Discipleship

Discipleship Group Curriculum

Last fall my wife and I each started two discipleship groups made up of men and women in our church. We met every week for thirty weeks (the fall and spring semesters) and recently concluded our time together. Each week we kept up with a Bible reading plan, recited Scripture memory verses to one another (the Topical Memory System), asked each other a series of accountability questions, prayed for one another, studied the new lesson for the week, and challenged each other with application and goals from the lesson. The men in my groups and the women in her groups are now responsible for starting their own d-groups beginning this fall, and the idea is that they will take their new groups through the same curriculum and process that we used with them.

I wrote the curriculum we used myself as we went along, and each week the members of our d-groups would put the new lesson into the d-group binder we supplied for them when we initially launched the groups. The result is a d-group plan and curriculum that we intend to use over and over as people who have gone through this discipleship process begin the process of discipling others.

Here is a link to our d-group binder material. Feel free to use it if you find it helpful. Some of the documents, like the covenant and F260 Bible reading plan, were borrowed from Robby Gallaty, but the rest is my own.

Example of the Four Questions Method of Bible Interpretation: Psalm 73.

1. How does this passage fit into the larger context of the biblical book of which it is a part, and what is the book and passage’s role in the big story of the Bible?

  • Which book of the Bible is this passage in, and what is the major purpose for which that book was written and included in God’s Word?

Psalms. The purpose of the book of Psalms is to provide God’s people examples of appropriate prayers and praises (both individual and corporate) as they journey through life as his kingdom people.

  • How does this passage contribute to the purpose of the book of which it is a part?

This psalm gives one example of appropriate prayer and praise to God by a believer named Asaph. Specifically, it shows that in our prayers and praises we should adopt an eternal perspective on what will finally come of the wicked and the righteous. Though the wicked might flourish now, they won’t in the end. Though the righteous might suffer now, they won’t in the end. Our prayers and praises should reflect these realities.

  • How does the message of this passage fit into the big story of the Bible?

The message of this psalm—that though the wicked might flourish now, they won’t in the end; and though the righteous might suffer now, they won’t in the end—is a common message throughout the Bible. Throughout the Bible we see many people who misunderstand this and some godly people who do understand it and are helped by these truths. For example, by giving into temptation and rebelling against God, Adam and Eve were showing that they believed unrighteousness would bring them ultimate satisfaction, though in the end it did not. Throughout their history, the people of Israel often made the same mistake, believing that rebelling against God and following the wicked ways of the world would bring them ultimate satisfaction and “the good life,” though in the end it did not. The church is called to live with the proper perspective of this psalm, understanding that following Christ might not be easy now, but it will pay off in the end when we dwell with him in the new creation.

2. What are the principles this passage teaches about God, man, sin, and salvation?

  • Does the passage teach us something about who God is and what God does?

It teaches us that God sometimes allows the wicked to flourish in this life, and that he sometimes allows the righteous to suffer in this life. It teaches us that in the end, God will punish the wicked and save his people. It teaches us that God will guide us in this life until he takes us home to glory. It teaches us that God allows his people to “be near” him (v. 28).

  • Does the passage teach us something about who man is and what God expects man’s behavior to be?

It teaches us that even believers can lose their godly perspective on life and lose sight of the “end.” It teaches us that man has a tendency to reject God and his ways in this life and to live for themselves. It teaches us that God expects his people to endure any sacrifice or suffering they might experience in this life, treasuring him above all, and putting their hope in him and the end to which he is bringing them.

  • Does the passage teach us something about man’s fallenness and sin?

It teaches us that believers will often be tempted to be “embittered” (v. 21) when they think about the worldly success of unbelievers versus the life of sacrifice they might be experiencing as a believer. It teaches us that when unbelievers succeed without God it often leads them to think that he doesn’t exist or that they don’t need him.

  • Does the passage teach us something about God’s plan to save the world from sin?

It teaches us that God’s plan of salvation involves guiding his people through the difficulties of this life and ultimately receiving them home to glory.

3. How do the principles taught in this passage point out my sins and shortcomings of which I need to repent?

  • Does this passage give a command I need to obey? Do I need to repent of not obeying that command faithfully?

No direct commands are given.

  • Does this passage give an example I need to follow or avoid (from a faithful or unfaithful Bible character, for instance)? Do I need to repent of not following or avoiding that example?

We need to avoid the negative example of the unbelievers in this psalm who are so consumed with worldly success that they despise God. We need to avoid the negative example of the psalmist when he allowed his soul to be “embittered” (v. 21) as he thought about the success of the wicked. We need to follow the positive example of the psalmist who had his perspective on life changed when he “went into the sanctuary of God” and then started to view things from an eternal perspective.

  • Does this passage give a truth I need to believe? Do I need to repent of not fully believing in this truth?

