We are taking some time over the next several months to share some of the stories, situations, and meaning behind each of our Core Values and how these values have come to shape the ministry of Discovery Ministries. Connected Through Small Groups is the second Core Value we're sharing & seems relevant to our current way of life in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
By Joel Bates
I got a little excited when I found out that one of our core values has been put into legislation! While the government established new rules, restricting gatherings to ten or fewer people, we’ve been focusing on group sizes of ten to twelve at DM for years. The government declares this limit is necessary to facilitate social distancing—keeping us apart. However, we at DM know working in small groups actually enhances social intimacy, and we rely on this core value to promote a deeper level of discipleship at DM.
As I talked with a friend the other day about the awkward, yet growing relationships that he’s encountering with his wife and kids while they are “staying safe at home,” I felt reaffirmed in the value of small groups. A change in relationship is bound to happen when people have no choice but to be together.
I know that not everybody has someone close during this pandemic, and it would be extreme to say that I like the ten-person cap that our governments have mandated. However, I am enjoying this time of settling in with my family. I find myself taking time to look at the brighter side to this worldwide problem, leveraging it toward the good.
I admit I take those close to me for granted much of the time, and this forced togetherness sometimes becomes awkward. What do I say when all the superficial talk has run dry? The friend I mentioned told me that he and his wife have moved from sharing normal daily updates to reviewing a laundry list of to-do’s and often run out of things to say to each other. One day, my friend was surprised to realize he was with his wife and they were saying nothing, and it was good! They shared silence not because of hostile or cold distance, but out of security. He felt it was the dawning of a new day in their relationship. Often times when we’re in a smaller, more intimate group, the superficial topics of conversation quickly run out, and we risk delving into the meat of our relationships. We begin to trust each other and have those difficult conversations about the elephants in the room, or we feel free to communicate the love we were too afraid to confess before. It’s not that the fear goes away at these times, but our extended connection lessens the dread and provides opportunity, so the masks begin to melt away.
We see it all the time in our programs at DM as we assign small groups a task to complete. Instantly the group is bonded by a challenge, and having fewer members, the group actually works together to solve the problem. In the small group, members who are generally quiet observers dare to speak up and step out, offering valuable input simply because they don’t feel as overwhelmed by the group size. One of the top ten, greatest fears of most people is public speaking, but most of us have something helpful to contribute. In a small group setting, even the shy person will often shed his inhibitions and find the courage to contribute perceptive insights. As a facilitator, I’ve discovered that often the most profound gifts come in the quietest packages.
Like many of you, I have been experiencing more quiet in life that comes with simpler times. How much simpler does it get than being told to stay home with your family? But this can be so terrifying, too! Many of us don’t know how to sit still. We are conditioned to believe that we must be productive if we are to be of value, and before long, finding our value in achievements and keeping busy becomes a silent obsession. The scriptures do tell us, though, to be quiet sometimes before the Lord. In doing this, we can begin to remember that He alone is God (Ps 46). A smaller group doesn’t necessarily guarantee stillness, but the smaller the group, the fewer distractions and overwhelming needs abound.
It seems obvious the desire to find quiet, serenity is one reason why Jesus often withdrew with his inner circle of disciples. He knew the value of getting away from the din of humanity, the constant needs, the controversies, the burden of being so much to so many. He modeled the truth that there is a joy and peace in being significant with a few. To be significant to the crowds, to wear popularity among the people becomes burdensome and can often become an addiction as well. Being in the public eye comes at a cost, and often the price is too high for a person to pay. We see celebrities who appear to have it all, but they are often strung out on drugs because they can’t hold up the weight of all those adoring fans. They know supremely well how fickle is the crowd and how faulty is their ability to provide something truly good for the people.
This current Coronavirus is offering many of us an opportunity to experience something we seldom enjoy: a smaller group, a quieter time, a slower pace. I’ll leave you with Jesus’ invitation I find comforting: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to Me. Get away with Me, and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with Me and work with Me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with Me, and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. (Matthew 11 :28-30).
