12 Year Anniversary!

Recently WordPress notified me that I launched this blog 12 years ago. That’s hard to wrap my brains around in some ways. I do remember meeting with my friend, John Mark Hicks, to ask for information about creating it. As always, his counsel was helpful.

If you subscribe to this blog, you know it has been an up and down journey. There have been seasons when I wrote consistently. My general pattern has been to post an article each Tuesday and Thursday morning. But there have been significant gaps in my follow through on that goal. Even lately I have struggled some with posting consistently.

There are 220+ posts available on this blog. Most visitors check out two or three of them. Current posts draw fresh engagement with my writing. But I am writing this post to encourage you to check out some of my older posts. Here’s the link to an early post that I recommend you read:

https://dmmcoach.com/2012/09/18/hearing-god/

Discerning what God is saying to you and then responding in obedience is critical! God really does expect those who know him to listen to what he is saying.

Thanks if you have been following this blog for a long time, or if just a short while. I would love to hear from you, especially if we have not communicated directly with one another in a while. What pieces have been helpful? Challenging?

Thanks for giving me an outlet for some of my thinking. Thanks for calling me to greater clarity in my efforts to communicate.

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.

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!”

Follow-up Questions

Today I will be posting some questions which my last blog post prompted. They come from my friend, Greg. We go to church together and have talked about DMM on multiple occasions. Greg has some concerns about aspects of DMM and I appreciate him and his heart for truth and making disciples. He posted the following questions on my Facebook wall, where I had shared a link to my previous blog article, https://dmmcoach.com/2021/09/09/what-about-the-other-gifts/. If you have not read that article, yet, Greg’s questions will be more meaningful if you read it first.

Thanks, John. Various questions arise. We can talk in person if commenting becomes ponderous.

1. Do you think Paul has clearly delimited distinctive roles in mind here? Relatedly, do you think this is a comprehensive Pauline account of leadership gifts/roles?These are general questions about what you think Paul is doing in this text, the answers to which will, I assume, relate to the way you are using the text to answer your DMM-specific question. Watson’s reduction to two categories at the end of the post seems to indicate that you take Paul’s categories to be sort of broad strokes that get at tendencies. Is that fair?

2. My second question, regarding the evangelist, is threefold.

(A.) I’m having trouble distinguishing it from your account of the apostle. “Apostolic workers are those who intentionally go to new places,” and evangelists are “able to cross many cultural barriers” and “intentionally bring good news into dark places.” Both seem to be about “going.” Is it that you see evangelists as a subset of apostolic goers who specifically cross cultural barriers?

(B.) I’m curious where you derive the cross-cultural component of the evangelist from. Obviously, one needn’t cross cultures to bring good news into dark places. But more the point, what about Paul’s claim suggests crossing cultures is a specific feature of this gift?

(C.) The phrase I’m struggling most with (as you’ll have guessed) is “without requiring specialized training.” As with the cross-cultural dimension of your definition, I’m wondering where this assertion comes from. It seems to me that, on the one hand, this is a claim that you (i.e., those who understand “gifts” this way) would be interested in appending to each of the gifts. Because it is a gift (and not an accomplishment of “training works”?), the apostle’s ability to be apostolic requires no training, and so on. On the other hand, it seems to me that this is a commitment DMMers are bringing to the text, which makes no claims about the means through which God bestows gifts. Isn’t it the case that DMM is already committed methodologically to leaders not needing specialized training? If so, does that lead you to find an affirmation of that presupposition in the definition of gifting?

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?

More than enough for one comment. 😬 I look forward to the dialogue.

[NOTE: I use social media (Facebook and Twitter) as a place to post invitations for deeper conversations. I prefer having those deeper conversations in person, or here on my blog. Others do not agree that this is best, but it is my choice to this point in time. I do this because I want my deeper conversations to be with people who want to converse. I do not like the “drive-by shootings” which often happen on social media. I want a real dialogue. I plan to respond to each of Greg’s questions here in future posts. I shared that with him and will post my responses here. Due to some travels I may not make my usual Tuesday and Thursday morning times, but will try to stay regular in my responses. After I finish with those I will return to the list of questions which arose earlier this year at the Salt & Light Conference.]

