How To Disciple A Small Group For Over 3 Years With Harmony.Bible
In this article, we interview Greg Troxell and Rob Eaton, co-founders of Harmony Bible, about their cooperative ministry and how they’re providing free Bible resources helping disciples make disciples. Harmony Bible has recently upgraded their web address to Harmony.Bible and we’ll get to read the whole back story.
The Back Story of Harmony.Bible
Q: How did Harmony Bible get started?
A: The vision is an outgrowth of my ministry experience and the Gospel-centric relational disciple-making training I received from folks like Paul Spates, Bob Martin and Kay MacDonald who were my YoungLife mentors back in 1988-1994. The foundation they provided me transformed my life and equipped me for ministry. Since then I’ve had the experience of planting churches, growing a church from 200 to 2000 members, and launching over 120 small groups, as well as starting and restarting student ministries—but there was something more I wanted to offer… though I guess we’ll talk more about that later.
Q: What does Harmony of the Gospels mean? What can we learn by studying the four gospels together?
A: The Harmony of the Gospels is simply a parallel chronological reading of the four gospels. It really helps people fill in the gaps and better understand the Gospel as they study each story from the perspective any of the other Gospel writers who were telling the first Christians about the same event. Most people discover it’s the best way to begin reading your Bible. The stories come alive, the Bible becomes more cohesive and they begin to experience an inward and lifestyle transformation as they continue the study. Best of all it keeps our eyes and faith focused on Jesus, and helps us learn to be disciple-making disciples in whichever culture and country we settle.
The Harmony of the Gospels provides not only a back-and-forth communication of the Gospel stories but also a side-by-side interaction. This means that one person reading the gospel narratives has the ability to enter into a conversation not just with themselves and a Gospel narrative but the conversation between all four Gospel narratives and the reader. As a result, the reader can often find themselves in a community conversation with scripture itself. You are not alone!
Q: What does it mean to be a “cooperative ministry”? How do people or organizations cooperate and collaborate with you?
A: I used ‘Cooperative’ to communicate the importance of how the Church body will be serving together to create a living commentary that is being created collectively in cooperation with believers and scholars who place a high value on being a disciple-making disciple.
Fr. Rob Eaton, who has been a co-founder with me from the beginning, was the first to embrace the idea. Rob adds a great deal of wisdom as we engage in the weekly recorded dialogs for small group leaders. These dialogs can be used as a platform to introduce mini-series. Furthermore, recorded projects can be custom-fit for other mini-series, like thematic three or four weeks series (such as Advent Sundays).
Steve Wilson was another who jumped in right away, applying his technical expertise in WordPress to design and maintain our website. He’s integrated plugins like google translate so people around the world can study the same Scripture reading in their heart language, and print-friendly so that folks who prefer to read on paper can generate and print a pdf of any page within the website.
Our official ministry partners include Sonlife, Bible VR, the Faith X Project and now the American Bible Society. Each offers valuable additional services to those who want to further the Gospel and their own learning and sanctification.
Freely You Have Received, Freely Give
Q: How are you able to give away so many resources for free? How many have you given away?
A: Like the first followers of Christ, we give from what we have. As co-founders, we both do our part of cover fixed costs and donate all our time. We welcome others to add to our capabilities donating what they can, what they know, and what they can do to help further the share Gospel and equip disciples.
Giving away free resources is an essential part of the original vision. Three years later and we still don’t sell anything, we don’t collect any dues or ask for contributions. Since someone shared the Gospel with each of us, and the Holy Spirit inspires, empowers, guides and corrects us—what content is there that is “ours” to sell? The philosophy requires us to make our money elsewhere—but to us, the principle rings true and the Lord provides.
At this time we’ve given away fewer than 300 pdf copies of Thomas and Gundry’s book but many more users simply use our website to convert pages to a pdf and print those for free. My expectation is that with this new partnership with ABS and those with our other partners we’ll be giving away thousands of copies and Harmony.Bible will become the go-to authority and resource center for the Harmony of the Gospels.
If I could say more, it seems to me that there are simply too many expenses and overhead costs to most ministries. Small group, Sunday school, and youth group resources are an enormous expense; they have a finite shelf-life until they are repackaged or updated, and I think they further the propagation of consumer Christians.
What we offer are free resources under various licenses so that there is no financial barrier to any of our site visitors engaging in relationships and making disciples. Our contributing members donate their time according to their vocation, gifts, skills and availability. A few have paid for certain licenses and services. We welcome financial aid from others, and I’ll personally be investing more financially into Harmony.Bible in 2018 so that we can accomplish a few growth goals and refine the site a bit more.
We require the use of Creative Commons, or in the case of Thomas and Gundry’s original work of the Harmony of the Gospels, we struck an unprecedented agreement with the publisher. We did that because the books present a number of challenges when used en masse be it here in the States or internationally. Other than the cost ($5 used–$24 new), the margins and binding make note taking and added resources too cumbersome. We wanted to publish a new loose-leaf version but our proposal was rejected. Then, that resulted in the agreement.
Subsequently, it prompted me to contact Michael Johnson, who authorized us to make use of the World English Bible (WEB) so that we could craft the entire Harmony online. Adding various plugins, we were then able to to make every page printable and translatable into over 100 languages—a feature set that has really helped out those whose heart language is something other than English, and those who prefer to study in print versus online. A four-inch D-ring Binder will hold the entire Harmony and provide ample room for additional notes, maps, timelines, and other handouts.
Q: For those who are not familiar with Creative Commons, can you briefly explain what that is?
A: The Creative Commons is simply a copyright license by which the author allows the free distribution of their material. There are a few variations that an author can apply but as for our website—most of our materials can be printed, reproduced and distributed freely but not resold. At this time the only resource we regulate is that of Thomas and Gundry’s Harmony—for which we require you to register with us as a small group leader first.
Q: What are some of the goals and enhancements you want to accomplish next?
A: There are quite a few and they will call for the participation of more than 100 people with specialized skills. First off, it’s time now to redesign the site. We want to recruit a 10 or so clergy and scholars to add depth to the commentary and study notes; 5 or so editors and designers who can refine each page and post; create a 3 min video intro for each study; technologist who can create stronger search capabilities and integrate existing video provided by our official ministry partners, graphic artists to generate more illustrations, new mini-series, maps and materials; and in a year or two launch a 24/7 online radio station in multiple languages to support disciple makers around the world.
I’ve also been talking with a few of my YoungLife contacts because I’d love to see a club and campaigner series in Harmony.Bible. We’d welcome other similar projects that value a Gospel-centered approach to equipping disciples in relational ministry.
Harmony.Bible is Much Easier to Say and Remember
Q: Why did you switch to Harmony.Bible from your previous domain name harmonybible.coop?
A: I first chose the .COOP domain hoping that the TLD inspired by the United Nations because we’re not an organization (.org) or an institution, we’re Christian disciples united in Christ, charged and compelled by Jesus to do what our part in the ministry of reconciliation. I wrestled with switching domain names but shifting to .BIBLE is largely about aligning ourselves with other believers and supporting the work of the American Bible Society. It’s also much easier to say and remember.
Q: How do you anticipate the new domain name Harmony.Bible making a difference?
A: I think we’ll be easier to find online. The .BIBLE branding and partnership with ABS will encourage our existing partnerships, draw in those who support ABS, and bring further clarity of purpose future ministry partners. I hope that this article will inspire thousands more from around the world to participate with us as co-creators and partners in ministry share the Good News of Jesus Christ.
What materials do you use with your church’s small groups for Bible study? Add a comment and let’s learn together.