How Much Trellis is Needed?

In John 15 Jesus has three promises related to fruit bearing. It is his promise that if branches will abide in him as the vine, they will be carefully tended so that they “bear fruit” (John 15:4), “bear much fruit” (John 15:5, 8) and “bear fruit—fruit that will last” (John 15:16). In Disciple Making Movements in West Africa we have observed all of these stages of fruit bearing–initial breakthroughs, increasingly rapid multiplication of new groups and then the stabilizing, formational work required for long-term preservation of fruit.

I am convinced these three phases actually correspond to the functions of the apostolic, evangelistic and pastoral/educational (which correlate to planting vines, tending vines so their fruitfulness multiplies and then preserving the grapes through wine making which requires the greatest labor and construction of the winepress and places for storing the wineskins while fermentation happens).

In keeping with those three phases, New Harvest Global Ministries in Sierra Leone (West Africa) has three different training tracks, with increasing training and education required for each subsequent phase:

1. Sending experienced disciple makers into a previously closed region is that initial breakthrough phase. Often, these workers have grown up under very similar circumstances to the people groups among which they are working. These apostolic workers are dilegently looking for Persons of Peace. They are experienced in spiritual warfare and the power encounters demanded to see breakthroughs come. Increasingly these workers are sent out of DMMs among least reached near-neighbor people groups. The very first apostolic workers are often highly trained and experienced and they find households of Peace where people come to faith in Jesus via Discovery Bible Studies.

2. But once the first believers come to faith in a village or community, they are sent out with very little additional training, because they will imitate the process which just resulted in them coming to faith. As they become successful in starting new groups in new places nearby, they will begin to receive additional training. Some of these who are early fruit will eventually be trained to become apostolic workers sent to other hard places nearby.

3. Others who show an aptitude toward pastoral ministry toward existing groups will receive training to be equipped to nurture the group with which they came to faith. In some emerging churches there are not yet existing leaders within the group. In those groups another type of leader will be sent in. Much like Barnabas was sent from Jerusalem to Antioch and he eventually brought in Saul, leaders are sometimes sent to stabilize new churches and raise up teams who can be sent to other nearby villages.

Some Americans who have travelled to Sierra Leone have been surprised to find such training mechanisms in place, but they have more than 20 generations of multiplication which has been happening for more than 15 years. More trellis and preservation capacities are needed after multiplication begins to happen, but those are not what we lead with if we want to see Movements! This is a significant difference between Disciple Making Movement strategies and traditional cross-cultural missions.

Movements???

“What is the definition of ‘Movements’ in DMM?” is a question I was recently asked.

While most of the topics I have discussed in this blog are very biblical, this one is much more anthropological or sociological. Hopefully I am not scaring you off with those “ology” words this early in an article. But I want to be perfectly transparent here. There is no biblical definition of Movements and the word does not appear there.

Yes, I do believe Paul and his missionary band launched a series of Movements which spread throughout the coastal region of what is now modern-day Turkey. The spread was so expansive that even those who counted themselves as enemies said, “And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all.” Acts‬ ‭19:26‬ ‭NIV‬‬

This testimony came as a result of his two years of “discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus.” Acts‬ ‭19:9‬ ‭NIV‬‬

The threshold of calling something a Movement needs to be numerically large enough, generationally deep enough and transpiring quickly enough that it is obviously greater than any group can produce or control.

That was my answer when asked to define Movements in DMM. Let me break it down and unpack it a little.

Numerically large enough–in some movements in Africa that ceiling has been set at 100 churches. While no group is going to be unhappy or critical with 65, 85 or 95 churches within a formerly Unreached People Group (UPG), this threshold has been intentionally set high enough to require God’s purpose and power. Another significant missionary force sets their threshold at 1,000 new baptized believers among a people group. Either way, the total number of new followers of Jesus is significant.

Generationally deep enough–is pretty uniformly a minimum of 3-4 generations. The difference in this standard usually depends upon what constitutes the first generation. Some strategists count the groups they personally begin as generation 0 and they require three more generations beyond ground zero. Others count the groups they start as generation 1 and they require 4 (if this seems odd, just consider why some elevators count the first floor as level 0). Either way, you are talking about the same thing. But why 4? Because it gets far enough away from the catalysts that it becomes an excellent test of whether or not the spiritual DNA will not only survive, but thrive without outside control or resources. We all celebrate every generation! But we know there is something powerful in seeing your spiritual great grandchildren!

