My Advice to Francis Chan

Who am I to give advice to Francis Chan?  I have learned much from Francis and have enormous respect for him.  I applaud his new approach to making disciples for the most part, with a few exceptions.  Yesterday as I evaluated the positives and negatives of Francis Chan’s new simple church planting venture (here), I promised to talk about what I think is a more promising approach to getting the Word out. The approach I am going to detail has these advantages:

  • It gets the word into people’s hearts. It is not just people listening to the word being taught, but the interactive element of it gets it deep into their hearts where it can change them.
  • It gives people a gentle method for sharing Christ with lost family and friends without making it a canned presentation or an obnoxious preaching session or an awkward confrontation. It gives people a method of sharing the gospel that the person being shared with will enjoy and embrace.
  • It turns every member of the body of Christ into a disciple maker in a natural way, and it implants a “DNA” of sharing the word and discipleship into new believers from day one.

The method I’m talking about is Bible Story Telling. But it is more than that. It is not the kind of Bible Story telling you had in Sunday School when you were a kid. There are some small additional steps that turn it into a powerful tool for life transformation and multiplication of disciples. I’m going to detail the process here, and then give you a list of additional resources to explore this option at the end of the post.

In Bible Story Telling, you take one of the stories of the Bible and learn it and rehearse it so that you can tell it from memory. For instance, you could take any of the stories from the gospels, or you could take Old Testament stories. Over 70% of the Bible is made up of stories, and these stories teach us theology and how to know God. It will take some time to learn the story well enough to tell it. You might start by reading the story in different translations. I find that some of the more modern translations (like the NLT) help me a lot when I tell a story. Then I rehearse it and practice telling it over and over again in the privacy of my room. I don’t memorize the story, but I do memorize certain key words or phrases. These Bible stories were told and retold over and over again long before they were recorded on paper, and in illiterate cultures (or in a day when books were extremely expensive because they had to be copied by hand) story telling was the main way to communicate the truth. It is still an awesome way to do it, because everyone loves a story. And by the way, even people who hate Christians and Christianity still love the stories of Jesus.  It is a non-offensive way to share the truth of the gospel.

OK, now that you have learned the story you tell it to another person or small group. Before you tell the story, you may have to include a few sentences that set the background to the story. Some will not know what a Pharisee is or there may be other cultural issues that could be quickly explained in just a few sentences before you tell the story. After telling them the story you explain that no one really knows anything until they can tell it to others, so you are now going to ask them to tell the story back to you. You tell them that they will miss parts and get it wrong in places, but this is just a learning experience so don’t sweat it. Other members of the group can listen for parts they leave out. Then you may retell the story (many of these stories are very short – it takes me 3 minutes to tell the story of the healing of the paralytic in Mark 2) and ask another person in the group to retell it. With each retelling the members of the group will get more and more of the details and learn the story well enough to tell it accurately from memory. It will be obvious to you (and them) when they get to that point, and you will then ask them, “if you had to retell this story to someone else within the next 24 hours, could you do it?” They will answer yes. But if they say no, continue the practice until every person in your group feels confident that they can retell the story accurately.

Now your small group (or individual) really knows this Bible story. The next step is to ask them some questions about it, and to wait for their answers. Allow time for them to think through the answers to these questions. Get comfortable with long pauses and awkward silences. Never answer your own questions. I am going to give you a list of questions to ask. You will ask the same questions every time, with every Bible story (there is a reason for this, but we’ll get to that later).

  • What does this story tell us about people? If you are telling the story with unbelievers, it is acceptable to start each question with, “If this story were true, what would it tell us about…” With many of the stories it is helpful to go through the list of characters individually and ask “What does this story say about the tax collector?” or “What does this story say about the Pharisee?”
  • If this story were true what would it tell us about Jesus (or God)?
  • Are there any sins to avoid in this story?
  • Are there any promises to claim in this story?
  • Are there any examples to follow in this story?
  • Are there any commands to obey in this story?
  • Who do you identify with in this story? Why?
  • How should this story affect the way you live your life over the next week? (encourage them to come up with a specific and measurable action step, something that one week from now you can ask them about)
  • Now that you know this story, who can you retell this story to over the next 24 hours? (if they don’t retell it in the next 24 hours they probably won’t.)  Come up with at least one name of someone you will retell this story to.

