Q&A: Multiple Questions

Original Questions:

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

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

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

Responses:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Assumptions on Gifting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Searching for COWs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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: Are All DMMers Angry at Traditional Churches?

No, but many let their frustration boil over in this way. Often their angry sounding remarks arise from their impatience to see breakthroughs.

It is my firm conviction that great care should be taken to guard against derogatory comments. It is my studied conviction that what we are currently doing will not fulfill the Great Commission and I personally believe that DMM provides greater potential for experiencing multiplication.

I praise God for the good fruit that has been accomplished through traditional “building-based” churches. I came to faith by being reared in a church of about 100 people with Sunday School classes, a regular preacher and multiple scheduled gatherings at a meetinghouse. I have earned multiple degrees from private Christian universities and am thankful for the opportunities to dig deeply into God’s Word.

But I now realize those institutions were the fruit of spiritual movements that preceded them. They were the effects, not the causes of multiplication.

The people living around us who cannot imagine joining us in those scheduled meeting times still need the Gospel planted deep into their hearts. Note Jesus’ Great Commission directs us to “Go and make disciples among all nations (people groups, ethno-linguistic groups)…” Where are the pockets of those people groups in your city? Until we take seriously this Final Command, it may sound like we are being offensive. But if calling people to obey King Jesus is the reason for the offense, then we dare not back down.

Having written that, though, I have found it odd that some of my DMM friends admonish more care when speaking with an Imam than with a pastoral leader. Why would you care more about not needlessly antagonizing one over the other. At its core, Disciple Making Movements grow out of looking for the willing by finding Persons of Peace and Multipliers.

Persons of Peace are lost people who are open to the Kingdom (Luke 10). Multipliers are saved people who are open to the generational multiplication which results in Kingdom expansion. Do you seek to antagonize the lost people who are not yet Persons of Peace? Why antagonize the believers who are not yet open to becoming Multipliers? Do you trust the Holy Spirit to bring conviction? Orneriness does not appear in any of the spiritual gifts lists that I know.

If my last statement goads you a bit, remember it the next time you choose to take out your frustration on a brother or sister who is slow to embrace multiplication. Saying something derogatory to or about them likely will not help them open up to new ways forward. Pray for them and keep looking for the two types of people who are most strategic. Ask God to open their hearts and keep moving.

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: “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.”