Equipping the Saints

Tuesday I mentioned that it has never been easier to go to the nations than it is right now. Business creates a climate where it is possible to travel to untold parts of our planet. On my flight from Dallas to Tokyo I sat next to a man who works in the health industry. His company is developing a portable lab for doing all kinds of specialized blood tests—one you can carry in your pants pocket! Needless to say, this resource will be incredibly valuable! But the best thing is he is a believer and he was traveling with two other men from the church where he is involved. These two focus on international missions.

This guy’s business travels will likely give him access the other two men cannot go. There will be places in the Middle East that will be strongly interested in this medical device, once the FDA approval is completed. Wherever this man goes he will be a kingdom representative! The possibilities are endless.

Sadly, this man was jealous of the other two guys being able to spend all their time focused on “spiritual” matters. What can be more spiritual than providing doctors with instant information about cancer markers or heart enzymes? Here is a man who needs to learn how to catalyze Disciple Making Movements and use the access his business will grant him for kingdom advances. I am excited to think about following up with him when I return home. What a beautiful opportunity to swap business cards! When I told him why I was traveling he said, “It is exciting to hear of so many things that God is doing in our world!” Yes, it is!

Obeying Jesus

Globalization conjures up many ideas to diverse people. For some, it is the greatest curse to our world because it violates our isolationist tendencies. To others it is a wonderful way to get cheap products. Years ago I asked the folks at Stones River Church to reach up and grab the tag in the collar of their shirt/blouse and show it to a person near them. Then I asked them to share the names of the countries where these items had been manufactured. There were more than 30 nations in a group of about 100 people. Globalization made that possible.

My thoughts on globalization are taking a different angle as I write. I am sitting in a McDonalds in the Bangkok airport, waiting on my next flight. To get here I had stops in Dallas and Tokyo. It is sort of crazy to think about the opportunities available today to take the gospel to the nations. Obeying Jesus’ commission to “Go make disciples of all the nations…” has never been easier than right now!

This week I will be training Buddhist background believers in Disciple Making strategies. The goal of organizer of this training is that some of them will join him in his passion for reaching Muslims who live in Southern Thailand. Only God can pull this one off! But then again, He has always had a soft place in his heart for reaching the nations.

I am convinced God’s decision to confound the language of the people and force the development of so many cultures (Genesis 11) was an act of God’s grace. He knew that their rebellious spirit was intent on using blessings for self-aggrandizement and left undeterred, they would bring horrible punishment upon themselves. He prevented their wicked purposes and then goes even further in His grace—he calls Abram and promises to bless him and through him all the nations (Genesis 12). God’s gracious nature is always on display—even in times of judgment, if we will look at the whole picture.

The amazing thing about this story is not that God is this way—just look at the cross! The remarkable thing is getting to have a part with Him in what He wants to do in Thailand. I covet your prayers!

 

Being Doers of the Word (Part 2)

Our fast-paced, disconnected-from-extended-family lives challenge obedient living. Even our friendships are often far-flung and limited by our schedules. In the DBS trainings I have done lately, I have been struck by this challenge. How will this group minister to one of the challenges they have shared? How can we take concrete actions that will bless one another?

One month ago I was encouraging a house church group to consider using the 8-Question oral DBS format. As we approached the last question, “How can we help with one of the challenges mentioned earlier?” I was concerned. There were five us us gathered that night, and one of them is an EMT who was present via Skype. None of the group worked together. How was the whole group going to practice service?

One participant had shared that she needed a new job, but more than that, she needed a new attitude about her existing job. I suggested maybe we could find ways to help her. Her good friend who was the hostess for the gathering said, “I remember how excited you were when you first got the job. You really felt like you were helping people early on.”

This young lady said she could receive texts at work, “No problem!”

“What if each of us text you something to encourage you to take a positive outlook on your work?” I asked.

I set an alarm that reminds me Monday-Friday mornings to text this young lady. I go to Bible Gateway and search for a verse that talks about work being done as though for the Lord. I text such to her five days a week. She says it has been a blessing to her.

I know doing this has blessed me. Why not harness some of the technology that contributes to our business in ways that bless others and enables us to be obedient–to be true disciples?

 

Critical Elements–Spiritual Warfare

“After hearing all the possible side effects, I cannot imagine why anyone would take that drug!” one lady commented. Her friend replied, “Shows how great the pain can be at times!”