We are taking some time over the next several months to share some of the stories, situations, and meaning behind each of our Core Values and how these values have come to shape the ministry of Discovery Ministries. Commanded by Christ is our first Core Value.
By Leah Fuller
As a child, I received directives from my parents: “Leah, it’s time to get ready for bed; go brush your teeth.” “Leah, it’s your night to do the dishes.” Since I was such an obedient child, of course, I happily and immediately responded to my mother’s command every time--those of you who know me can stop laughing any time. Okay, in reality we all know that as young children grow, they begin to assert their own will from time to time, even most of the time. I wouldn’t immediately start getting ready for bed because what I wanted to do was keep playing with my toys. Playing was way easier than doing the dishes, too. At least that was what I thought until I felt the sting of the wooden spoon on my rear end. It has taken me a long time to realize that when my mother issued a command, she wasn’t being mean or bossy. No, she was inviting me into a life that exists beyond the confines of immediate gratification. In responding out of obedience, I was invited into the gift of surrender, relinquishing my right to remain in control. Typically, responding to my mother’s command ran counter to what felt normal and natural to me. Sometimes, it required more of me than I wanted to give. And yet, those commands were invitations into a deeper, fuller life.
Throughout the New Testament, we are challenged by the commands Jesus issues to us, His children. “Come, follow me” (Matthew 4:19). “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43). “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth” (Matthew 6:19). “Do not judge” (Matthew 7:1). “Do not be afraid!” (Matthew 14:27). “Get up, take our mat and go home” (Matthew 9:6). “Sell your possessions and give to the poor (Matthew 19:21). “Take up your cross” (Luke 9:23). These are not easy commands to obey because every command of Christ comes at a cost to us. It requires a sacrificial surrendering of our will, our possessions, our comfort, our lives of ease. And yet, His commands are rich with an invitation into something greater and more meaningful than we can fully comprehend in the moment.
Christ’s command invites us to surrender our human sufficiency. Consider the life that Jesus was inviting His disciples into when He sent them out in Matthew 10. Jesus sent these men to “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons” (v. 8). For these ordinary men to perform any one of these tasks would require them to surrender their own human abilities and understanding to walk purely in the power Christ gave them. His command required them to leave behind any extra money, clothes, or provisions they might supply for themselves, guaranteeing they would depend on God’s providing all that they needed (v. 9-10). We expend great effort in life to keep things manageable and within the realm of what we can handle. Obeying the commands of Christ will require us to do things that are far bigger than anything we can handle on our own.
Christ’s command is counter-cultural. Jesus says in John 15:19 “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” A huge part of Jesus’ purpose in coming to this earth was to confront the darkness that exists in the world. His very presence caused the demons to shudder in fear and to flee. And His Spirit in His followers today confronts the darkness around us. It is no wonder that John started his gospel by claiming “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it” (John 1:4-5). Christ’s light in us confronts a world that is full of darkness. See for yourself. Go into a dark closet in your house and then turn on a flashlight. You will see the darkness flee. The rich young ruler encountered this counter-cultural message when Jesus told him to go and sell everything he had (Luke 18:18-29). Even though this man had obeyed the law since birth, he went away sad because Christ’s call to live counter-culturally threatened his entire lifestyle.
Christ’s command calls us into adversity. Jesus instructed the disciples: “But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matthew 10:19). Notice that Jesus doesn’t use the word if. He is promising that they will be arrested. Not only that, but He will equip them to communicate His truth. He promised a few verses later “When you are persecuted…” (v. 23). He guaranteed that their lives would not be easy. Paul echoed these words when he encouraged the churches in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch: “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Adversity is not optional in Christ’s kingdom, and yet we would rather claim the promises of God from the comfort of our couch than actually face persecution, suffering, or adversity.
