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.

Reflecting on: “Who Else Needs to be a Part?”

From: “What can my group accomplish?”
To: “Who else can be a part of accomplishing this impossibly great task?”

This is similar to the mindshift [discussed in the last reflection]. Instead of focusing on the people and resources in our own church, organization, or denomination, we have realized we need to look at the entire body of Christ globally with all types of Great Commission organizations and churches. We also need to involve people with a variety of giftings and vocations to address the many efforts needed: prayer, mobilization, finances, business, translation, relief, development, arts, etc.  (Copied from: https://2414now.net/2020/09/22/mindshifts-in-movements-part-1/)

Many of us from the Global North have a strong institutional mindset that works counter to the kind of networking necessary to catalyze Movements. We focus too exclusively on our church or organization. We have been shaped too much by competition and/or fear. And often we are blind to how deeply entrenched these feelings really are.

Multi-generational multiplication is monumental! Only God can make Movements happen and he highly values humility and unity in those who will make themselves available to find what he is doing and join him.

One of the first Movements on the African continent was undermined by workers from another denomination discovering a network of simple churches that did not have buildings or paid pastors. Rather than doing some research into why that network of churches looked so different than what was expected, they offered to start supporting workers and helping to build meeting houses for churches. The new believers there shifted their energies and passions from evangelism and discipleship to gaining these “trappings” of the traditional Global North mindset.

When you look at all the resources and personnel required to see Movements, no single church or organization is large enough to cover all the bases. Intercessors, access ministries, front-line workers, Scripture resources and finances to get to multiplication are much greater than most people can imagine. We always need new people and organizations to see a people group reached with the Gospel, especially an Unreached People Group. And that need becomes even more demanding when it is an Unreached, Unengaged People Group.

One global catalyst said you have to give up your castle if you are going to see the Kingdom!

Reflecting on: “What must be done?”

From: “What can I do?”
To: “What must be done to see God’s Kingdom planted in this group of people (city, nation, language, tribe, etc.)?”

A training group was once discussing Acts 19:10 — how approximately 15 million people in the Roman province of Asia heard the word of the Lord in two years. Someone said, “That would be impossible for Paul and the original 12 believers in Ephesus – they would have had to share with 20,000 people a day!” That is the point – there is no way they could accomplish that. A daily training in the hall of Tyrannus must have multiplied disciples who multiplied disciples who multiplied disciples throughout the region. (Copied from: https://2414now.net/2020/09/22/mindshifts-in-movements-part-1/)

Some of us never get to the place of determining what we must personally do to get started. Others rush too quickly to take singular actions. This mindshift identifies another necessity—recognizing the work is far too large for any one person, team, organization and/or denomination. Movements come from God and Jesus has always called his followers to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Being overwhelmed by what it will take to see the Somalis in a city reached pushes us to pray. It pushes us to fast. It forces us to begin exploring the question, “Who else needs to be involved in this effort?”

Many would-be DMM strategist has tried to involve others only to find it an effort in futility. Most of us reach the desperate place where we ask others to pray that we will have discernment in recognizing who to invest in and when to “shake the dust off our feet.” We have attempted to recruit lots of super-talented people and found them unwilling or unable to join us.

Do not give up if you have crashed on these rocks. Re-engage. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you make a list of more of what needs to be done to see this “beloved people group” becoming part of God’s Kingdom harvest force. One of your greatest needs is strong believers who are insiders of the people group who will be captured by a generational multiplication vision.

In addition to identifying a people group and starting to identify what it will take to see them reached, we need to pray that the Holy Spirit will connect us to people who can help. Barnabas is an incredible biblical character for DMM strategists to explore. We often are tempted to rush to Saul/Paul because we see him as the hero. He is the frontline preacher/teacher. He is the role model. But recognize it was Barnabas who left Antioch, found Saul and brought him into the place where a kingdom breakthrough started happening among the Gentiles!

Maybe you will be better served by casting yourself as Barnabas. Now ask yourself one question: “Who is my Saul/Paul?” Praying about this may eventually place you in the “second chair.” Are you willing to accept that role?

Who are the people in that neighborhood looking to as a leader? Who are their influencers? Who could “gossip the Gospel” and many would listen?

Part of the answer to the second question opening this post is “the right insider needs to become a strong disciple maker.”

Reflecting on “Expecting a ripe harvest”

From: “It can’t happen here!”
To: Expecting a ripe harvest.

