Q&A–How Do You Start New “Spiritual Outposts”

Original Question: “In regards to your mention of ‘spiritual outposts’ did you have families physically move to new neighborhoods, or did you build the outposts around new Christians already living in those areas?”

Answer: Enough time has passed that I probably need to remind you of the context I am addressing in this protracted series of Q&A blog posts. During May 13-16 I was invited to speak during a four-day digital gathering, the Salt & Light International Leaders Conference. After each day’s presentation on Disciple Making Movements there was a Q&A session and leaders submitted questions in writing and the host selected some of those questions to ask us live. Many more questions came in than we could address in the time allotted. I offered to address those question via my blog. While I warned this process might be slow, I have obviously stretched this out far more than I anticipated. I begin again in my efforts to address these.

Roy Moran and I each took two days to present material which would hopefully prompt participants to seek out coaching in implementing the best of DMM strategies and prompt people to seek coaching to get to multi-generational replication. Sadly, enough time has passed that I do not recall the specific statement where the phrase “spiritual outposts” would have occurred, but I am confident I can address this question and hopefully be helpful.

When we encounter different strategies than what we are using, which appear to be potentially beneficial, we generally begin to explore how we can add those to what we are already doing. If taking a new approach means we have to ditch everything we are already doing, then we usually pass on the new thing. This is true whether you prefer Apple, Microsoft or Linux. It is true for much of the Evangelical world which bifurcates evangelism and discipleship (which primarily is equivalent to “spiritual formation”).

Evangelism in the Global North is primarily envisioned as being initiated by people who intentionally move to a new region and begin to form meaningful relationships with lost people in the new places where we “live, work, play and learn.” If we identify a people group, city, village or other place where no one knows Jesus, then we raise up a team to move there and begin to allow the light to shine through their lives and words into that area. Many years ago this strategy has been referred to as “swarming” where a new queen and worker bees leave an existing hive and “swarm” in a new area in hopes of starting a new hive with its own unique ecosystem.

The mention of “spiritual outpost” harkens to this mental imagery. Biblical commentators who advocate such a “swarming” strategy might point to Rome’s strategy of gifting retiring soldiers and government officials with land grants in the outer regions of the empire. Philippi, for example, was a Roman colony which was shaped by this approach. Maybe the advancement of the Kingdom of Heaven can be furthered by such an intentional strategy.

Disciple Making Movements are not in opposition to teams of disciple makers intentionally moving to pockets of darkness within their own people group in this way, but this is not how the first “spiritual outposts” arise. It is also not the strategy of Paul and his disciple making band in the book of Acts. His approach was to always look for a local group into which the gospel would be planted and they would become the “spiritual outpost.” Outsiders can and should be catalysts. Insiders become the best evangelists. We are not inherently opposed to “swarming,” but we are not envisioning this being the approach being used by a team of outsiders. From my reading of Acts, the longest Paul stayed in any of the places where churches were started was in Ephesus and he was there somewhere between two years and three months and three years. I believe he stayed there that length of time because his work was replicated in other cities within the province of Asia as he discipled workers to faith and then they went out as disciple makers throughout the region.

Q&A: Multiple Questions

Original Questions:

1. Compared to topical study in small group discussions where we can discuss from various passage from bible, if we stick to one passage don’t we miss other key principles from scripture about same topic? 

2. When we ask questions of what can we obey from the passage, should it be group obedience or as per what each person discovers? If it is based on what a person discovers then won’t we miss on key principles that they miss?

3. What shall we do if some members in the group are not obedient to their commitments made in last week?

Responses:

  1. The primary reason for sticking with one passage for each gathering is to insure that people who are less familiar with the Bible are not overwhelmed by jumping around from passage to passage. Coupled with this is the desire to truly hear from one section of God’s Word. If a group, exclusively comprised of Christians, wants to study multiple passages on a topic, they certainly can (most I have been in say something like, “I know we are not supposed to hyperlink, but…”) and probably will. But what will they do when there is a new believer or a lost person present? Will they notice? Will they care enough to make this commitment to their welfare? Scheduling a session every 4-6 weeks where you trace out the themes from multiple passages everyone has been studying together is one way to ensure that participants start noticing undergirding themes.
  2. For years I have always focused on individual responses of obedience because I believe the Holy Spirit can and does impress upon each individual what the Father wants to be done. But as I have become more understanding of collectivistic cultures (rather than the highly individualistic one I have lived in), I recognize the value of helping such people groups arrive at a “We will…” obedience statement. The use of “I will…” Statements was designed to overcome the common tendency of believers saying, “Someone ought to obey this passage by doing…” as a way of avoiding the call to becoming personally obedient. Rather than this approach resulting in missing a call to obedience, you and other participants can make sure that other “I will…” Statements are made, which may be stronger. The key is making sure the group is listening to God with an intention of responding to what he is calling us to do.
  3. Developing a proper response to disobedience is a significant issue in disciple making. There have been times when some coaches will not let the group move on to another passage until the last one has been obeyed. Others will choose to have a private conversation with the disobedient and stress the importance of obeying Jesus and giving the person another chance. When a group of new people persistently refuses to obey, then it is obvious there are no Persons of Peace among them. In every case it is critical that you personally model stating specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic and time-bound “I will…” Statements and then follow through with your own obedience. Your example may call them to a new response to hearing from God. Fervent, persistent prayer for each participant should also precede the determination to discontinue a group, but there are cases where that is the proper response to persistent disobedience.