Being commanded by Christ is not an easy life. It requires obedience, surrender, sacrifice, and most of all love. Jesus tells us in John 13:34-35 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Christ’s love compels us to receive His invitation into surrender, counter-cultural living, and adversity. We are compelled to look different from the world and yet also to go into the world “making disciples of all nations…and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). This is the tension of being commanded by Christ. As we wrestle with what it means to receive His command and invitation, may we remember the promise of His presence. “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
Questions for Reflection:
How might Christ be calling you surrender your human self-sufficiency?
How might Christ be calling you to live counter-culturally?
How might Christ be calling you into adversity?
Prayerfully take some time to listen for specific ways God may be asking you to respond to His command as an invitation.
By Joel Bates
Take a minute to close your eyes and think about what you value most. For me, it’s not just the obvious answers—my wife and children and the events and places that surround my relationship to them. It’s the hard things—building a house, leading challenge expeditions in which I suffer along with a community, or crossing a finish line in a race well run as my teammates, coaches, and parents look on. All that I value is so much more, but I’ll spare you further details. Until recently when I agreed to teach on the subject, I never had seriously considered the values that rule my life. I began studying this topic to present it to some young missionaries in training, and I came to understand what influence values have on an individual or a group, why we have values, where they come from, and how they affect us. During this research, I found myself asking, “What are the core values of Discovery Ministries?”
For years, we’ve known what we do here, but usually find it difficult to interpret our approach to ministry for interns and youth leaders. As we try to give guidance and set up a retreat on the phone, we often finally tell the confused youth minister, “You’ll just have to experience what we do!" Experiences shape our understanding and propel our belief forward, and at the same time, it’s important to convey clearly what we value. Our values help answer the tough questions: “Who am I?” “Why do I do what I do?”
In the last blog, I shared a little bit of the leading we have felt to stop and consider this ministry called DM. Now I want to share what we’ve come up with in an attempt to communicate the deeper core values of this ministry. So, here goes. Discovery Ministries is…
It probably comes as no surprise to many of you that these are DM’s core values. Allow me to explain more in depth why we chose this particular set of values to pilot our course as a ministry.
First and foremost, DM is Commanded by Christ. This phrase means DM is a ministry of Christ’s church and an outpost in the Kingdom of God. DM belongs to Jesus. He provides for it. He sustains it. He leads in how we use it.
We are Called to Adversity. At DM, we intentionally create challenge because we believe that spiritual awakening best happens when our life patterns are disrupted by risk, discomfort, and ambiguity. Through adversity, our weaknesses and sin can be identified, addressed, and replaced with deeper trust and surrender. While many scriptures emphasize this aim, 1 Peter 1:7 says it so well, “That your faith, when tested, may be proved genuine and result in praise.”
DM is Committed to the Process of Wilderness. “What exactly is the process of wilderness?” you ask. It’s an age-old spiritual formation process that God has been using since Genesis. We invite believers into a wilderness setting, where the Lord can confront them and bring spiritual insight to individuals and groups. These circumstances offer an opportunity for a deeply residual effect on spiritual growth as participants wait, wander, wonder, and win. As a ministry, we take a risk ourselves because the true learning and growth lies mainly in the heart of the participant, not in our expertise. The words of James 1:2-4 express this process so well, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you face trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Our teaching is Crafted by Facilitation. As our primary teaching tool, facilitation enables us to pull learning from the experience. Structuring diverse opportunities for interaction, we invite participants into spiritual growth by crafting real-life pressures and stake as a means of transformation. We believe this style of teaching promotes greater personal transference from learning to practical Christian living. “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” 2 Tim 1:13-14
DM promotes being Connected through Small Groups. We work with groups of 5-20 campers because we believe that the greater relational impact achieved in small groups promotes vibrant Christian living as a body of believers. “Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, ‘”Explain to us the parable….”’ Matthew 13:36
DM’s ministry is Constructed with our Staff. Each staff member is a Christ-follower first, who embodies the spirit of DM and its mission. We are professional as instructors and passionate as ministers. Our staff members exhibit these constructs:
1 Peter 2:5
Over the next few months we will share some of the stories, situations, and examples of how these values have come to the surface.
Come along side us as we journey in and out of the wilderness, discovering our Creator in creation.