Building a Discipleship Learning Community

LearningCommunity-300x245A quick disclaimer. I’m posting this in rough draft form because I want to secure a “June” spot in my archives. I haven’t been able to post as frequently as I would like because of current school and work commitments. I pray you will be merciful, and that God will grant you understanding that can only come from Him, as my words, even when properly edited, are often a mess.


I’m not one for jumping on the politically correct bandwagon. I try to say what I mean and mean what I say. Until recently, it’s all been good. But not anymore.

Today, words that have traditionally conveyed one meaning have become meaningless.

Take the phrase Bible study, for example. For hundreds—dare I say thousands—of years this simple phrase meant exactly what it said. It meant that people came together to read and discuss the Bible.

Sometime in the past 43 years (although I cannot pinpoint when exactly, I know it was during the past 43 years, because it happened during my lifetime) Bible study became synonymous with small group study, book study, and even Christian video series study. I probably wouldn’t care about this change, except I am finding it increasingly difficult to explain myself when I talk about Bible studies and small-group discipleship. For this reason, I have adopted the phrase: Discipleship Learning Community. DLC for short.

As a quick aside, I thought I coined the phrase Discipleship Learning Community, but a quick Google search revealed that I did not. Regardless, it isn’t used much outside of missions. I’m not exactly sure what it means within missions, but if it is anything close to a small group of people coming together to intentionally focus on making disciples, then missions can continue to use the phrase with my added blessing.


I am fond of the phrase, Discipleship Learning Community, because it means what it says. And guess what? I plan on starting a Discipleship Learning Community. My hope is that it will self-replicate and multiply.

I want to share the developmental process with you on my blog, but as I type this, it occurs to me that you might want to join me in hosting your own DLC. I wonder, could we use this blog to share our ideas? Is it possible we could create a virtual DLC to provide support for each other as we work on developing a location-based DLC? The idea excites me, and I am encouraged by what I perceive to be an expansion of God’s plan.

While you consider these things, let me briefly share one approach to instructional design that I plan to use during the development phase. It is called, Understanding by Design (you guessed it—UbD, with a lower case ‘b’).

Understanding by Design is a tool used for educational planning that focuses on “teaching for understanding.” Quite a bit has been written about UbD. Grant P. Wiggens and Jay McTighe co-authored the book Understanding by Design in 1998. You can order it here if you are interested.

UbD has two components that I plan to utilize. The first, is its backwards approach to instruction. UbD says that we should start with the course learning objectives in mind before we begin designing lesson plans. For Christians, the main objective is a given: we are to obey the commands of Jesus and teach others to do the same.

The second component is related to the first, in that it says we can explore our course objectives by creating big idea questions. For example, if we were doing a unit on the Civil War, a big idea question might ask, Why does war happen? I have come up with two big idea questions for my Discipleship Learning Community:

  1. What is discipleship?
  2. How are disciples made?

What do you think of these big idea questions? Have you considered starting your own Discipleship Learning Community? Would you consider creating an online community with me to share our experiences related to DLCs?

The Process by which We come to Know

My last two blog posts were designed to convince you that the church should adopt an educational model. At this point, you may be thinking, “Yeah, I’m with you. But what does an educational model look like? How do we do it?” That, my friend, is the tricky part because it requires a complete paradigm shift. Notice I said tricky; not impossible. Let’s begin by looking at how the educational model differs from the pastoral model.

 Implicit in the nature of an educational model are 3 assumptions:

  1. That there is something to teach
  2. That there are people to teach it
  3. That there are people to learn it

Pastoral churches would agree with this much. They would say that the thing to teach is the Gospel, the people to teach it are the preachers, and the people to learn it are the congregants. As simple as it seems, this isn’t happening in churches. Why?

I think the answer stems from what we mean by learning and how we go about giving instruction.

Learning is a nebulous term.

Many researchers have tried to define learning, but none of them fully agree. In discussing this very issue, Peggy Ertmer and Timothy Newby (2013) of Purdue University say,

The way we define learning and what we believe about the way learning occurs has important implications for situations in which we want to facilitate changes in what people know and/or do.

First, we need to define learning. For our purposes, learning can be defined simply as the process by which we come to know.

Next, we need to examine our beliefs about the way learning occurs—as these beliefs will inform our decisions about how we teach.

At this point, it makes logical sense for me to give a brief summary of the different learning theories. But that would needlessly take too much time and be boring for you… and me. So, begging your pardon, I am only going to state the two things you need to know right now for us to continue. I am happy to provide more information upon request. I also suspect that learning theories will rear their pretty little heads in future posts.

