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!”

Q&A: If a Discovery process is facilitated entirely by not-yet-Christians, and Christians aren’t even present, how can harmful errors be avoided or even noticed?

Persistent and consistent coaching of the Person of Peace or another inside leader of a Discovery Group is the way DBSs avoid heresy. It is instructive to realize that 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians were letters Paul wrote to a group of believers in Corinth. Clearly that church had its struggles with false teaching and false practices. The founder, Paul an Apostle, did not stay with that young church indefinitely. But he had ongoing relationships with some of the people there and those insiders kept him informed.

Ongoing relationships with key leaders of a family or friendship group are critical to coaching a Discovery Group toward faith, becoming a church and guiding them to plant additional generations of churches. Early DMM trainers used the acronym M.A.W.L. as Model, Assist Watch and Leave. More recently some have changed the L to Launch. Leaving never referred to Leaving Alone.

The good catalyst recognizes the longer he/she is a personal participant in a Discovery Group, the greater the risk that the Group will develop a stunting dependency upon her/him. The goal is to model good Discovery. Assist an inside leader (someone the family or friendship group already looks upon as a leader) to be a good facilitator and then Launch that person into the role.

Weekly meetings with this Inside Leader provide opportunities to identify problems which are arising, recognize theological errors which may be surfacing and coach this leader to healthy corrective studies and practices. Personal presence is not the only way to bring correction, otherwise Paul would have dropped everything to return to Corinth. It is very possible for an Outside leader to stay too long and cause far greater problems than arise when he/she leaves too soon.

Also, we must recognize that the Discovery process has been developed to ensure that the actual teacher is the Holy Spirit at work through the Word of God which is being explored in each gathering. How much do we really trust the Holy Spirit? Are we more confident in our abilities or the power of the revelation of God contained in Scriptures?

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.

Do I Recommend a Mash-up?

Question: Would you recommend a mash-up of DMM, T4T and 4 Fields training approaches? What if it is an attempt at a call for unity?

Answer: I appreciate the call for unity and the desire to cooperate. I highly commend a spirit of understanding one another and working together whenever possible.

The piece of this discussion which doesn’t get adequate consideration, in my opinion, is the history of why Disciple Making Movement (DMM) strategies were developed. History can arm us against making the same mistakes over and over again.

David Watson was trained in the same non-traditional missionary strategies as some of the first folks who developed T4T, 4 Fields and some of the other CPM approaches. But ALL six of his first indigenous church planters were martyred by the Bhojpuri within six months of being deployed. 

David was understandably distraught over these traumatic events. After months of being depressed and eventually becoming angry with God, the Holy Spirit pushed him back to Matthew 10 and Luke 10. David was not happy to be taken there, since he had spent much time there already. Finally, he begrudgingly started writing out a list of the directions Jesus gave the people he sent out (both the 12 and the 72).

As he was making that list he recognized two things. First, Jesus’ directions are quite different than traditional evangelistic strategies, especially since they were not “confrontational” (this is my word, not something I have ever heard David or anyone else use). Second, Jesus deploys people looking for a special category of person (“worthy man” or “Person of Peace”). They did not go to confront a village of its sin (ala street corner preaching). They were sent with a message about the coming King, but they proclaim it where they are welcomed. 

When Watson trained his second group that is what he did differently. He got a very different outcome, as we now know. 

T4T was the write-up of what proved fruitful in China (as I understand the history). 4 Fields and other strategies were developed for different contexts. I get that and I appreciate what was accomplished in those other settings. 

But globally the least reached people groups are in resistant regions or closed nations. I want to carefully recognize that and use the approach that works best for the least reached because they are always the bullseye (at the center) of what I want to see ultimately accomplished.

T4T is training heavy on the front end because it is designed to take traditionally formed believers and re-train and re-deploy them to see lost people won. I applaud that. 

I am cognizant that we have to help people who come to faith through Discovery Groups to intentionally discover how to live as strong communities of faith. That is when it more naturally happens. After they come to faith through Discovering God, they are ready to begin discovering what living together looks like, unless denominations or traditional believers are super-imposing outside standards on them. Yes, there are challenges when this is happening in a context where lost people have been radically impacted by some interactions with “church”—whatever connotations they have for that word. 

