Full Transcript of Episode 03: Daniel Im & Discipleship Inputs and Outputs
Lizette Beard: [00:10] Podcasting from Nashville, Tennessee, this is “Keep Asking,” the weekly podcast that helps you dive in a bit deeper and wider into the research providing insights into today’s church in culture.
[00:27] Hey, guys. Welcome back. I’m here today with Scott McConnell, a regular member of our podcast team, and special guest Daniel Im.
Daniel Im: [00:36] You sound so nice on this podcast, Lizette.
Lizette: [00:38] Yes. Daniel, we have come a long way. It’s been two years since you started?
Daniel: [00:43] Yes, it has been.
Lizette: [00:44] We’ve found a lot of healing. We had a bumpy start.
Daniel: [00:47] The bumpy start was you, us all in a van together, and you saying you were going to take me down. I remember that.
Lizette: [00:55] I know.
Daniel: [00:56] You were serious. I didn’t know you, so I was like, “Is this girl for real?”
Scott McConnell: [01:02] I’ve heard of thinly veiled threats, but that’s not even veiled.
Lizette: [01:05] I know. I can tell you, we were in Dallas, and we were at our Church Planting Leader Fellowship [CPLF] event. You had just come on board, and all you heard about was, “Oh, it’s so fantastic that he’s on board, and you’re so lucky. He’s so amazing.” Maybe I was just weary of the awesomeness.
Daniel: [01:30] After two years?
Lizette: [01:32] The awesomeness is bona fide.
Daniel: [01:34] I didn’t need to hear that.
Lizette: [01:35] Yes. No, trust me.
Daniel: [01:37] Let’s cut that out.
Lizette: [01:39] It’s so…No. It’s staying in, because Daniel has done a tremendous amount.
Daniel: [01:44] Hopefully, this podcast doesn’t ruin it for you.
Lizette: [01:46] No, it won’t. Absolutely not. Again, one of our actually former colleagues, Jon Wilkie, @jon_wilkie, gave us a question. How can we use data to make disciples? I thought of you right off the bat. I hope you’re touched.
Daniel: [02:04] Yeah.
Lizette: [02:04] I know we’ve had a lot of fun talking about our discipleship data, your heart for discipleship, and what you’ve seen, and how you talk to churches. Tell us a little bit about where your heart or interest in discipleship ties in. Tell us a little bit about what you do here at LifeWay. That would be a polite thing to do.
Daniel: [02:33] My wife and I have been married for 10 years, and we have three children. We moved down to Nashville 2 years ago to join the team at LifeWay, and to figure out how LifeWay was going to be able to resource church planters, multi-site churches, and to really be able to do that.
[02:53] Oftentimes, when people think of LifeWay, they’re going to think research, or they’re going to think Bible studies or VBS, but not often about church planting or multi-site. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last couple of years. It’s all on NewChurches.com.
[03:05] It’s been neat to be able to leverage the state of church planning, research that, that you guys have done, and to really be able to communicate that and get that word out. That’s my main responsibility here at LifeWay.
[03:18] As a pastor — and currently, I still, even though I’m full time here at LifeWay — I serve bi-vocationally as a teaching pastor at my local church. I’m a pastor. That’s my heart. I love resourcing pastors, and I specifically love discipleship and helping people see it in a different way.
[03:38] Oftentimes, we think the goal is maturity, and no one would disagree with that. It’d be like, “Yeah, of course, I want mature disciples,” and then the next question is, “So what does that look like?”
[03:50] Inevitable, the conversation goes to, “Well, it’s the fruit of the spirit,” or, “Are they exercising the gifts of the spirit? Are they FAT — faithful, available, and teachable?”
[04:04] All of these things keep on coming up, and then it really is, at the bottom line, one of those things where people ask you, when they ask, “How do you know you’ve met the one?” and people just say, “Well, you know when you know.”
[04:18] I feel like that’s how it is with maturity and discipleship. People say, “Well, you know when you know someone’s a disciple.” It’s hard to be able to articulate, and a lot of people don’t have the language to articulate that.
Lizette: [04:29] Do you find any tension in your advocacy promotion, equipping for church planting, and then also your passion for discipleship? Sometimes, those seem like they are opposed to each other, even though everyone’s trying to fix it, but you are always talking about both. What’s that tension?
