Tackling the Urban Challenge

One of the last major frontiers of world mission is the city! The majority of the world’s population live in cities, and the proportion is increasing.

Cities are extremely complex, and need to be approached differently from relatively simple rural contexts.

David Broodryk and the Two Four Eight team have done a great job helping us put language to the challenges and complexities we’ve been hitting in urban environments over the last couple of decades.

In this post I want to dig into three terms we have found particularly helpful: affinity, champion, and catalyst.

What’s an Affinity?

“Affinity” is a helpful way to break down the complexity of cities.

A rural approach usually focuses on geography (“suburbs” or “estates”) or kinship lines (ethnicity, language groups). But that often breaks down in urban contexts where relationships don’t necessarily flow with geography or blood relations.

“Affinity” is the glue that brings people together in cities where they may not even know their neighbours, and may not connect closely with their families.

“Affinity” usually forms around shared interests, causes or brokenness. People connect and communicate with others they share affinity with. Affinity points us to the things a particular group hold in common, and potentially allows us to serve a larger group in a more focussed way.

What’s a Champion?

A “Champion” is someone with a God-given burden for an affinity group in their city or community.

They can see the struggles and brokenness of this affinity – they may have been or currently are a member of it – and want to be part of the solution. They are actively moving towards the brokenness and the lostness to be part of the solution.

Champions feel a responsibility to be part of healing the practical brokenness experienced by their affinity.

As a natural extension of this they also serve those who are spiritually hungry. They help hungry people discover and listen to God for themselves through the Bible, and support them in their spiritual growth in a way that empowers them to serve others in the same way. This is discipleship.

Champions are aware that the solution has to be way bigger than just themselves and they actively bring others in to contribute. They raise a flag for the affinity God has called them to and rally people to the cause. They build a team around God’s vision for the affinity.

Together the team seeks God for His plans, intercedes for the affinity, serves brokenness and spiritual hunger, helping people of peace lead those around them into discovering and responding to God.

What’s a Catalyst?

A “catalyst” is a champion who is carrying a God-given burden for a more complex environment – it could be a city, or a sector of the economy or a region.

To work towards the vision God has given them, a catalyst needs to find the Champions God is raising up in their harvest field and do whatever they can to serve and empower them.

Why is this important?

“Affinity”, “Champion” and “Catalyst” are helpful in at least two ways.

Firstly, they give us a way to break the complexity of a city down into manageable ‘pieces’ as we consider God’s desire and end vision for our cities.

Secondly, they give disciple-makers language to help them express what God has put on their hearts. In a sense, it provides a vocabulary for the apostolic – those whom God is calling or sending to various groups within a city – and clearly defined roles that help them start (or continue) moving towards what is on their hearts.

The terms are not found in Scripture, and they are not intended to restrict or limit how God may lead, but many people have found them helpful in giving some shape and direction to what they sense God stirring in their hearts.

What about you?

What resonates for you? Do you identify with the champion or catalyst role?

What affinities are you a member of? Has God given you a burden for any particular affinity in your city?

How is your posture?

God’s vision for Creation is BIG. Complete restoration. People from every tribe, tongue and people restored to healthy, functioning relationship with Him (Rev 5:6-10). The knowledge of His glory covering the earth like waters the seas (Hab 2:14).

But when we look at our families, our neighbourhoods, our cities, we see a big gap between our current reality and His end vision. Where’s the issue?

Well, we can be sure that the Lord of the harvest is not the problem – He is always working, sovereignly and very deliberately creating opportunities for people to move towards Him (Acts 17:26-27).

We can also be sure that there is a plentiful harvest – brokenness and a longing for things to be different is everywhere. Often accompanied by spiritual hunger, too.

If there is a breakdown anywhere, it is with the harvest workers – the disciples of Jesus who are invited to join the Father in His work. In coming blogs I’d like to suggest three corrective postures, each embodied by Jesus, which are critical to His people fully playing the part that He has for us in His unfolding plan.

The first is a posture of sonship.

A posture of sonship

If there was only one posture, this would be it. The theme of sonship runs throughout Scripture. The Father does NOT want slaves or servants, He desires children – sons and daughters.

