Wineskins Archive

January 23, 2014

Setting the Captive Free! (Nov-Dec 2008)

Filed under: — @ 4:29 pm and

by John King
November – December, 2008

Last week, five members of the Crypt gang, who are incarcerated in the Metropolitan Nashville Jail, participated in a discovery Bible study facilitated by one of them. I have been discipling Alan, that facilitator’s cellmate, in training other prisoners to encourage their “household” groups to discover God together.

Who would ever dream or imagine such—gang members discovering the character of God through the Bible? Can the lost facilitate a Bible study? “How could this happen?” someone asks—discipleship is the answer.

For the last three years I have been pouring my life into ten prisoners. Not all at the same time, but I have come to know each through an earlier disciple.

Justin came forward the first Sunday he attended Stones River Church (late May, 2005). He confessed he would have to report to jail soon. His former home church had ostracized him and he wanted a church family to watch out for his wife and children.

He and Jonathon, our worship minister, formed a friendship. Justin’s wife relayed his desire to receive regular visits from Jonathon. By the fall, Jonathon told me he believed I should start visiting since Justin was asking deep Bible questions. I agreed.

While all of this transpired I was preparing to return to Sierra Leone, Africa to lead an inductive Bible study seminar for indigenous church planters. They had been trained in simple biblical church planting strategies, but needed to improve their study skills to address the successes they were already experiencing in Muslim-dominated areas. They needed a Bible study method they could pass on to brand new believers who were handling the Word of God for the first time.

As I listened to recordings of the training they had experienced, I wrestled with how complicated we have made Bible study. I also agonized with how disobedient an average American church-goer is. Jesus’ teaching at the close of the “Sermon on the Mount” convicted me. Matthew 7:26 says, “But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.”

At its fundamental center, discipleship is about obeying Jesus. Yes, you have to learn what he commands, but that is not enough. You must put it into practice.

The most ignored phrase in the Great Commission is the directive to “teach them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Following the Greek idea of education, we focus too much on transferring a body of information from the teacher to the students rather than the Hebrew goal of modeling godly living before disciples. Jesus showed his disciples how to live and minister and immediately expected them to attempt to imitate what they saw.

Ask any construction worker how he learned his trade and you will get a good parallel to biblical discipleship. It is more about practice/obedience than about transferring information. Our Western model of education has stripped us of a healthy understanding of discipleship.

Alan is five disciples removed from Justin. This is not his first encounter with Crypt gang members. He’s gone through spiritual warfare involving others from this gang.

Months ago Alan was putting into practice the things he was learning from Jesus. From our first visit he agreed to attempt to teach someone in his pod everything I taught him. He learned to do a three-column study that first day. Before the week was over he taught Thomas to do the same, and Thomas also taught his cousin who was in the same pod.
A three-column study is a personal study strategy that enforces significant spiritual disciplines. Alan learned to turn a blank piece of paper to a landscape format. The page is then divided into three columns by drawing two vertical lines. The first column is named, “God’s Word.” The second column is titled, “In My Words.” The third column gets the heading, “I Will . . . ”

Alan taught Thomas to write out a passage (approximately 8 – 10 verses) in the first column (writing it longhand disciplines the learner to closely read the Word). Next, he is taught to re-write the passage in his own words in the middle column (the important points of the text are re-told as though sharing it with a twelve-year-old child). Then Thomas is taught to prayerfully complete the written assignment by composing statements that begin with the words, “I will . . . ” Every sentence in this column affirms a commitment to be obedient to what God is teaching him to do to put this passage into practice.

As Alan experienced success in teaching what he was learning, he reached out to more men in his pod. Eventually he shared the gospel with the most prominent Crypt gang member in his pod. This guy sneered at the idea of becoming a believer. Weeks later he succeeded in getting Alan removed from the pod by getting several other prisoners to lodge written complaints against Alan’s work as a trustee in the pod.

While the jail staff realized Alan had not done anything illegal, they deemed it too troublesome to leave him in a pod where this group has turned on him. The decision was made to move Alan to a different floor where he would serve as the assistant trustee.

Alan was shaken by this concerted attack. But after a couple of weeks he realized it gave him a chance to start over and learn from his earlier experiences. He recommended someone who might be able to keep the old study group going. While that did not prove successful, I have discipled four more guys from that same pod.

Alan completed his sentence in Rutherford County. But because his crime there was committed while on probation in Metro Nashville, he was transferred to the Davidson County Correction Facility. Here he started discipling his cellmate. But rather than leading the study group himself, Alan chose to encourage his cellmate to facilitate the study with his fellow gang members.

This is how five Crypt gang members started studying God’s nature in Genesis.
Their group time involves them in sharing what has been good in their lives this last week. What are the needs they or their loved ones have? Then one of them reads the passage out loud. Another one re-reads it. Then one re-tells it in his own words. The facilitator asks the others if there are any important points that were left out when it was re-told. They add any important points that were omitted. (In this process they are developing a shared group memory of the passage that is better than any one of them could have.) Then they discuss a few questions: What do we learn about God in this passage? What do we learn about humans in this passage? What do we learn about God’s plan for humans? What should we do to obey this passage?

To the extent they put into practice what God calls them to obey, they will be transformed. Their handling of the Word of God will change them from the inside out. Together they will discover God’s justice and grace. They will discover their need and that Jesus is the answer. They will be faced with the decision to obey Jesus. They are early on the journey, but through this process they are learning to disciple others in a way that is reproducible. I am praying for an astounding multiplication! Will you join me?

Editor’s note: Names have been changed. All other details are accurate.New Wineskins

John & Debra KingJohn King has ministered in American churches in Tennessee and Maryland since 1980. Over the last three years he has been training church planters in teaching a simple, easily reproduced, inductive Bible study strategy that encourages obedience-based discipleship. His goal is to have Discovery Bible Study groups in all 16 pods of the jail so the 800 plus inmates can be exposed to the Word of God and learn to live out an obedience-based discipleship to Jesus that will transform their lives giving them true freedom. He is praying for a Church Planting Movements to begin in the U.S. A 2004 short-term mission trip to Sierra Leone, Africa altered the course of his life. John returned to Sierra Leone in 2005 to support a developing Church Planting Movement (CPM). He was commissioned to train indigenous church planters to teach others to do simple inductive Bible studies. John has been married to Debra since 1981 and they are the proud parents of Kenneth and Rachel. Email him at [].

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