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.