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.

“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?

Voices in our heads

1 Corinthians 4:1-7 speaks powerfully to a foundational element of the Gospel. It has come up in four different conversations in the last 10 days, so I’m going to write about it.

Voices are a big deal. Our lives are dominated by many, many voices, internal and external, competing for our attention and often in conflict with each other.

Voices and God’s Story

I want to suggest that the story God is telling through the Bible makes sense in terms of competing voices, and that this offers a compelling framework for understanding salvation, evangelism and discipleship.

The good news proclaimed by Jesus is essentially an invitation to embrace the authority of The One Voice over all others;

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God,and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” – Mark 1:14–15 (ESV)

The reference to God’s Kingdom (among other things) points back to the only previous time when God’s reign and rule was complete and unopposed in Genesis 1-2.

This was broken in Genesis 3 when His voice was ignored and His authority rejected in favour of other voices (the serpent and personal desire). Humans chose to reject God’s voice and trust and obey others instead.

When God is rejected as loving Father and King, relationship with Him is not possible – this is who He is.

Separation from the source of life means death. Separation from the source of righteousness means sin. Separation from the One through whom all Creation exists and is held together means dysfunction and corruption in human relationships with God, with each other and with creation. All these things are direct consequences of the broken relationship with God.

God’s solution is to bring Creation back into the alignment with His reign and rule that we see in Genesis 1-2. He does not do this by brute force, but by invitation.

macro photography of babys ear

Jesus’ Gospel proclamation is a decisive moment in history as God engineers a reversal of Genesis 3. Jesus is inviting us to step into God’s cosmic restoration project as He works both *sovereignly* AND *collaboratively* to heal the brokenness of Creation.

He invites us to (re-)align our individual spheres of authority under His – to step back into the relationship of trusting obedience which characterised Adam and Eve in Gen 1-2, and Jesus, and everybody in Scripture who was said to have please Him. Thanks to Jesus death and resurrection, this kind of relationship is now actually possible – sealed, guaranteed and enabled by the giving of the Holy Spirit.

Voices, Evangelism & Discipleship

Within that framework, I’d like to suggest that evangelism – understood biblically rather than culturally – is simply the invitation to listen and yield to the voice (and authority) of the King over and above all other voices (and authorities).

Discipleship is the process of working that out more and more comprehensively in our lives. A never-ending process as we align ourselves with His voice and reign and progressively bring the other voices into submission to His – our physical desires, emotions, thoughts, important people in our lives, mass marketing and media, tradition and culture. Not that we stop listening to these voices, but we deny them automatic authority over us and test what they are saying against Word and Spirit whenever they try to exert authority over our lives.

Which brings us back to 1 Corinthians 4.

Discerning Voices: Discipleship 101

Paul lets us into his head as he identifies and debunks the different voices which are demanding his attention and trust in the particular situation he is responding to.

Paul is responding to divisions amongst the disciples in Corinth who are identifying themselves with different apostolic leaders (criticism of Paul is strongly implied). He doesn’t pay attention to what they say or their evaluation of him – he doesn’t rate their ability to make an accurate judgment. Neither does he trust his own evaluation of himself – his conscience and assessment are unreliable indicators. The only evaluation He trusts is God’s.

The great thing is that we don’t have to wait until ‘that day’ to hear God’s opinion/judgment – He speaks now.

Jesus made it clear that hearing and responding to God’s voice was the foundation of salvation and a restored relationship with the Father (John 6:43-45), and expected His sheep to recognise and respond to His voice (John 10:1-16).

He speaks through His Word and He speaks by His Spirit, given post-ascension as a seal and guarantee of God’s promise that we are His (Ephesians 1:11-14) to teach us, to remind us of everything Jesus said (John 14:25), to convict concerning sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:7-11), and to guide us into all truth (John 16:13).

We now have sure access to a ‘new’ voice, bringing us full circle back to the possibility go growing into that Genesis 1-2 relationship.

Romans 8 and Galatians 5 both speak to the contrast between being led by the Spirit and being led by the flesh. In both cases “Sonship” – restoration to special relationship with the Father in His family – is linked with the shift to being led by the Spirit (Romans 8:14 onwards & Galatians 3:23 onwards).

Within the context of God’s broader cosmic agenda of restoring Creation to His rule and reign, the end goal for the individual “son” is ‘being conformed to the image of [God’s] Son’ (Rom 8:29) – a process.

However, this is neither smooth nor inevitable. Hebrews 5:11-14 implies that there is a process of trial and error as we learn to discern His voice to us through Word and Spirit, and the context suggests that the original readers were actually slipping backwards.

Romans 12:1-2 describes a process of surrendering ourselves fully to Him, experiencing transformation as we die to the other voices that make claims on us (‘the patterns of this world’). This results in an increased ability to discern and respond to His will, and deepened alignment with His reign and rule – discipleship!

Our Response to the Voice Buffet

20181018 Voice Menu#3

Each one of these voices (see the menu above) has a particular agenda and perspective.

Only one of these ‘voices’ is 100% reliable. Only God has shown Himself to have genuine integrity, honesty and other-centredness. To be both righteous and merciful, holy and gracious, fair and impartial.

All the other voices are unreliable, at best. All of them will inevitably have mixed motives, imperfect character and limited perspective and knowledge because of their source. Many of them are good to listen to, but none of them should take a place of authority over the Father.

Whatever voice speaks into our situation in any given moment, it’s critical that we take the thought captive, pause and ask the Father what He wants to say. At heart, evangelism is an invitation to do just that.

In the longer term we need to dedicate time to listening to the Father and getting to know Him better so we can recognise and respond to Him when He speaks, and discern voices that don’t belong to Him. At heart, discipleship is just that.

Whatever else we do in evangelism and discipleship, it must involve empowering people to hear God’s voice and respond to what He says.