Building Bridges is hard work!

Starting March of 2022 WordPress (the host of this blog) will be sending one word prompts to everyone like me. While I sort of scoffed at the idea when I read the header to the email announcing the idea, I must admit this meme has sparked some reflections. Maybe they will be worthy of a post.

For several years of my childhood, my four brothers and I lived with our paternal grandparents. We were able to spend a bit more time than usual with their generation as a result. One of our favorite places to visit was the remote farm of our grandfather’s sister and her husband. Visiting Uncle Lonnie and Aunt Mae was always an enjoyable adventure. Traveling to their house required fording a creek–in the vehicle because there was no bridge. The driver had to pull down into the stream of water and hope it was not deep enough to enter at the bottom of the doors!

A bridge is a means of access, thus it serves as a symbol of making contact. One of the largest global missions sending agencies has named their outreach division to international students by this name in its plural form.

When the Final Command team (of which I am a part) was launched back in 2011 we worked on a new website and logo design. The graphic designer who developed the current logo led us through a questionnaire which tried to locate a single word which might lend itself to a graphic presentation. The one word was the word “bridges.”

Our initial vision/mission statement affirmed, “Final Command Ministries exists to glorify God and obey Jesus’ final command by facilitating Church Planting Movements among least reached peoples. Our mission was three-fold: deploy and catalyze cross-cultural ministry teams in unreached areas, mobilize, train and equip existing churches and ministries in effective disciple making (paradigm shift) and help existing compassion ministries develop a disciple making capacity.”

We recognized that we did not presume to have all the knowledge of what God wanted to accomplish. We did not have the manpower, experience or resources needed. Our goal was to build bridges that assisted nearer neighbors to reach the unreached rather than waiting on Western missions agencies to send workers.

The graphic designer developed the arch as a symbol of those bridging efforts. We have not done a good job telling that story. Most newer members of the organization have no idea what lies behind the logo design (just a poor imitation of the Nike swoop)!

How can we do a better job of getting the Gospel out to places where it has not penetrated, yet? That has been our compelling issue. Because God has always led us to attempt that in conjunction with existing churches and compassion ministries, our focus has been on training, coaching and mentoring the coalition of the willing from within. We have not spent much time or energy on trying to persuade the resistant. Much like the strategy of looking for households of peace, we are always looking for potential multipliers–believers who believe God really does want multiplication to happen today.

Finding these two categories of influencers often demand bridge building. It is never easy. The terrain is often precarious, dangerous and the process always seems slower than we wished! But God has been faithful and we give him the praise and glory for the outcomes he has produced.

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: 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?

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: What About a Pantheistic Culture?

Original Question: “With non-Christians, in a pantheistic culture like India, how do we help them see ‘our God’ through the process and not their false gods.” This is an excellent question which touches on a fundamental issue when considering the Discovery process.

Everyone operates from the default of a worldview. We all absorb answers from our culture to some foundational questions: Who am I? Where am I? What has gone wrong here? What, if anything, can be done about what has gone wrong? Flowing out of the answers our culture gives to these answers will be our sense of values and beliefs. Polytheistic cultures, like Hinduism and large sections of Buddhism have very scripted answers to these questions which reinforce and are shaped by their understanding of many gods and their dynamic interactions with these spiritual beings.

One of the primary resources for perpetuating a cultural worldview are the stories which are told. Epic dramas reflect the cultural answers to these foundational questions. Inviting people from such a culture to explore and discover from the alternative narrative of the Bible is actually the best way to help them experience transformation. In the biblical record there are numerous sections which have been described as “power encounters.” For example, Elijah and the prophets of Baal presents a show down between Israel’s God and the false gods of their neighboring nations. “Will the real god show up?” is the challenge Elijah presents.

What polytheistic people need is to get their fingerprints on the narrative of the one true God. They will certainly lean towards hearing us as presenting Jesus as another God to be added to their thousands of gods in the early stages, but there must be a seed of new possibilities planted in their hearts and minds. The Word of God is the power for salvation. The Holy Spirit has the divine strength to demolish strongholds. He has the capacity to overcome the objections we do not even know exist. When we lead a household of peace to discovery, we are acknowledging that He is able to do what we cannot. We are acting in faith that God’s ways are not our ways and His thoughts are much higher than ours.

Disciple making through Discovery has worked among every major world religion. The starting places may differ. The Scripture sets will be different. But God has given us remarkable evidence during the last thirty years of Kingdom Movements that could not have been imagined late in the 1900’s. We have much to celebrate because He continues to show Himself mighty to save!

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 # 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.

Q&A: Multiple Questions

Actual 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 person discovers? If it is based on what person discovers then wont 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?

