Learning to Love God’s Word
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Kennon VaughanIn 2006, after nearly five years working on a church staff, Kennon Vaughan founded Downline Ministries, where he has served as the Executive Director ever since. Downline seeks to encourage a restoration of biblical discipleship in and through the local church. The Downline effort was initially embraced by 11 local churches in Memphis that each nominated students to go through the Downline Institute in its inaugural year. Now six years later, there are more than 40 churches in the Memphis commun...more
Kennon Vaughan talks about his passion for studying the Word of God. Kennon reminds listeners that biblical training is for all people and will help those who are believers grow in spiritual maturity.
Learning to Love God’s Word
Bob: When God changes a person's life, He gives that person an assignment—a new mission/something to do. Here's Pastor Kennon Vaughan.
Kennon: I think of 2 Corinthians 5: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come” All this from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” It's sad to me that somehow there's a divorce in our churches of folks that believe, “I'm saved, and the end of my salvation was me having a word of encouragement on Sunday that would get me through my week.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, September 4th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. What does it look like for you to live life on mission for God? You need a little equipping/a little training to figure that out? We're going to talk more about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You've been a pastor for, how many decades now?—three-plus decades; right?
Dave: Yes; three.
Bob: And as a pastor, would you say people in your church are more prone to want to study and go deep in God's Word—
Dave: No. [Laughter]
Bob: —or to want to live missionally: do evangelism and discipleship?
Bob: That's how they're more prone?
Dave: I mean, again, I'm being very sort of facetious; right? But we are a church of action. I think it's sort of an expression of my top gift, as probably an evangelist; and so I'm the guy, that when I preach, I'm always asking, “So what?”—you know—“What are we going to do with this?” Obviously, we want to go deep biblically/we want to go deep in Scripture; but I'm always going to lean that way. I think the personality sort of followed that in our church.
Ann: And what about you, Bob?—you're a pastor.
Bob: I'm a pastor. I think our church is probably prone more in the other direction: “Let's study and know, and let's get deep.” We probably need a little more prodding; I probably need to do a little more prodding, as a pastor, and draw the net and bring the application home. I love the abstraction, and it's harder for me to get to the practical side of things. I think people will lean in one direction or another.
Ann: And yet both are really important.
Bob: We're called to both.
Dave: You need a balance; yes.
Bob: Yes; we've got another pastor, who's joining us today on FamilyLife Today, from nearby Memphis, Tennessee; we're here in Little Rock. Kennon Vaughan is joining us from Memphis. Welcome, pastor.
Kennon: Thank you, Bob. It's a joy to be here.
Bob: Kennon Vaughan is the pastor of Harvest Church in Memphis and also gives leadership to a ministry called Downline. Explain to listeners what Downlineis all about, because I think it touches on both of the things we've been talking about here.
Kennon: Absolutely; it's a great introduction forDownline.Downline is a ministry committed to equipping believers—just as Ephesians 4—for the work of the ministry/for the work of making disciples. The primary vehicle by which we do that is a nine-month institute; we call it the Downline Institute, where we are just as you guys have talked about—we are equipping people with the Word of God. We literally start the nine months in Genesis 1; we close the book in Rev. 22, nine months later.
As we go, which is a rich gospel-centered study in God's Word, we are also bringing practical evangelism/discipleship training throughout. We're hoping to infuse—kind of a combination of what you're talking about—a deeper passion for God through His Word, a deeper understanding of His Word, to be nourished by His Word. And at the same time to be inspired and equipped to run heartily on the Great Commission that Jesus has invited us in.
Bob: Do you lean one direction or the other?
Kennon: I love to study God's Word—maybe that's my lean—but I'm so enamored with the Great Commission and wrapping my life around it every second of every day/what that looks like. I don't know/I don't know how to parse out which way I lean, but those are two great passions: God's Word and making disciples.
Bob: When you started Downline, were you starting in for the people in your church?
Kennon: No; at the time, I was not pastoring. I was actually in seminary; Howard Hendrix was one of my greatest heroes and mentors at Dallas Seminary, and I would pick his brain every Friday at lunch.
I did notice, Bob, that the guys around me—that were also students and friends of mine—they were always talking about church leadership and preaching. I was always talking to Prof about disciple-making. In my conversations with him, the Lord began to stir in me a deep desire to see, if it's fair to say, a restoration of biblical discipleship in and through the local church. The Lord, just slowly but surely, gave me a vision for what we just described—a nine-month institute that would take leaders from churches—
Ann: Leaders meaning lay people—
Kennon: Lay leaders.