Reflecting on the reality of persecution and spiritual warfare that often attach to Disciple Making Movements (DMMs) brought the earlier exchange back to my mind. This is why these two realities are listed among the critical elements. Reclaiming the spiritual territory where Satan affirms squatter’s rights often produces negative reactions.

Westerners often develop a puzzled look when I talk about spiritual warfare. They do not have the same theoretical aversions to persecution because they attribute it to people. Through resources like Voice of the Martyrs they recognize that people are harassed, beaten and even killed for their faith. They usually cannot imagine being in locations where that happens, but their worldviews allow for persecution.

But when I share statements like the following, their eyebrows are raised: “In areas where the Gospel has never been preached, or in areas where traditional religions have reigned for a significant amount of time, it is not unusual to find those engaging in DMM activities confronted by spiritual conflicts that range from annoying to life-threatening.” What is a 21st Century rationalist to do with such an affirmation? Is it possible that there are active spiritual beings who strive to prevent the arrival of kingdom proclamations from the region they have long controlled?

Many people in third-world nations don’t doubt the existence of spiritual warfare. When they read passages like Ephesians 6:10-20, they take the language seriously. They will innumerate personal examples that illustrate what Paul spoke of when he admonished, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:11-12). Yes, they know Paul is here painting a word picture using the armor of the Roman solider that is guarding him, while under house arrest. But they also know this struggle against evil spiritual forces. They have felt the pressure of this situation.

Our greatest resource for this spiritual warfare is prayer. Mobilizing intercessors is essential for disciple makers. Like the pharmaceutical companies mentioned earlier, those of us who train people to catalyze Disciple Making Movements warn our trainees about the possible side effects. The difference is there will be attacks.

Jesus’ promise in Matthew 16:18 is absolutely relevant. He says, “I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Note that “gates” are always defensive structures. Jesus’ promise is that advances against the territory Satan has fenced in and gated can be successful. But we need to recognize it will take an offensive. Like Jesus, we have to enter enemy territory to set the captive free. There will be a struggle. We will be put at risk. Our best defense against these challenges is to have people who are lifting us up to the throne room of heaven! Be sure you have people praying for you before you attack those gates. [Note how much Paul says about prayer in this short passage on spiritual warfare!]

Redeeming Obedience

Leading groups of people through a discovery process can be very rewarding. Recently I was part of a four-man team that introduced 55 people to the Disciple Making Movements strategy that has been employed in sub-Saharan Africa. They heard stories of the remarkable fruit God has been producing since 2006. Then we had them use the 8-Questions as a guide for exploring Deuteronomy 6:1-9 and Matthew 28:16-20 (combine these with Luke 10 and you have the three most significant texts for the paradigm shifts needed to experience rapid multiplication).

At first sight, some people wonder why anyone would couple Deuteronomy 6 and Matthew 28. These two texts actually both appear in the first gospel. They are commonly called the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:34-40) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6 when he is asked “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law” (vs. 36).

On the second day we debriefed the previous day by having the groups discuss what they found most valuable or encouraging out of the previous day’s study. When the seven groups were asked to compile a list of the top three, the collectively shared the following list:

  • Encouraged by simplicity.
  • Focus on the Word and obedience
  • Discovery Bible Study provides a simple and practical model.
  • The 8 questions provide a great template.
  • Redeeming of the word obedience.
  • Prayer is needed and focused on as one of the basics.
  • Story telling model – the stories of God at work come alive.
  • God is moving through people and prayer.
  • Whole groups are coming to Jesus.
  • B’s testimony – an answer to prayer.
  • Make disciples not converts.  Disciple to salvation.
  • The power of writing out the scripture.
  • People of peace are everywhere
  • Lay people are doing the work.
  • Growing sense of disillusionment among Muslims.
  • Don’t be afraid of small beginnings.
  • Sheiks and other Muslim leaders coming to the Lord.

“Redeeming the word obedience” is the one that really jumped out to me that day. What a beautiful way to express what many of us have been experiencing over the last six years. Few insights have brought more push back, though, in Western settings. Since many hear this discussion in the context of legalism they need to experience this redemption.

I urge you to spend some time noticing the role of obedience in discipleship. Yes, we are saved by grace. No, we are not teaching that we start by grace giving us a clean slate from our past sins and then we are expected to obey our way to heaven. Obedience is empowered by grace. To obey Jesus is to exhibit evidence that his grace reaches me. Read through John chapters 14 and 15 noting every time the words “obey” and “obedience” appear. Note the verse number and then note what promises are attached to obedience. Grace is God’s love language to us. Obedience is our love language to him!