Q&A: What do you consider “specialized training”?

Original Question: “Finally, I’m wondering what specialized training includes, given that the training (equipping) of the church is in view in this text. If we assume that being gifted definitionally entails no specialized training, then once the gifted train the church for service, can those so trained “become” gifted, or does being trained rule that out? Or is it just that such training is not “specialized”? Or perhaps the training—say, for crossing cultures—is simply irrelevant to the question of being gifted, so that those trained by the gifted may be equipped for service, but whether they’re gifted for it is another matter altogether?”

Answer: Obviously, I did not do a good job in my original post of being specific and clear in my communication. As I have noted earlier, I have no objections to “specialized training.” I actually spend lots of time pondering the kinds of specialized training that many followers of Jesus need to become more fruitful in their efforts to imitate him. My main objection is the tendency of the Global North church to require extensive formal education before people are considered for ministry positions. We have developed a “professional clergy” mindset which precludes participation in disciple making.

Last Friday I taught lesson 12 for the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course. I told a couple of global stories of breakthrough which are happening. One comes from Africa and the other from the U.S. Both examples are early in the process of multiplication. I intentionally chose these because they are not so fully developed that they feel light years away. I shared about the use of Discovery Groups in the process and touched on some specific examples where some of the “least likely” people are being used by God in powerful ways. After my two sections were competed a young lady (probably in her twenties) shared with me that she had heard about DBS while working at a Christian university and done some research. She started some groups and found that they multiplied quickly and a couple of simple churches had started among a couple of sports teams. University officials became concerned about the “out of control” spread of new groups and took actions which forced the efforts to “go underground.”

My heart sank! “What were they thinking?” Why didn’t they rejoice?

Systems tend to be self-perpetuating, thus they are often resistant to change. Here in the Global North we have a strong, formal education system which has become self-perpetuating. Teachers need students. Require credentialing and you have steady work. Some of that is good; some becomes troubling to me. But my greater concern is our failure to recognize that you do not lead with the structures of a historically older system, when starting new works. Keep it simple. Keep it in smaller modules so people do not have to leave their families and employment to “get training.”

I conflated two distinct topics: gifting and education. Clearly Paul touches on both in the Ephesians 4 passage, so there is overlap. But our discussion of these matters are complicated by each of us bringing “baggage” to the table.

Paul’s focus is that every member of the body becomes equipped for ministry. Jesus insured that such was possible by gifting the global church with “apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor/teachers.” It takes all four for the church to become all Jesus envisions. Every fellowship should examine itself to identify which of those four (or five) functions do we high light. Which are missing? What must be done to address our deficiencies?

Some Assumptions on Gifting

We all enter discussions with assumptions, some examined and others that are more subliminal until they are brought into the light. Writing is one way to get them out into the light.

One of my assumptions is that a gift is an ability which greatly surpasses anything I could develop on my own. But I do not assume that with two different people the less gifted one could not surpass the other if he/she put more work into developing and practicing the gift. Let me share a couple of analogies which might make my thoughts more easily understood by someone else.

Michael Jordan vs. Larry Bird: an analogy from professional basketball. Two of the best NBA players of all time provide an interesting contrast. Both played on NBA teams which one multiple championships. Their careers overlapped. But I don’t want to focus on their playing careers, but their efforts toward coaching. I believe MJ was more gifted than Bird. His physical ability was through the roof. He could certainly out jump Bird. He was quicker, without a doubt. Larry was taller, but that was about the only advantage he had when it came to playing. But Bird had to use his mind and guile to overcome his deficiencies—and he did, over and over.