Ann: —or staff?
Kennon: Absolutely both. It was formed for—it's a lay institute—but we have about
60 church partners in Memphis, and so many of them have sent staff through. We've probably had 15 senior pastors go through, probably for the joy of learning and to be with their people. But it's geared for lay people. Some come—they just want to know their Bible: “I’ve never really understood how to put God's Word together.” Others come because they have been in church for 30 years, heard great sermons, but have no idea how to make a disciple.
So wherever you're coming from, the invitation is: “Come, be equipped to participate, wholeheartedly, in response to the gospel and the Great Commission.” Part of that equipping has to be/quintessentially has to be the Word of God, so that's primarily what we use to hopefully make you ready, inspired, equipped for the work.
Dave: I mean, it sounds—I'm not kidding—as I'm listening to this, I'm thinking, “Everyone of our staff members—this should be orientation.”
Dave: So what does it look like? If I was saying that to our staff: “You're going through
theDownlineprogram,” how do they do it?
Kennon: They go online—downlineministry.com—and they apply for the institute. We actually have four live institutes: there is one here in Little Rock; there is one in Conway, [Arkansas], southwest Georgia, and Memphis; those locations are noted on the website. We also have an opportunity this year, which is very unique; the challenge of the pandemic unveiled an opportunity. The challenge of keeping our students in all of our locations, engaged with our teachers, who—when we were limited in our space and our ability to meet—we used the Zoom® application to continue our classes March through May. In doing so, folks always wanted to invite their friends: “Let's put something out on social media,” “Let's invite folks to come study Ephesians with us.” We kept doing this; and I mean, it spread; it really multiplied.
In the off season—that's our summer, where we kind of re-vamp, and re-gear-up, and set the calendar for the next year—we said: “There's a great pause right now, globally. It's messing with people's lives. Their vocations are on pause. Everybody's in a different situation, but how can we steward the pause for the sake of kingdom impact?”
And so we said, “Let's offer a livestream version year, where anyone with a good internet connection, worldwide, can go through the institute with us: September 14/we'll go through mid-May.” We meet together four hours a week. We meet Monday night, 6:30-8:30—and this is Central time—and we meet Wednesday morning, 5:45-7:45. This is kind of worked around your general 8-5 schedule of many of the folks who go through—as we've mentioned—predominantly laymen and laywomen. If you miss a class because you have to, whether it's family crisis or work emergency, you have a link; and you're just responsible to listen or watch and catch up before our next class.
Bob: 5:45 Central time is 3:45 out on the west coast.
Kennon: That's right; you have to be really hungry. [Laughter]
Bob: —or you're going to catch it on the backside.
Ann: Are there exams?
Kennon: Not really. Here's the only assignment we do together: we memorize a passage of Scripture each month. You've got an accountability partner; and we have some time in class, where you're just hiding God's Word in your heart. Hopefully, that's becoming a pattern for your life.
Then the other thing that you're required to do is that you've got to re-teach. We have a structured way that will make sense if you went through. We have our Bible teaching, our practical discipleship teaching, and then we have some of our spiritual life teaching, which is our biblical manhood/our biblical womanhood. You kind of pick one track, and you have to re-teach that track as you're learning it.
Some folks say, “Who in the world do I teach?” That's the greatest place to start; so many people have been a learner for so long, without ever kind of crossing the threshold of seeing themselves pouring into someone else. Again, many are intimidated by that prospect; many would say that, no matter how much Bible they receive, they just don't know enough.
Prof Hendrix used to always tell me that the hardest part is just starting—just being committed, being willing to invite someone to follow you as you follow Christ. Invite them into this—you don't have to title it as such—but let them know you're going to be studying the Bible, and you'd love to share what you're learning with them. He [Prof] says the reason people never get good at making disciples is they never start. That's your assignment: “You're going to begin.”—and it could be with a daughter/a son.
Ann: I was going to say that our kids could be the first ones.
Kennon: Absolutely; we have a lot of spouses that learn and kids. Or again, many of these folks can talk to their pastoral staff and say, “Hey, where can I be teaching this?”—maybe a small group, a class, or a one-on-one relationship.
That is the key assignment: each week, you've got your classes; and then you have a time—you're sitting down, and you're now taking what has been invested in you and you're pouring it into someone else, in the context of a relationship.