It’s a Wrap!

Our investigation of the counter-intuitives of Disciple Making Movements (DMMs) was completed with last Thursday’s post. These are general observations we have noted from the movements we have tracked for the last six years in sub-Saharan Africa. They are not mathematical equations. Wisdom must be utilized when one seeks to evaluate new regions and new people groups in their light.

This is one of the challenges of DMMs—one size does not fit all. While every tailor knows how to measure, cut and sew material, every new suit will be different because of the differences of the size and tastes of the client. While every baker measures, mixes and bakes cakes, no two wedding cakes are likely to be identical because of the differences in the wedding parties.

Learning from diverse DMMs gives us insights into how things might be done, but the tactical choices will be impacted by many factors. The analogy I have used to get some people to think about this comes from the NFL. Professional coaches often script their first twenty offensive plays. These choices are arranged in hopes of capitalizing on the defensive tendencies that have been discovered through hours and hours of film study. Coaches hope to be able to score on that first drive to grab momentum and apply pressure to their opponent. But they are also hoping to discover what adjustments will be made to overcome said tendencies.

Consider these counter-intuitives as evidence of tendencies. But recognize that our enemy is always making adjustments. One size will not fit all. “Trial and error” learning is often demanded. Standing on Jesus’ promise that the gates of hell will not prevail (gates are always defensive structures), probe the defenses of Satan by scripted attacks. Recognize that you cannot script the whole game before it begins. Faith demands trusting the Holy Spirit to bless the things you do and to give you needed information in making needed adjustments as you move forward. But recognize that you will not learn these new insights sitting on your good intentions.

Recently I spoke by phone with a brother who is being considered as the executive director of a prison ministry. As he described the organization’s vision I was impressed. They are already targeting the inmates who refuse to attend traditional ministry outreach efforts. They utilize sports to gain the attention of these inmates. But this brother has heard about the DBSs. He has been exposed to 3-Column Studies. He is four generations removed from me and we have never met. Recently the second generation brother met him and they started talking about his possible new position. Because I cut my teeth in prison/jail ministry it appeared maybe we should chat.

Not everyone will be called by God to minister to inmates. To make prison ministry a necessary piece of DMM training would be unwise. It is one of those “hardest places” that sometimes yield the greatest results, so I am excited to be able to share my experiences in a few weeks. Long-term, I may end up training this brother, his organization, these prison missionaries and/or some of the Persons of Peace they have already discovered (but would not yet call them that).

Re-read these articles periodically. Pray that Papa God will bring people, situations and needs to mind from your context as you read them. Ask him to unlock the creativity and wisdom he has already placed in you. Ask him to give you insights on reaching the unreached.

Send me an email. Ask me to help you think through your situation. I will probably ask you to write out a description of the people group you are called to reach. This will help me to capitalize on your insights. It will assure me that you are already doing what you know to do. Ultimately, I cannot make decisions for you—only you should do that. But I will be honored to help you process. If I am at a loss I will reach out to the more experienced strategists that I know and trust God to give some great suggestions. Use these as resources. Blessings!

Why Are You Here?

DMM counter-intuitives—“Small for-profit projects often yield much higher long-term access and goodwill than free services.” Paul worked as a tentmaker in Ephesus.

When disciple makers go to new villages or urban areas they expect to be asked the question, “Why are you here?” Without a legitimate answer, they will be watched with great suspicion or will be driven out of the community. Residents of that region will be justifiably suspicious of people without a visible means of supporting themselves hanging around.

An excellent reason to be in a new community is to engage in a for-profit business. Providing needed products and/or services is a quick way to earn a hearing for the gospel. Business also gives disciples excellent opportunities to demonstrate kingdom values.

Access to resistant nations is one of the great challenges for bringing the gospel to the least-reached people groups. Here we can learn from Paul’s three-year stay in Ephesus (Acts 19 & 20). Do not overlook the role of his tent making (recognize that it is likely he sold as many sails for ships as he did tents for caravans). It was their shared trade that brought him together with Pricilla and Aquila—a couple with whom he accomplished much. He reminds the Ephesian elders that he supported himself and his mission team through his business. He also points out that his example modeled for them the importance of hard work (Acts 20:33-35).

Missionaries have often used compassion ministries to gain access to people in communities. But such an approach is viewed with great mistrust in the most resistant nations. Beyond this suspicion, there are ongoing struggles with unintentionally generating destructive dependencies that prove damaging to local economies. A small for-profit business can provide excellent opportunities to locate Persons of Peace among customers, vendors and/or government officials encountered through the normal interactions of set-up and operation.