We need to believe that in the end being faithful to God in this life really is worth whatever sacrifice we have to make. We need to understand and believe that worshiping God (which includes focusing on his Word) like the psalmist did when he went “into the sanctuary of God” (v. 17) can help us regain a proper eternal perspective on life and remind us of God’s ultimate plans for us.

4. How do the principles in this passage lead me to trust in Christ for forgiveness of sin, and model my life on His perfect example?

  • Confess to God the specific ways you have not lived up to the principles in the passage you are studying, and trust that because of the cross of Christ God will forgive you of those specific sins.
  • In what ways does Jesus perfectly exemplify the principles in the passage you are studying?

Jesus always had a proper eternal perspective on his life. Even though wicked people around him were flourishing (many of the Jewish and Roman leaders, for example) and he was suffering and oppressed, he managed not to allow his soul to be “embittered” (v. 21). Rather, through prayer and worship of the Father, he continually lived in the knowledge that the Father was with him, guiding him until finally he was received into glory (v. 24) at his ascension.

  • Ask God to conform you to the image of Christ in these areas.

Example of the Four Questions Method of Bible Interpretation: Exodus 20:1-17

A couple of weeks ago, I shared four questions that can be asked of any passage in Scripture. This is a simple method of Bible interpretation meant to help someone discover the meaning and significance of any Bible passage. The questions are designed to help the interpreter keep the immediate context of the passage in view as well as the way the passage fits into the big story of the Bible. The questions are also framed in a way that promotes a Christ-centered/gospel-centered interpretation and application of the text.

Below is an example of how the Four Questions Method could be used to study Exodus 20:1-17 (the giving of the Ten Commandments).

1. How does this passage fit into the larger context of the biblical book of which it is a part, and what is the book and passage’s role in the big story of the Bible?

  • Which book of the Bible is this passage in, and what is the major purpose for which that book was written and included in God’s Word?

Exodus. The purpose of Exodus is to give an account of how God rescued his chosen people from slavery in Egypt. This is one of the greatest salvation events in the Bible. The hope of a “second exodus” is what God’s people long for at the end of the Old Testament when they are sent into exile and become the servants of a foreign nation once again.

  • How does this passage contribute to the purpose of the book of which it is a part?

This passage shows that as a result of God saving and delivering his people (Exod 20:1-2) those people now have a relationship with him in which they are expected to obey his commands (vv. 3-17). The Savior God is also the Lord and Master of his people. God’s commands are summarized in the Ten Commandments and are expanded upon in the rest of the law of Moses.

  • How does the message of this passage fit into the big story of the Bible?

As part of the redemption portion of the Bible’s story, this passage on the giving of the Ten Commandments shows that part of God’s goal in redeeming a people for himself is that those people will live in complete obedience to him. This goal of God is also seen in his expectation that Adam and Eve obey him. As God’s story of redemption unfolds throughout the rest of the Old Testament and on into the New Testament, we learn that all people ultimately fail to completely obey the Ten Commandments, as well as the rest of God’s laws, and therefore deserve death as punishment for their sins (see Rom 3:23, and 6:23). Mankind’s failure to obey these laws shows us why we need Jesus if redemption is going to be possible. Jesus perfectly obeyed the Ten Commandments, and sacrificed his life so that we could be forgiven of all the ways we have disobeyed them. The Holy Spirit helps Christians obey God’s commands, but we won’t perfectly obey them until we get to heaven, and then forever in the new creation where we will always walk in perfect obedience to the Ten Commandments and all the rest of God’s standards.

2. What are the principles this passage teaches about God, man, sin, and salvation?

  • Does the passage teach us something about who God is and what God does?

It reminds us that God is Savior (vv. 1-2) as well as Lord and Master (vv. 3-17). It teaches us that God is righteous and that he has righteous standards. It shows us that God reveals to man what his laws are.

  • Does the passage teach us something about who man is and what God expects man’s behavior to be?

It teaches us that man is lower than God and is expected to obey God.

  • Does the passage teach us something about man’s fallenness and sin?

The very fact that these laws are given reveals man’s propensity to sin. If man was perfect, then these laws would not be needed. The laws have to be given because men commonly commit the sins these laws are meant to prevent.

  • Does the passage teach us something about God’s plan to save the world from sin?

It teaches us that when it comes to having a relationship with God, salvation comes before obedience. The Israelites did not first obey God, and then on the basis of that obedience receive God’s salvation from slavery in Egypt. Rather, God first saved them from Egypt by his sheer mercy, and then those who were saved were expected to obey in their ongoing relationship with God. This pattern is the same in the New Testament (see Eph 2:8-10).

3. How do the principles taught in this passage point out my sins and shortcomings of which I need to repent?

  • Does this passage give a command I need to obey? Do I need to repent of not obeying that command faithfully?

Yes, all of the Ten Commandments.

