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How Whole-Person Discipleship Can Overcome Poverty

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”- Deuteronomy 6:5-9

King Jesus really is doing something in the world — right now. He is in the process of reconciling all things; for people, this means restoring them to full human flourishing as image bearers of the Triune God… The way that God accomplishes this is by uniting people to the very person of King Jesus, who restores broken individuals, mends broken systems, and defeats demonic forces for those who are united to him. This is poverty alleviation in its fullest sense. King Jesus is the answer for all of us, including the materially poor.

But what are the implications of all of this for our efforts to help the materially poor? In particular, how can God’s change process help us to design microfinance ministries that address the brokenness in people’s relationships with God, self, others, and the rest of creation? …

The 4 Steps to Transformative Learning

The human being cannot be transformed by simply downloading information into the brain in the same way that a computer can download a file from the internet…

There are numerous places in which this can be seen in Scripture, but perhaps there is no better illustration than the commands given to the Israelites about how to order their daily lives Deuteronomy 6:4-9>. The idea was not simply to go to worship every Sabbath to “download” the sermon. Rather, the idea was that God’s Word would be applied throughout every moment of every day, narrating and affecting their minds, hearts, actions, and bodies throughout the week, actively and repeatedly engaging the whole person across time…

The mind, heart, actions, and body are interconnected in highly complex ways, and this interconnectedness has profound implications for the process of discipleship. For example, in his book The Art of Changing the Brain: Enriching the Practice of Teaching by Exploring the Biology of Learning, scientist James Zull explains how recent brain imaging techniques are confirming what a number of leading educators have argued for many years: transformative learning comes from a repeated, four-part cycle:

1. Concrete, real-life experience of the learner

2. Reflecting on that experience and on what could be different

3. Forming an “abstract hypothesis” about what could make life better

4. Active testing of the “abstract hypothesis”

For example, when the members of a microfinance group meet to save and borrow their money, a lesson on a topic that is relevant to the group can be facilitated. Both the curriculum and the facilitation of the lesson can utilize the “Four A’s” of dialogue education , each of which corresponds to the four stages of the Learning Cycle:

1. Anchor: connect the topic to a relevant experience in the lives of the participants.

2. Add: supply new information, e.g., technical content, and invite participants to think about the implications of this information for their relevant experience.

3. Apply: provide an opportunity for participants to hypothesize what they could do with the new information to improve their life experience.

4. Away: ask participants to commit to taking specific actions to change their life experience, i.e., to “test” or “try” the hypothesis.

Discipleship in King Jesus

Consider what this “experience-reflection-abstraction-testing” Learning Cycle means in the context of the church and the process of discipleship. A person should gather with a congregation on Sunday and encounter the embodiment of Jesus Christ in all of the elements of the worship service: the preaching and singing of the Word, the Lord’s Supper and baptism, and prayer… Those in attendance should be encouraged to reflect on biblical truths and to consider the application of these truths to their lives — that is, to move into the formulation of an abstract hypothesis of the actions they will take in light of these truths. They then need to actively test — i.e., apply — these truths in the context of their daily lives throughout the week. Of course, it is crucial that what they actually test is consistent with the message that initiated the process: King Jesus.


What is needed are poverty-alleviation ministries that consistently communicate — in their words and deeds — that King Jesus is the creator, sustainer, and reconciler of all things. He has absolute power over broken individuals, broken systems, and demonic forces. Participants in these ministries need to actively and repeatedly engage their minds, hearts, actions, and bodies in the cycle of “experience-reflection-abstraction-testing” about the person of King Jesus and about what he means for all aspects of their lives. This is the whole-person, whole-life method of discipleship established in Deuteronomy 6, a method that neuroscience is confirming.

How to Use This Book

“Any church,” writes Rick Warren, “can use these methods to engage the extreme poor in their community. I urge you to read From Dependence to Dignity.” You will learn how your church can fight poverty with greater impact that leads to lasting change.

by Brian Fikkert and Russell Mask, adapted from From Dependence to Dignity