Henry Blackaby. Beth Moore. “Explore the Bible”. “The Gospel Project”. I’m thankful to God for them all. Blackaby’s “Experiencing God” helped me to understand that as a Christian I needed to “Find where God is at work and join Him.” Moore taught my wife that her identity is in Christ through a myriad of her Bible studies. Both “Explore the Bible” and “The Gospel Project” are Sunday School/Small Group curricula put out by Lifeway Christian Resources helping literally millions of Christians to faithfully interpret the Bible and to grow in their relationship to God. Most of them are good! But none of these curricula are effective (or even intended) at making reproducing disciples – at least not on their own. Why? Because curricula don’t make disciples.
Disciples make reproducing disciples. Sometimes they may use a curriculum, but ultimately disciple making is done in the context of a shared life. Curricula may be helpful at transfer of informational content; but they are woefully inadequate at producing multiplicative transformation from person to person. In Matthew 4:19 Jesus said, “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” He had no curriculum other than the Old Testament. And they didn’t, as far as we know, study through that in a systematic way with fill-in-the-blank binders. Rather, Jesus invited people into his life and the world became their classroom. Following Jesus would lead to their transformation. And when he ascended to the Father they had only the Scriptures that they he had taught them from. Yet they, being transformed by the gospel and empowered by the Holy Spirit, began immediately to make reproducing disciples.
Curricula aren’t bad. Sometimes they’re helpful. But they will never substitute for life on life instruction because they often answer questions people aren’t asking. Sometimes the disciples were asking the wrong questions too. Jesus didn’t just have them turn to page 45 and start filling in blanks. Instead he took them where they needed to go to learn what they needed to know.
In Matthew 16 Jesus and the disciples make their way from Galilee to Caesarea Philippi. Interestingly, Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem but seemed to take a wrong turn and went north rather than south to get there. It was in Caesarea Philippi that Jesus asked the most important question of life – one that disciple making hinges upon: “Who do you say that I am?” Others said he was a prophet and some said “John the Baptist”, but the disciples believed differently. Peter announced as spokesman for the group, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus quickly makes sure they understood that their insight had Heavenly origins as the work of the Father. Then he tells them that on the bedrock of that collective apostolic testimony that he, Jesus, would build his church . . . and the Gates of Hades wouldn’t outlast it. Interestingly Caesarea Philippi was home to a pagan temple hewn into the side of a hill called “The Gates of Hades”.
I would imagine Jesus had likely sat his disciples on a hill opposite the temple watching the crowds go to worship a false deity. As he spoke with his little band of brothers he got them to both ask (reflectively) and answer the right questions. Then he probably pointed to the crowds and effectively said, “Those crowds of idolaters may look big. And this little group may look small. But I’m promising you that this will outlast that. This, the foundation of my church, will grow into a spiritual temple that will be both global and eternal.” He took them where they needed to go to learn what they needed to know. No curriculum. Just the world around them as the classroom and himself with them as both guide and destination.
Lessons like the one learned by the disciples in Caesarea Philippi tend to stick. They not only stick, they transform and spread. So it should be no surprise that in Acts 2 we find Peter preaching Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God. And we shouldn’t be surprised that in verse 42 the fruit of his preaching would be characterized by a simple statement: “They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching . . . .” Not teaching found in a three-ring binder on Peter’s shelf or put down in a fill-in-the-blank workbook. Rather, they devoted themselves to that same gospel message that the disciples discovered on a hill in Caesarea Philippi.
The call to come follow Jesus and be transformed into fishers of men still rings out today. Though we may be enlightened and encouraged when we read about it on blogs or in books, or study about it in some curriculum, nothing will ever replace the world as our classroom, biblical truths applied to real life contexts as our lessons, and Jesus as both our Redeemer and model. Where curricula fall short in making reproducing disciples, Jesus comes through . . . and he does so using both you and me as we build on the foundation he laid.