Now let’s look closer at what we just did. Here are the reasons I think this is a powerful tool for making disciples:

  • The key to making disciples is planting the Word. I see missionaries engaged in all kinds of “spiritual work” and humanitarian work without ever planting the seed of the word. Jesus told the story of the sower (Mark 4:1-20) and then when he interpreted it he said, “The seed is the word of God“. The seed is not feeding the poor or healing disease, as good and as important as those things are. If the Word of God is not sown then the seed is not sown. Peter said the same thing, “you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (I Peter 1:23). This methodology sows the seed of the Word.
  • This methodology includes not just listening to the word, but actually repeating the story and practicing the retelling of the story so that the participants leave actually knowing it well enough to retell it. This is a key to multiplication. If the only people who get saved are those who hear your voice, your ministry will be severely limited. The job of the pastor-teacher is to equip the saints for works of ministry. This method does that. In fact, it equips anyone who engages in it. Many lost people have learned Bible stories and retold them to other lost people with the end result that many come to Christ. The word has power all by itself. The practice time is an extremely important element if any retelling of the story is going to happen.
  • The practice time of retelling the story actually gets the story into the listener’s heart and mind in a way that just listening to someone else tell a story does not. And the interactive discussion questions further assist the group members in thinking through the Biblical truth.
  • When you listen to a sermon the actual application of it is really up to you, and no one is checking up on what you are going to do about it. But in this methodology you are asking the group members to come up with a specific and measurable action step in response to what they learned from this story. This is extremely important for several reasons. (1) You’re not just leaving it to them to apply it if they feel like it. You’re asking them to nail it down. And you are not telling them how to apply it. You are essentially asking them what the Spirit of God is telling them to do in response to this story. And now when you meet again next week you can ask them, “Last week you said you were going to do x in response to the story. How did that go?” They need that accountability. You didn’t tell them what to do. They decided for themselves what the spirit of God was telling them to do, and therefore they are setting their own life change goals. You are just helping them follow through with what God is telling them to do in response to his word. If you do this, you are doing what Jesus told us to do in the great commission, which is to “teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Teaching them to obey is a whole different thing than teaching truth. We are real good at teaching doctrine and Biblical truth, but we aren’t very good at “teaching them to obey”. This step does that. (2) if you are telling this story to unbelievers, they will see the truth of the word as they obey it. In John 7:17 Jesus says, “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.” When unbelievers learn these stories week by week and actually begin to obey God’s word, they see that such obedience works in their life and they see the truth of the Word. Therefore you are setting up another “DNA” of disciples in practicing obedience to the word. And when they get to the point of obeying the more difficult commands of Jesus, they will have a base of experience in realizing that obedience to God’s Word works in their lives.

I am NOT saying that Bible Storying is the only way to get the Word into people’s hearts. It obviously won’t work with Paul’s epistles. However, you may have noticed that this method is nothing more than an inductive Bible study using an oral format. That is the goal, to teach people how to explore the Bible inductively for themselves and with others in their social circle. When it comes to the epistles we will have to use a paper format of an inductive bible study. And I’m not saying that having one gifted teacher teach a passage of scripture is wrong. I simply think we use that method way too much, but there is certainly a place for it. Whatever method we use, I’m of the opinion that we need to make re-teaching or re-communication of the truth a norm in our spiritual communities. The sit and soak model doesn’t work.  The goal is not to fill heads with knowledge, but to produce life change and equip the saints for works of ministry.  In order to do that, every believer should pass on what they’ve learned.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God.”  Hebrews 5:12

Now I promised to give you some additional resources but I’m out of time so that is going to have to wait until tomorrow.  Within 48 hours I will post a short video and some links to lots of resources that can help you.

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