Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Getting a Hand on Discipleship

Getting A Hand On Discipleship

By Kevin Finkenbinder, kwfinken@gmail.com

Discipleship is one of those “Christian words” that no one seems able to define.  We know discipleship is important because Jesus said we are to “make disciples” (Matthew 28:18-20), but what is a disciple?  The Greek word μαθητης (mathetes) means learner or pupil.

In the 1st century context, a disciple would imitate their teacher in every way possible.  Of course their teacher also learned by imitating someone else.  This is why Paul could tell the Corinthians, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).  This was not prideful of Paul, this was the way that people learned.

Image by Echoesofstars as posted at
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Today discipleship has come to mean studies and classes.  When most people hear discipleship they think of classes that are too technical or boring to have in a “normal” Sunday School class.  Discipleship classes are for those brainiacs that want to become church leaders or preachers.

The best forms of discipleship still occur when a learner gets to imitate a teacher.  Instead of discipleship, modern terminology tends to call this mentoring.  As a pastor, Sunday School leader, parent or even a friend, you can and should find people to mentor as disciples (AND people to mentor you as a disciple), but how do you help the people who are in your classes and congregation to become disciples when you can’t possibly have the time to mentor them all?  While these principles apply to groups, they also apply to individuals.

The Disciple’s Hand

I was first introduced to this concept in the mid-1990s.  At that time it was attributed to Max Barnett.  Since that time I have seen it referenced many times by many people.  As you learn about the Disciple’s Hand, it will help you to remember these points if you have a Bible that you can hold in your hand.

Pinky Finger – Listen

Most people begin the discipleship process by hearing the Bible.  This could be what is shared by a friend, the lesson in Sunday School or a fantastic sermon.  Whatever the circumstance, they hear the Word and it inspires faith (Romans 10:14,17).

The problem is, we forget most of what we hear.  Think back to the last class, sermon or seminar you attended.  What were the main points?  You don’t remember?  Most people don’t.  Most people don’t even remember the points of a sermon as they walk out of the church.

Now is where that Bible comes in handy.  Try to hold the Bible using only your pinky finger (DON’T use your thumb or other fingers).  How hard is it to hold?  How hard would it be for someone to steal it out of your hand?

Ring Finger – Read

Listening is not enough, but we can improve our memory of the Bible if we read it.  In Deuteronomy, God tells the people how a king is to remember God’s word.  It says, “…he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God…” (Deuteronomy 17:19).  If this is an effective method for a king, it should be effective for us as well.  You have probably heard the saying “Readers are Leaders.”  In most cases the reading comes first and is followed by being a leader.

You will remember more if you read something than if you only hear it.  Why?  Reading takes effort.  Something you do purposely is better retained than something done passively.

Again, return to your Bible.  This time, try to hold it with both your pinky finger and your ring finger.  You still don’t have a strong grip, but it is much easier than holding it with only your pinky.  In the same way, when we hear and read God’s word, it stays with us better than hearing alone.

Middle Finger – Study

In school, most of us never really learned how to study.  We read the book, thinking that is studying, but reading alone is not studying.  The difference between reading and studying is a pen.  Write down a question and then when you find the answer write the answer next to the question.  The questions don’t need to be deep academic questions, they only need to be things you want to know.  For instance, if you were reading Deuteronomy 17:19 above, you may have asked yourself, “who is ‘he’?” or “what is ‘it’?”  Studying involves interacting with the knowledge by asking questions, looking for answers and finding connections.

Just as you remember things you read longer than things you hear, you remember things you study more than things you read.  The reason?  You have put in more effort.

I bet you know what I am going to ask you to do now.  Hold that Bible with the pinky, ring and middle fingers.  At this point, you can probably hold it fairly well, but ask a friend to pull it out of your hand and they will easily do so.  You are learning scripture, but there are still ways to make it more permanent.

Index Finger – Meditate

When many people hear the word meditate they think of somebody sitting in a lotus position and saying OOHMM.  This kind of Eastern meditation is actually a form of prayer to false gods or an attempt to align with the universe.  This is NOT Biblical meditation and is not spiritually healthy for any Christian.

Christian meditation is focusing on God’s Word to understand it better.  For example, take a familiar passage like Psalm 46:10a, “Be still, and know that I am God.”  In meditating, examine what each part of the verse means: “Be still, and know that I am God,” “Be still, and know that I am God,” “Be still, and know that I am God,” “Be still, and know that I am God,” etc.  Where hearing, reading and studying often focus on large passages of the Bible, meditation focuses in on a verse or two to understand the details more fully.

Again, return to holding your Bible.  This time you can use all four fingers (but still no thumb!).  Your grip on the Bible has gotten stronger, but it is still easy for a friend to pull it out of your hand.  In addition, if you try to do this for a long time, your hand will quickly tire and you will lose your grip.

Thumb – Memorize

As soon as some people hear or see the word memorize, their instant reaction is, “I can’t memorize.”  Here is a simple test to see if you can memorize:  What is your name?  What is your birthday?  What is your telephone number?  What are the words to your favorite song?  If you can answer these questions without looking at a reference card, then you can memorize.

Memorizing and meditating are very closely related.  If you spend time meditating on a verse, you will become familiar with it.  If you keep focusing on that verse, you will know what it says even when you are not looking at it.  In other words, you will have memorized it.  The only reason most people cannot memorize is that they are unwilling to take the time to repeat a verse until they know it.