Bird’s challenges made him more equipped to become successful as a coach, as it turned out. Sometimes (but not always), the most gifted at doing something to a high level are not able to assist less capable people to succeed. Their reliance upon their gifting gave them great success. But every team is comprised of members with varying degrees of ability. A good coach helps each member maximize her abilities and also gets the group to learn to experience a synergy where “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”

Gifts can certainly give someone a “leg up,” but what one does with spiritual abilities is crucial, too. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians which we call 1 Corinthians certainly points us in this direction. The believers in that local church had incredible giftings, but it appears they were not often exercised with love (1 Corinthians chapters 12-14).

Since early this year (2021) I have spent a lot of time learning the fine art of wood turning. One of my friends invested greatly in my success. Jim Livingstone has made recommendations regarding the lathe I might buy and he also gave me several wood turning tools. To purchase those tools would cost me several hundred dollars. I am very appreciative! His counsel and this generous gift has sped up my learning curve. But I still have had to put lots of practice into wood turning. The gift has not replaced training, long hours of practice, and diligent efforts to overcome errors made along the way. But I have never attended any wood turning schools or classes.

I have never really felt gifted. No, I am not discounting the incredible deposits God has made in my life! But none of it comes easily. None. I am not a gifted speaker. I do it fairly well, some of the time, but it is usually fitful for me.

Wood working has been different than just about anything else I have ever tried. I can get totally “lost” in it. I can learn techniques and abilities more quickly than other turners, evidently. But I have 45+ years of relevant experience to draw from in the learning. I took three years in high school, even though they only offered two years. No, I did not fail. I bartered my way into a third year by doing some of the mill work that my teacher had previously done for the first year students. No one had ever done that before, so I wasn’t following someone else’s example. I was following my heart.

Creating path for Woodworking III opened the door for me working at an acoustic guitar factory during the summers before and during Bible College. Those experiences gave me an incredible learning opportunity. Unfortunately I never really had an apprenticeship, though. Yes, I memorized safety rules for six weeks and spent six more in basic drafting (while the woodworking shop was built), but I learned most of what I know on my own.

I’ve watched hundreds of hours of wood turning videos. I’ve spent hundreds more trying to imitate what I saw and then correcting the obvious errors I made. I have no formal training in wood turning.

DMM is not opposed to formal training. It is not opposed to Grad School or even getting a doctorate. I actually know several who hold doctorates and others who are pursuing them. As a general rule, though, Movement folks think the requirement that young people getting an “Engineer level” education prior to getting involved in cross cultural missions is wrong-headed. We probably don’t state this clearly enough, at times. But then there are times when I am equally sure people are “hearing” things we are not saying.

One professor friend made an interesting statement to me a few years ago. I shared that I struggle some with “imposter syndrome,” especially in the missions arena. My misgivings come from two fronts: my lack of formal training and my lack of living cross culturally for any significant time. He said, “John, be thankful there are many things you have not had to unlearn!”

Q&A: What Kind of Growth Happens in Movements?

Original Question: “How do you differentiate between numerical growth as a result of multiplication and spiritual growth in terms of rooting people in Christ using this approach to discipleship?”

Deep and wide–that is the simple answer to the question in the title. Everyone? No, but more than what I have seen in traditional legacy churches, to be very honest.

For far too long much about the Christian experience in the Global North has become a “spectator sport.” People show up to watch professionals “do ministry” on a stage. We may find that our knowledge of concepts about Christianity grows in this fashion, but our actual experience of being apprentices to Jesus is negligible.

Since I was not able to get further clarification from the lady who raised this question, I must take some educated guesses in hopes of providing an appropriate answer. It is quite possible I will miss the mark, but hopefully my efforts to respond will prove beneficial for someone who reads.

Numerical growth through multiplication and maturing spiritually are not necessarily adversarial or competitive. But our failure to focus intentional energy on either is a grave oversight, in my humble opinion. I believe many Christians stagnate in their spiritual maturity because they never become involved in reaching the lost. Following Jesus closely will always involve us in connecting with people who need a Savior and King. He said of himself that he was sent to “Seek and save that which is lost.”

If you want to learn something well, try to teach it to others. Discipling disciple makers will greatly shape your walk with Jesus. Becoming intentional in praying for laborers and seeking out Persons of Peace can guard your spiritual walk from becoming self-absorbed. Please do not make something an either/or that Jesus has said is a both/and. Many disciples who come to faith in Movements mature at a faster rate than those reached in traditional approaches. The idea that I only have to be one lesson ahead of others that I am leading keeps me making double applications of the Word (to myself and to those I am influencing). This actually accelerates my growth.

Ten Years of Celebrating

Ten years ago (May), I transitioned from the preaching minister at Stones River Church to become the Global Coach at Final Command Ministries. God has opened doors and produced multiplying fruit during this decade. All the glory goes to Him! It has been remarkable to have a front row seat to witness his purposes unfolding.

