Part one of our deep dive into the Biblical principle of discovery.

When you live on a tropical island, there are a few things that quickly become more important. Teaching your children to swim is one. When my son was two-years-old, we had made our home on one such island, and large bodies of water were everywhere. If it wasn’t the turquoise expanse of the Indian Ocean, it was a babbling stream, a lily-pad laden pond, or one of the many swimming pools everyone seemed to have. 

As a new dad, such bountiful opportunities to go for a swim put a sinking (pun intended) feeling in my stomach. It was bad enough that my son had fallen in one once, trying to retrieve a hot wheel carelessly dropped through fingers made slick with applesauce. But, to make matters worse, one of his many “Uncles” on our island had dunked him under the water at a pool party despite his protests. It was a hapless attempt to make him “face his fear” that only further entrenched in him the horrors of the deep.

We knew we would never get him swimming unless we could coax him back into the water, so we tried everything: New pool toys, an arsenal of floaties, even a few Finding Nemo marathons to get him to see how fun swimming could be. (Side note: If you too are planning to use movies to get your kids comfortable in the water, I would advise against The Prince of Egypt, or at least skip the part when God closes the Red Sea on Pharaoh and his armyTake it from me.) Nothing seemed to work. Eventually, I resigned myself to a life of hawkishly monitoring my child anytime he was near more than a few gallons of water. I simply gave up. But, it turns out that’s exactly what I needed to do.

It was a particularly sweltering Saturday, and I was drifting aimlessly in the pool of our rental house. My son sat nearby in his bathing suit, playing at a water table—one of many failed attempts to ignite a desire for underwater exploration in him. I noticed him watching me, so I held out my hands in invitation. Instantly, he shook his head and turned back to his toys. I shrugged it off and went back to my own swimming. The water was so cool, like a salve to the heat index itself. I flipped around and dunked my head under, wetting my grubby hair. But when I came up and wiped the chlorine from my eyes, there was my son, transfixed. He was watching me.

I was careful not to make eye-contact. Had he inched a bit closer, or was I making it up? I lowered mouth into the water and playfully blew a few bubbles, keeping the little guy in my periphery. He set down his toys and skootched about a foot or two closer to the water’s edge. So I came up with a few more playful tricks to do. I “accidentally” dropped my glasses and dove down to retrieve them, making sure to let out a contented “aaaaaaaaah,” when I surfaced. My son crept ever closer, even dipping his toes in. I tried to splash a butterfly resting nearby, and I heard him giggle.

“Oh, you think that’s funny?” I said, and splashed him a little.

More giggling and—to my surprise—he reached in and splashed me back. We played like that for a bit until he reached out his hands. I pretended to misunderstand his meaning.

“Hi, buddy!” I waved at him and started to back stroke away.

No, Papa!” he insisted.

“You sure?” I said holding out my arms. He didn’t need to answer. Instead, he leapt into my arms letting out a squeal of joy. He’s made peace with the water since then. So much so, that I sometimes wonder if I created a sea monster. Now, he is the one constantly bugging my wife and I to take him to the beach.

The Best Kept Secret in Modern Missions

This process isn’t unique to my kid, of course. Educators have been noting for decades that people—adults and kids alike—seem to learn best when they are allowed to discover truth for themselves. Think back to your school days; did you ever take an exam where you encountered a problem you didn’t have an answer for? In the process of taking the exam, you figured it out yourself, and from then on that answer was stuck in your longterm memory? That’s the power of discovery, and it’s the power that often drives the worldview change necessary for significant spiritual transformation.

For years, church-planters and missionaries struggled to understand how to help Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists begin a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It seemed that the further East they went, the bigger the divide between their worldview and the people they wanted to reach. Yearly prayer initiatives for the Muslim world were a dime a dozen, and certain places in India became known as “the graveyard of modern missions.” 

That is, until God used an Indian and American duo working among the Bhojpuri people group to rediscover the principal of Discovery, which undergirded so much of Jesus’ ministry. (Hear their story in week one of the Waha Disciple Making Course) For example, did you know that in the four Gospels, we see Jesus ask 307 questions, and do you know how many sermons he preached? One. (Though some scholars would say it’s closer to four or five.)

Don’t get me wrong, the Sermon on the Mount was a great sermon. Some of my personal favorite chapters in all of scripture, in fact. But I think it’s safe to say that directive teaching was not Christ’s modus operandi. Instead, Jesus preferred to facilitate people’s own discovery of truth for themselves by asking good, open-ended questions. 

And the fruit in the Eastern hemisphere bears out. In India alone, 50 million baptisms have been reported by local disciple makers.1 232 new movements have started in the Middle East,2 and movements in Asia are even sending out their own missionaries to start more movements,3 despite some of the most intense persecution the world has ever seen! The reason our Eastern brothers and sisters are finally starting to take hold of the Gospel is not because of some new tool or way to present the Faith using clever contextual metaphors. It’s because when they are allowed to discover truth for themselves, suddenly it is their own faith, and not a foreign faith that was hoisted upon them. They simply see for themselves how refreshing the waters of salvation are, and that entices them to leap into the arms of their Heavenly Father!

1. 24:14 Dashboard, 12/2022, slide 8

2. 24:14 Dashboard, 12/2022, slide 7

3. blog post, Going Out 2 by 2, July 26, 2023