Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Church Based Discipleship Curriculum from CCEF

Last Friday and Saturday I went to College Church in Wheaton to receive training in the use of the first component in a church based discipleship curriculum produced by the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation. It's called the Transformation Series and consists of three parts: How People Change; Helping Others Change; and Change and Your Relationships. Two years ago a group from our church traveled to Columbus, Ohio for training in the second part(based on Paul Tripp's excellent book, Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change) so it was a treat to have the training in our backyard this year. If your church is in search of material that will help believers understand and apply a biblical model of Christ-centered growth in grace, I can't recommend these resources highly enough.

Paul Tripp and Tim Lane, whose soon to be released book How People Change is the basis for this second component, led the two days of instruction. They explained that the Transformation Series is designed to help fill two gaps that frequently exist in the lives of Christians. The first they called a ministry gap. This is the space between our superficial, casual relationships with other believers and the formal ministries and meetings of the church. We often fail to recognize the daily opportunities we have in our own families and friendships to help each other make progress in the purpose for which God saved us - conformity to Christ in thought, attitude, and behavior.

The second gap is what they call a "gospel gap." Our grasp of the gospel's relevance to our lives is clear with respect to the past (conversion and forgiveness) and the future eternal hope which is ours in Christ, but, as Paul Tripp noted, "The closer the gospel gets to the here and now, the fuzzier it gets." How, for example, does the gospel apply to daily trials and blessings such as marital conflict, physical suffering, affluence, job loss, family crises, parenting pressures, achievements, and financial difficulty? If we're not intentionally thinking biblically about these things, our responses to them as well as the ways we seek to help others facing them will be informed by some other philosophy of life which will not facilitate growth in the grace and knowledge of Christ.

One of the strengths of this curriculum is its emphasis on the communal aspect of sanctification. One of the lessons called "Change is a Community Project" challenges our tendency (at least as American believers) to conceive of and pursue godliness in very privatized and individualistic ways. As long as we're having our personal devotions and attending weekly meetings (with people we scarcely know and to whom we'd dare not expose our true selves) we delude ourselves into thinking that we're doing all that God requires of us.

Paul and Tim reminded us that this is far from the biblical picture of Christian living. God, who exists as a triune community invites people into community with himself and each other. And it is in the context of relationships with each other (with all their messiness) that he reveals the idols that have captivated our hearts and does his gracious, powerful work of transformation. The fear that often motivates us to be unapproachable, superficial, and detached from other Christians evidences that we crave security, approval, and acceptance more than we do spiritual maturity.

Preparing to participate in this weekend was intense and painful. In addition to having to read David Powlison's Seeing With New Eyes, we also had to read all of the curriculum lessons and do the assignments for each lesson. I say this was painful not because of the amount of work but because of the insight I gained into my own heart. It's easy to quote Calvin's observation that the human heart is an idol factory. It's much more difficult, however, to examine what's coming off your own production line. Working through this material heightened my awareness of the inner pantheon of functional gods that captivate my affections and detract from my worship of the true God revealed in Christ. Consequently, a renewed gratitude for the message of the cross with its promises of pardon and hope for change overwhelmed me.

I'm grateful to the folks at CCEF for these valuable resources and hope that many in the body of Christ will avail themselves of them. You can find excerpts from the two existing modules at the page linked to in the first paragraph of this post.

I'd appreciate hearing the impressions of others who have participated in either of the training sessions.

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Sean Dennis said...

Thanks for the insightful review. In what setting does your church use the curriculum? Right now our church uses the "Discovery Series" developed by the Center for Church Based Training. It's pretty solid material, but we use it during the Sunday School hour and we have a hard time getting through the material in that time. So I'm interested in hearing how the implementation of the "Transformation Series" works out.

On a side note, I would rate Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands as one of the very best books I've read in the past three years (and that's competing with a lot of other books).

- Sean

KP said...

Hi, Sean

Wow! That's some endorsement of Tripp's book. Would you rate it even higher than The Purpose-Driven Life and Your Best Life Now? (Just kidding. I couldn't resist.) I have to agree that it's among the very best volumes I've read lately, too.

We've experimented with CCEF's discipleship curriculum in a number of settings including our Sunday morning Adult Disciple Training (we stopped calling it Sunday School because too many "grown ups" think that's just for kids.)

There's no way justice can be done to the material in a regular 12 or 13 week quarter of an hour per week. We've extended it over 16 weeks but even that is pushing it. The next time I do it I think it will run for 24. Paul Tripp and Tim Lane stressed that the 12 lessons that comprise each module should be considered 12 units of thought that can be stretched over multiple meetings. They also warned against sacrificing interaction for the sake of getting through the content.

Ideally, I think 90 minutes to 2 hours would be the best length of time for each meeting. With that schedule, the number of weeks could be cut down without harm to about 16.

We've used the material in both large and small groups but I think the latter is the preferred method so as to foster the kind of interaction and discussion intended. If you haven't already taken a look at one of the sample chapters, do so. You'll find that there is a lot to cover in each unit but I don't think any of it's extraneous.

We've taken some of our small group leaders and men's group leaders through the "Helping Others Change" module after which time some of them led their groups through it. One of our women's ministries may use the most recent component in the near future. Thinking long-term, I'd like to see everyone in the congregation go through it. I can dream (and pray)!

Please let me know if you have any other questions.

Jeff Dowdy said...

My name is Jeff and I work with a ministry in Brazil. I was wondering if you have any of that curriculum on a digital file. We are starting up a series at our church on the workbook - how people change. But the workbook makes no reference to the gospel gap. I would love to take a look at it before we start this coming Sunday.

KP said...

Hi, Jeff. I'm sorry but I don't have the curriculum on a digital file. You might try contacting the folks at CCEF and see if they can help you out.