The first thing you need to know is teachers teach the way they were taught; not the way they were taught to teach. Regardless of the research confirming that many instructional methods employed by teachers are ineffective, they continue to teach the way they were taught as students, which was the same way their teachers were taught as students, which was the same way their teachers…you get my point.

The second thing you need to know is students are not empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge. People don’t learn like that. People are multi-dimensional beings who bring varied experiences and different background knowledge to their learning situations. These experiences shape the way they learn and how they come to know.

How, then, do churches facilitate the learning process?

To answer this question, let us consider a familiar pastoral model by comparing it to an educational model. In a pastoral model the preacher preaches. He prepares a sermon and delivers it from a pulpit to his congregants. His message is often prepared in isolation amongst numerous reference materials consisting of concordances, commentaries, and language guides. He takes his biblical knowledge along with personal experiences and creates a message that is from him and for him to deliver in such a way that he feels the Holy Spirit has moved through him until finally he is able to impart the greatest wisdom of all upon you, which is to equip you with his 3 to 6 points of application that you can then take with you from church and apply to your daily lives. Under this model, you don’t need your Bible at all. The pastor knows what the Bible says. He is trained to tell you what it says. You can put your trust in him.

In an educational model, the pastor still works diligently behind the scenes to prepare for his meeting with the congregants, but he does not preach. Instead, he facilitates. His preparation takes on a whole new purpose. He must consider where each congregant is in relation to the Gospel. He must design experiences for the congregants that will deepen their understanding of Jesus. He must encourage collaboration with others so that they learn multiple perspectives. Rather than elaborating upon the Bible, he leads the congregants in a discussion about the Bible. The discussions allow congregants to articulate their own understanding and gives them an opportunity to use the language associated with being a disciple. Meaning is created from their personal and shared experiences. In this way, the learners gradually shift from being young novices to mature disciples, who then become responsible for teaching others about Jesus.  The process is cyclic and builds upon itself.

Historically the pastoral model worked because a majority of the congregants were illiterate and needed the pastor to tell them what the Bible said.  Literacy changed the church culture because people were able to read the Bible for themselves.

In addition, what we know about learning has changed. Modern teachers have moved past Pavlovian behaviorism and into blended constructivism. Which brings me to my final point.

The pastoral model is no longer effective.

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to helping people learn. People operating from an educational model understand this and they look for ways to ensure each student learns. If learning is defined as the process by which people come to know, then we need to examine the process by which we are teaching people to know Jesus. Understanding the instructional process becomes infinitely more important when we also understand that the reason for helping people know Jesus is so that ultimately they can teach others about Jesus.


Ertmer, P. A. & Newby, T. J. (2013). Behaviorism, Cognitivism, constructivism: comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective.performance improvement quarterly 26(2). 43-71.

Church Transformation: Adopting an Educational Model

I made the claim in my last post that churches need to adopt an educational model and focus on transformational discipleship. This post is my attempt to answer several questions surrounding that claim.

 What is church transformation?

The phrase church transformation is used to describe needed and/or wanted changes in the church.

Why does the church need to be transformed?

The church needs to be transformed because it is failing to make true disciples.

What is a disciple?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, which traces English words from their origins up to present day usage, a disciple is a person who follows or attends upon another in order to learn from him or her; a pupil; a follower. The word disciple was originally and chiefly used with reference to the followers of Jesus.

Christians use the term disciple to mean follower or student of Jesus. The emphasis should be placed on the student aspect of discipleship because:

  • Jesus was called Rabbi (teacher)
  • Jesus’ ministry was primarily focused on teaching
  • Jesus commissioned his followers to make and teach disciples
  • Being a follower of Jesus is implied by claiming to be Christian, while actively studying about Jesus and teaching others to do the same is not.

What do you mean by educational model?

In an educational (instructional) model, student learning is the focus. In school systems, for example, it is the difference between teacher-centered (lecture) instruction and student-centered (active) instruction. When student learning is a priority, every aspect of instruction is scrutinized to ensure the most effective strategies and methods are used in teaching students. By suggesting the church adopt an educational model, I am saying that each church needs to consider and answer the following questions:

  • What is the purpose of discipleship?
  • Who (specifically) are our students (those we are discipling)?
  • What type of environment will promote student learning?
  • What are the most effective methods and teaching strategies for our students?
  • What assessment strategies can we use to determine our students’ learning needs?
  • How do we train students to become effective teachers?