There are eleven Disciple Making Movements which God has birthed during this decade. These are efforts within people groups where either 100+ new churches were planted or 1,000 new Jesus followers within a short enough time span that only God could produce these results. As these stories of breakthrough have been shared, a holy discontent continues to arise within the hearts of God’s people who are not experiencing such growth.

Abundant (or extraordinary) praying and fasting are present wherever we see movements. People who wish to be catalytic realize from our African friends that far too often our prayer lives are far too anemic to see multiplication happening. Our existing prayer times are often too self-centered to see breakthroughs. We read through our lists of sick people who need healing from desperate diseases like cancer, but they are woefully void of claiming God’s promises.


Back in the early days of my transition I was hoping and praying from a spiritual “backwash” from Africa. That people in US churches would hear stories of multiplication in Africa and Asian nations and become jealous. I was praying that mission sending churches would open their strategies up to intentional disciple making that equipped every new disciple to become an intentional disciple maker so their blessings could be multiplied. I hoped that Missions Committee members would be patient with the missionary families that were transitioning towards DMM strategies and practices. God has been faithful.

More than 2,000 new simple churches have been planted. 4,190 Discovery Groups have been started and we are praying many more churches emerge as the Holy Spirit works in the hearts and minds of people listening to the Word and seeking for ways to obey what they hear God saying to them. We started intentionally targeting people groups in four nations in the Sahel and that number has tripled across the region and spilling over into North Africa, too. Just last week more than 100 Nigerian missionaries were trained in DMM and are returning to their posts to look for Persons of Peace.

Join me in praising God for some of these remarkable results in one of the more resistant regions on the globe. Pray that God’s fame will spread. Pray for multiplication to expand and more and more men and women will be swept into the kingdom of heaven. To God be the glory!

Discovery Questions (an overview)

Over the last month I have reviewed the eight questions which Final Command Ministries recommends people use to facilitate the Discovery process. I wanted you to have access to the rationale behind each one. Asking the same questions each week quickly equips every participant to facilitate. It is repeatable.

Movements come from new groups starting new groups. In some nations this multiplication is more than 30 generations deep (within 15 years). More than one million new followers of Jesus have come to faith through this reproducible process. They have simultaneously been equipped to reach others by the process used in reaching them!

Why would you want to change this?

While I was taught to never write a one sentence paragraph, I left that sentence all alone. It is there for emphasis. It is the question I sometimes ask people wanting permission to edit the questions.

“The questions get boring,” and “These people won’t obey the questions,” are the honest answers I get when my question is answered. Truth be told, this is a clear sign you are working with the wrong people, if you want to start a Movement. Working with other people doesn’t mean you are giving up on them, though.

Sometimes people are not ready to change. Paul turned to the Gentiles when the Jewish people rejected his message about Jesus. He reveals to us he did it “to provoke the Jews to jealousy.” Maybe the best way to get one group of people to change is find the willing nearby and help them change. The first group gets to witness the power of the Gospel. Maybe, just maybe, their hearts will change, too!

Question 3: Accountable?

“How did you obey, share and meet the need from last week’s meeting?” invites participants to become mutually accountable to the other participants. This is woefully missing from traditional church gatherings (large proclamation settings, mid-sized and small group settings, also). We do not give one another true permission to ask, “Did you obey what you heard God say?”

Many people shy away from this kind of mutual accountability out of fear. They have personally been abused by a domineering leader, or know someone else who has. This fear produces an internal resistance to sharing an “I will…” Statement and nurtures resisting follow through if one has been given.

Each Discovery setting gives participants three ways to actually take meaningful actions in response to God’s word. Questions 6, 7 and 8 lead to an obedience pledge, the name of someone who needs to hear this story from the Bible and a challenge which the group can help overcome. Acting on any/all of these opens the active participants heart to walk out faith acts in response to the Holy Spirit. For example, we believe God often prepares Persons of Peace before the disciple maker ever meets with them. What if the Holy Spirit brings the person to mind for you to share with because he knows that person is ready for this word? Do we really believe God works in our hearts and minds when we open ourselves to him?

When participants attempt to obey, share and/or serve they may encounter resistance for which they are not prepared. Allowing them an opportunity to debrief what happened gives them the chance to be blessed by the group. We gain the privilege of “bearing one another’s burdens.” Maybe her heart was so sad because her sister rejected the story. Now the group can begin to pray that her sister’s heart will be changed.

