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 Relationship Windshield

If you’ve never done this, then give it a try. Find a stretch of road without any oncoming traffic and while moving the speed limit, look AT the windshield. Now, no cheating. This will only take a second. Don’t look through the windshield, look at it. It might help to find a spot to look at.

It would be normal to have a sense of panic to some degree. There is an immediate sense that you’ve lost control of this moving vehicle, that you have no idea what’s coming at you from any direction because you’re looking AT the very thing that is intended to be looked through. It doesn’t matter if the horizon is bursting with the view of a snow-capped mountain sunset or a double rainbow in the eastern sky. You don’t see any of that if you’re looking at the windshield instead of through it.

But the windshield is helpful. It allows us to take in all the beauty before us, without the worry of bugs in our teeth or flying objects in our face. It also allows us to give some attention to the others who are in the car with us. The windshield It is a tool best used when considered invisible.

If you’ve never done this, then give it a try. Become so familiar with the elements of the small group session, that you don’t look at the material the entire time. You look through the material at the eyes of the people in your group. You listen through the material to their responses to the questions and their dialogue with one another. You react and respond to the life around you rather than to the next question or activity in the session. Here is the snow-capped mountains and the burst of sunlight that we all crave in our small groups. This is how relationships can grow and be strengthened as you together meet with God through His word. This doesn’t exist on the windshield; it is on the other side.

Now let me quickly say that the material may indeed be vital (but may be less so as the leader matures spiritually). It can keep the bugs out of your meeting and stop frustrated members from flying in your face. The material gives you a plan, a way to see and get to the beauty of the group. But let’s stop looking AT the material, and look to the relationships beyond.

Many small group leaders are afraid of losing control of their “vehicle.” While God’s Word and strong relationships are the stuff of life change – the beauty of his creation – we often point at spots on the windshield rather than taking in all that is available in the group.

It can happen like this:
“Somebody read the first question….”
“Let’s use our time watching a DVD.”
“We need to get back to the lesson…”
“Everybody turn to page 14 …”

These statements (and subsequent page flipping in the material or passive viewing of a screen) tell the group participants that the material wants to know that they think; the lesson is interested in their response, or the commentary of the latest celebrity speaker is more valuable than the relationships in the room.

You might be missing the relationships because you’re looking AT the very thing that is intended to be looked through.

Can you sense the difference in these questions?
“Let me ask you a question…”
“Hows does that thought relate to our passage…”
“Let’s try this…”

Questions like these are generated by familiarity with the scope and sequence of the lesson elements. But the difference is that the material is “invisible” to the discussion. Eye to eye and ear to ear, participants can grow together with each other and with God.

Try this in preparation for your next small group session (see page 36):

  1. Write down your questions and activities in the order they should occur.
  2. Re-write this list in short-hand and abbreviations. After all, you are the only one that needs to know what the abbreviations mean.
  3. Re-write the list on a sticky note using only one or two words (OK, use 3 or 4 if you need to) for each question or step. By the time of this third draft, you should be able to just glance at a phrase and know what to ask or do.
  4. Place this sticky note in your Bible next to the passage you will study.
    When the study begins, just glance at your sticky note and you will be reminded of the ice-breaker/opening question you have planned.

But look at their eyes, listen to their words. Let them know that you want to know what they think and feel. While the group is responding to your question, just glance again at your list, and you’ll know what comes next. And you won’t have to juggle two books in your lap!

Bonus: In being comfortable in what comes next, you will often be able to sense the exact time to move naturally on to the next step. You’ll be able to say something like, “That’s a great question! Let’s try something to see what we can learn about that.” Natural transitions and good eye contact communicate volumes to your group as to what kind of listener you are. What kind of friend you are.

Lead them to the beauty of the relationships in the group. 

Use your small group material.

Use it well. 

But use it as a windshield.

Visit www.idiscover.xyz and register for access to Microsoft Word ® and PDF versions of digital sticky note templates.

Free Curriculum!

Back in 2016, a good thing happened. Free curriculum, that due to its source, can be considered doctrinally safe and sound. What follows has nothing to do with the curriculum.

I am genuinely pleased that in our capitalistic culture, the time and effort was made to help student ministries the world over with meeting this need.

However, in reading the comments from the press release, “Youth curriculum debuts_ 6-year free resource”, by Michael Foust on Baptist Press (http://www.bpnews.net), I do have a concern that the stated goals will not be achieved – and it has nothing to do with the curriculum.

I know, appreciate, and applaud Richard Ross. As a student at Southwestern, I was privileged to have him lead a class when he was only an adjunct professor. He’s been around student ministry a little longer than I have.

I know him well enough to know that he would likely agree with at least some of what I share below.