Daniel: [04:51] Yeah, because when you look at the beginning and the starting of new churches, although every church is going to have a different vision, mission statement, and strategy in the way that they’re going to plant or the people that they’re going to target, all of that really should be an iteration of the great commission.
[05:12] In that sense, when you look at the great co-mission, which is to go and make disciples of all nations, it really is tied together. That’s why I was so excited. Before joining the team at LifeWay when I was working on my master’s thesis I combined those two worlds.
[05:32] I developed a discipleship pathway for multi-site churches, so a discipleship pathway that was scalable. As I was wrestling through the concept of maturity and how you know someone is mature or not, I came across the LifeWay Transformational Discipleship research.
Lizette: [05:48] Woohoo!
Daniel: [05:49] That was before I knew you guys. I came across, and I started reading it. I was like, “Wow, this is really thorough,” like 20 plus qualitative expert interviews, 1,000 interviews with Protestant pastors, and then 4,000…
Lizette: [06:03] This is why you were invited to the podcast.
Daniel: [06:06] Then 4,000 lay interviews, about 3,000 in the US and about 1,000 in Canada. To find something this comprehensive and the fact that it was even built on Brad Waggoner’s…What is it called? Was it the Spiritual Formation Index?
Lizette: [06:22] Inventory.
Daniel: [06:23] Inventory?
Lizette: [06:23] Yeah, in his doctoral work.
Daniel: [06:24] Yeah, so to see it even built on that and his longitudinal research on that, I was just so geeked out and excited that I took those eight attributes that you guys worked through and really made that a central piece of my thesis.
Lizette: [06:41] Help us bridge and find the magic bean of you being so geeked out over data and making the connection with discipleship. You got excited about it, and sometimes people are not.
Daniel: [07:02] I flesh this out a lot in the book that I’m currently writing with B&H — It will be out next year –called “No Silver Bullets.” One of my chapters is all on discipleship and the fact that we teach the way that we’ve been taught. We disciple the way that we’ve been disciple. We learn the way that we’ve been taught unless we consciously do something different.
[07:27] I feel like the same is with discipleship. Unless we have a clear mark of what maturity actually looks like and for that to be defined not just on conjecture or our own biased personal experience, unless we can know that and get a good survey which is the result of data, I feel like we’re handicapping the way that we disciple, our disciple and disciple others.
Lizette: [07:53] Scott, if you want to talk a little bit about that, how do you measure discipleship? How do we have the right or the privileged to say, “Oh, we have a discipleship assessment?” What can you say to that?
Scott: [08:07] As Daniel mentioned, it did begin with Dr. Waggoner’s doctoral work. It’s important to look at where he started. He started by literally pulling Scriptural principles out of the word, making a giant list, and then running it by experts, theologians, professors, and having them vet that list and massage that list.
[08:34] Of course there’s a jump over to question form, taking those principles from Scripture and putting them into questions, but, again, he vetted them several times with experts before he ever fielded the survey.
[08:45] Again, the Transformational Discipleship Assessment that you see today is about the fourth generation of that as through the years we continue to refine it, try to make the questions a little sharper.
[09:00] One of the things is each of these eight attributes, the questions within the attribute, there’s actually a pattern. There’s an underlying statistical pattern behind those questions. Not only have theologians said, “Yes, these questions are asking about, say, Bible engagement or about sharing Christ,” but the data also links them so that together they’re telling a story about where that individual is at on those given items.
Lizette: [09:27] What’s the importance of that pattern working together? Why is that neater than a group of questions that don’t have that pattern working together?
Scott: [09:37] We write questionnaires all the time where a single question is measuring a single thing, and that’s helpful. It’s descriptive. In this case we want to make sure that this is consistent over time, it’s reliable. For something to be statistically reliable, we need that pattern to be there time and time again.
[10:02] We actually statistically test the reliability to make sure it is there consistently. If you’re going to measure the length of something, you want that ruler to be the same every time you go to measure it. If the ruler keeps changing on you because somebody might be reading the questions a little differently, then that ruler is not going to work.