Transpiring quick enough–might be measured in 2-3 years, if it is measured. Realize this is not from the first entry of the first catalyst making contact with this people group. Once you start having second generation Discovery Groups is a reasonable time to start the clock running. If you do not have multiple generations with increasing numbers of new churches being planted, then something needs to change. What is it? It is possible something was started incorrectly and it keeps tripping people up. It is possible something has undermined the momentum that the early multiplication promised. Either way, what mid-course corrections need to be made?

These somewhat arbitrary benchmarks were created so that Disciple Making teams could evaluate the fruit they were seeing. The benchmarks you set for your efforts can become excellent parameters for determining what, if any, changes need to be made to see the greatest fruitfulness possible.

Q&A: What cautions do you have for our church to make this as effective as possible?

Most church goers have experienced a long and consistent process of being expected to learn new data more than applying that learning directly to their lives. Transitioning to an obedience-based form of living as a disciple will require great love, patience, and perseverance. Role modeling the importance of coming up with good S.M.A.R.T. “I will…” Statements and then following through with them during the week will be the best way to call participants to make this challenging paradigm shift.

Because preaching and teaching has been so focused on learning new information, or reviewing what we already know in “innovative” ways, many traditional church-goers will resist it, eventually. There will be a “novelty” attached to Discovery initially which is often misconstrued as true willingness to make hard changes. Do not be deceived.

So, I am offering three cautions:

Caution number 1: Realize the lack of initial resistance is not the same as long-term acceptance and buy-in. It is likely an indication that your folks are open to taking it for a “test drive.” Seize this opportunity since it may be how you identify the people who are open to learning a new way to make disciples.

Caution number 2: When the resistance does come, be prepared to offer alternatives, or be prepared to “blow it all up.” Here in the U.S., people value their independence more than they value your leadership. As a wise elder told me when I was a young pastor, “People here will either vote with their hands, their wallets or their feet.” I would add, most vote with their mouths expressing dissension, long before they vote with their feet by leaving for another local church. This is more likely to happen when the idea of change is being led by the pastor or another key leader.

Caution number 3: Develop a “pilot project” to suggest as a next step for those who weather the storm of the eventual resistance. without an alternative way forward, your passion will die or drive you away from those who disagree. Realize some dissent is not bad or wrong. It is often grounded in your personal inability to answer legitimate questions. When people are encountering disciple making thinking for the first time, they have lots of questions. Too many “I don’t know” answers can undermine their confidence in you.

Identifying a pocket of lostness in your city/region where it is abundantly obvious that there is a great need for the gospel and suggesting the idea of raising up a team to reach that place can be a more fruitful way forward. People who are resistant can “bow out” by noting that is not “where God is calling me to reach.” Because our culture is “truth” focused more than “shame,” we bristle at the idea of giving people a “face-saving” way out. Why force them into a corner? Why not give them an opportunity to watch and see?

Addition vs. Multiplication

In my previous post I wrote: “Good things can happen when an individual is added to an existing group. But GREAT things can happen when we coach someone to start a new Discovery Group with their family/friends who are willing to participate.”

Getting Groups to Multiply is hard work for the catalyst. It will fill your week with increased workload. Your schedule will become busier for a season. You will be coaching someone to do something which would be far easier for you to do yourself, but you must refrain if you want to get to Multiplication. You will be your own greatest enemy in making this transition. Admitting you have this problem is the first step to recovery!

As noted in the chart contained in the previous post, “Addition” has some of its own challenges: will existing group members truly include new participants? At what point will they give in to their own tendencies and become insular, protective of the friendships that exist and resist new additions? Also, there is a heavy emotional burden placed on the new addition–pushing through the feeling of being an outsider who is “crashing the party” for the other group members. Whether you realize it or not, being the “newbie” feels awkward, especially if the group is speaking about spiritual themes at a deeper level than you are capable of, yet.