My Responses:

  1. Please remember that the Discovery questions and approach were developed for lost families and/or friends who are open to exploring the Bible together to especially discover what God is like. One of their fears of church people is that we have them at an unfair disadvantage because we are familiar with the Bible and they are not. Staying with one text is for their benefit. But this can be good for ordinary church members, too. If there are multiple passages related to a biblical theme, then work through them one at a time as a small group. Then spend a session (every 6-8 weeks) tracing out the insights that flow from the collection of passages. In this scenario, every participant will have been part of discovering from all of the passages together. The insights which are traced out will be more widely shared because of the earlier group times. Most of our thematic studies are dominated by a few who expect others to absorb and accept because we have declared it so, rather than guiding a process where people discover for themselves whether or not it is from the Lord. Trust the Holy Spirit.
  2. In highly individualistic cultures their “I will…” (obedience) statements will most likely be based on what each individual hears from the passage. Yes, there is some risk attached with this, but the same is true of deductive teaching or other forms of inductive study. More significant than the statement of what they are going to do, is what they actually do in obedience to what they hear from God. In collective cultures it may be more valuable to coach the group toward a shared, “We will….” Statement of obedience. If they hear from God an action to take and they act on it, their hearts will become increasingly open to hearing from Him. Drawing attention to good quality “I will…” Statements (after everyone as shared their own) often results in those with weaker statements beginning to make better commitments and actually working on obeying them. What happens in the group gathering is significant, but what happens outside is often more transformational. Trust the Holy Spirit to work before, during and after the Discovery gathering!
  3. Modelling making good “I will…” Statements, doing what we commit to do in them and then transparently sharing what happens when we attempt to obey is the best path forward with the resistant. Do not shame them. Love them. Ask privately if there is a way you can come alongside them to see a different outcome next week. Most importantly intercede for them throughout the intervening week. Trust the Holy Spirit to work in their life!

Q&A: How do you encourage Christians who are very happy to sit and receive teaching from the ‘qualified’ to engage with this discovery model? What has worked for you?

Working through strategic preaching/teaching plans which expose these people to Kingdom texts which produce a Kingdom expansion call motivates some. How will passive people be called to “get on the pitch” rather than being only consumers?

Do not focus too much attention on the resistant. Invest time, energy and passion into the willing. Build a team out of these. “Start small to end big; focus on the few to win the many.” are two related the counter-intuitive statements that were learned by on the ground teams in Africa. You will not succeed in getting large numbers of people to take up new approaches at the same time. Their rhythms keep them doing what they are doing. Who are the people who are willing to learn new rhythms?

Celebrate the stories of breakthrough which come from the efforts of your team. As success begins with your team, their stories have the potential to provide the “social proof” which is required by the 84% who are middle or laggard adopters. Focusing too much attention on the slower adopters increases their resistance, but often sidetracks you and your team. Read through Acts and pay special attention to how much attention Saul/Paul gives to the Jewish people in the synagogues who rejected his proclamation.

Focusing on the willing is not about giving up on the resistant, though. It is understanding that they need proof. Give it to them. Get to breakthrough and more will join you. Yes, I know you wish they would help you get to breakthrough, but do not allow that to distract you.

Q&A: How is the DMM Wheel to be Used?

The DMM Wheel serves multiple functions. It was designed as a graphic presentation of multiple stages of intentionally moving toward Multiplication.

David Watson trained early explorers in 22 Critical Elements of Movements (called CPM first and then DMM). No one can remember a list of 22 and not all of the Critical Elements are necessary to the early phases of getting a Movement started.

After much prayer and experience, these five Critical Elements were identified as how to launch the transition needed to begin implementing enough of DMM strategies to begin transitioning toward Multiplication. Many early explorers never became even novice practitioners because 22 Critical Elements is overwhelming. How much of that do you need to start making some of the paradigm shifts to start developing essential spiritual disciplines?

Traditional strategies are too focused on knowledge acquisition, so we focused on these five elements because they are the places where early breakthroughs came. Finding Persons of Peace and using culturally appropriate inductive study methods, which work with a whole family, were essential to beginning in ways that would multiply. Praying and fasting coupled with good access ministries that created places for overt spiritual conversations increased the odds of finding Persons of Peace. All of these early practices open us to many paradigm shifts which are essential to Embracing Multiplication strategies.

The graphic was fine-tuned as a training resource. Once a team grasps a deep understanding of these five Critical Elements and begins to try to implement them, then the Wheel can be used as a way of assessing “What is missing?” when they are not yet seeing new groups being started out of the first groups they can begin. Often, their earliest groups are only believers. Clearly there is no Person of Peace. These are more “practice” groups than true Discovery Groups.

We may have wonderful Compassion Ministries, but do not have the frontline personnel trained to initiate overt spiritual conversations. They will need to be trained to value the role of a Person of Peace enough to be willing to make the needed changes to Embrace Multiplication.

Often, teams eventually come to the foundational understanding that they do not pray and fast in order to hear from God. We have launched these ministries from our own human strength, rather than in response to God calling us to reach a particular people group or region and that is why we are not seeing Multiplication. All five of these must be happening simultaneously to truly start toward replication. While we may look at them one by one, we need all five to start getting new generations where groups are planting groups and brand new disciples are making new disciples who are doing likewise.