What is the biblical precedent for following an educational model?

Scripture is full of teaching references. So much so that it is impossible to catalogue them all here. However, the rationale I gave earlier for focusing on the student aspect of discipleship provides a biblical foundation for adopting an educational model.

You just want churches to follow an educational model because you’re a teacher.

Actually, it’s the other way around. I became a teacher because I saw that the current church model was ineffective in making disciples and teaching them to follow the commands of Jesus. I still study educational theories, teaching methods, and learning strategies to increase my knowledge and to keep abreast of current trends in education. I hope to pass this information along to you in such a way that you can apply it to discipleship training.

Are there other models the church can follow?

I don’t think so; not effectively anyway. Keep in mind, our goal as Christians is to perpetuate the cyclical nature of discipleship—go make disciples, teach them to keep the commands of Jesus, teach them to go make more disciples, so they can teach those disciples to keep the commands of Jesus, etc.

My church offers Bible study. Does this mean we already follow an educational model?

I cannot say for certain, but my experience says probably not. Adopting an educational model is a system-wide approach to discipleship, which requires that every aspect of the church be intentional about training disciples to further the gospel. This means that church services, classes, programs, and all other church activities will consider learning objectives, teaching strategies, and assessment methods.

How is transformational discipleship different from regular discipleship?

There is no difference, and you will not find transformational discipleship in the Bible. I use the term transformational discipleship to clarify and drive home my point that discipleship should change (i.e., transform) a person into Christlikeness.

The word disciple is passive. It is synonymous with Christian. It no longer invokes a sense of purpose.

By using the phrase transformational discipleship, I hope to inspire a missional attitude that will get you actively pursuing opportunities to learn more, and to educate others, about Jesus.


© Harvest A. Rich, 2014.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Harvest A. Rich with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Church Transformation: Adopting a New Church Model

Last week, I provided contextual background for our upcoming discussions on church transformation. Since then, I stumbled upon this post. In it, Jose Bosque extols the virtues of the organic church and suggests ways the church can avoid becoming institutionalized. Bosque draws heavily upon T. Austin-Sparks’ notion of organic church, which is defined as a church “born out of spiritual life, not institutions and [not] held together by religious programs.” He then outlines 4 principles to help pursuers of organic church-life avoid institutionalism.

Bosque’s 4 principles for avoiding institutionalism

  1. Maintain the Headship of Christ Don’t Return to Human Leadership
  2. The Ekklesia [sic] is an Organic People not an Organic Process
  3. Seek His Life not Meetings
  4. Follow the Holy Spirit not Plans

I share Bosque with you because the church transformation movement often seeks to eliminate institutionalism and tends toward adopting the organic church model—whether this is articulated or not. Bosque’s article outlines each of these models and, in so doing, appears to offer the ultimate solution for discontented laity. But I believe that people desiring to transform churches are actually yearning for more effective discipleship.

The alternative church models that I’ve shared on my blog provide the means by which the organic church model can be achieved. By this, I mean the alternative church models have the potential to effect Christ-like discipleship. But each model (including Bosque’s) poses its own set of problems, and if the people implementing the new models aren’t careful, they run the risk of reverting back to the very thing they originally set out to change.

Before I explain further, let me share a quick story.

About 8 years ago, I thought I was a Christian. I did everything I saw other Christians doing. I attended church. I was on the worship team. I led the drama program. I read Christian books. I listened to Christian radio. I had Christian friends. I went to prayer groups. I ate women’s breakfasts.

One day, I was talking to a new friend, whom I met through Toastmasters. He was a Christian.

“I don’t think you’re a Christian.” He said to me.


“I don’t think you’re a Christian.” He repeated. “Because I don’t think you know God.”

“What are you talking about? Of course I know God.”

“There’s something…off…whenever we talk about our faith. And I think it’s that you don’t know God.”

“You are so clueless. What do you mean, I don’t know God? Of course, I know God.” I ticked off the following points on my fingers. “I sing on the worship team. I am the drama leader at my church. I read Christian books. I listen to Christian radio.” I flung my hands in exasperation. “Don’t be stupid. Of course, I know God!”

He waited a moment for me to calm down. His blue eyes patiently stared at me. “But,” he finally asked, “is the god you speak of the God of the Bible?”

I could not answer my friend, because I had never read the Bible. In that moment, I realized that church had failed me.