I am not adamantly against attempting a mash-up. But ultimately we are always going to have to answer whether or not we believe people can be discipled to faith. Some very vocal Calvinists flatly reject such a possibility. If we say, “Yes, it is possible,” then we will be at least okay with using Discovery as our evangelism strategy. If we say, “No,” then we are left with the necessity of doing some kind of “confrontational evangelism.”

I cannot overcome this theological divide. I can attempt to reason with such Calvinists, but here is a chasm that will result in us needing to love, honor and accept each other, but also truthfully acknowledge we are going to evangelize differently. 

The biggest difference is whether you call people to “make a decision of faith” quickly (what I call “confrontational evangelism”) or look for Persons of Peace and work through them to get their household into a Discovery setting (which is going to be a slower call to faith).

Increasingly more CPM folks use DBS as a follow-up Discipleship strategy with those who make a quick decision, or with those who will not make a quick decision, but are still spiritually open (Discovery is not their first choice, but a Plan B strategy). With DMM some form of Discovery is Plan A.

If God miraculously brings someone to faith quickly, DMM practitioners likely will go straight to passages about Jesus and later circle back to any passages which were skipped. We generally want folks to go through the “Creation to Christ” scripture set because God uses it to create a Kingdom worldview for willing participants. Also, it equips those who come to faith in knowing how to lead others to faith in a path they can replicate. 

T4T was developed where confrontational evangelism was typically not deadly. DMM developed where it was (see my previous post). Since most international Movements are in restricted access nations or regions, I believe DMM is the wiser course of action. For example, while Muslim people who would come to faith in the US might not be persecuted for that decision, I know if they eventually return to their home nation, they will need to be equipped to reach others. Leading them to faith in a way they can replicate anywhere in the world has many benefits. 

Strategically and theologically, I lean heavily towards DMM. To me it is the wiser way forward because of the kinds of reasons I have shared. As a result, I will not invest time towards creating mash-ups.

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!

Critical Elements for Starting

In 2016 Final Command Ministries released a video documentary telling of some of the ways God has been using his kingdom people to Engage!Africa: Through Disciple-Making Movements. There are five segments which are approximately 22 minutes in length and each focuses on one of the following five Critical Elements needed to start catalyzing movements:

IMG-2952Praying and Fasting

This sounds simple, and maybe a little cliché, but Movements start with petitioning the Lord.  Those who are using DMM successfully take this first step seriously, and are creative in their approaches.  For example, I’ve witnessed prayer houses, neighborhood prayer walks and passionate prayer services where a group leader gives the congregation a prayer topic and they all explode into prayer, some with fists in the air, pacing back and forth. As for fasting, our African partners disciple new believers to start with a single meal, and grow from there. The point is to let God lead this effort. They pray and fast until God opens a door into the people group they long to see experiencing a Movement.

  • Aligning Ourselves with God is at the heart of Praying and Fasting. We pray and fast because we want to be like Jesus. We pray and fast because we know that Movements come from above. We cannot produce them by our strength or great strategies—only God can produce Movements.
  • Scriptures:
    • Matthew 4:1-11 and Deuteronomy 8:1-18 (After 40 days and nights of Fasting Satan tempts Jesus, but he quotes from Deuteronomy 8 about relying on Papa God).
    • Matthew 6:1-18 (Jesus disciples his followers on the crucial nature of praying and fasting).
    • Matthew 9:14-17 (Jesus is questioned about why his disciples did not fast, yet).
    • Luke 10:1-12, 17-24 (Praying as Jesus directs brings incredible fruit and joy).
    • Acts 11:19-26; 13:1-3 (Fasting and praying play a significant role in sending Barnabas and Saul out on their first missionary journey).
  • Activities:
    • Mobilize your home church to participate in a Prayer Wall to provide covering and spiritual insight into your Kingdom advancing efforts. (One resource to use is 24-7 Prayers: https://www.24-7prayer.com/signup/5b132d).
    • Have your Life Groups do Prayer Walks through the neighborhoods where they meet praying for the neighbors who live around where groups meet.

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.