Bob: I'm imagining listeners having one of three responses to what they're hearing you describe. There's some group of listeners, who would say, “I have been looking for something like this. This itch has been in me; I want to go deeper into God's Word. I want to get more active and more involved.”
Dave: I think that's a lot of people.
Ann: I think there's a lot of women/a lot of my friends are saying, “I'm going to go to seminary. I want to learn; I want to dig deep into God's Word.”
Bob: I think there's a second group that goes, “This sounds really good, but how do you even think about fitting this in to everything else that's going on? Life is crazy and I just don't have space in my life.”
And then there's a third group that's kind of like, “I think this is probably good for those really, you know, kind of the Green Beret-kind of Christians.”
Ann: —“the spiritual ones, that are really Jesus-seeking.”
Bob: Yes; “This is not what the average Christian should do; this is what the super Christian should do.”
Kennon: Yes; if it would be okay, I'd love to address all three.
Kennon: The first category of: “Hey, this sounds great; I'm even more interested in seminary.” I'm a big fan of seminary: I did a Master's at Dallas; I did a Doctorate at Gordon Conwell. I was in seminary seven years. Because I love to study God's Word and all things related, it was a joy; so I have nothing but encouragement for someone feeling led to go to seminary.
I do lament, historically, that so much of the reason discipleship lacks in the church is because of the creation of the institution of the seminary. In my own research, and doing a doctorate in discipleship in the church, there's a part of me that grieves that we merely outsource to seminaries that which is given as a responsibility to the church.
Again, I'm a huge fan of seminary; but I would say/and always say to any layperson: “For me, one year of Downline is about the same equivalent for me as two degrees and seven years.” You know, in seminary, I think the first class I took was like Ruth and the Minor Prophets; I figured out later where it fit in. To start in Genesis and really walk through—and we go through, exegetically, through about 70 percent of God's Word, with overviews over the other parts—and it's so rich to see the way it all fits together. You will have handles on God's Word that helps you to be a student of the Word.
Should you go to seminary from there, this will do nothing but create an undergirding of foundation by which now you can learn in a far more accelerated—your understanding will be so much exponentially greater if you had Downlineas a foundation before you went to seminary.
Bob: So this is either pre-seminary, or it may wind up being exactly what you need and you'd never need to go to seminary.
Kennon: Amen; so Category 1—that's it.
Dave: Let me say this—when you dive in exegetically, you're also pulling back
30,000 feet and saying, “Okay; you're not only going to get the Book of Genesis, you're going to understand the whole thing.” Because so many people in our church, and in most churches, are intimidated by this book: “I don't even understand how it all fits together.” They're not going to feel that way when they're done.
Kennon: No; this is such a joy for me to share, because I've had the chance to see 3,000 people in my city go through this from 60 different churches; that's a lot of feedback we gather. The number-one thing that everyone—we're talking somewhere near 100 percent of the students—have said is, “I fell more in love with Jesus.” We always get that; and then secondly, “I know my Bible.”
Yes, the intimidation of: “Where do I begin?” “How can I possibly?” “I have to go to seminary,”—No! We start with an overview of the entire Bible, and then we go back and we walk you right through it, and then we end again with the overview.
Two reasons people always tell me they don't make disciples, in my years of being in this field of discipleship ministry, is: “Number 1, I don't really know what that means,” and “Number 2, I don't know my Bible well enough,” “I haven't been to seminary,” “No formal theological training.”
If you go through Downline, those two fears are tidal-waved with a gospel excitement.
Dave: That's cool. I mean, I know last year at our church, we—and I brought it to our team—I'm like, “Let's do a Bible overview series.”
Dave: And you know, I'm doing the Old Testament—week one in 30 minutes—[Laughter]—Genesis to Malachi—kind of like, “Oh, that was great.” I had images; I walked through the whole timeline, and it was great; right? And I'm like, “Nobody's going to remember this in six months”; and they didn't! We did the New Testament, next week, in 30 minutes—you know—it's like, “This is helpful, but…”
Dave: And people hear what you say and it's like: “Wait, wait, wait. I'm going to put this kind of time in a week?” Guess what?—it's going to be worth it, because it's going to be an investment that you're going to actually remember.
Kennon: Yes; yes. And that was one of Bob's three categories—the person that says: “That sounds awesome; how could I? I don't know how…” You know, I'm thinking of people in so many different contexts and walks of life—and it may not be the year for someone to do it—but I would say, “If there is something stirring in your belly, like, ‘I wish I could’; I'll just say this, ‘If you find a way to commit that time to the Lord and say, “This is too important not to do; if there's this opportunity and it's now, and what’s more important?”’”