The point I want you to take away from this story is that churches are failing in their greatest mission; which is to fulfill The Great Commission.

People in organic churches run the risk of becoming just as distracted as people in traditional churches. To combat distraction, you must ensure your church is intentional about making disciples. Just about every church will agree with this, but not every church is doing it. In fact, most aren’t. And that is what I want to see transformed. Transforming churches is meaningless, though, unless we transform disciples.

The solution is this:

Adopt an educational model that focuses on transformational discipleship.

To find out what I mean by this, be sure to read next week’s blog. You can sign up to receive my blog updates directly to your email.

In the meantime, you should read what my husband wrote about the dangers of church planting for The Great Commission.


© Harvest A. Rich, 2014.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Harvest A. Rich with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Church Transformation: A Background Introduction

Dear reader,

Would you please take a few moments to review the links I’ve provided below? Over the next several weeks I am going to write about church transformation, and I believe the following links will provide valuable context for you to understand the concepts and ideas I want to share in future posts.

I also invite you to leave comments and post links to sites that address church transformation. It is my desire to create a community of believers who recognize the problems of the current church model and who wish to transform church to more effectively fulfill The Great Commission.


Church Anarchist

If you don’t look at anything else on this blog post, please at least watch this short video titled “Real Churches are like Schools of Fish.” This cleverly crafted animation illustrates my philosophy about church more accurately in 4 minutes than I could if I wrote multiple blog posts. I highly recommend watching all of the videos posted on the Church Anarchist website, but by watching this one, you will be sufficiently orientated to the context from which I will write future posts about church transformation.

Why the name Church Anarchist? You can read the author’s explanation for choosing this title at his about page, in which he writes:

“Since there are multiple, even conflicting definitions for both the words church and anarchy, let me share how I’m using each:

Church = spiritual community

Anarchy = without hierarchy”


Christopher Michael Rich

In his blog post “If You Don’t Hate Church, Maybe You Should”, my husband provides background information about our church experiences, which led to many of the conclusions I’ll be writing about in my church transformation series.


Stephen Rives

After reading my husband’s blog post, “If You Don’t Hate Church, Maybe You Should,” Stephen Rives was kind enough to link me to his articles “A Sea of Words” and “Kansas City Antichrist Sermons.” He said to us in a Twitter message:

“WOW. Same story, different part of the country […] I made a real study of the problem […] This is what I found in Kansas City (proves your point) […] My point: Some of us know what you are talking about.”


Kathleen Ward

I greatly appreciate the work of Kathleen Ward and her husband, Kevin-Neil, because (1) I believe they understand the philosophy behind the church transformation that is starting to take shape and (2) they are already implementing strategies that make church more meaningful and effective for their discipleship community.

There they are, some links that provide contextual background to my upcoming discussions on church transformation. If you don’t want to miss out, be sure to sign up to have blog updates sent directly to your email. 

© Harvest A. Rich, 2014.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Harvest A. Rich with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Blind Leading the Blind

photo courtesy of

photo courtesy of

A blind girl on campus heard me walking near her. She stopped and said, “Excuse me?”

“Yes?” I answered.

“Would you please tell me how to get to Sutton Hall?”

I realized then that whoever designed our campus did so with esthetics, not pragmatics, in mind. There were no simple directions that I could offer the young girl to help her reach her desired destination, and because she was blind, gesturing was useless. I suggested, instead, that I take her to Sutton Hall.

I offered her my elbow for guidance, which she gratefully accepted, and shortly thereafter, I delivered her safely to her desired destination.

I was recently reminded of this experience and marveled at the absolute trust this girl put in me. She did not know me, nor I her. Yet, she took me by the arm and trusted me to guide her across campus.

This got me to thinking, as I often do, about the millions of people attending church in America, and how I cannot help but wonder about their salvation. I know, I am not to question another person’s salvation—particularly when they are convinced they are saved. But scripture tells us we will know them by their fruit. And I’m making the bold claim that America is in the midst of a famine. And I further assert this is the fault of (1) church leadership under the current church model and (2) laziness and lack of due diligence on the part of the people. The church model will be addressed in another blog, because it requires more attention. The latter cause, I will address here.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I must introduce my mother because she is one of the reasons I’m writing this post. My mother is Catholic. Please don’t think that I am about to bash the Catholic church and claim that Catholics are not Christians as, unfortunately, many of my fellow Protestants have done. But in my mother’s case, I believe it to be true. I say this because she does not put her faith in Jesus. Instead, she looks to her priest…for everything. She believes she needs her priest to absolve her of her sins; that she needs her priest to provide counsel for daily living; that she needs her priest to determine right from wrong. My mother is the most devout religious person I have ever met; but, she does not know Jesus. She has a beautiful, gold-leafed bible sitting on her coffee table; but she has never read it. In her mind, she doesn’t need to. That’s what her priest is for. My mother is 80 years old and in poor health. She often prays for death, as she cannot wait to get to heaven. But I am not so sure that is where she is headed.