Participating in a “new” group, where most of the participants are at the same stage of learning can be much easier. That is especially true if they are your own family/friends/co-workers/neighbors who are gathering at your apartment, community center or office conference room

Inviting people to start a new Discovery Group among “their people” feels so crazy we easily talk ourselves out of taking the risk. It is “easier” to invite someone who shows interest into an ongoing group, even when you realize the burden of feeling like an outsider shifts to their shoulders. Why do you want them to take the greater risk than you are willing to take?

As Collins’ book notes, “Good is often the enemy of Great.”

Q&A: What Cautions Do You have for Us?

Question: What cautions do you have for our church to make this as effective as possible?

Answer: Please note that the question addresses a very specific context. The 8 Question DBS approach was not developed with the typical church setting in mind (be sure to read my previous post which is linked below). Whether you are envisioning using Discovery in a Sunday School setting or a traditional small group hosted in a church member’s home, you are applying the format for a setting which is significantly different than the setting for which it was designed.

Applying Discovery to a Sunday School setting will have immediate challenges regarding time frame and typical seating arrangements. But there is a difference that is of greater significance, which is the expectation of those who will participate.

Most church goers have experienced a long and consistent process of being expected to learn new data more than applying that learning directly to their lives. Transitioning to an obedience-based form of lifestyle will require great love, patience, and perseverance. Role modelling coming up with good S.M.A.R.T. “I will…” Statements and then following through with obeying them during the week will be the best way to call participants to make this challenging paradigm shift. The convener of this type of group must set a new tone by his/her consistent practice outside the class experience.

Let’s return to the issue of time frame. Typically groups of 4-5 people need at least 75 minutes to complete the DBS process and even then they will have to be quite intentional in being brief during their responses to each of the questions. Much like grade school children using their “best” stall tactics to prevent their teacher from getting to the quiz, many adults drag out their answers to the early sharing questions to avoid those which are designed to move to application via obedience, sharing and service.

Whenever possible, having the chairs in a room arranged in small circles with no more than five chairs in each circle increases the likelihood of success. Starting promptly on time and keeping the smaller groups moving briskly through the questions is critical. Early into this experience it will feel “rushed” to the majority of the participants, so you need to expect resistance, push-back and/or passive-aggressive behavior. You are asking people to change their norms and even the self-proclaimed “change champions” often dig in their heels. You likely will need to have a private conversation with the most vocal resisters and ask them to refrain from leading a mutiny.

Keeping the make-up of each small circle consistent is critical to building the trust required to get to the level of transparency needed to establish a rhythm of mutual accountability. Mixing up the groups is another way the passive-aggressive opponents seek to sabotage the process.

Creating smaller sub-groups within a typical “Small Group” setting will also be needed to reach the needed level of mutual accountability to see true application. Life transformation does not happen by knowledge acquisition alone. When we learn about God and discern ways to obey him, but disregard taking action, we actually begin to disciple disobedience. Discovery entails experiencing the joy of responsive obedience.

Remember Jesus’ warning about mixing “old” and “new” practices:

“And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’” (Luke 5:37-39)

Reflecting on: Focusing on Groups

From: Focusing on winning individuals.
To: 
Focusing on groups — to bring the gospel into existing families, groups and communities.

90% of salvations described in the book of Acts describe either large or small groups. Only 10% are individuals who experience salvation by themselves. We also see Jesus focusing on sending out his disciples to look for households, and we see Jesus often reaching households. Note examples such as Zacchaeus and his entire household experiencing salvation (Luke 19:9-10), and the Samaritan woman coming to faith along with a great many from her entire town (John 4:39-42).

Reaching groups has many advantages over reaching and gathering individuals. For example:

  • Instead of transferring “Christian culture” to a single new believer, local culture begins to be redeemed by the group.
  • Persecution isn’t isolated and focused on the individual but is normalized across the group. They can support each other in persecution.
  • Joy is shared as a family or community discovers Christ together.
  • Unbelievers have a visible example of “here’s what it looks like for a group of people like me to follow Christ.”

