Spiritual Transformation: More Information is Not the Answer

The Jews had the Law for 1300 years before Christ came. There were all kinds of details in the Law about how to live, what to do in various situations, and how to maintain holiness and deal with sin. As we know today, the Law was not sufficient. What did God do in its place? He could have just handed down more legal code. God could have had people pen more and more words and bombard the world with oodles of information via text. God chose to do something else. Instead, God sent his son, Jesus Christ into the world to embody/show us how to live and what the kingdom of God is really like. John 1 tells us that the word became flesh and dwelt among us.

I am afraid that we haven’t taken this example very seriously. When we are presented with a problem or issue in the church our knee-jerk reaction is more teaching when the reality is people still need to see the biblical kingdom priorities lived out among them. We think somehow if people hear about something more that change will happen automatically. Mike Breen says it like this,

“This is my fundamental issue with the ‘go deep’ kind of people. If I can make  mass generalizations for a moment, I see them this way: They want to go into the endless minutiae of scripture, which can be a good thing, but they rarely want to do anything with it. They think that knowing about something is the same thing as knowing something. They have bought into the lie that knowing more scripture changes you.

It doesn’t.

Doing what scripture says and responding to God’s voice changes you…If you are not actively seeking to live in it, you don’t really believe it.” (Breen, Multiplying Missional Leaders, 23)

We have a whole generation of young people who sat in Bible class twice a week who are no longer with us. If information was the solution they should have been rock solid. Information is foundational but left to itself, non-incarnated in the Christian community it is not enough. If we followed Jesus’ example we would develop people through more than Bible class. We would take time with people to walk alongside them, teach them, train them, and send them. That takes time and investment and that is what makes it difficult. But let me ask you this, how well has the time we have invested in our current model made disciples? (I probably subconsciously stole that question from Breen’s book somewhere). Breen’s approach has been to use information as well as apprenticeship/imitation of a more mature disciple. That is huge. That is the missing piece in much of the work we try to do to make disciples. Many of us have bought into the lie that more information = greater disciples to the neglect of time in the trenches with those we are discipling with the intent of launching them out. Much of our discipling works fosters too much dependence on a sole leader rather than maturing people to be, as Breen would say, leaders rather than program/ministry managers.

If this is something you would like more specifics on or have struggle with this yourself, I cannot recommend enough these two books:
Multiplying Missional Leaders
Building a Discipling Culture


About mattdabbs
I am a minister, husband, and father. My wife and I live and minister in Saint Petersburg, Florida. My primary ministry responsibilities include: small groups, 20s and 30s, involvement, and adult education.

16 Responses to Spiritual Transformation: More Information is Not the Answer

  1. A long time ago I began to feel that when the church is referred to as the kingdom of God, the emphasis is on relationships – with God and with others. This has nothing to do with how the church is organized, how we become members of it, or how it worships and does its work. It is about relationships.

    If we do not foster kingdom-relationship, we are not doing God’s work in God’s way. That is how Jesus worked. He chose twelve “to be with him” and then “to send them out.” In trying to mass-produce disciples, we are failing to produce many disciples and those we do produce are not the kind we want and need.

    Of course, this means that we have to be willing to put the time in with those people – and we must become the kind of people we want them to be: like Jesus.

    Easier said than done!

    Thanks for this great post.

  2. Paul Smith says:

    Matt, just a question here and maybe a little pushback…you have definitely sold me on Breen’s books and I will be getting them soon. But, in this discussion it seems that he is denigrating the passing and receiving of information. At least, that is what I hear from many people who say much of what you quote Breen as saying. I understand the need to do…and I share the concern for discipleship. But Jesus spent three years in intensive training with his disciples before he left them, then empowered them with the Holy Spirit. If the chronology is correct, that is virtually the equivalent of our 4 year undergraduate degrees. I see a danger in swinging the pendulum back so far the other way that we tell people it doesn’t matter WHAT you do, or the theology behind it, just get out and DO something. That, to me, will create another generation of Kip McKeans who have a really good idea (evangelism) but entirely lose the content of what that discipleship is all about. Enthusiasm without content produces a cult, just as content without enthusiasm produces a pew slug.

