heal, to move forward, to live life without a grudge, to not hold on to the devastating event as if it is now the basis of who they are – the driving force that defines their life and future. Forgiveness is the path to freedom from a life controlled by the sin of others.

But, for the offender, the forgiveness offered by others imparts no such freedom. The forgiven receives no inherent or automatic benefit of forgiveness offered. No wand is waived. No magic exists. Forgiveness exists, much like a gift. The one forgiven may see it and want it – but it is not theirs simply because it has been expressed and placed in a common space.

The abuser/offender only receives the benefit of forgiveness through the path of repentance evidenced in part, by godly sorrow. The only way that forgiveness granted influences forgiveness received is the awareness of its existence. The offender must still humble themselves or be humiliated into such sorrow. The offender must be repentant of their offense, honestly and sorrowfully so. This is the benefit to the offender. True, whole-hearted, sorrowful repentance is their path to the freedom from a life controlled by their own sin.

Forgiveness is the path to freedom from a life controlled by the sin of others. 

Repentance is the path to freedom from a life controlled by my own sin.

Here is the truth.

  • Should the offender never repent, the offended can still be free from the spiritual grudge-controlled life by forgiving.
  • Should the offended never forgive, the offender can still be free from the spiritual guilt of the offense by repentance.
  • They can both be free and never know of the other’s freedom.

Unfortunately in our media-driven world, these are areas that are only truly visible to the Author of forgiveness. No one can tell if forgiveness has truly been given – but the forgiver and Author will know, and that is sufficient for them. No one can truly know that the offender has sorrowfully and remorsefully repented. The repentant and Author will know, and that is sufficient for them. They both know that the Author of forgiveness (and repentance) knows.

For the rest of us – the observers of lives thrust into the public view, we should be careful to allow time and space for both forgiveness and repentance in lives that are not our own. Should we not, we are not far from the ocular plank (Matt 7:3-5). (It may well benefit us to realize that the media cares little about planks.)

And since words matter, “repentance” does not mean remorse, sorrow, apology, fear, sadness, or any other number of terms or adjectives that are in common understanding today. The Author of forgiveness says that repentance is a complete turnaround. The offender chooses to never offend again. Those hiding the offense choose to never hide the offense again. Those who believe that their actions and attitudes were normal (“That’s just who I am”), now believe those actions and attitudes to be abhorrent and vile. That is repentance. Expand that definition with “sorrowful” and “remorseful” and you will begin to understand what the Author of forgiveness has in mind.

Let’s bring that down to today’s news. Pastors and missionaries, missionary organizations, associational and state convention employees that commit or hide such abhorrent behavior need to repent. Without it, forgiveness from the assaulted is not yours, even if those assaulted have given it. They know it. You know it. And the Author of forgiveness knows it.

It matters little if your repentance is from your own volition, or if it comes from being outed to your shame. It matters little if anyone believes you have repented. The Author of forgiveness will know. And that is not only enough, but it is also all that really matters eternally. But on this earthly coil, it will not and should not alleviate consequences. It will not and should not by necessity, restore your reputation or relationships. But it will matter – to you and to the One to whom it should.