Over the last 25 years people have often said: “Movements can start in those countries, but they can’t start here!” Today people point to the many movements in North India but forget this region was the “graveyard of modern missions” for 200+ years. Some said, “Movements can’t happen in the Middle East because that’s the heartland of Islam!” Yet many movements now thrive in the Middle East and throughout the Muslim world. Others said, “It can’t happen in Europe and America and other places with traditional churches!” Yet we now have seen a variety of movements start in those places as well. God loves to overcome our doubts. (Copied from: https://2414now.net/2020/09/22/mindshifts-in-movements-part-1/)

Back in 2011 I was travelling in West Africa with Jerry Trousdale. He had almost completed writing Miraculous Movements. His publisher wanted the book to appeal to the general Christian market so the book would spread DMM concepts much further than a typical missions book. To insure that, he required each chapter have strong stories that revealed any missiological principle which was being discussed. Jerry needed a few additional stories for a couple of the chapters. So one of the settings I sat in on were his nightly interviews of successful disciple makers who gathered with us.

At least two of the interviewees shocked me by confessing: “When we first went through the training with David Watson, I did not believe it would work here.” They each said, “I told [our leader], don’t do this. It might work in India, but this is West Africa.” These were men who had risked their lives for the last six years and had seen incredible miraculous breakthroughs and now they were repenting of their early lack of faith.

Disciple Making Movements (DMMs) require so many mindshifts that most people who are being introduced to them they discount the likelihood of ever seeing such amazing results. Yes, we read about it happening in Acts. Yes, we have read stories of the 1st and 2nd Great Awakenings, but we are almost hard-wired to discount God’s willingness to do the same today. The quicker we “come clean” on our disbelief, the quicker we can cry out, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

Generally the skeptical start out doubting the numbers of disciples being made. If they can get beyond that, then they question the orthodoxy of those being discipled (DMM practitioners are “surely cutting corners”). The last hold-out is the topic of this post: this culture is too resistant, far-gone, and or impossible to reach.

“Why not here?” is the first crack in this holdout. Beware when that question starts growing in your heart!

One practical step many DMM trainers use with individuals or teams who have begun to explore what it will take to expect a ripe harvest is to identify a pilot project. Begin praying about reaching a clearly identifiable region or people group in your community. Maybe it is a crime-riddled neighborhood, a trailer park or a government-funded apartment complex. The more this pilot project is unlike your home neighborhood, the more likely you are to acknowledge your need to “do things differently.” If you do not doubt that your standard approach will work there, you will not persevere to learning a new way forward.

Where does your heart ache with despair? Start praying and fasting for that place!

Reflecting on Discipling a Nation

From: Aiming to disciple individuals.
To: Aiming to disciple a nation.

In the Great Commission Jesus tells his disciples to “make disciples of panta ta ethne” (all ethne / every ethnos). The question is: “How do you disciple an entire ethnos?” The only way is through multiplication — of disciples who make disciples, churches that multiply churches, and leaders who develop leaders. (Copied from: https://2414now.net/2020/09/22/mindshifts-in-movements-part-1/)

Too often kingdom workers in the US focus either on isolated individuals or faceless masses. Jesus never does either of those. NEVER! He often interacts with individuals, but he does not isolate them from their family/friends and other social connections. Yes, I know there are individuals among the apostles about whom we know nothing of their families or friends, but we need to be careful about arguments from silence. We need to pay more attention to the information which is given to us.

Andrew brings Peter. James and John are brothers and their mother is among the women who helped fund Jesus’ itinerant travels. He heals Peter’s mother-in-law. Zacchaeus opens his household to Jesus, not just the dwelling where he resided. One of our great challenges is what I call rank individualism. Our culture places strong influence upon us to see ourselves as automatons.

A person’s extended family and friendship groups play a significant role in the biblical material when we read it without our individualistic glasses. Social groups are crucial to the undergirding of any society. In the Great Commission Jesus directs us to the highest level of social structure, the ethno-linguistic group. Tragically, our tendency to connect the translation of “ethna” (nation) to a geo-political entity has produced much misunderstanding, neglect and disobedience to the mission Jesus gives us.

But recognizing that “people groups,” or “ethno-linguistic groups” are what Jesus is referencing does not automatically simplify our responsibility. Disciple the Anglo-English speaking segment of the world is quite a calling. Disciple the Mandarin-speaking Chinese is massive. Disciple the Spanish-speaking Westerners is quite the calling. Here is a God-sized vision that most of us have ignored.

Multiplying the number of disciple makers is our only possible avenue for success. It is no surprise that is exactly where Jesus focused most of his ministry efforts in the four Gospels. We see him deploying the 12 in Matthew 10 and the 72 in Luke 10. He busied himself in discipling disciple makers and that is how a people group segment of our world is impacted.