I wonder about God’s justice and mercy in such circumstances. Why should my mother suffer an eternity in hell because she failed to fully understand the salvation that comes from knowing Jesus? Why should she suffer for doing what she believed was right; especially when she sought answers through her church and placed her trust in their leadership?

The Bible has much to say about leaders who lead people astray and what their future holds, and we are often quick to agree with God’s judgment about such leaders. We are not so quick to agree, however, when it comes to the victims of misrepresented leadership. For some reason, we do not want to accept that people can devote their entire lives to doing what they think is pleasing to God and still manage to get it wrong. We appeal to God’s mercy and assume he will make provision for those who gave an honest effort and tried, yet failed. Surely, God will not condemn such earnest seekers to eternal damnation.

If you believe that, you believe a lie.

God addresses the fate of these people in Matthew 15. He says to leave the false leaders, “they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”

When I read these verses, I think about my mother. And then I get angry because I want to shout at her and say, “This” pounding my fist on the Bible, “is why God gave us his word. So we would not have to be blind.”

Hear this—

You cannot blindly accept what you are taught at church. Do not put your faith and trust into church leadership or church traditions. You must exercise due diligence and stop being lazy. You are accountable for knowing the word of God and understanding what it means. Why? Because YOU will stand alone before God on Judgment Day. YOU will be held accountable for living up to God’s moral and righteous standard. And YOU will not be good enough—unless you have been granted the salvation of Jesus Christ and succumbed to His authority. There will be no finger pointing come Judgment Day. No blame to cast. It will be you and God.

Do not fall into the pit.

God gave us his word so we would not have to be blind. Read it.

© Harvest A. Rich, 2014.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Harvest A. Rich with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

No Excuses

I know I only recently began blogging, so missing a post probably isn’t a big deal. But consistency is important to me, particularly while I’m finishing up grad school, am in the midst of my daughter’s volleyball season, and am constantly bombarded with a host of other to-dos that I never quite get around to—consistency is my commitment to writing made manifest. I fear if I give up the consistency of writing, then I will never achieve the quality that I aspire to.

I wasn’t able to post to my blog last week because my daughter had a 3-day volleyball tournament over President’s Day Weekend. Multi-day tournaments are always hectic.

Of course, there is packing to be done.


A car to be rented.

Oregon Plate

We look like we’re from Oregon this time.

Beds to be made.

Making the Bed

Last minute dishes to be washed.


 Ewww…don’t look at my sink strainer. Disgusting.

I let my husband load the car…

Chris Loading Car

while I made sure our cat had plenty of foodCat Food

and water during our absence.

Pet Water


That was just for preparations.

Then we actually had to drive for 5 hours to get to Seattle.

Family in Car


Of course, we stopped for coffee along the way


Thanks for the excellent service Emmi!


We discovered that I won’t be getting the mommy of the year award any time soon because I forgot to pack the Valentine’s Day candy we bought our daughter—

but remembered to pack candy for me!

Valentines Candy

I was more than happy to share, but my daughter doesn’t like this kind of candy. She is a chocolate lover.

Then we checked into the hotel.

Wizards of the Coast

We saw that the “Wizards of the Coast” were having a “Magic” (the card game) gathering down the hall from us.

There were team breakfasts

Wide Angle BreakfastWe ate at The Cheesecake Factory–delish!

Volleyball BreakfastSeriously, look at that French toast. Yum!

Souvenirs to buy

Nana Shirt

And family to visit

Me n Crane

Me and my nephew.

And then, of course, a Bible to read.

Hotel Bible n Chair

You didn’t think I forgot did you?


It’s my commitment to knowing God’s word made manifest.

If I give up the consistency of reading God’s word every day, then I will never achieve the quality relationship with Him that I aspire to. That He desires for me.


No excuses.

Nana Blocking the Net 2

© Harvest A. Rich, 2014.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Harvest A. Rich with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.