This is clear when we look at Genesis 1 and see how He set things up in the beginning. Adam and Eve were both made in God’s image, and shared in the mandate to exercise His delegated authority over Creation (Gen 1:26-28). Genesis 2-3 give a picture of intimacy – where communication was free

We see it in His relationship with Adam and Eve, His relationship with Abraham, with David and, most perfectly, His relationship with Jesus. Jesus lived out of the place of sonship more fully than anyone since Genesis 3. He addressed the Father with intimacy (eg Mt 11:25-27), He lived His life in constant awareness of the Father’s presence and responsiveness to the Father’s leading (eg Jn 5:19-20), and He completely trusted and surrendered Himself to the Father’s will (Mk 14:35-36).

Jesus then passed this on and discipled His followers towards the same kind of relationship. He came to a group of people who largely considered themselves “sons of God” as descendants of Abraham observing Moses’ Law.

However, in His proclamation of the Good News (Mk 1:14-15), Jesus was inviting people to receive the Kingdom and step into true and active sonship as His disciples – would listen to God through His Messiah, trust His character and intentions and respond in surrendered obedience. Jesus’ priority during His earthly ministry was the people of Israel, but His invitation clearly applied equally to male and female, Gentile and Jew – there was no distinction (Gal 3:26-29).

Jesus’ example, and the way He trained His followers, make it clear that sonship is not just an abstract theological concept. It is an experienced reality that cannot be separated from practical discipleship – we (male and female!) are invited into a living and growing relationship with the Father-King (Mk 1:14-15, Jn 1:12-13). For the first disciples, saying “Yes” was a personal response to the bodily present Jesus. From Pentecost onwards (and for us), it’s a personal response to His living Word and His Holy Spirit. 

Sonship and discipleship are inseparable. It is neither a passive relationship where we watch Him work, nor a slavery relationship where He watches us work.

Sonship and discipleship are inseparable. It is neither a passive relationship where we watch Him work, nor a slavery relationship where He watches us work. Rather, it is an invitation to step into a dynamic, interactive relationship between Father and child. He is constantly working to restore shalom to all things under His loving reign and rule (Jn 5:17, 1 Cor 15:24-28). He invites us to join Him from a position of honour as trusted children (Jn 15:9-17, Col 1:26-27) – to humbly learn & receive from Him and surrender our ambitions & agendas to His as He works to restore His Kingdom in our inner worlds, in the world immediately around us, and in Creation as a whole.

In many contemporary Christian contexts, “discipleship” has been reduced to a process of accumulating intellectual knowledge and/or increasing Christian activity. However, both ‘discipleship’ and ‘sonship’ need to be understood as a dynamic, lifelong, Spirit-led process of integrating our lives with God’s, and joining Him in His work in both our inner and outer worlds.

A posture of sonship keeps us humble, frees us to be transparent and honest about our struggles, and keeps us pressing in to Him for deepening relationship and fellowship regarding what HE wants to do in our lives, and in the spaces and relationships where He has placed us.

In my next blog I aim to look at a second posture that is critical both to embracing our identity as ‘sons’ and disciples, and in seeing greater progress towards God’s vision for our cities and nations.

What is a Disciple-Making Movement?

There is increasing awareness within the Body of Christ of “Disciple-Making Movements” (DMM) or “God movements”. This approach to frontier mission has resulted in an enormous number of disciples and church emerging in contexts that have traditionally been resistant to Christianity, particularly in rural communities. Increasingly “DMM” is not just taking place in frontier mission, but it is being attempted in the global west.

There is a significant amount of confusion as to what a disciple-making movement really is.

However, there is a significant amount of confusion as to what a DMM really is. The label has been used to describe some significantly different practices and underlying values.

The label is most accurately used to describe patterns of discipleship that are visible in Scripture, but which can be flexibly applied in any cultural setting.

The danger in a discussion like this is that we zoom into methods and lose sight of the bigger picture of God’s ultimate vision and purpose, so we need to start there.

The Context: God’s Vision & Purpose

It’s easy to evaluate things from where we stand – our experience, our culture, our preferences, our traditions. None of these things are bad, but they skew our perspective. We need to repeatedly step back and put our Father at the centre of our perspective.

We need to evaluate ourselves, our activity and our wineskins in light of His overarching purposes, and the role He has called each of us to play. One King, one Lord, one vision. Many children, many roles, many contexts.

The Bible shows us repeatedly that God’s intention is to bring every element of Creation back into peace with Himself and harmony with each other. 

