How to use the CBT Discipleship Resources (M3, S3, W3)
Each of the CBT Discipleship resources (M3, S3, W3) contains 52 weekly discipleship lessons, with 14 summaries of the eras of Scripture. Each of these summaries explain the context for the lessons that will follow. The era summaries consist of a short overview of the era’s timeline and main people, followed by a brief discussion on who God is and how He deals with man. These summaries may be used as part of the group study to establish some context. They are also useful for personal preparation.
We have intentionally structured these resources to be practical for Sunday school or small group discipleship. One of our main premises is that the Bible, being “living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow . . . a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart,” is more than adequate to speak on its own and effect transformation in hearts and minds (Hebrews 4:12, NKJV). Our goal is that students see how powerful the Bible is by interacting directly with it, using four kinds of questions:
- Factual/Detail questions build Bible memory:
- Who is involved in the story?
- What is the plot of the story?
- When and where have the events taken place?
- Where have we seen similar events, stories, characteristics, etc.?
- How do the characters differ, interact, etc.?
- Why did such and such happen?
- Note passage of time, movement from place to place, etc.
- Inferential questions are the most difficult questions to answer and should be asked frequently throughout the story. Asking questions leads to self-discovery and build biblical theology:
- What does this story tell you about God and His ways? (This is the most important question readers must ask as they read or hear the Bible.)
- What does this story tell you about men, women, relationships (or other elements found within a particular story)?
- What does this story teach about character (scheming, faith, obedience, waiting, etc.)?
- What does this story teach about sin (pride, disobedience, etc.) and about righteousness?
- Connection and Review questions assist the learner to retain and build the storyline:
- Where else have we seen this truth? Principle? Person? Place?
- In which other story/stories have we seen God do . . .? man do . . .? . . . women do . . .
- Link previous memory verses to other stories.
- Application questions enhance spiritual transformation
- How is God speaking to you through this story?
- How will you integrate this truth into your life?
- Do you see yourself in . . .?
- What questions does this story raise about . . .?
Why do these resources focus on teaching through questions? Above all, we believe that the Bible speaks for itself and that the Holy Spirit is the best teacher anyone can have (“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you”—John 14:26). Learning through questions allows students to interact directly with the Bible. Will they answer all the questions correctly, or necessarily even be comfortable with the idea of answering questions? No. But repeated exposure to God’s character as represented in His words and actions is a marvelous correcting agent for bad theology.
Asking, “What does this tell me about God?” every week allows students to build a biblical idea of what God is like, as they see Him interact faithfully with Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Gideon, Ruth, Hannah, David, Daniel, and so many others. When the Sadducees question Jesus in Matthew 22, trying to trap Him with questions about the Resurrection, He answers, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God . . . have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (22:29-32, emphasis added). If we want to know who God is and how He acts, we need to look carefully at the Scriptures in order to see Him in His story. How God acted with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is how He acts with us today. Because His character never changes, we can trust Him to deal with us just as faithfully as He did with Abraham. As we ask questions, we can see His love, faithfulness, kindness, strength, desire to reconcile, judgment of sin, and provision of redemption in the stories throughout Scripture.
Asking factual/detail questions gives students something easy to answer. Even students who are nervous or unfamiliar with Scripture can have an opportunity to answer in class. These kinds of questions also help students to construct the stories in their heads and look at the Bible to see what it says. Even students who are familiar with the Bible benefit from this kind of reconstruction of the text. For example, Jennifer May was leading a group of women through Genesis 15, and one of the women, a former Muslim who had been a Christian for years, stopped her when she asked what had happened when Abraham divided the animals. “Don’t they come back to life?” she said; “I thought they came back to life. The Qur’an says that that was Abraham’s miracle, and all this time I thought they came back to life.” Simply asking questions about the factual details of the story revealed a gap in her beliefs.