    So, does Breen present the balance of information + obedience, or does he stress activity over proper theological grounding? I guess I will have the answer soon enough, but thought I would ask your thoughts as well.

    • mattdabbs says:

      Great comment! Paul, I will give you more detail tomorrow when I have a few more minutes but I will say that he is incredibly balanced. I will give you some quotes that will help you see it as well as lay out some of his approach. Thanks for your patience and thanks for asking that penetrating question.

    • mattdabbs says:


      Here is Breen’s take. Information by itself is not enough. Information is not training. Information + Imitation (apprenticeship with a more mature disciple for the purpose of discipling) is real training. It all starts with information. Breen starts with information but he doesn’t stop there. Information loads up the whole thing but the information must ultimately express itself through obedience. He emphasizes obedience to God over and over again in the book. He also shows the weakness of going through the motion of doing good without being grounded in scripture. I could give you a ton of quotes but that is the gist. I haven’t read anything so balanced in quite some time and that is why I am mentioning him so often here lately.

    • mattdabbs says:

      I should add that if anyone is saying Breen is denigrating the passing and receiving of information they either haven’t read him or have ignored huge chunks of his material.

  3. kurt bennett says:

    I love this post Matt! Of course we need a good informational foundation, but it’s been my observation that leaving out the doing results in a lot of drifting. Thanks for sharing Mike Breen with us.

  4. Richard Kruse says:

    One might also benefit from the experience of AA, Al-Anon. Members are encouraged to read the literature and have a “sponsor” – someone to walk with them through their journey to recovery. (Perhaps the ICOC adopted this idea, which it seems was abused into being a means of control.) Sponsors in Al-anon are to share their experience, strength and hope; they are to model the knowledge – not to control or give advice.

  5. Paul Smith says:

    Matt, thanks for the updates…I appreciate it!

  6. Hi Matt,
    The best book we have read on this lately is James K A Smith’s Desiring The Kingdom. He asserts that as humans we are embodied, desiring creatures first/more than we are and thinking brains, and that the church has missed the mark by focusing almost entirely on disciple-making as information transfer instead of aiming for the body (heart and the gut). He would say that transferring information into the head is still very important, but that it is secondary to embedding Kingdom desires and imaginations into the heart and gut. His book is slightly repetitive and academic, but it has given us a lot to process through.

    • mattdabbs says:

      Similar thoughts. I will have a look. Is he Calvinist/Neo-Reformed and if so, does that come out in the book at all?

      • You’re right, he is Reformed, which was interesting to us, because even though he mentioned his heritage several times, we couldn’t really see any major ways that it affected the premise of the book. If you read it, we’d love to know if you find the same to be true. We liked the book enough that we have gotten at least one other by him. We probably have similar ideas about Calvinism as you, Matt, but though Smith freely mentions his Reformed heritage, we don’t feel like we see it come up much.

  7. kyron l. riley says:

    We must give our lives in servitude to our God.If the Holy Spirit is convicting you,DO NOT resist Him.Do not grieve Him any longer.Cry out to God and confess all of your sins to Him and give yourself as one of His servants.He desires His children to live as our Lord Jesus lived on Earth.He desires us to have His love and compassion for our Heavenly Father and all men.We CAN’T love God and others with our natural phileo love.We must desire the Father’s own love that He have for us.We CAN receive His love for others when we let the Holy Spirit do what He is supposed to do,which is to convict us of our sin.God desires each of His children to be baptized in the Holy Spirit,THEN we WILL be able to do exactly what Jesus did on Earth,which He GREATLY desires.Finally,He wants your heart.Remember what God said about His servant King David.I love you all and may our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ grant you your hearts desires according to His will.

  8. hank says:

    Great stuff, Matt. The temptation will be to read these books for the purpose of learning and obtaining more information, without really changing anything. I’d likely end up saying, “that was some great information. I agree and am glad I know more about that now” lol

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