For people, He invites them to embrace His loving authority in their personal kingdoms, and step back into a place of privileged service as His children and co-workers. As first-born among many brothers and sisters, Jesus provides the gold standard for living as sons and daughters – thus we become His disciples, or students.

In the west, many rich traditions and practices have emerged as centuries of disciples worked out how to walk with God in their contexts. We should thank God for the wineskins He has used and is using amongst Christians. 

The vast majority on our planet have rejected these wineskins.

At the same time, as we consider the vast majority on our planet who have rejected these wineskins, we must shift our focus back to God’s original vision for the restoration of His Kingdom – the wine – and wrestle with how to work more effectively towards His goals amongst other groups of people.


DMM is one wineskin that has emerged out of that wrestle. A ‘disciple-making movement’ and ‘God Movement’ refer to the same thing – a movement towards God, that spreads relationally and virally through a relational group or population.

What does that look like exactly? Let’s break down the different terms.


In the Gospels, Jesus offers us a powerful pattern of intentional disciple-making – inviting people to step into God’s Kingdom by drawing near to Him, trusting Him and obeying Him.

At Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out so that every single disciple of Jesus could have immediate and intimate access to the Father. As the disciples continued to listen, trust and obey – now by the Holy Spirit – God built His Kingdom in and with them. 

Listening and obeying resulted in BOTH personal growth and transformation AND active partnering with the Father in His plans for the brokenness and lostness around them. In the pages of the New Testament we see them walking out and passing on the pattern that Jesus gave them.

This pattern of stepping into God’s Kingdom and a new life of listening, trusting, and obeying continues to hold true as the core of being a disciple.

When we talk about ‘disciple-making’, then, we are referring to the process of empowering people to listen to God through His Word and by His Spirit, respond in trusting obedience, and help others do the same.


In the context of disciple-making, one commonly held technical definition of a movement is where 100 committed groups of disciples (churches) have formed, replicating to at least four generations.

In some cases the definition includes a timeframe, ie 100 churches within the preceding three years. This appears to be realistic in many rural settings, but less so in cities and urban areas.

Bringing “Disciple-Making” and “Movement” Together

A disciple-making movement occurs when new communities begin listening to God together and choosing to trust His love and authority. This new relationship with God results in personal and social transformation. This transformation, in turn, blesses others and causes the greatness of the King and the goodness of His Kingdom to be ‘gossiped’ increasingly throughout connected relational networks. This results in more people drawing near to Him to discover Him for themselves, and so the process repeats, and so movement takes place.

Disciple-making movements cannot be engineered by clever marketing or sales techniques. Human strategy and effort are not enough to cause this to happen. Only the Lord of the Harvest can bring this about.

What part do we play in a disciple-making movement?

Our role is simply to be disciples – to surrender to the Father’s loving authority and to move with Him as He leads us towards the brokenness and lostness around us. 

As we bring healing and peace to the brokenness, we can serve the spiritual hunger God connects us with. We serve the spiritual hunger by helping members of these communities create opportunities to listen to God and discover Him for themselves, with the people they are close to.

You may have a specific community or group of people that God has placed on your heart but you’re unsure how to move forward.

You may have been wondering how to help people encounter Jesus when they aren’t interested in attending church services or Christian programs.

Disciple-making movements are a wineskin that can help you unlock greater fruitfulness in your corner of the harvest field – whether that’s a family, a community group or a city.

If you would like to find out more, there are some excellent resources out there. For reading material, my previous post will give you some excellent starting points.

If you want to interact with real people, you could consider connecting with Praxeis – an international network of DMM practitioners who can help connect you with resources and training opportunities close to where you are.

Recommended DMM Reading for Movements

I’m often asked about good books for those wanting to see Kingdom movements or disciple-making movements (DMM).

Photo by Oziel Gu00f3mez on Pexels.com

Here are some excellent places to start:

1. The Bible. If you only choose one book, this is the one!
Read and ask:
– What is God’s ultimate vision? What is He working towards?
– How did Jesus, Paul and others make disciples?
– How did Jesus, Paul and others lead?

