What About Teaching and Preaching in Disciple-Making Movements?

What About Teaching and Preaching in Disciple-Making Movements?

“What about Teaching and Preaching?” is the number one question I receive when talking about Disciple-Making Movements, the Discovery Bible Study and Discovery Groups (which are inductive and self correcting through a coaching process); and to the uninitiated, do not appear to have teachers or preachers.  There are several aspects to this question I want to explore with you in this post.

A certain percentage of those who ask this question are really saying, “I feel that teaching and preaching are my gifts, and I see no place for me in the Discovery process.”  The problem with this response is that the question is focused on the teaching/preacher, not the students who need to know God.  I call this the talking-head syndrome.  People who have this syndrome think they are such good orators/teachers/preachers that the sound of their voices and the content of their messages will somehow miraculously become permanently imbedded in the minds of those who listen.  They will proof text their position, somehow thinking that modern teaching and preaching were the norm in the First Century.

If they would take even a moment to look at the ministry of Jesus or Paul, they would realize that lecturing was a very small part of their ministries.  From Scripture, it seems that they would spend days in direct contact with people making disciples for every few minutes of lecture.  It is not that they didn’t lecture; it is that they didn’t just lecture.  They prayed together, meet needs together, when on ministry trips together and separately, reported what was accomplished, dialogued with each other and the opposition, taught others what they were learning, and obeyed (put into practice) what they were learning.  The idea that teaching and preaching were just talking did not even occur to them and certainly was not their usual practice.

The following diagram is from page 95 of How the Brain Learns by David Sousa, 2001.  It is based on research done by the NTL Institute of Alexandria, Virginia.


Note, that if one just lectures, then there is only a 5{846ad05382285a8c201e50da365aa81ffc9921be1516c71f30ae0360243f0c8d} retention of information after 24 hours.  This goes down even further as more days pass.  On the same page, Dr. Sousa also writes, “Lecture continues to be the most prevalent teaching mode in secondary and higher education, despite overwhelming evidence that it produces the lowest degree of retention for most learners.”

Modern teaching and preaching are lecture styles that cannot and do not produce Disciples, regardless of how good the orator feels about his or her skills or content.  There is certainly a place for lecture, but it is minor in the overall process of making a disciple.

Disciple-Makers cannot just be teachers and preachers.  They must spend significant time with their potential disciples in dialogue, demonstration, encouragement to teach others what they are learning, and exhorting them to obey (do) what they are learning.  This is how one effectively moves knowledge and practice from one person to another and one generation to another.

In the typical teaching/preaching setting, listeners are encouraged to do three things.

  1. Listen to the Scripture as it is read, which may or may not be heard
  2. Listen to an explanation of the Scripture, which may or may not be understood
  3. Listen to how they might apply the Scripture to their own lives or circumstances, which may or may not be obeyed

To enhance retention, the teacher/preacher will use lots of examples and stories, and sometimes, guilt.  But the reality is that most listeners cannot tell anyone about what they heard, unless they took notes and refer to those notes.  Within a few weeks no one remembers anything that was said, unless it was a good joke or story they told to others several times.  There is zero accountability for the content or the behavior changes it may require.  Even the teacher/preacher is hard pressed to tell us in any detail what they spoke about in the last few weeks.

Modern teaching and preaching has failed to produce obedient Disciples of Jesus.

The methodology of Disciple-Making Movements (DMM) was designed to produce the highest levels of understanding, retention, obedience, and reproduction of the process.  It all starts with a committed and obedient Disciple of Jesus who is also a Disciple-maker.  By the way, one cannot be a committed and obedient Disciple of Jesus and not make Disciples.  A Disciple is one who knows and follows (obeys) the teachings of Jesus, which includes the command to “make Disciples”.