[10:25] Because the pattern has been shown to be consistent and, again, in the US and in Canada, in three languages, repeatedly those patterns are there, we know that this ruler is measuring what it says it’s measuring.
Lizette: [10:44] Daniel, I want you to jump in here in a moment and talk a little bit about the chapter where you were working the data about discipleship. Do you have any, or have you had any, reservations about talking with individuals or groups about an assessment or seeing their discipleship in charts and numbers?
Daniel: [11:08] There’s always this tension in the sense that we all have different perceptions on data. I feel like the tension really is between faithfulness and fruitfulness. When you look at that tension there it’s like, “What is an assessment telling us?”
[11:27] How are we going to use it? Are we going to use it to judge someone’s fruitfulness, or is it going to be a way to measure someone’s faithfulness and the result is their fruitfulness? The beauty of having a tool as accessible as the TDA, The Transformational Discipleship Assessment.
[11:47] Is that you can actually measure your growth and the growth of those that you lead in your small group or your church over a longer period of time and see whether or not the way that your discipling, the way that you’re preaching, the way that you’re leading is actually moving people towards Christlikeness.
[12:07] That’s why breaking down maturity into these eight attributes, or in the chapter I call them output goals, it’s one of those things where you can’t legalistically just become a disciple. There’s predictive behavior.
[12:26] As you seek the Lord with the right heart and you’re faithful, he is going to be the one that produces the fruitfulness, which is evidenced by those eight attributes, which is ultimately maturity.
[12:38] How do you put boots to the ground rather than just say, “You want to grow? You want to be mature? Just worship, read the Bible, or do Sunday School.” Those are all good things, and they actually do help, but the research will show how specifically are they transforming you, shaping you, and moving you towards Christlikeness.
Lizette: [13:03] If you were to give a pastor or discipleship leader some cheats or low-hanging fruit from the work that you’ve done in this area, what are some high points?
Daniel: [13:15] When you look at the eight attributes, which they can find on your website, what is it, tda.lifeway.com?
Lizette: [13:24] Yeah, I think so. They can get there if they go to LifeWayResearch.com. Then there’s a TDA link.
Daniel: [13:29] When you look at those eight attributes, sometimes we try to…Let’s talk about dieting. This is the idea of input and output goals. If I want to lose 10 pounds, that’s a great goal. It’s a great goal, but how do I lose 10 pounds?
[13:49] I can tell myself, “Hey, I’m going to lose 10 pounds,” and then I’ve got to go weigh myself on the scale every day. I’m going to eat the same. I’m going to maybe not eat a Snickers bar one day, but the next day I eat two because I justified myself.
Daniel: [14:04] We do these things. We’re like, “Oh, but it’s OK. I’m on a diet. I have a goal. I’m going to lose 10 pounds.” A lot of times that’s how we try to approach discipleship. We’re like, “Oh, we’re going to develop disciples. We’re going to move them towards maturity.”
[14:16] Then you measure the number of people in small groups or you measure the number of people who are doing some sort of thing. That’s this idea of an output goal, but there are things that you do today that can actually affect that output goal.
[14:30] If I want to lose 10 pounds, I need to go online and find a calculator that I input my current weight, I input my weight in the period of time like in 10 weeks, and then it will spit out how many calories I’m allowed to eat every day.
[14:48] I have to measure what I do, my input. There are things that I need to input. There are things that I need to do that are going to result in that, so I need to measure my calorie intake. I also need to exercise.
[14:59] In the same way with discipleship, there are input goals that we as church leaders need to be focusing on, developing our ministry around, developing our sermon series around that are going to produce the goal of maturity, which is evidenced by those eight attributes, those eight output goals. Sometimes we don’t know what those input goals are.
[15:26] I didn’t know them either. I just kind of guessed. When I came to you guys with the chapter and I was like, “Is there anything that you can share with me,” you opened up this magic box called regression analysis. I was floored.
Daniel: [15:38] I was like, “Are you kidding me? This is like the best thing ever!”
Lizette: [15:41] At this point I’m going to transition over to Scott because that’s what I was wanting you guys to talk about. I wanted to get there, but I was like, “I don’t know how to do this because I trust on them.” Talk. I’m going to hand it over to you guys. Talk about this magic toolbox.