What about the other Gifts?

Original Question: “Where does the movement model make room for pastor, teacher, prophet etc.?”

Answer: Many questions like this arise when leaders of individual churches and/or networks of churches start exploring Disciple Making Movements strategies. The assumption is that DMMs are only focused on the apostolic and evangelistic giftings, while Paul clearly identifies additional giftings.

Here is the actual biblical text which is being alluded to in this question:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-15).

To me, this immediate context makes it is clear that Paul is thinking about the Church Universal, rather than a single congregation in a particular location because of his use of the phrase “the body of Christ” and “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” For the majority of his ministry, Paul has not labored in the areas where others of the Apostles lived and worked. He spent some time in Jerusalem during his early days as a believer when Barnabas vouched for him. Later he joins them in the discussion about acceptance of the Gentiles into the Kingdom, but by and large Paul’s intentional strategy was to go to unreached and unengaged regions where the Gospel had not yet been heard.

The word “apostle” is an English form of the Greek word “apostolos” which was used for anyone sent out as an emissary. In the Great Commission Jesus directs the 11 to “Go make disciples” in the whole world. Paul is later added to their number and we actually know more details about his going than we do the 11, because of Luke’s presence on Paul’s apostolic team going on mission with Jesus. Apostolic workers are those who intentionally go to new places, where the Gospel has not been heard prior to their arrival.

The word “prophet” clearly carries great significance in Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. Seeking that gift is proposed by Paul as a corrective for some of the problems which arose in that specific church. Prophecy gives divine insight and confirmation. There can be predictive elements as is seen when an upcoming famine is revealed ahead of time by Agabus. (Acts 11:28). This foreknowledge empowers believers to prepare ahead of time to assist those who will be most negatively anticipated (much like happened through Joseph in Egypt). Prophecy is not restricted to a single located congregation, though.

“Evangelist” is one of these functions which many recognize fits well into the Disciple Making Movement rubric. Someone who has this divine gifting is able to cross many cultural barriers without requiring specialized training. But many believers are not this way. They need help in recognizing the differences which make so much of an impact that shifts in tactics are required. Those who intentionally bring good news into dark places are seeking to be evangelistic.

“Pastor-teachers” seems to me to be the best translation of the next category in Ephesians 4, because of the way Paul’s Greek is written here in this text. There is a phrase which is duplicated multiple times earlier, but is noticeably absent between pastor and teacher. Paul writes of Jesus, “he gave some to be…” four times, not five. Jesus gave some to be apostles, gave some to be prophets, gave some to be evangelists, gave some to be pastors and teachers.

In many traditional church networks the pastoral/teaching role is almost exclusively present. Because it is so significant, the efforts to counter-balance this extreme are heard as denigrating this function. I remember David Watson encouraging a large group he was training in California, “In every group gathered to be shaped by God’s Word, look for two types of leaders in the household–apostolic/evangelist types who live to see the word go to other villages where it has not gone yet and also those with the pastoral/teacher hearts that are necessary to nurture the ongoing spiritual life of an emerging local church.

With these thoughts in mind, explore what God does in Antioch of Syria. Read Acts 13:1ff and see that you have both emphases. Early training in DMM always focuses on vision casting for going, but if there is to be fruit, much fruit and fruit that lasts (John 15), then it requires a both/and, rather than an either/or.

Q&A: Do You Recommend “Pitching” the Text?

Original Questions:

What do you think about the general idea of using these kinds of passages (like the Sermon on the Mount) with Discovery? I know that narratives tend to work better than teaching blocks, but I have a preference for reading through blocks of text, in order to model what we expect people to be doing on their own, and learning to listen to God through all of the Bible.