23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 25 But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:23-25)
Now you can hold your Bible with all four fingers AND your thumb, but avoid using your palm (like the picture at the top of the article).  You can hold the Bible this way for a long period of time without your hand wearing out.  You have a fairly strong grip and are not likely to drop it.  Have a friend try to remove it from your hand.  Is your grip stronger than before?

Palm – Apply

Returning to Deuteronomy 17:19, we read, “…he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, by carefully observing all the words…” The NIV says “and follow carefully all the words”.  The place where listening, reading, studying, meditating and memorizing all come together is in application.  James 1:23-25 tells us it doesn’t matter how well you know God’s word unless you are also willing to follow God’s word. 

If you can find a way to take action or change your life based on God’s Word, the concept of that passage virtually becomes a permanent part of your life.  Most people will forget what they have learned long before they forget what they have done.  From Psalm 46:10, maybe you dedicate yourself to take time each day to listen to God.  If you take this action, you will also remember the passage that motivated the action.

Hold your Bible one last time.  Use your fingers and thumb, but also tuck it into your palm as tightly as possible.  Notice how much more strongly you are able to grip the book.  If you have a friend nearby, have them try to take the Bible out of your hand one last time.  By applying the Word (holding it close to your palm) you have strengthened the connection between it and your life.

Applying the Disciple’s Hand to your Teaching.

Pinky Finger – Listen

In most churches and classes, our people are given ample opportunity to listen.  The pastor preaches and the teacher teaches but the person sits and listens.  As you apply this lesson in your class, know that if you want people to remember what you tell them you need to make it memorable.  Here are some ways to make it memorable:

1.      Be excited!!  If you are bored of the subject, the people listening to you are probably nearing a hypnotized state in their boredom.

2.      Don’t just read to people, know the material well enough that you can be excited in the way you share it.

3.      Use examples and illustrations that people can remember.

Ring Finger – Read

In elementary school, we were often asked to take turns reading aloud.  With children this is still a valuable technique.  Since some people are uncomfortable reading aloud, most of our adult classes never ask anyone to read.  There are ways that you can get the class to read without singling someone out:

4.      Give everyone a handout or put a verse on the board and have everyone read together.  (Don’t ask people to read in unison out of their Bibles unless you are sure everyone in the class has the same translation).

5.      Give them homework.  In the past we expected people to read their Sunday School quarterlies each week before class.  The reality was that most people never did it.  Instead give an assignment of “read chapter 15 for next week because that is what we will be discussing.  But remember, people will not do it unless you expect them to.  When they come in next week, remember to ask how many people read their assignment.

Middle Finger – Study

As mentioned above, most people don’t know how to study.  As a teacher it is your responsibility to model study for them.  This may sound intimidating, but it is actually fairly easy:

6.      After reading or introducing a passage, ask the people what questions they have and write those questions on the board for everyone to see.  If they don’t have questions, have some sample questions of your own.  Some of these questions should be simple (“What does ‘it’ mean in this passage?”) while others will be more in depth (“What are ways that you can ‘be still’ and experience God’s presence?”).

7.      Don’t answer questions in class, ask the class to find the answers in the Bible.  This is done easier in small groups, so divide large classes into teams and have those teams report after they have found an answer.

8.      If an individual in the class always gives the answer, pull them aside privately and ask them to follow a “10 second rule” of giving everyone else in the class 10 seconds to come up with an answer before sharing because others are not as fast as that person.

Index Finger – Meditate

I once heard that a puritan author had written a 300 page book about John 1:1.  Most classes do not spend two minutes looking at a particular verse.  There are, however, ways you can help people to meditate:

9.      After the class reads a verse in unison, have them be silent for 60 seconds and write down as many thoughts as they can about the verse.  Then share the insights to see who has come up with the most unique ideas (like the game Scattergories©).

10.  As a class, read through a passage several times, emphasizing a different aspect each time (“Be still, and know that I am God,” “Be still, and know that I am God,” “Be still, and know that I am God,” “Be still, and know that I am God,”).

Thumb – Memorize

When I was in children’s church, we used to get stars each time we memorized a verse.  At the end of the month, everyone who had memorized all his verses got to go to 7-11 with the teacher to buy a favorite candy bar.  Believe it or not, adults are still motivated by gold stars.  An article in the Harvard Business Review indicated that many people will give up large bonuses ($30,000) for a little recognition (http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/6792.html?wknews=11022011).  You can do the same thing in your class:

11.  Once a quarter have a party for new people and those who have memorized a certain number of verses in the quarter.  Everyone else misses out.

12.  Take time each week to have those who have memorized a verse to stand up and share with the class.

13.  Just as in your days of VBS, you can have adult classes memorize a verse together.  Work on a verse each week, over and over, until most people in the class know it.  Most classes can memorize a new verse each month.  Your class may take three months to memorize a verse, but that is still four more verses memorized each year.  Don’t forget to regularly review the verses the class memorized in the past.

Palm – Apply

Each week, the Women’s Sunday School class at Onaway Baptist Chapel writes a letter to a teacher at the local school.  In this letter, they let the teacher know that they were praying for them during the class.  These women know that they are applying Acts 17:17 by taking the gospel to people in the marketplace.  You can have your class learn to apply scripture as well.

14.  When you study a passage, ask the class how to make a practical application of the passage in the coming week.

15.  If you see a theme for a book of the Bible, quarterly or other book you are studying, ask the class to come up with a project to implement that theme.  It could be a service to the community.  It could be teaching kids in the church.  The possibilities are limitless.

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