Scott: [15:55] With the Transformational Discipleship research we asked a lot of questions. We tested more questions than you even see on that assessment. Then there are questions that fall into a miscellaneous category because there is not a pattern that includes them in one of the eight areas.
[16:14] One of the things we did at the end of the analysis was to say, “Let’s not only make a score for each of the eight attributes, let’s make a total discipleship score.” We know that on some level that’s meaningless, but from a mathematical standpoint it has meaning.
[16:30] It’s saying all of these Biblical things, how full am I? How full are you in terms of being where Scripture tells us we ought to be? The regressional analysis says, “Do any of these items we ask, can they actually predict a higher score in total or for one of those attributes?”
[16:57] Some of those may be in that attribute because they’re very practical questions. They’re things that we’re believing. They’re things that we’re doing, or they’re things that are more volitional. Do we want to do certain things? What’s our attitude like?
[17:12] Some of those are inside those attributes, but others are outside questions that just happen to be great predictors, again, something that happens beforehand, as Daniel mentioned, an input that statistically the analysis shows us it leads to that faithfulness that we’re looking for.
Daniel: [17:36] One of the interesting things about that, and as I was looking through them because there’s a lot of pages to it, confessing your sins was one of them that really stood out to me. If you flesh out that whole input goal/output goal idea, confessing your sins was an input goal.
[17:54] It’s something that we can do personally. It’s something that we can corporately lead our church to do, confessing your sins. Inevitably if we say, “OK, you’re going to confess your sins,” how is that going to predict or how is that going to produce some sort of output goal?
[18:14] I think if you were to ask anyone that question it would be like, “Well, if I confess my sins, I’m probably going to have more faith. I’m going to be able to exercise faith more. If I confess my sins, I’m going to seek God more.” There are some of these things that it makes sense. Like you’re saying, it makes sense.
[18:34] The one thing that really shocked me, the beauty of the regression analysis and the whole input and output goal thing, is that when you confess your sins that actually resulted in people sharing Christ more, showing that behavior of sharing Christ.
[18:51] It’s like, “If I confess my sins, I’m going to be more motivated to evangelize?” You think backwards and you’re like, “OK, I see how that connects, but I don’t think that’s apparent.”
Scott: [19:07] Sometimes we think input/output, I do the input to get the output. Really if we’re doing the input wholeheartedly, we’re doing confession because we want that right relationship with God. In that setting we’re going to experience the grace God has extended to us.
[19:26] When we really comprehend the grace that we’re experiencing, we’re going to want to share that with others. When it’s genuine, when we’re really experiencing that, it will overflow.
Daniel: [19:40] Exactly. For example, there’s this one guy that I’ve been discipling. He’s struggling with pornography. A lot of people have told him, “If you want to stop that, then you just have to stop it.” I feel like that’s what we do in our spiritual life.
[20:01] You want to grow to be more like Christ? Then just grow. Just read the Bible. Just do it. Just do it. Hike up your pants, get it going, and do it.
Daniel: [20:10] It doesn’t work like that. I love this illustration. Peyton Manning, as a Canadian I’m talking about football, but I love…
Daniel: [20:22] What was interesting is I read this story of how Peyton Manning, before Deflategate and all that stuff, he would actually practice getting snaps with a wet football. The football would be dunked in water and then be snapped to him.
[20:38] He would practice receiving wet footballs and throwing them not because every game is played within an open stadium. Only a few games a year are played in an open stadium, but for that off chance that the game is played in an open stadium and it’s raining, he can actually catch and throw it.
[20:59] I feel like that’s how it is with our spiritual life as well. If we want to grow to be more like Christ, it’s not always doing what is most evident. How do we do it sideways? If you want to ask people to share their faith, and I think pastors and church members have heard a lot of sermons on the Great Commission and going and sharing your faith, it’s good to do that.
[21:24] It’s good to give people tools on how to do that. That’s important, but what would it look like if you were to actively move your people to confessing their sins? That would actually result in them being more likely to share their faith because of what you said, Scott, that grace, being overwhelmed by that grace.
