Thinking Biblically: Dialing Up Mature Disciples

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

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

What does it mean to Think Biblically?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If they can engage in meaningful conversations like this…

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

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


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

Yes, but…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

… if all of my discipleship efforts are encompassed by

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

Cooks and Chefs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maturing Disciples: Examples from Scripture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pick a Parable

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

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

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

The Bereans (Acts 17:1-12)

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

Missionary Paul (Acts 9)

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dialing Up Mature Disciples

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

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

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

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

iDiscover can help. Reach out to to discover how.

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

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 for decades has emphasized these passive disciplines as self-contained behaviors? 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.

See Dialing Up Mature Disciples.

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: 

  • he had drawn an incorrect conclusion
  • 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 (and others) 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 might be helpful. Hint: Bloom’s Taxonmy.)

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.


  • Go (so that you can) …
  • Make Disciples (so that you can) …
  • Teach (train) them everything Jesus commanded (so that they will)…
  • Go (so that they can) …
  • Make Disciples (so that they can) …
  • 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

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.