Prof Hendrix used to always say that if we're too busy to make disciples—and that would include being equipped to make disciples—then we're too busy.
Kennon: Is it worth considering carving back something? Is there something that could be given over, as a stewardship of the gospel, in lieu of getting this training that has been, for whatever reason, lacking in your life?
I will just say this: “If you begin, I just about can promise you”—so this is/I wouldn't have said this in year one, two, or maybe even five; but fifteen years in/over 5,000 people trained, 3,000 in the community I'm a part of—“[anyone who] has ever begun, in two or three weeks, their hair's on fire—I mean, they're going, ‘This is the greatest thing I've ever done.’ If they begin, they will find ways, from that point, to continue.” [Laughter]
Bob: So take a test; I mean, “Sample this and just see if God doesn't stir something.”
Kennon: That's what I would say.
Bob: And you start to go, “I was doing this [whatever you gave up], but that's really not as important,”—your hunger for this is going to grow.
Bob: Alright, what about the person, who goes, “Well, this is for those really super Christians”?
Kennon: Yes; that's probably the biggest question. That's where I'd—even from a biblical/theological grid—just push back gently to say:
That's the very problem in our church today—is that we have the mindset that biblical training, for the purpose of making disciples, would be for the super Christian, or for the clergy, or for the pastor, and not for all of us. Therein lies the entire idea of the sleeping army that is the church.
From warnings we get in Scripture—not to remain in immaturity/Hebrews and Colossians—to the idea that Christ, even in Matthew 4 [verse 19] when He called, “Follow Me”—the very first sentence—“and I will make you fishers of men.” I think of
2 Corinthians 5: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come. All this from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”
It's just sad to me that somehow there's a divorce in our churches of folks that believe, “I'm saved, and the end of my salvation was me having a word of encouragement on Sunday that would get me through my week”; versus the invitation, which Christ gives to the Great Commission. His Holy Spirit will empower us for something that He's called us to when He called us to new life in Christ. That's part and parcel to our salvation—our sanctification/the ministry He's given us—that's the joy of our salvation.
I would love to just kind of speak heartily to the person, saying:
That's not a biblical idea that this is for the super Christian. It's for the Christ-follower—the gift given us—the stewardship of our salvation. Paul, in Romans 12: “How do I respond to the mercy of God given me in salvation? I respond in surrender of my life; I present my body as a living sacrifice: ‘This is my spiritual act of worship.’ The gospel compels us to lay hold of the ministry we've been given.”
Ann: Kennon, your passion spills out of every pore in your body for God's Word and discipleship; I mean, it's cool to see this. What does this look like in your home? You've got five sons; how do you transfer that into your home?
Kennon: Yes; my wife Kathryn and I have five boys—Caleb, Luke, Jonathan, David, and Mac—that's short for Maccabee.
Dave: I was wondering!
Ann: Those are great names.
Dave: So many biblical names; I'm like, “Mac?” “Mac?” “Mac?”
Kennon: My favorite historical fiction is My Glorious Brothers by Howard Fast. It's the story of the Maccabees, a Jewish family. I'm Jewish, and it was a family of five boys. Too many stars aligned; and we used to joke that: “If we have a fifth boy, we're going to name him Mac and pray that God would use him to restore His people to Himself.”
Going back to what Bob said—for the person that thinks this is for the super Christian—another way to deconstruct that argument is the idea that there's not a super Christian that's going to disciple your children. That is the privilege and stewardship that God has given you. If for no other reason—whether it's Downline or some other way—to be intentional about equipping yourself with the Word of God, would be to intentionally disciple your own children.
This is an area I'm extremely passionate about; you say, “How does it look in our house?” Thinking through the broad strokes and the specifics—broadly, it exists intentionally. My wife and I understand that we're not going to do it perfectly, but we want to go down swinging. We don't want to be passive in this pursuit. We don't want to let life happen at such a rapid click that we're going to bed at night, having not made intentional spiritual investments in our kids.
We have a morning devotional when we all gather at the table and that's done—in the summertime, it's a little lax; because they not in school—but it's done before school; and of course, the boys are generally at school. They have extra-curriculars they're involved with. In the evenings, we gather again; and we have a time where we are reading God's Word. We are also reading other great works/spiritual works that we can enjoy and discuss at their level with them.