Lizette: [21:41] That’s something that we’ve talked about whenever we’re jumping back into the discipleship material and I’m either talking through it with churches or leaders. The more time I spend in it and the more time I see all the ways — we talk about them as things that are measurable, actions, attitudes, and beliefs — it’s very convicting.
[22:05] I see areas that I’ve started to neglect, maybe several areas that I’ve started to neglect. It clarifies for me, “Hey, this may be why I don’t feel some of these spiritual emotion or I’m not feeling as fruitful,” that kind of thing.
[22:25] It takes it back to, “Am I making myself available to all the ways I can encounter God and all the ways I can serve others and let God work through me?”
Daniel: [22:35] As it relates to growing in maturity, those eight output goals are great measurers, benchmarks. The input goals are things that we can do. When you look at all the regression analysis and look at all of those input goals, there’s more than 40.
[22:57] There’s so many over there. If you look at the 80/20 principle or the idea of the vital behaviors that Joseph Grenny talks about in his book “Influencer,” there’s one thing he says…
[23:13] In their research in social change and figuring out how people do things differently or how they change their behavior they were like there’s actually often times one or two things or a few things, if you focus on doing those it will disproportionately influence the behavior of everything else.
[23:34] What was exciting about the TDA research and the regression analysis is that…There were a bunch, but three of the ones really stood out to me as being those things that if you really hone in on, focus, and make it as your input goals it will result in growth in all eight output goals.
[23:56] The first one that was fascinating to me was reading the Bible. I remember having a conversation with you guys about this. This is not studying the Bible. Studying the Bible was a different thing that we measured.
[24:07] It was just the simple act of reading the Bible and how moving from a monthly basis to an everyday I’m going to read the Bible, how dramatically that affected someone’s score.
Lizette: [24:25] Over the long term that’s been the most significant and the most consistent indicator, right?
Scott: [24:30] Yes, both when we were studying this back when it was the Spiritual Formation Inventory to today as the Transformational Discipleship Assessment, it is the best predictor of spiritual maturity. I would echo that in my own life it’s so easy, for my own thinking, to slip off base.
[24:54] To be reminded of characteristics of God, about what he expects of me, those reminders not only adjust the factual knowledge in my head, but it also affects my attitude. I am better prepared for the day having read the word than if I’m not in the word regularly.
Lizette: [25:19] I think the neat thing is that there is instructional. There’s informational. Then there’s the living and active Word of God. You are making yourself available. The Holy Spirit, let’s just get at it.
[25:35] I know that was really theologically right in there, but I think that’s the exciting thing that’s way beyond what any kind of tool can do, as far as an assessment tool. The Bible, I think it increases our urgency to help people have access to that.
Daniel: [25:53] Just how simple it is. Memorizing scripture, studying, these are all super important things to do. Even just making it as simple as, “Hey, how do you encourage your church to read their Bible on a daily basis?” How do you communicate, even you as a pastor, as a church leader, to say are you doing it?
[26:15] Can you in your sermon illustrations share? Throw in stories like it’s normal, not even to say, “Hey, you, you need to read your Bible. Every day you need to read your Bible because LifeWay Research said so.”
[26:27] That’s not what we’re talking about. It’s just saying in a sermon illustration or as you’re sharing or leading a Bible study, “When I was reading the Bible this morning…” Just throwing it in there, that would change outlook. “Oh, so reading the Bible is something I should be doing daily?” You said it, but you didn’t say it, but you said it.
Lizette: [26:51] People like me, sometimes if you tell me to do something then maybe I’m not as quick to do it than if I think I’ve come up with it on my own.
Daniel: [27:00] Who is telling you? We want the Holy Spirit to convict. We don’t want to guilt trip people.
Scott: [27:09] It’s so easy for this to become, especially when you see questions like this, to say, “Oh, this is one big, giant to-do list that is going to make me feel guilty.” It’s similar to your illustration earlier about weight loss. The accountability there can make you feel guilty.
[27:29] I think a lot of this is how it’s approached and has got to be done in the right way so that it’s not one giant to-do list. It really is about a relationship with the one we’re trying to follow. If you give me a tip or three tips on how my relationship with my wife can be better, you’ll have my attention.
[27:52] Same thing with my relationship with Jesus Christ. If these tips are that practical, it’s going to be something I want to do rather than something I have to do.