Inferential questions allow students to take the step from “What is happening?” to “What does it mean?” If God separates light from darkness, water from sky, land from sea, plants from animals, and humans from everything else, what does this tell us about Him? If He creates lights in the sky to allow people to count times, dates, seasons, and years, what does that tell us about Him? If He creates a beautiful garden before He creates people, and allows people to eat from everything but one tree, what does that tell us about Him? If humans eat from the one tree God has set apart for them not to eat, what does that tell us about them? Inferential questions invite students to think critically about familiar texts and mine them for meaning. They cannot simply read passively; they must think actively—this is the only way to achieve genuine understanding.
In addition to calling students to look critically at the text to see what it says, this method uses connection and review questions to allow students to build a biblical theology of who God is, who man is, why the world is crazy, and how God is acting in the middle of it. The Bible covers all of history, from the beginning of time until its end. God is the main Subject of the narrative—the only protagonist who is present from beginning to end. As students connect one story to the next, they can see God’s consistent character as He walks through His followers’ lives, teaching them to trust Him, keeping His promises, and acting in their behalf. In Abraham’s life, for example, God makes a promise: his children will be in a land of oppression for 400 years, and then God will bring them back to inherit Canaan (Genesis 15:13-16). This promise explains what is happening in Joseph’s story, with the years of plenty and famine and the eventual enslavement of Jacob’s descendants. Without the promise, this story would look like chaos—like God has dropped out of the picture. The promise, however, shines a light into the darkness of Israel’s captivity and offers them a glimpse of the hope to come in their deliverance. It structures Moses’ life and validates God’s character as faithful. Tracing the promise and its effects through multiple stories gives invaluable insight into who God is and how He acts.
All of these questions would remain merely academic, offering interesting insights, if they did not include application questions. “How then shall I live?” is the logical next step of obedience to God’s revealed will. We have intentionally left many of these questions fairly general, as students and leaders struggle in different specific areas of obedience. An example of a good application follow-up is in response to the Creation story of Genesis 1: If God is a God of order and systems, how can I incorporate some order into my life? What kind of system can I adopt for going to bed at a reasonable time, getting my homework done, being disciplined about when I wake up, so that I prioritize time in the Bible?
We have also added summary sections of truths about God and man, and a weekly memory verse. The verses are designed to build on the lesson and provide students with an arsenal to use in casting down the enemy’s strongholds and taking thoughts into captivity (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
- Pray and ask for wisdom and insight.
- Read the “Core truths” section. You will not necessarily share these with the group at the beginning of the lesson. These are to help you direct your questions and give you an idea of the main points that student should be able to walk away with at the end. The core truths also build on each other from week to week and may be repetitive.
- Read the Scripture passage.
- Go through the questions and answer them from the passage. If you would like to word them a different way, or emphasize some and skip others, feel free to make notes in the book so that you can remember to do that when leading. You may choose to write your answers, but you don’t have to.
- Look up the additional passages listed, and make a note of specific things you may want to bring out of them.
- If you think that students may need prompting on which verse to look at in a passage, make a note of the verse by the question.
- If there are visual aids that may assist you in teaching, go ahead and assemble them so that you can remember to bring them.
The hope is that CBT will not require hours of agonizing preparation. As it focuses on the big picture of Scripture, it does not go heavily into word studies. It should be so accessible that a teenager could use it with his or her friends.
Presenting a Lesson
Ideally a group should be at least three and at most twelve to fifteen people. Larger groups are possible, but it is difficult to foster the same kind of interaction in a larger group. As to the question of one-on-one discipleship, the New Testament never records Jesus’ spending time discipling anyone one-on-one. Additionally, especially with younger people, this kind of dynamic lends itself to dependency and the pressure of keeping secrets. Group discipleship allows everyone to benefit from each other’s insights into the Scripture as well as providing a community of support for healthy interdependency. It also provides for a healthy place to walk in the light with other believers and keep one another accountable.
Not every member of the group needs a Leader’s Guide. If students have the book, they will skip ahead and not focus on the question at hand. If students would like to take notes, they can, but it is not strictly necessary. One thing that happens from week to week, as students study God and His story, is that they become people of memory. This is better than having a full notebook.