(Copied from: https://2414now.net/2020/09/23/mindshifts-in-movements-part-2/)

This is one of the primary ways Christians in the Global North unintentionally undermine multiplication strategies. When we first encounter a spiritual seeker is a crucial juncture. If we view this person as only an individual, we will most likely work to disconnect her/him from the groups in order to connect them to ourselves and/or other groups. Likely we will invite them to other groups where we already have meaningful relationships. While this is not wrong, it is unwise. It is addition at its best/worst.

Before you start a one on one Bible study with an individual ask, “Who do you know who also has these spiritual thoughts?” Or maybe, “Which of your friends might be asking the same kinds of spiritual questions?” The goal is to remember that most people have family or friends and Persons of Peace will want their closest relationships to go on this spiritual journey with them, if at all possible.

As the copied material above indicates, this effort to see a whole family and/or group of friends come to faith together is absolutely essential when working in “closed” people groups. While we assume that is not so important here in the U.S., we may need to reconsider, especially if we are reaching out to refugees or immigrants. Just this morning I heard about a teenager who came to faith as an individual and his immediate family sent him back to their homeland (they are refugees from a nation which is overwhelmingly unreached) so he can be peer pressured into renouncing his faith. What if he had been encouraged to invite family members to participate from the beginning?

While the people you are contacting may not be like that teenager, what if their disciples are? Why not start a process which can be used anywhere in this world? Let’s use practices which honor the family and friendship structures which are already in place? Yes, some relationships will become oppositional, but let’s make sure it is not because of our failure to try to reach people in their existing groups.

Marvelous in Our Eyes

…the Lord has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes!”
(Psalm 118:23 NIV)

If you enjoy doing word studies, look up the word “marvelous” in an online NIV Bible. Over and over again you will find that the works of God are what truly qualify as “marvelous.” Here is one that is typical:

“Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvelous deeds.” (Psalms‬ ‭72:18‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

This post begins with the psalmist’s affirmation that God has done a mighty work and those who acknowledge it count it as truly marvelous!

The special work considered in Psalm 118 is a stone which had been rejected by the builders has actually been revealed to be the cornerstone—the most important of all the stones to go into the Temple when Solomon had it built. You see, David wanted to build a Temple, but God told him he was not the right guy for that job (2 Samuel 7), but his son would be. Rather than sulking, David set out to make sure his son could complete it with great haste (1 Chronicles 29) and with the beauty befitting God’s holy name. There were oral traditions that two stones were cut under David’s command which kept getting in the builders’ way. One ended up being the chief cornerstone (maybe at the stone quarry, since no stones were hammered on at the actual Temple site) and the other was actually the capstone at the highest spot on the front.

Jesus declared that saying was a prophecy about himself (Mark 12:10):

Haven’t you read this passage of Scripture:
“‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”

Later Peter also applies this to Jesus (1 Peter 2:7).

Do you orient your life’s work off him? Do you reject him that central position?

Disciple making movements seek to take their orientation directly from Jesus. That is the reason Matthew 10 and Luke 10 are so significant. These two chapters reveal Jesus’ directions for advancing his Kingdom reign. You intentionally look for the right kind of recipient. Whether you call this person a worthy man or a Person of Peace, this is someone who wants spiritual answers to their challenges and they share those answers with the people they value most. Jesus knows they are so strategic because they bridge the gospel into their social networks.

If you want to reach a closed neighborhood, find the Person of Peace for that community. If you want to reach a specific segment of a city, find Persons of Peace for that segment. As an outsider, it will take you too long to establish the kinds of relationships the Persons of Peace already have. Find them, share with them and watch multiplication begin, as long as you do not undermine it with Addition principles and practices.

God’s work of multiplication is marvelous! He gets the praise, because it is his work!

A Warning

In my previous post I highlighted the value and importance of finding the right near neighbor to become the catalyst. There is a great risk in identifying this as the typical outcome, though. My friend’s response reveals that danger–you waste lots of time.

Those who are already believers currently receive a disproportionate percentage of Kingdom resources.

While my years of schooling make it difficult for me to leave a one-sentence paragraph, that one needs to stand alone. Please go back and re-read it. The likelihood is great that it applies to you. I know it applies to me. This is one of the troubling convictions that come to those of us who travel internationally. After my first trip to West Africa I came back with one haunting conviction: “They do so much with so little and we do so little with so much!”