2. Contagious Disciple-Making by David Watson & Paul Watson. Principles, fundamentals and first steps in DMM for a North American audience. Stretching read. The authors don’t pull any punches as they challenge God’s people to operate differently for the sake of the harvest. This book is not for the faint-hearted!https://www.bookdepository.com/Contagious-Disciple-Making-David-Watson/9780529112200?ref=pd_detail_1_sims_b_p2p_11

3. The Kingdom Unleashed by Jerry Trousdale and Glenn Sunshine. A call to re-examine what we do as Christians in light of Scripture and what God is doing amongst UPGs over the last 50 years. Highlights some blockages to the growth of God’s Kingdom and ways we can better align.https://www.amazon.com/Kingdom-Unleashed-1st-Century-Transforming-Thousands/dp/1732239908/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1584939766&sr=8-1

4. From Megachurch to Multiplication by Chris Galanos. A megachurch pastor’s journey towards DMM with his congregation. Includes both DMM practitioner and church leadership perspectives.https://www.amazon.com/Megachurch-Multiplication-Churchs-Journey-Movement/dp/173286960X/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1584939823&sr=8-

5. Miraculous Movements by Jerry Trousdale. Stories and principles from DMMs in Sub-Saharan Africa https://www.bookdepository.com/Miraculous-Movements-Jerry-Trousdale/9781418547288?ref=grid-view&qid=1584929787468&sr=1-1

6.  If You Can Eat You Can Make Disciplesby Peter Roennfeldt. Very practical guide to interacting comfortably about spiritual things with those around us. Practical examples drawn from the author’s personal experience and Scripture.  https://www.bookdepository.com/If-You-Can-Eat-You-Can-Make-Disciples-Peter-Roennfeldt/9781925044829?ref=grid-view&qid=1584930138058&sr=1-4

7. Spent Matchesby Roy Moran. A large church pastor’s journey towards DMM and a hybrid model for his congregation. https://www.bookdepository.com/Spent-Matches-Roy-Moran/9780718030629?ref=pd_detail_1_sims_b_p2p_1

8. Bhojpuri Breakthroughby Victor John. The story of one of the earliest modern DMMs in Northern India, from the 1990’s til present.https://www.amazon.com/Bhojpuri-Breakthrough-Movement-Keeps-Multiplying/dp/1939124204/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1584939851&sr=8-1

4 Common DBS Challenges and how to overcome them

The purpose of Discovery Bible Study (DBS) is to disciple a group of people through cultivating mutual support and dependence on God’s voice and the authority of His Word, so they can align their lives with His. DBS can be a powerful discipleship process for both Christians and non-Christians.

DBS can be a powerful discipleship process for both Christians and non-Christians.

As our team has coached and facilitated discovery groups, we have observed several common obstacles faced by Christian facilitators. These obstacles arise due to important differences between DBS and the type of Bible studies most of us are familiar with. If we can avoid these things when facilitating DBS we unlock some powerful dynamics as we help people grow in relationship with God and walk with Him in discipleship. 

Here are four common challenges faced by Christian facilitators and advice for navigating them:

1. Bringing “other voices” into the DBS 

The goal of DBS is to help people hear what God is saying in a particular passage and, over time, Scripture as a whole. Christian participants will often bring other voices into the conversation – commentaries, historical and archaeological information, their pastor’s recent sermon, etc. 

These other voices may not be ‘bad’ or wrong, but they do not carry the same authority and they can distract from what God is saying in the passage at hand. The goal of discipleship is to help people recognise and depend primarily on God’s voice, and in DBS our purpose is to help people hear Him.

Two things can help the facilitator here. Firstly, before starting the passage, it can help to remind the group that our purpose is to hear what God is saying to us through this passage, and to learn how to reliably hear Him through His Word. Secondly, if group members stray from the passage at hand ask the question, “Which verse are you looking at when you say that?” As time goes on, the group will automatically start asking each other this question, leading to a greater group accountability to the Word.

2. Answering questions

As we have said, the purpose of DBS is to cultivate a dependence on God’s voice and the authority of His Word. Often, groups will look to ‘the expert’ (ie the facilitator) to answer their questions, but God wants us to come first to Him. We love sharing our hard-earned knowledge, but when we do this we are pointing people to ourselves as the source of knowledge rather than the Bible.

When we answer peoples’ questions we are pointing them to ourselves instead of the Bible.

As we facilitate DBS, questions about the Bible text will arise. We can help the group develop confidence in the Bible’s sufficiency and authority by pointing them there first. When a question arises, the facilitator can respond with a question, “If all you had was this story how would you answer that question?” 

You can also put that question to the broader group – in many cases the answer will be there. Sometimes it’s not, and it’s ok to acknowledge that a particular passage does not provide a definitive answer to a question – God is not necessarily seeking to answer every question we have. If this is the case, put the question aside (temporarily) and focus on what God is wanting to say to us right now through this passage.