In the desert regions of West Africa there is a people group with 1.2 million estimated population who live in five different countries. Historically they have been highly resistant to the Gospel, but God has birthed a remarkable Movement among them which we get to celebrate. One of the early evangelists among them came to faith while in prison. Upon his release he went to the pastor of a traditional church who sent him back to his family rather than welcoming him into that community of faith. Because his relatives saw a remarkable transformation in his life, they were open to reading and discussing the Bible as family. God is bringing forth a harvest of thirty-fold, sixty-fold even one-hundred-fold today.

Increasing numbers of people are coming to faith in Jesus and reaching their families, too, because this leader did not extract this new believer from his household, but trained and coached him to obey Jesus by becoming a disciple maker. I praise God that he came to faith through Discovery and was not side-tracked by his own efforts to join a body of believers and alienate his household without them getting the opportunity to discover the God who brings radical transformation!

Unimaginable (# 3)

Last week I published a couple of posts centered around the theme of vision and imagination. I found it ironic to recount the crazy advances in technology which allowed me to have a video conference meeting with a teammate in another state, while sitting in a car outside a coffee shop.

What if this kind of technology was used for kingdom advances?

What if shifts in our strategies and tactics will actually open us up to multiplication, rather than addition?

What if our normal blinds us to new possibilities?

What if the Parable of the Sower is not talking about farming? It amazes me how many people in the church who are taken back to that detailed analogy want to call into question the farming abilities of the guy in the story. “He needs to learn how to recognize good soil so he doesn’t waste so many seeds!” is the way some people verbalize their criticism. “Any fool ought to know that it is wasteful to sow seeds on the path!”

What if the purpose of the parable drives the makeup of the story? While you can easily identify which soil is packed path, which is shallow because of bedrock (might be a little harder to see) and which is thorny (if they have already sprouted), this is not so easily discerned just by looking at people.

The book of Acts tells the stories of households which we are not surprised there is a big harvest: good reputation people like Cornelius and Lydia. But God’s grace sparks the imagination of new possibilities in the hearts of others like the jailer, too. Then there are the stories in the Gospels like Demoniac and the woman at the well. Maybe we need to spread the seed of the Gospel more widely than we have in the past!

Unimaginable

I am sitting in a rented car outside a coffee shop. Using WiFi writing a blog post which will go around the world as a series of 01 combinations. Makes me shake my head–Digital Morse Code.

I am in Ames, Iowa where I will teach Perspectives Lesson 13: “Spontaneous Multiplication of Churches” in a few hours. I taught this same lesson Sunday night in Des Moines to about 100 who were mostly in their twenties and thirties. Last night I taught the same lesson to about forty people in Marshalltown, Iowa. Tonight I will teach the last segment of this loop.

What I try to do when I teach this lesson is tell stories of what God has been doing in Africa through Disciple Making Movements. I see shock on the faces of some as they hear stories that sound like those in the book of Acts. But I also see disbelief and concern because most of us have never seen multiplication of church planting.

Maybe these numbers have been fabricated (exaggerated at least!), some communicate via their nonverbal responses. Others are easily convinced that we “must be watering down the Gospel to see these results.” But God really is doing something remarkable in our lifetime.

If we can dare to believe, then we can be open to learning some strategies and tactics that are more fruitful. We can shift from addition to multiplication, but we will have to shift and that can be a hard process.

Change begins with a new Vision. New possibilities. “What if…?” thinking. That’s why I share stories. Stories give meaning to the numbers.

Critical Elements for Starting (pt. 5)