Catalyzing Multiplication generally requires a two-pronged approach. Barnabas models both prongs when he goes to Antioch. He does what he was sent to do, but he also left, recruited Saul to come back with him and then returned to spend time in that region where the growing work among Gentiles was birthed by the Spirit of God. “Find out where God is working and join him there,” was the counsel Henry Blackaby and Claude King gave us through the Experiencing God workbook. Their materials preceded that wise nugget with an emphasis upon really listening to God. Barnabas listened and he joined what God was doing by connecting two distinct streams of God’s activity.

If believers already receive a disproportionate percentage of Kingdom resources, do not go all in on finding near neighbor Multipliers. Keep actively looking for Persons of Peace, also. It’s a both/and rather than an either/or. I suggest this because you will need some of your own experiences to help coach that potential near neighbor Multiplier when you find him/her. Western Christianity has a huge gravitational attraction which will dominate your life without intentional effort to leverage some of your creativity, energy and efforts toward reaching out to lost people. Make reaching out to them your primary focal point, but keep your eyes and ears open for that near neighbor believer who might become the catalyst, with the right kind of training, coaching and mentoring. Just like you have to beware of the “side drafting” tendencies when you pass a semi on an interstate highway, beware of your own tendencies to get “sucked back into” Addition thinking.

Reflecting on: Who Are the Best Catalysts?

From: “Hoping a new believer or group of new believers will initiate a movement.”
To: “Asking: What national believers who have been followers for many years might become the catalyst(s) for a CPM?”

This relates to the common idea that we as a culturally distant outsider will find and win a lost person(s) who will become the movement catalyst. While this can occasionally happen, the vast majority of movements are started by cultural insiders or near neighbors who have been believers for several or even many years. Their own mindset shifts and fresh understanding of CPM principles open up new possibilities for Kingdom expansion. (Copied from: https://2414now.net/2020/09/22/mindshifts-in-movements-part-1/)

When I shared this list with a friend who is a catalyst in the Middle, he shared:

“I find the last mind-shift something I still go back and forth on. On one hand, I agree with the fact that it is much easier for an insider to start a movement among his own people and those within in the church tend to be better insiders. On the other hand, I often have failed by identifying the wrong insiders who I end up fighting about DNA issues of multiplication and best practices when I initially thought we had traction (sometimes years into the work). Whereas, with those I led to faith as the outside missionary, I got to build the DNA from scratch and didn’t have to fight with the ghost of past tendencies. Since I was this person’s only spiritual father, whatever I modeled for them was the only way and was gold. Whereas, training existing believers sometimes DMM later on the line can be a fad that they move on from. Just some thoughts…. I have trained insider older believers who have worked well!!!!! However, my greatest experience of multiplication has been from new believers that didn’t know anything else!”

I appreciate my friend’s response, because it well illustrates the point Stan and Elizabeth made in the original post at the 24:14 site listed above. Helping long-time believers become DMM catalysts can be slow, tedious and is fraught with great risks. I often compare it to the challenge of buying an old home in a historic district, moving your family into the structure and then starting a massive remodel, while you continue to live there! Deconstruction is absolutely necessary. But it is even harder when that house has been in your family for generations.

My friend in the Middle East had lived there long enough that he speaks the language fluently, understands the culture deeply (he married a woman from his adopted nation) and has made numerous contacts through his side business. His experience is the exception, rather than the rule. Just as it takes listening to God, great wisdom and experience to identify Persons of Peace, it takes the same to identify and help potential Multipliers transition from Addition Paradigms toward implementing true Multiplication mind shifts.

[NOTE: I reserve the phrase Person of Peace for a lost person who will open his/her family/friends to a disciple maker. I suggest we use the term Multiplier to refer to someone who is already a believer who takes up this hard work of Deconstruction/ Reconstruction and begins to actively search for Persons of Peace within their own people group or a near people group. Yes, this is a special category of people, but they are different from the kinds of people Jesus sent the 12 and the 72 looking for in Matthew 10 and Luke 10 respectively.]