If the question still seems important to the group once the DBS has finished, here’s a great 2-step process which continues to cultivate dependence on the Word:

1) Brainstorm a list of Scripture passages that relate to the question. 

2) Ask the group to read through these passages and then plan to discuss their learnings together at a mutually convenient time. 

A DBS facilitator might be able to give a good answer (ie give someone a fish to eat) but walking through this process trains people for lifelong growth in relationship with God and building a reliable and Word-centred theology (ie teaches people how to fish for themselves).

3. Managing Time

In many contexts the facilitator has a limited time to run the DBS. Amongst Christians we have observed a tendency for the first part of the DBS (ie What are you thankful for? What’s been difficult? etc) to take a big chunk of the time, which then forces the facilitator to rush through the remaining two-thirds.

Each DBS question contributes an important Biblical element to the discipleship process and it’s critically important that the group is able to adequately engage each one together.

To avoid this problem, consider framing the “Look Back” section clearly at the beginning and specify that the personal sharing be concise, perhaps 1-2 minutes per person (assuming 90 minute DBS session). You could also consider involving the group in ‘enforcing’ the time limit, especially if relationships are good in the group. Other solutions include the group sharing answers to those questions prior to meeting together (eg through messaging platforms) so they can focus on the “Look Up” and “Look Ahead” when they meet together.

4. Fuzzy Answers to Application Questions

Listening to God is good, but not enough – we must take action in response! As we respond to what God is saying to us, intimacy with Him deepens, we grow spiritually and transformation takes place in and through our lives. “How will we apply this to our lives?” and “Who needs to hear this story/what I’m learning?” are crucial questions in this process.

Fuzzy answers to these questions make it harder for us to be obedient to what God is saying, and harder for the group to support each other in their spiritual growth. Failing to identify people to share the story makes it harder and less likely for others to be exposed to God’s Word and the things He is teaching us. 

Fuzzy answers hold back spiritual growth

As facilitators there are two easy ways to help the group get more concrete:

1) If someone identifies a fuzzy application step (eg “I will be more loving”), ask them if there is a specific context or relationship where they find that particularly challenging. What practical action can they take to be more loving in that specific situation or relationship?

2) If someone has trouble thinking of a person to share with, it may help to spend time praying as a group for ‘harvest people’ around us. The “people map” prayer tool can be helpful here.

Best learning practice – Debrief!

I hope this post has been helpful in exploring some of the common challenges in facilitating Discovery Bible Study. DBS itself is deceptively simple – facilitating well is an ongoing journey. Many people have found that learning process enhanced and accelerated through coaching and debriefing with somebody else who is familiar with the discovery process and underlying values.

If that sounds helpful then please feel free to make contact and I can connect you with someone who can support you in doing what God has called you to do.

All the best!

God’s Story

* The “Creation to Christ” Bible story set can be downloaded on the link below.

It’s so easy for us to lose sight of the big picture. We are surrounded by needs that call for our attention and resources. We are aware of our personal strengths (and weaknesses) and the limits of our energy, time and ability.

We receive a never-ending flow of calls to action from people with a vision, a ministry or a cause that they believe demands our attention and involvement.

In the midst of all this noise, shouldn’t we take the time to check in with the Creator of the universe on His agenda?

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

What is God doing? What is His story? Who is He, actually? Who are we and what role do we play in what God is doing? How can we partner with Him?

The Bible’s answers to these questions can powerfully change the way we order our lives and the priorities we choose.

BUT the Bible is a huge collection of literature – there is a lot to process. Getting familiar with the entire Bible takes time and can appear overwhelming.

As an easy first step for anybody – regardless of religious or cultural background – let me recommend “Creation to Christ”, a list of stories compiled by David Watson that track the broad story of Scripture, revealing God’s character and story, and where people fit in the story (see below for PDF file).

This is particularly powerful done in conjunction with a group Discovery Bible Study (DBS) (let me know if you’d like support in running a DBS).

I’d love to hear the insights that come as you do this!

A Discovery Continuum versus DBS

We all want effective tools, and Discovery Bible Study (DBS) is a fantastic tool for helping groups of people discover and listen to God, and grow deeper in their relationship with Him and each other.