Also, in the light of this list, how do you recommend “pitching” the text? Reading the titles (and those on your bookmarks), I realize that our general approach is just to introduce the text as “the next one to read”. We don’t ordinarily put a title on it. Probably because we want to encourage people to hear God speak through the text, without being prescriptive! But looking over the list, I wonder whether it is better, particularly in a church setting, to “orientate” the work that we’re doing. What do you think about this?

My Reply:

I did my Masters thesis on Matthew’s Gospel, so it holds a special place in my heart and mind. In church settings it is appropriate to go deeper, I believe. Jesus certainly gives his disciples “insider” information when they asked. If we want to transition from a consumer mindset, though, we must maintain some strong inductive rhythms. 


“Pitching” the text gives a group a heads up that we are hoping to mine it for certain insights. The whole series I sent you is certainly “pitched” as it explores the first Gospel looking for Jesus teaching and modeling of Kingdom definitions and callings for leadership. 

One of the unique characteristics of Matthew’s Gospel (compared the Mark, Luke and John) are the five large teaching blocks. Interestingly, in the first Gospel Jesus is said to have a threefold ministry (proclamation of the kingdom, teaching and healing). When he commissioned the 12 and sent them out (chapter 10), he empowers them to do two of the three. The one which is withheld for Jesus is teaching. Some commentators believe Matthew did this to parallel Jesus with Moses and the Pentateuch. I think that usually gets overworked. But Matthew contains that interesting directive:

““But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭23:8‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Everyone is discipled to the same Rabbi because we all have the same Teacher. His name is Jesus. Actually, the Great Commission is the only place in the first Gospel where the disciples are to teach and then, we teach people to obey all of Jesus’ commandments. 


Clearly other biblical books present the idea and importance of many of God’s people functioning as teachers. This is part of the spiritually empowered ministry in Ephesians 4. But Matthew emphasizes there is One Supreme Teacher. The rest of us are focused on getting others to listen to and obey Jesus. When you call the church to the Sermon on the Mount, it is appropriate to consider, weigh and explore who we are listening to and what his desired outcomes are as we explore. 


While we call it the “Sermon on the Mount,” Matthew actually tags it as teaching his disciples (Matthew 5:1-2). Much is made of the crowd, because we call it a sermon, but the first Gospel makes more of this being a setting where he is teaching his disciples and the crowds overhear. What does following Jesus look like? What should it look like? Jesus casts a kingdom vision in these three chapters which are very challenging and counter cultural. 


As long as the “pitch” is true to the context, I am okay with it, personally. I do much less of it with lost people. 

Q&A: Why Start There?

Q&A: “Most of the Scriptures used are in the Synoptic Gospels. Can you show how this is worked out in the ministry of Paul? There seem to be some differences. Explain?“

Discovery is more easily accomplished by the use of narrative (story based) sections of the Bible. Do you remember the interaction between Phillip and Jesus? Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:8-9) Since watching Jesus is the best way to see God the Father the Gospels are foundational resources.

Evangelicalism has made much of the Pauline corpus, and rightly so. But, there are times we make this material oppositional to the Gospels, and that is not good. Having a good understanding of the differences between these two genres and their functional roles is important.

Disciple Making Movements are focused on getting the Good News of Jesus planted into families–especially families who have little or no access to the Bible. These are folks who have almost no knowledge of Jesus. As a result, we believe they should spend lots of their initial time in the Bible discovering what is revealed about Jesus. The Son of God is the only one who ever said that as he is lifted up he will draw people to the Father.

When you read through Acts, and pay close attention to what Paul writes in his letters about his early days in a new city, it is obvious that he also made much of the Gospel. Consider, for example, his comments about coming to Corinth: “And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified“ (1 Corinthians 2:1-2).

Many of the questions and objections we encounter arise from the difference between starting towards faith and efforts to ground and mature those who are already believers. Are you reaching out to lost people? If so, we recommend spending lots of time in the Gospels. As they come to faith and simple churches emerge, there will be plenty of time to spend time with the letters written to churches.

Question # 8: Serve?

“How can we help with one of the challenges shared earlier during Question # 2?” guides the group into meeting a need each week. It disciples them towards ministering to the challenges in the group, their families or their neighborhood.