  • Does this passage give an example I need to follow or avoid (from a faithful or unfaithful Bible character, for instance)? Do I need to repent of not following or avoiding that example?

Besides God’s example of resting on the Sabbath (v. 11), no other examples are given, just commands.

  • Does this passage give a truth I need to believe? Do I need to repent of not fully believing in this truth?

That God is a righteous God. That God is a “jealous” God (v. 5). That God punishes disobedience (v. 5) and blesses obedience (v. 6). That God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh (v. 11).

4. How do the principles in this passage lead me to trust in Christ for forgiveness of sin, and model my life on His perfect example?

  • Confess to God the specific ways you have not lived up to the principles in the passage you are studying, and trust that because of the cross of Christ God will forgive you of those specific sins.
  • In what ways does Jesus perfectly exemplify the principles in the passage you are studying?

Jesus is the only man who has ever completely obeyed the Ten Commandments at all times (see Heb 4:15). He always perfectly refused to have any other gods before God the Father, and never served any other gods. He never took the name of the Lord in vain. He always remembered the Sabbath (fulfilling it in fact! see Heb 4) and kept it holy. He always honored his earthly father and mother as well as his heavenly Father. He never murdered or even hated someone in his heart. He never committed adultery physically or in his heart. He never stole. He never bore false witness against his neighbor. And he never coveted anything that wasn’t his. Jesus was and is perfectly obedient to the Father and perfectly righteous.

  • Ask God to conform you to the image of Christ in these areas.

Memorizing Scripture has been one of the most beneficial forms of Bible intake I’ve practiced over the last several years. Here are some thoughts on the importance of Scripture memory and how to do it.

Biblical Examples of Scripture Memory

Jesus Memorized Scripture

Jesus obviously had much of Scripture memorized, because we often see him quoting Scripture in the gospels. For example, each time Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert, he responded by quoting Scripture (“it is written . . .”). There are many other places in the gospels where Jesus quotes Scripture as well (e.g., Matthew 19:4-5, 22:44; Mark 7:10; Luke 19:46; John 13:18).

Early Christians Memorized Scripture

Like Jesus, his early disciples also practiced the discipline of Scripture memory. In Acts 2, on the Day of Pentecost, after the Holy Spirit was poured out on Jesus’ disciples, the apostle Peter stood up to preach the gospel to a large crowd. He began by quoting Joel 2:28-32 from memory, and telling the people that this passage was being fulfilled in their midst. Obviously, Peter had set this passage (and probably many others) to memory.

Throughout the book of Acts, we get snippets of the preaching of the early disciples of Jesus, and it is filled with quotations from Scripture. One of the longest of such sermons in the book of Acts is from a disciple named Stephen. Just before he was stoned to death by angry Jews, Stephen preached a sermon in which he quoted many passages from the Old Testament (Acts 7:2-53).

The apostle Paul also quoted Scripture in his sermons. For example, in Acts 13 Paul preached a sermon in a city called Antioch of Pisidia while on one of his missionary journeys (Acts 13:16-47). In that sermon, he quotes several passages of Scripture.

The authors of the New Testament epistles frequently quote Scripture in their letters as well (e.g., Hebrews 1:5-13; Romans 4:7-8; Galatians 3:10-13). More than likely, the authors of these New Testament letters were quoting these passages from memory rather than copying them from their Bibles, since most people did not have their own personal copy of God’s Word in those days.

Benefits of Scripture Memory

There are several ways memorizing Scripture can benefit you. Here are just a few:

1. Helps Resist Temptation

Just as Jesus quoted Scripture when he was tempted in the desert, being able to call Scripture to mind quickly and accurately can help you resist temptation by reminding yourself of God’s truth.

2. Helps in Witnessing and Counseling

When you are sharing the gospel with a lost person or when you are giving counsel to a fellow believer, it is helpful to be able to use Scripture without having to look it up first. Scripture memory can equip you for this.

3. Helps in Meditating on the Word

Throughout Scripture we are commanded to “meditate” on God’s Word, and to “store up” God’s Word in our hearts (e.g., Psalm 119:11, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”). This means that we are to think deeply and prayerfully about what Scripture means and how it should change us. Memorizing Scripture allows you to meditate on God’s Word more easily, because the passages you have memorized can be brought to the forefront of your mind at any moment. When you have set a passage of Scripture to memory with your mind, it is much easier for the truths of that passage to make it down into your heart.

Approaches to Scripture Memory

There are basically two approaches to Scripture memory: (1) memorizing individual verses, and (2) memorizing extended passages or books.

1. Memorizing Individual Verses

Memorizing individual verses of Scripture is helpful because it allows you to memorize key verses from anywhere in the Bible. The Topical Memory System is a 60 verse Scripture memory system that we encourage our church members to use. After memorizing all of the verses in this set, you can easily add any verse you would like by using blank business cards.

