Every Sunday morning across America, people wake up, get dressed, drive to church, sing a few songs, listen to a sermon… and leave. Sadly many give little thought to what was heard. Christianity in America is full of expert hearers and negligent doers.
So many people don’t get Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish builders and think it’s about avoiding sand. (Matthew 7:24-27) Please note, both men “heard” the Word ~ the difference was what they did with it. But here’s the kicker, most do not naturally do something in response to what’s heard – what’s natural is to listen, smile, nod… and then forget about it.
I have found this can also be true when discipling women. Unless there is intentional effort to walk young believers through actively applying what’s been discussed, it often goes in one ear and out the other. Everyone needs to learn to be a doer – especially to be a faithful doer.
Nike’s “Just Do It!” ad sounds great, but the vast majority of us need help getting out the door to exercise.
Application is spiritual exercise. It’s when we follow James’ admonition to be doers of the Word and not just hearers of it. (James 1:22)
One way I help those I meet with learn to do this is by giving them an assignment each time we meet related to what we discussed.
In the beginning I need to be directive. That includes not just telling them what to do but also giving input on how to do it.
Now I may dialogue with them to clarify what’s workable for them, but in the beginning I prayerfully determine what the assignment is. And I make certain the assignment is SMART:
Specific – Not vague like “Why don’t you review the verse we learned this week” but “I’d like you to review the verse we learned three times each day this week”
Measurable – You want them to be able to clearly know whether they did it or not. For example, “I find it helpful to write out the days of the week on a 3×5 card with three boxes for each day and then have a friend listening check one off after each time she helps me review”
Accountable – I make sure they know I’m going to ask next week about this and I make it a priority to truly ask how it went at the start of our time the next week. This is so important!!! Do not forget to do this!
Realistic – Not “memorize the whole Bible by next week!” but something simple that’s do-able… like one verse? Maybe… This will vary from person to person! It’s not – is it realistic for a person to be able to do this, but is it realistic to expect this particular person will do this?!!! For example, if someone is an easily distracted procrastinator like me, I like to take time to memorize the verse together then ask them to review on their own throughout the week – because while it may seem realistic to ask people to memorize one verse during the week, I’ve found it usually doesn’t happen unless they are highly disciplined or motivated – or not until the last minute right before your next meeting! And rushing to learn a verse right before you start on the next one – well, you don’t really learn it that way!
Timely – Not something they’ll do ten years from now but within the next week.
So in the beginning these assignments are very discipler directed (which hopefully is totally God directed!!!) but my ultimate goal is to work myself out of a job!
As they grow I want application to become a way of life for them, something they automatically do whenever they hear or read God’s Word. and for this to happen eventually they have to learn to not depend on someone telling them what to do.
Baby Christians need you to be direct, but ultimately the goal is to get them into the driver’s seat. So over time, as they grow, it’s vital I gradually shift into coaching – helping them decide how they are going to apply what we discuss, because I’m not always going to be around!
When you coach, you ask a lot of questions and let them come up with the answers. For example, “What action would you like to take this week to live out what we’ve just discussed?” Then ask more questions to help them make it SMART!
Ultimately, I want them to come up with their own SMART applications, because that’s really where life change occurs.
As I’m doing this I’m not only helping them be wise and apply what we’ve discussed, I’m also modeling for them what application looks like. It’s also helping them learn the importance of processing.
And the role of accountability, especially as someone is learning to do this can’t be emphasized enough! I honestly believe this is a huge difference between hearing a message in a large group vs. one on one – you are much more likely to act on what you hear when you know someone is going to ask you about it.
With that said, it’s vital they know this isn’t about pleasing me. And it’s not about their value or acceptance as a person whether they do what I ask or not. But a disciple by definition isn’t a passive learner but one who makes what they are learning their rule of conduct – one who acts on what she hears!
So giving weekly assignments that are SMART and then gradually helping someone learn how to make SMART applications on her own not only can help her become faithful in applying what she hears, but it also acts like miracle grow – taking young disciples from diapers to driving in record time!