The DMM process is:

  1. A well-trained Disciple is sent to a new area to start work. (Teaching and practice is involved)
  2. The Disciple practices his/her life in the new community, being conspicuously spiritual while meeting felt needs in the community.  (Felt needs may include business)
  3. The spiritual life and ministry of the Disciple attracts those who may be spiritually seeking.
  4. Casual Discover Bible Studies are introduced and the seeker is encouraged to share these with family, friends, neighbors, and workmates.  For example:  I verbally introduce a passage of Scripture and ask the seeker what he/she thinks.  Then I ask them to share it with family/friends/neighbors/workmates to see what they think.  The person who engages the process and introduces me to their family/friends/neighbors/workmates is called a Person of Peace.  (These studies may be on a variety of topics of interest to the audience: family, parenting, debt, wealth, and etc.)
  5. As interest in the topics increase, there comes a time when it is appropriate to move from an informal to a formal Discovery Bible Study within the context of a Discovery Group.  By this point the Disciple-maker should know who the spiritual leader of the group is.  It may or may not be the Person of Peace.
  6. The Disciple-maker then approaches the spiritual leader of the family/group/neighbors/workmates, and suggests that he/she should lead the group in discovering more about God.
  7. Upon acceptance, the Disciple-maker begins a relationship with the spiritual leader and coaches him/her to lead a Discovery Group.  Coaching includes teaching and the practice of skills until they are perfected.  At this point you may want to review Small Groups that have the DNA of a Gospel Planting Movement.
  8. The Discovery Group takes people from not knowing God to falling in love with Jesus.  Later, the same process is used to master any topic in the Bible.  It establishes the DNA of the emerging church.
  9. Here is an outline with the DNA elements in parenthesis:
    • Ask: What are you thankful for this week?  (Prayer/Worship)
    • Ask:  What has stressed you out this week?  What do you need for things to be better?  (Intercession)
    • Ask:  What are the needs of the people in your community? (Ministry)
    • Ask:  How can we help each other with the needs we expressed? (Ministry)
    • Ask:  What did we talk about last week? (Review/Accountability)
    • Ask:  Did you change anything in your life as a result of last week’s story? (Accountability/Obedience)
    • Ask:  Did you get a chance to share the story with [the person they identified]? (Accountability/Evangelism)
    • Ask:  We identified several needs last week and planned to meet those needs.  How did it go? (Accountability/Ministry)
    • Say:  Let’s see what the Bible teaches us this week. Read this week’s passage. (Scripture)
    • Ask for someone to retell the passage in his or her own words.  Like they were telling a friend who wasn’t there. (Understanding/Evangelism)
    • Ask the Group: Do you agree with their retelling?  Is there something they added or left out that they shouldn’t have?  As long as the group doesn’t miss a key component of the passage, continue.  If they miss something, read the passage again.  If someone states something that isn’t in the passage, ask, “Where did you find [what they said] in this passage?”  Reread the passage, if necessary. (Priesthood of Believers/Group Correction/Understanding)
    • Ask:  What does this passage teach us about God? (Discovery/Scripture/Priesthood of Believers)
    • Ask:  What does this passage teach us about humanity? (Discovery/Scripture/Priesthood of Believers)
    • Ask:  If we believe this passage is from God, how must we change? (Discovery/Scripture/Obedience/Priesthood of Believers)
    • Ask:  Who are you going to share this passage with before we meet again? (Evangelism/Replication)
    • Ask:  When do you want to meet again? This is a practical question.  You will never get someone to commit to a 26-week study.  But, you can give them the option to meet again next week.  If they are really seeking and if the meeting is filling a need, they will tell you they want to meet again.
  10. This process is repeated every week until the group becomes Believers and then Disciples in obedience to the Word, which will include baptism and is when we consider a church to be established.  Maturing of the church continues with new Bible studies designed to take the church to reproduction.

Now, let’s revisit the learning pyramid.

  1. Lecture (teaching) takes place between the Disciple-maker and the seeker who will lead the group.
  2. Reading the Scripture for the next lesson takes place between the Disciple-maker and the seeker who leads the group.
  3. Reading to the group/listening to Scripture takes place in the group.
  4. Demonstration of the process takes place between the Disciple-maker and the seeker who leads the group, and the group practices it weekly.
  5. The group is led in discussion of the Word using the questions given by the Disciple-maker.  Note that the group leader does not teach, but simply leads a discussion around the Word of God.
  6. The seeker/leader and the group practice the process weekly.  They also practice what they have learned with others inside and outside the group.
  7. Every week the group members are encouraged to share/teach other what they are learning and to put into immediate practice (obey) what they are learning.

I hope you can see how every learning process is taken advantage of in the development of the Disciple-Making Movement methodology.

