Rick Gregory, Writer

Translating Messages From Heads To Hearts

Obedience-Based . . . Or Knowledge-Based Discipleship?

I’m thinking so much these days about the differences between “knowledge-based discipleship” and “obedience-based discipleship.” I feel like my entire Christian life, I’ve practiced knowledge-based. Discipleship has been a program, a 6-week or 24-week or X-week or X-month protocol of lessons, which we attempt to master. Once we “get” the current lesson we move on to the next one. But we don’t stop and make sure we’re obeying as we go along. I can’t tell you how many Bible studies I’ve done where I’ve come up with “applications” that I’ve never followed through on. No one has ever asked me whether I’ve actually done what I said I’d do as a result of my study in the Word. And I have rarely asked anyone involved whether they really did what they “promised” to do after hearing from God. We just move on to the next lesson. And once we’ve gone through the whole batch-however many there are, we’ve “made disciples.”

It’s no wonder we’re such a powerless church. God shows us what to do, we say we’re going to do it – and we simply don’t.

The obedience-based approach is dramatically different. It is generally done through Discovery Bible Studies (DBS), is modeled a lot like the Storying we did with our neighbors during the pandemic after Simply The Story training. There’s an app on our smartphones (IOS or Android) called “Waha.” It systematizes the DBS process and makes it accessible to anyone with a phone (which is pretty much everyone these days). I’m planning to try it out here for sure, but also at home as well. People who use this method of discipleship are seeing crazy results. I don’t care about the numbers, but I want to be obedient to Jesus’ last command. I was challenged by the question: Read Matthew 28:16–20. Now write out how you’re accomplishing that last command. What??? What do you mean, “How am I accomplishing that?” Jesus said to go and make disciples. Not get conversions. Not have people say the “sinner’s prayer” (which actually isn’t anywhere in the Bible!). When I look back over the last 50 years of my life, I can’t point to but a handful of guys I’ve participated in seeing become disciples who make disciples who make disciples. It’s a dismal record! I want the rest of my life to be about fulfilling that last command – no matter where we live!

Here’s the obedience part of the Obedience-Based approach; During the DBS meetings, one of the questions is, “If this [word or story] is true, what change do you think God wants you to make in your life? Then you tell the others in the group what it is and when you next meet, if you haven’t obeyed, you just don’t move to the next story! You go through it again (and again and again if need be) until everyone in the group has actually been obedient to the Word’s work in their lives! It’s simple, but most importantly, it is reproducible, living out 2 Timothy 2:2 You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.

If you’ve read all the way to the end of this post, it begs the question . . .After reading Matthew 28:16-20, How are YOU obeying Jesus’ last commandment and accomplishing the Great Commission?

I’d love to hear your thougts!

7 thoughts on “Obedience-Based . . . Or Knowledge-Based Discipleship?”

  1. Rick, I completely agree with the premise of the difference. When we were in Bolivia, I came to the awful realization that the accepted evangelical method of evangelism that I had been taught for years (Roman Road, 4 spiritual laws, EE, CWT, etc.), was not fulfilling the Great Commission – it was (hopefully) only making converts. The only ones that I was ‘discipling’, in any sense of the work, were the guys I took with me to visit church plants and preaching points, to occasionally show the Jesus film, and with whom I had a personal ‘friend and neighbor’ relationship. Truly, almost anyone I shared with, to include those who watched the ‘Jesus Film,’ responded positively to ‘the Gospel’ – as in raised their hand at the ‘invitation,’ or prayed and took the Bible I offered, etc. If I was making converts, only God knows, but I knew I wasn’t making disciples. I actually went through a depression over this issue…. Through conversations with Terry, and especially after reading Dallas Willard’s ‘Divine Conspiracy,’ I completely changed my theology of evangelism and practical missiology on the field (as much as I could given the Mission’s tradition and philosophy). I have since ‘relaxed’ – Jesus is the one discipling me, he constantly shows me what I personally need to work on, in a very positive coach —> journeyman relationship. I have become quite cynical of programs, or devices. With age, I have become more and more committed to simply aggressively cooperating with Jesus as He shows me the next right thing to do personally, and He’s very faithful to do that. As I do, I find that He brings people into my circle of influence with whom I end up having a ‘disciplor’ relationship – I have several as we speak, and I had absolutely nothing to do with finding any of them. The bottom line, it seems, that this is somewhat what you’re discovering in your current walk….

  2. Rick, Thanks for sharing openly in this post and I agree 110% that Obedience is the key. Anyone can gain knowledge through reading or observing others but then not ACT on what God wants them to do.
    To be Obedient is another whole ballgame and the times in my life when I have had to step out in Faith and be Obedient to what I knew God wanted me to do….it was truly awesome and God always provides the protection and direction to make it through.
    Blessings my friend and brother!!

  3. Great insight Rick. I know I have told you this before, you’re one heck of a writer.
    Very hard to let go of knowledge and rely on, or learn full obedience:)

    1. Thanks, Mike! You’re so right . . . all our lives, both before and since we came to know Jesus, our focus has been on acquiring more and more knowledge. What we forget is that knowledge can never save us. And we don’t necessarily need “full obedience.” We just need to obey what we learn about God today! One step at a time. One “YES, Lord!” at a time. 🙂 And by the way, I’d far rather be a poor writer and obedient than a good writer and arrogant and disobedient!

  4. Jana L Thomas

    Rick, you are so right on target with this! It’s like we are taught knowledge is the way but Jesus example is all about love! I feel like I too have pretty much always been on the knowledge based cycle. Thank you for this thought provoking (hopefully action provoking) blog! So miss you and Sherry and love reading your blogs!

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