Some DMM coaches make this question a follow-up to number 2, so they only have seven questions. I kept it separate and wanted all three of the obedience questions to come after the passage is explored. We need to hear from God before we go off doing things to make sure we are not operating in our own wisdom.

Often when groups are not family or friends they do not live near enough to each other to easily do this as a group. This makes Question 8 a bit challenging for many in the Global North. Some drop it. Others change it to praying for one of the challenges shared earlier in the Discovery Group time. My preference is we keep it as is and coach the group towards more creative ministry options.

I am writing this blog post on my phone while riding to Tallahassee, Florida. Debra (my wife) is driving at this moment. I am using my two thumbs to type it into the WordPress app. What if we used our phones to help with a challenge someone shared?

Often challenges deal with the need for encouragement. Can you encourage someone with a text message? What if you commit to send a favorite Bible promise to someone who is struggling with depression? Do you think that might bolster her spirits? What else could you do? What else could several people do for one of the group members?

Question # 7: Who?

“Who do you know who needs this message that you will tell this week?” is a powerful seed for multiplication. This is only true when Discovery Groups will name names and then share with those named.

Tragically, many self-identified Christians do not like answering this question. Even fewer follow through with sharing with the people who come to mind. If you are not getting new generations of Discovery Groups, you can be sure Question # 7 has been dropped or altered.

If your Christian group experiments with using a Discovery process pay special attention to their responses to this question. If they do not know any lost people who need to hear God’s Word, then they need to get out more (in person and/or online. They need to become active listeners. And they need to become better at intercession—pleading God’s promises for the people where they live, learn, work and play.

Who are the people who walk regularly in your neighborhood? Could you ask them to join in their walks? Get to know them. Talk about casual topics. Explore a meaningful topic. If they are comfortable with that shift, try a spiritual theme. If they say they are a believer, “already have a home church,” or signal they follow Jesus, then tell them you want to find lost people in the neighborhood. Ask if they will help. Invite them to join you in prayer walking while you exercise.

If they are not willing to talk about spiritual matters, then you need to begin praying that the Holy Spirit will produce and opening. Get their names. Mobilize others from your home church, small group and/or disciple making team to start praying for them. It is possible they are believers who have been wounded by other people at their last church, or they may not know Jesus at all. Keep walking. Keep developing a relationship and revisit the importance of spiritual matters.

Whenever someone is open to spiritual topics ask if he is interested in reading the Bible to see what God is really like. If she is willing to do that, then ask if she has family or friends who might be willing to join in, also. Start a new Discovery Group with this person and his family/friends. They will be prompted to share the passages they explore with others, too.

Question # 6: Obey?

After listening closely to the passage, discussing some of what it reveals about God’s character, desires, plans and purposes and then thinking about the people in the story and ourselves, it is time to identify how we plan to respond to the passage personally. Highly collectivistic people groups may find it better to come up with a “We will…” Statement rather than an “I will…” Statement. Question 6 probes our intentionality to act on something we have heard from God.

“How will you put this passage into practice?” calls participants to application. It urges us to do more than acquire mental information, it calls for practice.

Jesus warned the audience for his “Sermon on the Mount” that to listen to his teaching and not actually doing it was an exercise in folly. Hearing Jesus and doing what he is calling us to do is foundational to withstanding the storms of life and not finding our lives collapsing around us.

Over time I work to coach group participants to develop S.M.A.R.T. “I will…” Statements. These will be Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic and Time-bound. Such coaching is intended to be a guard against disobeying through vagaries–ducking true accountability by not really making a commitment.

Modelling good “I will…” Statements and then actually working on doing them can lead a group to really opening their hearts to God’s Word and the transformation work of the Holy Spirit. You get to show the slacker a new way forward. If you allow their unwillingness to obey to drag you down, you miss an opportunity to show transformation. A good friend used to say, “If we keep doing what we’ve always done we will always get what we’ve always gotten.” If we want new outcomes, we must change our actions. Answering Question # 6 opens the door for new actions.