Now, let’s compare the traditional method of preaching/teaching to discipleship to Disciple-making.


Disciple-Making Movements
Scripture Scripture
Explanation Understanding
Application Obedience


Our purpose is not to just teach or preach.  Our purpose is to teach and preach with our words, our lives, and our practices in such a way that others can do the same as they imitate us in their groups and among their family/friends/neighbors/work.  More than explanation, we want understanding.  More than application, we want obedience.

Teaching and preaching are much more than lectures that exhort people to change their behavior.  Real teaching and preaching are part of a Disciple-making process that engages the lives of a community, and bring real hope and change to that community.  Success is found when the community does the same thing again with others.  The real teacher in this process is the Holy Spirit, as seekers are taught to listen and learn from God as they are guided in exploring Scripture.


David Watson
Irving, Texas

19 Replies to “What About Teaching and Preaching in Disciple-Making Movements?”

  1. Why do preachers stand up and monologue? I was wrestling with this question quite a bit today and then saw this from a friend. The answer I think is largely because of culture, it is a culture we’ve inherited since the days of Constantine over 1500 years ago. It doesn’t make it wrong but it does beg the question “is there a better way?”. If we profess to be God’s people, should we not do His work the way He showed us. Therein also lies some of the barriers, some works are personality centered. And that of no fault of the personality, it is the job they applied for, it is the employer who needs to change. Are we attempting to preach or to teach? If we are preaching the gospel to the lost, well and good, stand up and kindle that fire. However if we are in a venue of teaching, what method will get it done, really?

  2. To reject preaching and teaching as legitimate methods of evangelism is to deny that any great revivals ever happened. Most of the Great Revivals and the four great awakenings here in the U.S. happened during periods with a great amount of preaching going on. Peter preached to the people of Jerusalem in Acts 2 and great revival broke out. Paul lectured for hours, as was his custom, and a young man fell asleep and fell from an upper window Acts 20:9. There is a reason for teaching and that is so older mature believers can teach the younger ones (even if it is boring at times–Paul.) Sure we can discover God thru the Discover God Study method, but then there must come a time when solid food is introduced. Inductive Bible studies must have a truth or point that the group must discover. A good facilitator must guide them to that point or it will become a discussion about” what might be true” or “what are the possibilities” or worse yet, “what are your observations or imaginations about this verse.” As cliché as it sounds, we as believers must seek out the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and that is only going to happen when study the Bible deductively based on content, culture, context and other passages of scripture.

    1. I did not reject preaching and teaching. I said we cannot just preach and teach in a Western lecture form if we want to see Disciple-makers emerge. You may defend Western preaching and teaching all you want, but there is a serious problem in the Western church with the lack of committed and obedient Disciples. My concern is also that we think converts are enough. I reject this. Jesus did not command us to make converts, but to make Disciples. One cannot make a carpenter by talking about carpentry. One must learn and practice the skills of carpentry from a master carpenter in order to become a master carpenter. Disciples cannot be made through preaching and teaching alone. You pointed to the examples of Peter and Paul preaching. Why did you not point to all the other things they were also doing to make Disciples? Half of the New Testament is Paul’s interaction with emerging leaders and churches in order to correct and produce maturing Disciples. Hours may have been spent in preaching and teaching, but months were spent with select leaders and emerging leaders to make Disciple-makers.

      I appreciate you statement regarding deductive Bible study. I agree with one proviso. Inductive Bible study must feed deductive Bible study. We must start with and understand Scripture before we range into other issues that impact culture and community. By the way, inductive Bible study includes all related passages from the Bible as one matures in knowledge of the Bible. Scope is limited with non-Christians and new Christians, but as one matures toward leadership the scope is broadened and understanding it challenged by the master Disciple who is leading the process.



  3. Hi David,

    It’s good to read your interactions in this column again. I know we have talked about this issue before, but I think there are some shortcomings in what you’ve written here. It seems you’ve set up a strawman caricature of preaching by stacking the worst of preaching against the best of Disciple Making Movements. In your three points above, you say that typical preaching

    1. May or may not be heard
    2. May or may not be understood
    3. May or may not be obeyed

    If the preaching is not heard or understood, it describes bad preaching not faithful preaching. So, you’re comparing the best of DMM against the worst preaching.