How to Structure a Lesson:
- Greet everyone and then ask them to recite the previous week’s memory verse.
- Start with a simple prayer, such as Psalm 119:130, “The entrance of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” Set apart this time as a special time just to hear from God. (This is not a time to catch up on quiet time praying.)
- Read the passage. It is possible to have members of the group read the passage. Normally I read the passage as a whole, and I ask for volunteers to read other Scriptures as needed. I do this because some people are not comfortable reading, or perhaps do not read well.
- Go through and ask the questions. Students will look at you blankly for the first several weeks. They will find this style uncomfortable, but they will become accustomed to answering questions, and will even enjoy it. At first they will look anywhere but the Bible. This is a good time to train them to look at the text itself (like the Bereans in Acts 17), instead of making answers up out of their heads or spouting something they’ve learned in Sunday school. This also equalizes the playing field, so to speak—students who have not been heavily churched can still read and look for answers. Prompt them with specific verses if you need to.
- Feel free to skip some questions or add your own. Often an insight will lead to further good questions.
- At the end of the questions, go through the section on “Truths about God/Man, etc.”
- For the application portion, ask students how they specifically should apply this lesson to their lives. I frequently ask students for their “takeaways.” I go around the group in a circle and have everyone list a takeaway. Almost all of them are different, interesting, and challenging.
- Assign the week’s memory verse.
- Pray together. This is the time when each person in the group can give a prayer request. It is okay to write these down. I usually have everyone give a prayer request, and then we go around in a circle, and each person prays for the person on his or her left. I have found that, while students may feel awkward volunteering to pray, they appear to enjoy praying together if everyone prays.
- Generally a group session lasts 1 1/2 to 2 hours. This can be shortened for Sunday school by choosing beforehand which core issues to emphasize and which questions to leave out.
- Remember you are leader and guard the time for direct Bible interaction. This is not the time for someone to dominate the discussion with lots of personal stories. It’s not the time to show off lots of theology. If discussion relates directly to the story at hand, feel free to guide it to its best effect. If someone is chasing a lot of rabbit trails, find an appropriate moment when they stop to breathe, say something like, “Thank you for your insight,” or, “I’d love to discuss that with you in person later,” and move on. Do this with humor and gentleness. The goal is not to have strong personalities dominating the group or to have people showing off lots of unrelated knowledge, but to let the Bible speak.
- If there are people who don’t often answer questions, or seem to need to be invited to answer, direct questions to them specifically. The quiet ones often have good insights.
- It is completely permissible to read aloud through the “Truths about God/Man, etc.” section. Feel free to add to it and to invite the students to do so as well, asking them, “What have you seen about God? Man?” etc. The goal is not to be an amazing teacher—then other people would be too intimidated to start and lead their own groups. The goal is to let the Bible communicate. As the evangelist Bill Stafford once said, “The Word of God is like a lion. I don’t have to fight to defend it, all I need to do is to let it out of its cage.”
- If you are at a point between eras, it is completely permissible just to read the era summary (before the lesson) to the group. Again, the goal is to model a discipleship method that students can reproduce without a Masters degree.
- At some point, personality conflicts will pop up in the group. Conflict is not bad in itself. It is often productive if managed well. After all, “iron sharpens iron” (Prov. 27:17), but it does so with friction and a lot of sparks. What healthier place could there be in learning to resolve conflict than a discipleship group, in which students pray and study the Bible together?
- Students can learn to develop healthy interactions with older mentors as well as with their peers.
- Lifelong relationships can develop, built on the foundation of the Word of God and prayer.
- The informal setting allows for transparency.
- Students memorize Scripture that pertains directly to what they’re learning and begin to build a mental library of verses.
- Students develop discipline as they are challenged to read their Bibles, develop a prayer life, and memorize Scripture.
- Students grow in confidence in knowing God’s Word.
- Students can take what they’re learning and apply it through story truth.
- Students can reproduce in discipleship by using the material with their peers.
- Students learn to live as strangers, foreigners, and aliens, who think sanely in an insane world, as they understand what it means to walk the “narrow way.”