2. Memorizing Extended Passages or Books

Memorizing several consecutive verses in a passage of Scripture, or even an entire book of the Bible, is also a great way to memorize God’s Word. One of the benefits of this approach is that it allows you more easily to keep the verses you are memorizing in context, helping you understand how each verse fits into the overall flow of the passage, chapter, or book. Try using the method laid out in Andy Davis’s booklet “An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture” for memorizing large chunks of the Bible or an entire book of the Bible.

Interpreting Scripture: 4 Questions to Ask of any Passage in the Bible

Christians are called to be people of the Book. The Word of God is meant to be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105). But reading, studying, and applying the Bible to our lives isn’t always easy, and it isn’t always done faithfully. People often misread and misinterpret Scripture, and then end up misapplying Scripture in a multitude of ways. Because we live in a fallen world, and have fallen minds, there is plenty of room for error when it comes to interpreting the Bible. The Word of God is perfect, but our human ability to understand it will not be perfect until we get to heaven. What this means is that until that day we must work on our ability to “rightly handle the Word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

The goal of this post is not to give a comprehensive guide to Bible interpretation, but merely to give four basic questions that can be asked of any passage of Scripture (Old or New Testament). I believe that answering these questions of a particular Bible verse or passage will go a long way in helping a believer discover the meaning of a text and its significance for their lives. Here are the four questions:

1. How does this passage fit into the larger context of the biblical book of which it is a part, and what is the book and passage’s role in the big story of the Bible?

This first question is intentionally broad and is meant to help you get your biblical bearings when you are reading and studying a particular passage of Scripture. It’s meant to help you see the forrest for the trees, and keep the larger context of the Bible in mind as you read and study. Here are some more detailed questions to help you answer question #1.

  • Which book of the Bible is this passage in, and what is the major purpose for which that book was written and included in God’s Word?

The reason this question is important is because understanding the context of the biblical book as a whole will help us understand each verse or passage in that book. The introduction to a biblical book in a study Bible is a great place to turn to discover the purpose and role of a particular book of the Bible.

  • How does the purpose of the book and the passage fit into the big story of the Bible?

As I mentioned in last week’s post, every passage of Scripture ultimately ties together to tell the big story of the Bible, which is Creation → Fall → Redemption → and New Creation. When studying a verse or passage of Scripture it’s helpful to understand where you are in the Bible’s overall story, and which part of the story that verse or passage is highlighting. How does the passage you are reading or studying contribute to the Bible’s big story?

2. What are the principles this passage teaches about God, man, sin, and salvation?

This question is meant to help us discern the principles being taught in God’s Word. By answering this question, we are trying to discover what the biblical author originally meant to convey in the text. If parts of the text seem unclear to you, try reading the corresponding notes in the bottom half of your study Bible. More detailed questions:

  • Does the passage teach us something about who God is and what God does?
  • Does the passage teach us something about who man is and what God expects man’s behavior to be?
  • Does the passage teach us something about man’s fallenness and sin?
  • Does the passage teach us something about God’s plan to save the world from sin?

3. How do the principles taught in this passage point out my sins and shortcomings of which I need to repent?

Once we have discerned the principles taught in the text, we need to measure our lives by them. After all, following Jesus in discipleship involves learning to observe all that he has commanded us (Matthew 28:20). We need to look for the ways we don’t measure up to those principles so that we can repent of our shortcomings and sins and bring our lives into better alignment with God’s Word. Further questions:

  • Does this passage give a command I need to obey? Do I need to repent of not obeying that command faithfully?
  • Does this passage give an example I need to follow (from the life of a faithful Bible character, for instance)? Do I need to repent of not following that example faithfully?
  • Does this passage give a truth I need to believe? Do I need to repent of not fully believing in this truth?

4. How do the principles in this passage lead me to trust in Christ for forgiveness of sin, and model my life on His perfect example?

Discovering the principles taught in a text and then repenting of all the ways we do not measure up to those principles should lead us to see why we so desperately need the gospel of Jesus Christ. As we are faced with our sin, we should be driven to Christ to seek the forgiveness made possible through his sacrifice for sin on the cross. Furthermore, we need to realize that where we have failed to live up to the principles in God’s Word, Christ has perfectly lived up to them. All of the principles we discover in the text of Scripture are perfectly exemplified in the life of Jesus. He perfectly obeyed the Father in all ways. This means that we don’t just trust in Jesus for forgiveness when we fail to live up to the principles of God’s Word, we also look to Jesus as an example of what it means to live up to the principles of God’s Word. Ultimately, the goal in reading, studying, and applying the Bible is to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29).

  • Confess to God the ways you have not lived up to the principles in the passage you are studying, and trust that because of the cross of Christ God will forgive you.
  • In what ways does Jesus perfectly exemplify the principles in the passage you are studying? Ask God to conform you to the image of Christ in these areas.