Daniel: [28:06] I don’t know the average age of your listeners here, but if you think back to old school paper encyclopedias, so if you have “World Book” or “Encyclopedia Britannica…”
Lizette: [28:19] Funk & Wagnalls is what we had.
Daniel: [28:23] You pull out the encyclopedia volume, because it didn’t all fit in one. You had door-to-door salesmen.
Daniel: [28:35] My parents wanted me to go to Harvard. I did not go to Harvard, but they got a lot of books for me.
Scott: [28:40] Wasn’t that the colors of the World Book too, that crimson…?
Daniel: [28:43] Yes, it was, interesting. I wonder if Harvard paid for some sort of psychology there. If you pull out the one with the human anatomy, what you get is usually a picture. Then there are all these transparencies.
[28:58] You get this skeletal system, the muscular system, the respiratory system. You see all these systems that are really overlays or transparencies right on.
Lizette: [29:08] Ours was not that fancy.
Daniel: [29:09] It wasn’t?
Lizette: [29:10] No. My parents apparently knew way early in advance I was not going to Harvard, and they did not invest.
Daniel: [29:19] That’s awesome. When you think about that, that’s the illustration that I carry through the second section of my book. If you don’t have a discipleship pathway, I want to help you create one.
[29:35] If you do, here are some shifts. Here are some overlays that are going to help you. I feel like the regression analysis in the TDA, reading the Bible being one of them, really demonstrates things that we need to be doing on a regular basis.
[29:53] I feel like discipleship-wise a lot of times we form our discipleship pathways around programs or activities that need to be done within the church context. Those are all important ways to get people engaged into discipleship.
[30:08] I believe the central loop or the central path that the church needs to communicate regarding discipleship are behaviors, input goals, or things that you can do that are going to continue to move you toward Christ but there’s never this point of, “I’ve done it. I’ve achieved it. I’ve now checked off the 101 to 401 class.”
[30:32] Those can be valuable tools as a part of your discipleship pathway, but, for example, in that central loop, reading the Bible, that should actually be a part of your discipleship pathway.
[30:44] To be a fully formed disciple of Christ, to be fully forming, to be continually moving toward Christ, reading the Bible is one of those central, central things that we need to always be doing because there’s never an end to it.
Scott: [30:57] That’s good.
Lizette: [30:59] Excellent. Before we wrap up Daniel, I don’t know if there’s a really smooth way in the podcast world to say this, but tell us a little bit where folks can find your podcast or hear you, where you’re doing your shows.
Daniel: [31:14] Definitely, thank you. If you go to DanielIm.com, that’s Daniel and the I,M as in mother, .com, that’s my website. You’ll find lengths to the NewChurches Q&A podcast that I host with Ed Stetzer and Todd Adkins. You can also go to NewChurches.com to find that as well.
[31:34] Then you’ll see the book that I co-wrote with Ed, Planting Missional Churches as well as…I don’t have any public information about the book that’s coming out in September of next year, but it will be there soon.
Scott: [31:48] Thanks for the sneak peek.
Daniel: [31:49] Thank you.
Lizette: [31:49] Yes, stay tuned. We really appreciate you being here. Thanks for listening to “Keep Asking,” the LifeWay research podcast. If you like what you’ve just heard, we hope you’ll pass along our Web address, LifeWayresearch.com to your friends and colleagues.
[32:01] Like us and rate us on iTunes, and be sure to tweet your questions and comments to us @LifeWayresearch and individually @ScottCasey and @LizetteBeard. Join us next time for another edition of Keep Asking. Keep asking, learn more, do better.
Links for Transformational Discipleship:
- Transformational Discipleship Assessment
- Transformational Discipleship Identifies Eight Measures of Personal Discipleship by Ed Stetzer
- “Transformational Discipleship: How People Really Grow” Ron Edmondson interviews the authors of Transformational Discipleship (the book)
Other links of interest:
Church Planting Leadership Fellowship
Disciples Path Provides Way Forward in Discipleship (Facts & Trends story on a six-part study from LifeWay)
7 Indicators of True Church Discipleship (Facts & Trends article by Thom Rainer)