No one is expecting perfection from these questions or the experiences they produce. We are coaching toward learning opportunities. Just like a soccer coach is not expecting perfection in dribbling drills, we know that the more practice people have in listening to God’s Word and then attempting to apply it, the better our obedience grows. Having a group who are cheering on our efforts builds us up to try harder the next time and eventually experience breakthroughs. Question 3 provides beautiful examples of testimony when God blesses our growing efforts. We are encouraged and others get to experience encouragement, too.

When you drop Question 3 it is a solid indicator that you are dropping Questions 6, 7 and 8. What you have then is not a Discovery Group, it is just a fellowship group with a weak Bible study. Please do not call that a Discovery Group because you have cut the heart out.

Question 2: Challenges?

“What challenges do you see in your life, family or world?” gives permission to the household of peace and/or friendship group to share with one another the difficulties each one is facing. While a family or group of friends may already know many of these challenges, picking one to share reveals what is weighing on the heart of each participant. “What matters enough to you that you will bring it to the group?” is a significant insight.

Most mornings I send out a text message to ten different groups or individuals. It usually contains one or two verses and an observation or question based on them. I started doing that practice more than eight years ago because of a challenge shared in a group experiencing Discovery for the first time. One lady shared, “I need a new job. No, I actually need a better attitude about my job until I get a new one.” She opened her heart to the seven of us who were gathered.

Question 2 provides a disciple maker a great intercession list. Outside of the group you can and should pray fervently about each challenge which is shared. Whenever God chooses to give a breakthrough it will capture the attention of at least some of the group members. In West Africa there is a disciple making family who were having trouble with their air conditioner in an extremely hot, dry season. Through overt spiritual conversations with the HVAC repairman they found he was spiritually open to Discovery. Once a Discovery Group began at his compound, they discovered the water piped into the neighborhood had not flown in over a year. When it started again (but not for any of their neighbors) this produced ongoing conversations.

Question 8 is going to be a follow-up to Question 2. As a result other trainers only have 7 questions because they make it 7b. I chose to keep all three action nurturing questions at the end of the study so responses will possibly be shaped by what God says through the passage. Making notes of the responses to # 2 is important because Question 8 will be a bit later in the process.

I do not get upset when the response to a challenge happens early, but now you know my rationale. The reality is you can facilitate a Discovery however you please. But if you make changes, please do so prayerfully and with the recognition that your alterations may have unintended consequences. If you get less fruitful responses, it is at least possible that is because you have removed something which was more significant than you realized.

Searching for COWs

Over the next several weeks I plan to write a series of posts looking closely at each of the 8 questions we recommend be used in Discovery Groups. I often receive questions about changing the way the questions are phrased and/or significantly modifying them. Maybe it will help if I give more of the rationale for why they are what they are and some of the thinking which has gone into even the order of the questions.

Before we dive into looking at the eight questions, I want to mention one of our strategies at Final Command Ministries. We look for what Gary Jennings (one of my teammates) calls the Coalition of the Willing. Jacob Crawford, a DMM practitioner and catalytic partner in New Orleans mentioned how helpful it is to be “looking for the COWs.”

Whenever you do exposure training with new church leaders and/or ordinary believers, be intentional in looking for those who open up to you and the training without you having to “convince” them they need to take this new direction. Decades of experience reveal that trying to convince the unwilling is frustrating for them and a waste of your time. Doing such exposure trainings (where you are exposing groups of people to the Discovery process and how it fits into the DMM cycle) is a time for broadcast sowing. Tap into the curiosity which is available, but look for evidence of willingness. Do not insult those who are resistant, but recognize they do not yet qualify for more time or energy beyond praying for them if you already have a significant relationship with them.

David Watson used to describe Cityteam (the organization where he worked when he invited me to assist in some of his trainings) as a “pull me” organization rather than a “push you” one. He would do these week long trainings which focused on the Critical Elements of Multiplying Movements and then wait for the people who would reach out for more training and/or coaching. Even that was going to be contingent on finding out what efforts were being made to implement some elements. “What have you done since the training to respond to it?” was the kind of question he would ask.

Are you raising up intercessors? Are you practicing the Discovery Group strategy with your family or friends? Who are you sharing these concepts with who might become part of a Disciple Making team? Have you started making a list of lost people that you already know who you can have overt spiritual conversations with them? These and other questions like them are asked to assess a willingness to go beyond a mere intellectual exercise.

When you start exposing those who are already believers to Discovery, and they “don’t like it,” what does this reveal? They are not COWs. Stop trying to drag them into this. Leave them alone and find other people to share with you in the journey. Early exposure to Discovery becomes a way to gauge interest. Deal appropriately with the information this litmus test reveals.