Sometimes the tool can become the focus to the point where it distracts from the purpose it is intended to serve. As we coach people who are wanting to engage the harvest in ways that can lead to Kingdom movements, we sometimes see this dynamic in relation to DBS.

It is important to remember that the goal of discovery is to help people discover and listen to God.

We can facilitate discovery in a number of different ways. DBS is one of those ways, but it can be helpful to think in terms of a “discovery continuum”. We choose an approach depending on what is appropriate to the situation and the people we are interacting with.

Here are some examples:

Our Personal ‘Shema’ statements – as disciples ourselves, the ongoing process of discovering and listening to God and responding to what He says should be central to our lives. As we listen and obey, we build a growing list of Bible stories/passages that have impacted us, and changes that God has brought about in our lives. It is natural to be transparent with our spirituality and share these things in our relationships with other people – not with an agenda, but as part of who we are in our relationships with them.

Verbal Discovery – as we interact with others, it may be natural to share a story from the Bible. This could either be a story that has personally impacted us, or which we are currently thinking about. Alternatively it could be a story that we know intersects with the concerns, convictions or felt needs of the person/people we are talking to. After sharing the story we can ask, “What do you think about that story?” This gives them a chance to interact with what God without formality. It also gives us a chance to see how God might be at work in their lives by the way they respond and whether they subsequently talk about the story with others in their lives (e.g. by asking, “What would your friends/family think about it?”).

‘Taster’ DBS Set – if a harvest group or individual has a specific area of concern or interest and they are open to the Bible, we could offer to help them explore what the Bible says about the topic. A short DBS series of 4-6 stories can give them a taste in an area they are interested in. A short commitment may also make it easier for them to pull an initial group together. Depending how things unfold, this group may then naturally transition to a longer look at the broader story of God.

Comprehensive DBS Set – when a harvest group or individual are keen to explore the story of God and/or the message of the Bible and/or discover who God is for themselves, a longer set which walks them through the full story of God can serve them. The exact stories in this set can be tailored according to their worldview and culture. The “Creation to Christ” set pioneered by David Watson can be helpful for a number of cultural contexts.

Discovery is a powerful process that should serve us as we seek to cooperate with God and serve the person who is exploring or seeking Him.

Ultimately, we hope to see groups of people drawing together intentionally from God’s Word, but it quite likely won’t start there. It’s important that the context and the people we are serving determine our approach, rather than a pre-commitment to a specific method.

The Kingdom is like what?

by Scott Crawley 

Jesus’ primary message was the Gospel: ‘The time has come and God’s Kingdom is here!’ (Mark 1:14-15).

His audience – mainly Jews who knew the Old Testament back-to-front – must not have been clear exactly what He meant, because He spent a lot of time explaining what God’s Kingdom was like, including, “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough” (Matthew 13:33).

A wise man once said, “Really good prayer is what we all knead!”

Among other things, this suggests that God’s Kingdom is not limited to a particular time, or place, group, organisation, or institution. It’s something that spreads at a very micro level and transforms everything it touches, until everything is changed.

What does that look like in our individual lives? What does it look like in our families? Our neighbourhoods? Our nations?

Impossible questions to answer exactly, because each one is so different and has its own unique characteristics and stage of development. However, God not only knows – He is actively working towards it and inviting us to participate.

Our part is to press in with prayer so we can better partner with Him.

How to start? Below is a creative and simple tool that was shared with me by Phil Alessi (Who is Phil Alessi?) – consider trying it out. Even better with your family or a small group of like-minded friends.

Prayer Resource: “Praying for 5s

The Importance of Scripture in Belief & Discipleship

The Bereans were solid (Acts 17:11). They didn’t rely on their past personal convictions, or the understanding of their previous teachers, or the understanding of Paul. They listened to what Paul was saying and then measured it against what they saw in the Bible.

They discovered what Scripture said for themselves in their community context and had stronger conviction as a result. Paul gives no indication of being threatened by that – the authority for his message came from the Scriptures and he the other apostles had gone through the same process in forming their convictions about God’s story and where Jesus fit into it (eg Lk 24:25-27, Lk 24:44-49, Jn 2:22, Acts 17:2, 18:28).

If we share the Berean conviction that the Word is the ultimately reliable source of our knowledge about who God is and how to relate to Him, then we will always be searching, learning and growing – there is always more of God to know, and He is always drawing us deeper into relationship and ‘partnership’ with Him.