In the press release, Ross is quoted as saying,

“Our broken culture, the millions of lost in the U.S, and the unreached people groups globally demand that we develop true disciples,” Ross told the Southern Baptist TEXAN, news journal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

“Yes, we need to offer biblical ministry to every teenager, regardless of spiritual condition or motivation,” Ross said.”But every church absolutely must offer a place where those select teenagers gather to truly become world-changing disciples. That is what we are missing today, and that is what we must begin to do — or all is lost.”

While everything Ross shared above is absolutely true, neither he nor I, have ever seen or used any curriculum that can accomplish this.

Candy Finch, one of the writers of the curriculum is quoted:

“While many churches are doing a great job of discipleship, the truth is that we are losing the majority of our young people,” Finch told the TEXAN.

I also agree with Finch’s statement, but we are not losing them due to the content and quality of our curriculum. We are losing them, in part, because we are depending on the curriculum to do what God has called us to do.

Churches that are doing a great job of Discipleship use their curriculum to support their discipleship efforts. Some may even strategically choose or write their own so that what happens in the classroom aligns with what is happening in life.

As a youth minister that was purpose driven before the book was written, I love Richard’s question,

“What is your plan for discipling your core teenagers for six years, from grades 7-12?” (And what about your adults?)

It would be best if your answer to this question was crafted to answer the question posed by Thom Rainer in Simple Church. In his discussion of the imaginary pastor of the imaginary Cross Church, this pastor’s dream was accomplished, in part, because he answered the question_ “What does a mature disciple look like?

If you answer this question, and then build a ministry strategy that is designed to accomplish what you imagine, including the scope and sequence of your Bible Study, you have the best opportunity to develop that which you seek.

While I am extremely confident that Ross agrees that this plan must not depend solely on curriculum, the unintended consequence of the offer of free curriculum that promises… to make “teenage disciples who are fully prepared to disciple others — now and for a lifetime.” will not achieve the intended result.

Unless…

There are a couple of scenarios where this promise can be met.

Scenario 1: Maturity is characterized by the ability to follow curriculum.

Because experiential learning is a powerful method, it is likely that many students involved in six years of this study will be able to lead others through this study. That is a good thing. It is a really good thing if your definition of a disciple is someone who can lead others through a discipleship curriculum. If this is your definition, then the promise will be met.

You see, as Southern Baptists (speaking for myself) we’re really good at offering Bible Studies and believing that this simple fact means that we are making disciples. Bible Study = Discipleship. However, the facts don’t bear this out.

We’ve known for decades that a large percentage of students leave the church upon graduation. Many never return. Some return with then have children of their own. All of these students have been in Bible Study. Bible Study that, by and large, was led using some vetted and approved curriculum.

However, we’re now seeing the same thing happen with adults. There is a large number of formerly churched people in the United States that no longer want to be involved in church. It is one of the fastest growing segments of our culture. These people have been in Bible Study for years. Most also in a bible study that utilized some piece of curriculum.

And yet we are still seeing our churches close at a rate around 4000 a year. The curriculum will not fix this.

Scenario 2: Maturity is Characterized by Making Disciples (and the curriculum may only part of the process)

Andy Stanley, in his book Deep & Wide, makes the point that classes don’t …” create mature believers. Classes create smart believers.”

Again, experiential learning is a powerful method.

Discipleship is not the process of teaching others what you know, or – often in the case of curriculum – teaching others what you studied so that you could teach this week’s lesson. Discipleship is transferring what you experientially know to others so that they may know it experientially.

I’ve looked through some of the lessons in Disciple 6. Great topics. Valuable information. Anyone who purposefully goes through this material will certainly be smarter.

But, how powerful would your disciple-making process be if your students actually saw you witness well to Muslims so that when you lead them through Session Yellow 23, you and they share the life experience? This disciple-making would align with your study.

Discipleship is transferring what you experientially know to others so that they may know it experientially.

Don’t know any Muslims? Then how about Yellow Session 4 – “Defending the Faith in Society”. If your students only see you passionate about Christ inside the walls of your church, if they have never seen you “defend the faith in society”, you have lost opportunity to engage in disciple-making, regardless of which curriculum you use. But, if you were to purposefully place yourself, and those students you disciple, in situations where you – and they – can defend their faith in Society, how much more powerful would your Bible study be?

Smarter. Mature. Pick one.

What does a mature disciple look like? Create experiences and opportunities (outside of the church) for those you disciple to give them the best chance at getting there. Create experiences and align your Bible Study with those experiences.

Studying ministry is not experiencing ministry. Studying evangelism is not doing evangelism. The same can be said for (Spoiler Alert_ Discple6 topics ahead) Relationships, Ethics, Missions, Service, Prayer, Leadership, Worship, Stewardship.

Richard, to you and all of the authors, I thank you for this great work. To all who would use it, use it well, but don’t depend on it.