  1. Embrace Multiplication: As God blesses this process, churches multiply and the kingdom spreads out.  In order to allow this process to work, some ideas have to be embraced, and our paradigms must shift.  As I’ve said, this method is a tool for anyone who wants to spread the gospel.  Here’s the possible rub, this system is empowered by God, and not overly controlled by the church.  Through prayer, and obedience-based disciple making, the church allows these groups to spread as the Holy Spirit leads.  This process may start a church we don’t even know about, and that’s okay. Multiplication comes when we learn to constantly search out and disciple two types of people—Persons of Peace and Multipliers.
  • Multipliers—these are believers who will be open to learning how to reach people in bunches (like the way you harvest bananas and grapes), not just one by one. Almost all Western evangelistic strategies focus on one on one approaches. But we have found that using these can actually increase the resistance of people groups with strong family and friendship ties. Multipliers will be open to learning group strategies. They are willing to shift their focus toward discipling disciple makers. They are willing to learn to use approaches which can easily be reproduced by the people they are reaching. Multipliers are very coachable.
  • Scriptures:
    • John 15:1-17 (Those who abide in Jesus bear fruit, vs. 2; much fruit, vs. 5; and fruit that will last, vs. 16).
    • Matthew 28:1-10, 16-20 (The message of the resurrection culminates in the Great Commission).
    • Acts 2:42-47; 4:1-4; 5:12-16; 6:1, 7 (These passages reveal the growing spread of the gospel of the kingdom).
    • Acts 8:1-3 & 11:19-30 (The gospel is spread by ordinary disciples as their response to persecution).
    • Acts 19:1-20 (Paul and his team see the gospel spread throughout the Roman province of Asia from Ephesus).
  • Activities:
    • Guide church leaders through an exploration of what will be needed to replicate themselves and their ministries.
    • Brainstorm what will be required for our church to plant “Rabbit Churches” (i.e., those which rapidly multiply).
    • Share in your cohort the Paradigm Shift which has been most difficult for you to make. Pray for one another to be patient with those who are just starting down the road of embracing multiplication.
    • Celebrate successes!

Q & A–Groups Multiply

Why is finding a Person of Peace so significant?

“You can’t change an entire community by only changing the mom. A community is a collection of families. You change the community by changing the family, and you access the family through that one member.” A Person of Peace is someone the Holy Spirit is stirring up to become open to hearing about God and changing his/her life to align with _JRA1509what is being learned. Like Cornelius, Lydia and the Philippian Jailer, these people do not come to faith by themselves. They want their household (social network) to know God and fall in love with Jesus, too. They want this badly enough that they share what they are hearing with others, week by week.

Why is working with a group so powerful?

“We want to multiply impact,” responds a coach. “For change to be sustainable, there must be unity. A changed family can change another family. Train a husband, a wife and their children and all of them together will now show others the new way forward.” Much of the people groups who have not yet been reached with the gospel think from more of a collectivistic worldview than Westerners do. Few things have slowed the spread of the gospel more than our failure to understand this.

Why You Need a Coach

A few years ago my job title at Final Command Ministries was changed. It actually happened while I was out of the country and I had no input on the shift. To be perfectly transparent I was a little miffed.

Regretfully my upbringing did not prepare me well for that kind of situation. I earned my strokes as a people pleaser for decades. This was surely a contributor to me staying in school for so many years. Read the assigned material, participate in group discussions, study hard for tests and then write papers–the path to academic success and educational strokes.

But most formal education does not really reward disagreeing. Yes, I know it should, but it rarely does.

My former job title was Director of Training and Strategic Access. It was long and I helped craft it. The first half fit a lot of what Western Christians get–the need for training. But the second half was a bit mysterious and if someone asked me about it, their curiosity gave me permission to peel back the onion layers at least a little.

But who needs a coach?

Sure, we all want our children to have the benefit of a good coach when they participate in sports. Ideally, she/he will have played the sport in high school or college and have a good ability to model and drill the team toward greater cohesion and improved abilities.

I had coached basketball and baseball for my son, since I had lettered in both at my small high school. Later I coached my daughter’s soccer team even though I really had no personal experience to draw on (thankfully a good coach of my son’s soccer team suggested the strategy is much like basketball).

Yes, we all want our kids to have good coaches. But what adult wants to admit they need a coach?

Global Coach, that’s my job title. It was picked because that is really what I try to do, regardless of where I am. Even when I hold training events I am really sifting through the group looking for the few who sense they will need a coach.

It takes a special measure and variety of humility to acknowledge the need for a coach. There is a vulnerability needed that most adults prefer to avoid by acting out our best two-year-old selves–“I do it myself!” Then there is the challenge of knowing whether or not a particular candidate is the right coach for me. Maybe I sense I need one, but I will feel foolish if I pay him lots of money, invest time and energy and still don’t succeed.

Global Coach sounds grander. But who is going to believe that? If I get these disciple making principles so well, then where is the proof? Where are the people who’ve taken my coaching and their fruit is evident? Those are the unspoken questions I always anticipate.

But how do you answer those questions with integrity and not “blow your own horn?” How do you tell the ways God has used you without taking credit for works he accomplished?

Why do you need a coach? That’s a great question. You don’t need one to start lots of first generation Discovery Groups–a half-decent trainer can get you started doing that in about two hours if you will recruit a group with whom to experience it.

But you will need a coach if your goal is generations of groups starting groups where some of them become churches planting churches.