    Also, I have been just as frustrated with people not obeying DMM as I have been when they’re not obeying what they hear in a sermon. Obedience is the responsibility of the individual no matter how they hear about the truth.

    On the other hand, DMM as I have read and learned it still has not represented the biblical form of preaching. This preaching is accounted for in the New Testament word ‘kerusso’ which means ‘herald, announce, make known publicly, preach.’ That word in all it’s forms is used 73 times in the New Testament, so it obviously has important meaning to the New Testament authors. How is that accounted for in DMM?

    I do not mean to disparage the value of DMM in outreach, but I don’t think a caricature of preaching helps its value.

    Your brother,

    David Cross

  4. Mat 10:5 – 8 These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them: “Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; 6 but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 “And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’8 “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give.

    Have you ever come across anyone who obeyed verse 8?

    1. Great question, different topic though. It is probably the only problem I have with Trousdale’s (or David’s) Miraculous Movements book. In the book stories about healing/raising the dead are included, but then when it comes to boiling things down (7 paradigm shifts, point 5) it becomes more or less “compassionate service”.
      Otherwise an awesome book.
      David, what do you say about the quote (by a former colleague of yours): “Without miracles there wouldn’t be any CPMs”?

      Greetings from Germany!

      1. Tough question! We see miracles in all our movements (64 and growing). I’m not sure that they are causative or results, but a vast majority (72%) of new work came on the heals of miracles. It may be a bit of hyperbole, but if so, not much.



  5. This is a very helpful post. I will be sharing some of this with the shepherds in our community that I am supporting. Thank you for highlighting applications of the doctrine of the priesthood of every believer. The article raises a question for me though: What do we do with the numerous references to preaching in the New Testament? Preaching means to announce, not to lead discussion groups. I do not mean to lessen the need for discussion, accountability and obedience. At the same time, it seems there is a biblical role for authoritative preaching in the life of the church, in the growth of the Christian, and in the conversion of the lost. Perhaps, the best path is one that includes preaching, discussion and accountability.

  6. Excellent article. Hits the nail on the head. May i translate it for those we are mentoring in Honduras and other Latin American countries? Or do you have it already in spanish?


  7. I’m planning on trying this approach with some Muslim friends who have expressed an interest in Jesus and Christianity. In your guidelines you suggest asking for participants to respond to some introductory questions such as “what are you thankful for”, “what stressed you out”, and “what are the needs of your community”. Do you recommend then praying for these needs first before the Bible study or afterwards. Just trying to get some ideas on what has worked best for others.

  8. Hi, I’m looking for the reference in the book by Sousa.

    It is not on page 95, and I see no references to NLT in the book. There is an NTL institute in Arlington, but I cannot find anything of an NLT institute in Alexandria…

    Not trying to be a pain, just wanting to do more research into brain learning.

    1. It appears that the NTL (NOT NLT) admits that they did NOT EVER do the research that is accredited to them.

      From their own words:
      Thanks for your inquiry to the NTL Institute. Yes, we once utilized the “Learning Pyramid” concept in our work, starting in the 1960’s. However, we can no longer locate the source of the original information and recent research tends to debunk those earlier recommendations. We apologize for any harm or confusion we may have caused.
      Source: http://www.willatworklearning.com/2006/11/ntl_continues_i.html

      1. Thanks for the catch on my typo. It has been corrected. To make the jump, that because a source research from the paper era cannot be found to they never did the research is problematic. There are numerous sources that cite this research. There is, in fact, earlier research along the same lines, and many thesis that have validated the research experientially. Hard numbers are always suspect in any given person’s learning lifestyle. But when these numbers are averages of learning communities, they appear, in my experience, which is not academic, to be in the ballpark enough for me to develop my learning strategies and activities around the principles.

        David Watson
        from San Jose

    2. See the previous comment. My typo. There are numerous printings of the book, so page numbers may vary. NTL Institute is the new name for National Training Laboratory founded in 1947. There are tons of resources for how the brain learns.

      David Watson
      from San Jose, CA

  9. David, why did you choose not to respond to David Cross’ comment? Where is your evidence quantitative evidence that expositional preaching done biblically, does not produce disciples?

    1. Hi, Alastair. Sorry it took me a while to get back to you. I was in a serious car accident last month and was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, and am facing surgery for other injuries in the next few weeks. My cognitive skills were affected, so I have been careful about what I say in response to others.