We can learn a lot from each others’ different perspectives and experiences, but the Word is our common and objective plumbline. Though there are other ways He communicates and reveals Himself (eg Romans 1:20, 1 Corinthians 11:4-11), the Bible is how God has chosen to objectively make Himself and His story known to the world.

If we are serious about empowering others (& ourselves!) to discover and know God we need to measure everything else against what He has and is saying through the Bible.Jesus’ comments in Jn 6:44-45 are consistent with the emphasis across the narrative of Scripture – God wants us to know Him, listen to Him and interact with Him.

When we (people) teach, no matter how gifted we are we will always have our own limitations and our own personal set of filters. These can reveal God to our audience in unique ways, and also obscure Him to our audience in unique ways.

Yes, God uses human teaching to speak to us – we’ve all experienced that, even if He uses the preacher to say something to us that has nothing to do with the actual sermon. But when God teaches directly it’s even more powerful. When God writes something on our hearts, it’s always tailored perfectly to our situation and we never forget it.

If we help people start their journey with the Word (and in community rather than as isolated individuals), they can build an objectively reliable picture of who He is, what He is like, what He is inviting them into, and where they fit into His overarching story. This better equips them to recognise and respond to the Spirit when He speaks and leads independently of Scripture, and helps them better discern what is God’s voice, what is a human voice and what is Satan’s voice.

This also reduces the likelihood of static or filters from a human teacher, because God tailors what He says directly to the group and their context without a different culture getting in the way. God knows us and our context perfectly, and speaks directly to both those things. He will never tell a group that they need to wear collars or long trousers to worship Him together.

Please hear me clearly – I am affirming two things:
1) Is there a place for human teaching in the discipleship journey? Absolutely!
2) Should Word and Spirit be the foundation of our discipleship journey? Absolutely!

The most empowering and reliable, replicable skill for life-long spiritual growth is learning who God is, and how to hear Him speak to them through His Word. Look at how the Bereans responded to Paul. Look how Paul discipled others. Even Jesus instructed His disciples post-resurrection based on the authority of Scripture rather than His own authority as the Risen Messiah (Lk 24:44-45). The Bereans got it.

If we’re serious about the great commission, we simply must help people do this.

“Evangelism” or “telling God’s story”?

I think we need to revisit the way we talk about God and His story.

brown book page

For various historical and cultural reasons we (people within Christian culture) tend to use legal language to describe Biblical realities.

Legal language is certainly used in Scripture, but I would like to suggest that the foundational framework for understanding God, ourselves and Creation is relational rather than legal (if you would like me to lay out a case for this from Scripture, leave a note in the comments).

The way we understand and tell God’s story shapes what we say ‘yes’ to, which in turn has a huge impact on the direction and shape of our lives and discipleship journey.

Jesus’ Gospel had completely continuity from evangelism and discipleship. So did Paul’s;

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”
– Colossians 2:6–7 (ESV)

The Gospel we hear proclaimed often doesn’t have obvious continuity between ‘acceptance’ and ‘the rest of my life’.

The should be a challenge and an invitation that never stops challenging and inviting both those listening and those proclaiming. We are making fresh responses to the Gospel continually as we move through each day.

There’s a lot I could write about that (and probably will) but for now I’ll just the say that I think the word “evangelism” is better understood “telling God’s story” – and His story always comes with an invitation to step back intorelationship with Him through trusting obedience. Similarly, I think “discipleship” should be understood in terms of “learning to trust God as a person and align ourselves with His loving reign and rule”.

An Attempt To Tell The Story

A couple of years ago I tried to summarise God’s story in a few minutes using relational language rather than legal or religious language (along with a well-known diagram).

Personally, I’m not comfortable going around looking for people to ‘do’ this with. However, it is a tool I can draw on whenever it is appropriate and will serve the other person, and it is a framework that continues to shape and challenge my own discipleship walk.

I have several goals in telling the story this way:

– be faithful to what the Bible is communicating
– use relational imagery/language rather than religious or legal imagery/language
– tell the story rather than trying to convince (God’s job – Jn 6:44-45)
– give the hearer complete clarity as to what God’s is inviting them to through this story – they have a clear picture of what saying “yes” means for the rest of their life
– give God’s basic invitation without watering anything down, and yet being accessible to as many worldviews as possible

How do you think I did?

How would your non-Jesus-following friends react?

How would you tell the story?