The last thing I do in the evenings, I just lay down with my boys—it's been so fun—I've done this since my oldest son was three/four years old. I had no idea what he was doing; he was kneeling next to me. He'd hear me praying, and he'd kind of jibber jabber something out there. We just kept it going every night. Now, it's really fun; because there are five kneeling next to me. I love to hear the olders pray, knowing how that's even shaping the theology of the youngers.
We start the day in God's Word; we end the day in God's Word. We try to—just like Deuteronomy 6 says—we try to have spiritual conversations, interjecting a biblical worldview, Scripture/a Scriptural perspective into the things happening in their lives: the trials, the tribulations, the letdowns and disappointments, the great victories and celebrations.
My 11-year-old's birthday lunch—which is one of our traditions—I always ask them a few questions, and they love it. One of the things is: “What are your great hopes for this year?” And he was talking about what his hopes were. Of course, most of his metrics had to do with baseball statistics and those kind of things.
I was trying to bring it back down to a more/maybe richer root of: “Where do you want to grow in friendship?”—with one of his brothers, in particular/those kinds of things. He was saying to me that he's been convicted, especially in regard to one of his brothers, that he does not really have a closeness with that brother that he has with the other ones. He was saying, “How do I have that? How can I possibly pursue that with a younger brother? What does that look like, Dad?”
All of a sudden, I'm in this shepherding role. I'm discipling him on how to pursue real authentic friendship with a dear brother that you're going to have the rest of your life. It's having space; it's creating space for spiritual conversations and being intentional with those.
Bob: We've got a link on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com, and there is information available there about Downline Ministries and about how people can register for the upcoming nine months of Downline Ministry. There's a special savings available to FamilyLife Today listeners. In fact, you can use the word, “FamilyLife,” as a key code and save substantially on the cost of the Downlineprogram. It starts in about a week-and-a-half, so find out today more about Downline. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com.
Kennon, thank you—thanks for being here; thanks for letting us let our listeners know this. I hope that a lot of our listeners will just say, “I've had this desire; now I've got a way I can scratch this itch.”
Dave: Yes; and I was sitting there—I smile, because I'm thinking there's so many people that are biblically illiterate in our churches—they're followers of Christ; they really just don't know. Sometimes, it's not their fault; but a lot of times it's that they haven't done the homework.
I'm thinking—you know, I was in the NFL for 33 years as a chaplain—“If you did not know your playbook, you're gone; you're not in this locker room.” I mean, there are quizzes, on every flight to every game, about the game plan; and if you failed, you don't suit up.
I thought, “Why do we think it's any different?”—not we're not going to be kicked out of the league if we don't know the Bible—but “I want to be a workman of the Word.” Here's an opportunity to say—it's that simple: “Sign up; get it done; and man, you're going to be in a different place”; right? From beginning to end, you said that their hair's on fire; I can't wait to hear people—
Ann: I like that!
Kennon: Yes; it's an absolute transformative nine months; I can promise you that.
Bob: Kennon, thanks again.
Again, I hope our listeners will go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com; click on the link for Downline Ministries. The semester starts here on September 14. You can sign up online. Use the key code, “FamilyLife,” when you sign up and you can save some money on Downline this year.
I hope this is the biggest year of impact in ministry you've [Downline] ever had, as people from all around the world get connected with Downline and get a biblical and theological education, and at the same time, start learning how to connect with friends and family members and evangelize, and disciple, and share your faith.
This is the perfect time—you know, what's going on in our culture right now/what's going on in our world—this is the time to say, “Let's do something significant for the kingdom.”
Go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about Downline Ministries. If you have
any questions, give us a call at 1-800-FL-TODAY. We look forward to hearing from you about your experience with Downline.
And we want to say “Happy anniversary!” today to a couple who are celebrating
60 years of marriage together today: William and Sandra Robertson got married on this day in 1960. She was a mathematician at Cape Canaveral; He was an Air Force pilot. Happy anniversary to the Robertsons, and congratulations on 60 years of marriage; that's quite a milestone.
And with that, we've got to wrap things up for today. Thanks for joining us. I hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family, in some way, are able to worship with your local church this weekend.
And I hope you can join us back on Monday when we're going to revisit the Detroit Lion's locker room, from a number of years ago, when Dave Wilson was still the chaplain for the Lions. The team wasn't doing great on the field; but in the locker room, God was at work. We'll visit with three former Lions players and hear about what God was doing when we get together on Monday. I hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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