      I could ask you the same question: Where is your quantitative evidence that expositional preaching done biblically produces disciples? I also wonder how you took this article to be anti preaching when I clearly stated, “Our purpose is not to just teach or preach. Our purpose is to teach and preach with our words, our lives, and our practices in such a way that others can do the same as they imitate us in their groups and among their family/friends/neighbors/work. More than explanation, we want understanding. More than application, we want obedience.”

      I have been in ministry with many roles since 1972. I was trained as an expositional preacher and have lead congregations from small to mega church. My experience in the church as a pastor told me that preaching alone does not make disciples. The healthy Christians who I would define as disciples did more than just listen to a preacher 30-45 minutes a week. They were in the Word, sharing it with others, discussing it, and living out what they learned, ministering to others, were involved in accountability groups and in helping others become disciples of Jesus.

      Why do we want to define “biblical peaching” as a 30-45 minute oration? Jesus spoke to the masses and explained what he said in small groups that dialogued with him – his disciples. Jesus often dialogued with his audience, most often with religious leaders.

      In the DMM Discovery Group, the Word is proclaimed, it is studied until the group understands it (which is evidenced by how they can explain the scripture in their own words), and the group holds each other accountable to do what they have heard, learned, and understood. See James chapter one.

      But, you asked for quantitative evidence. Take a look at the following.

      In a joint venture commissioned by Proven Men Ministries and conducted by the Barna Group, researchers found that 77 percent of Christian men between the ages of 18 and 30 view pornography at least monthly, and 36 percent look at it at least once a day. Thirty-two percent of these men admit having an addiction to porn, while 12 percent think they are. – http://www.onenewsnow.com/culture/2014/10/09/survey-alarming-rate-of-christian-men-look-at-porn-commit-adultery

      As many as 65 percent of men and 55 percent of women will have an extramarital affair by the time they are 40, according to the Journal of Psychology and Christianity. A Christianity Today survey found that 23 percent of the 300 pastors who responded admitted to sexually inappropriate behavior with someone other than their wives while in the ministry. – http://www.todayschristianwoman.com/articles/2008/september/why-affairs-happen.html

      Perhaps you are thinking, “This can’t be a problem in the church. Certainly the moral standards of Christians are higher.” There is growing evidence that adultery is also a tremendous problem in Christian circles. One could site many studies—the most recent from Christianity Today shows that 45 percent of Christians indicate having done something sexually inappropriate, and 23 percent having extramarital intercourse (Anderson, 2000). These numbers pretty much mirror the national averages. – http://www.kellybonewell.com/adultery-just-the-statistics/

      The Huffington Post recently headlined this provocative statement: “You May Be Surprised How Many Born-Again Christians Use Ashley Madison” (an online company that helps married people arrange affairs). The company recently surveyed its members, and discovered that 25.1 percent are evangelical (“born-again”) Christians. Catholics came in next, at 22.75 percent, followed by Protestants at 22.7 percent. The article quotes a British sociologist who explains the data: “People who have faith often use it as an outlet for forgiveness, so they’re more likely to cheat and less likely to feel guilty.”

      Tragically, studies reveal that spousal abuse is just as common within the evangelical churches as anywhere else. This means that about 25 percent of Christian homes witness abuse of some kind. – http://www.christianheadlines.com/news/domestic-violence-within-the-church-the-ugly-truth-11602500.html

      There are certainly other studies that indicate that Christians who are active every week in church show a lower percentage of involvement in all forms of sin. But, the numbers are still significant.

      I interact with a number of DMM churches that have traditional services, but encourage all members to be involved in a Discovery Group as well. In many of these churches the sermon teaches about and exhorts the congregation to be obedient to what they have learned the past week. The groups and the expositional sermon study the same Scriptures every week. This requires a lot of work from a number of leaders, paid and volunteer. Again, I quote from this article, “Disciple-Makers cannot just be teachers and preachers. They must spend significant time with their potential disciples in dialogue, demonstration, encouragement to teach others what they are learning, and exhorting them to obey (do) what they are learning. This is how one effectively moves knowledge and practice from one person to another and one generation to another.”

      David Watson
      Lantana, Texas

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