The Importance of Discovery

Is discovery essential for disciple-making?
By Mark Naylor
Posted May 29, 2024

I remember some harrowing times teaching my children to drive. Explaining how a car works was not difficult, modeling how to drive with commentary was simple; sitting in the passenger seat saying, ‘Slow down, slow down, SLOW DOWN!” was harrowing. If the goal was merely to get safely from A to B, I would have said, “Pull over and let me drive.” But the object was to facilitate a learning opportunity through which my children would develop both confidence and competence in the skill of driving that would equip them adequately for the rest of their lives.

This is an apt analogy for disciple-making. I have heard a pastor declare that he did his disciple-making from the pulpit. However, sermons are not disciple-making. At best the lecture method helps with understanding, motivation, and self-reflection. At worst, it creates a dependency that leaves the listener believing they need such leadership if they are to appropriately read and understand God’s word.

The role of Christian leaders is to empower believers so they become not just disciples, but disciple makers. Such leadership takes seriously the importance of “sitting in the passenger seat” and facilitating a group of believers’ personal discovery of the character, will, and mission of God as they engage God’s word. Once such believers develop the confidence and competence to know God by obeying and sharing what they have discovered, they are ready to repeat the process with others.

This focus on discovery, rather than controlling the message through lectures and sermons, has been a game changer for the men I mentor in a South Asian country. One leader has established a discovery method of Bible engagement as his primary disciple-making tool. Each Sunday he meets with a group of men, mostly illiterate, gathered from surrounding villages. They spend the time engaging a Bible passage, summarizing the message, and asking the theologically forming questions, “How is God’s character revealed in this passage? His will? His mission?” But the major paradigm-shifting premise is that from the very beginning they are being trained to repeat the same process in their families and villages. The modeling and participation they experience on Sunday are translated into their own facilitation of God’s word among friends and family using the same discovery process during the week. They are “driving the car” themselves.

On Good Friday 2024 a common church program was transformed by the discovery method. On this day between 12 noon and 3 pm, the Christian tradition in many local churches is for seven people to preach sermons on each of Jesus’ seven sayings on the cross. However, the leader mentioned above arranged three services which were held in separate villages at the same time.  He led one, while two of the men he is training led the others. In each service, seven men were chosen, but not to preach. Instead, when a passage with one of Jesus’ sayings on the cross was read, one of the men was selected to provide a summary of what he heard. Then all who were present discussed and answered the key questions about God considering how they should obey and shape their lives as followers of Jesus.

When the default approach to God’s word is discovery rather than lecture or sermon, people develop confidence that they can read, understand, and obey. The discovery method creates ownership, commitment, and motivation rather than mere knowledge enhancement.  When followed up with an ongoing group mentoring process that includes accountability and support, the disciples not only grow themselves but become competent in a multiplicative process of making other disciple makers.


Dr. Mark Naylor D.Th. Missiology, Faculty Member with Northwest Baptist Seminary, Langley BC.

Professional development coordinator with Fellowship International. Mark trains Intercultural change agents, mentors disciple makers, coaches churches for missions and evangelism, and is involved in Bible translation.

Mark served with Karen, his wife, in evangelism, church planting and leadership development for 14 years among a least reach people group. Mark serves on the Novo Canada board of directors.