I know a shop owner in West Africa who supports seven disciple makers. He also brings those with business acumen in to work with him for three months and trains them in reproducing this tactic. Muslim people in the region help support the spread of the gospel through this small enterprise.

We need thousands of creative entrepreneurs to envision business models that will generate reasons to live in new regions. We need these opportunities for believers to demonstrate kingdom values through their work. We need disciple makers who will use their employment as their format for conspicuous spirituality. Christian community development should be a long-range goal for making disciples in new regions.

Radical Reform

DMM counter-intuitives—“Do no personal evangelism at all so that masses will hear.” Lead whole households to faith together (Ax 16:15, 31).

Remember that our goal is to catalyze Disciple Making Movements among the least-reached people groups of our world. Most of them live in nations that will not grant missionary visas. Often they perceive Christianity as a form of foreign cultural dominance and oppression.

We do personal evangelism because it is the highly contextualized strategy that was developed to plant the gospel into individualized cultures. Since Western nations are individualized North Americans and Europeans have primarily been reached through personal evangelism. Since it worked in our lives, we assume it will work with everyone else. But what if their culture is not individualistic?

What should you do if you are attempting to plant the gospel into a people group in West Africa or Southeast Asia that always makes important decisions as a family or community? When we finally allow that question to sink deep into our heart we may begin to hear Scripture differently. We may start to realize that there are many more references to households coming to faith together than there are examples of individuals who reach such a point through a one-on-one encounter.

Luke reveals that Lydia “and the members of her household were baptized” (Acts 16:15). In response to the jailor’s question, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” he was told, “‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.’ Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house….then immediately he and all his family were baptized….he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family” (Acts 16:31-34).

We have found when believers go to the least-reached people groups and do personal evangelism there are often tragic results. The family turns against this new believer and throws him/her out of the household for being deceived by this foreign ideology. They hate Christians for “brain washing” their son or daughter. They refuse to hear the gospel because it has brought them such excruciating pain. And then some believers quote passages that make it sound like God takes great pleasure in setting children against their parents.

Rest assured the gospel entails challenges to any culture. It presents obstacles to any human religion. But that is not what has just happened. A strategy was employed that withheld the gospel from the rest of the family. A divide-and-conquer strategy was used (it is not that in a highly individualized culture, but it is in the rest of the world).

By contrast, a Discovery Bible Study encourages the whole family to explore the God of the Bible together. Story by story they are encouraged to move from Creator to Christ. Through this process the household is equipped to make a collective decision. Together they are called to fall in love with God. While some may still choose not to surrender to Jesus, they at least understand the rationale for the faith of those who do believe. They have heard.

Babies Birthing Babies

DMM counter-intuitives—“The best time for a church 2 plant a new church is when it is new.” Older churches want buildings, etc. (Ax 19:26).

In the text referred to above we find an angry silversmith named Demetrius railing, “Men, you know we receive a good income from this business. 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 man-made gods are no gods at all. There is danger that our trade will lose its good name…” (19:25-27).

No, this passage does not mention churches planting churches. But it indicates the gospel was spreading throughout the province of Asia (the Mediterranean coastal region of modern Turkey) and Demetrius blames Paul. How could this be?

We have found that when a Person of Peace is discipled through a process of facilitating his/her family’s discovery of God, they are learning to share the gospel as quickly as they hear it. By discipling an insider who is already trusted by the family/affinity group, we find many insiders realize they too are able to spread this good news. At every gathering they are asked who they know who needs to hear that day’s text. When they finally come back asking if they can bring their brother, cousin or friend, they are coached in starting a new discovery group. The process intentionally raises up disciple makers, not just learners.

Any evangelist realizes that the best time for a believer to reach family and friends is soon after coming to faith. The excitement and transformation are evident. It is likely that the contextual elements that created the opening for the gospel are also present in nearby friends and family. The longer this believer associates with other believers, the less capacity to reach not-yet-believers, unless evangelism is built into his/her spiritual DNA from the very beginning.

The Discovery process we utilize intentionally builds evangelism into every session. As those first people surrender to Jesus’ Lordship, they are reminded of the responsibility to make sure others are able to come to know him as Savior and Lord. Obedience to the Word of God has been an expectation built into their hearing from the very beginning. Exploring a passage that talks about sending Barnabas and Saul out produces a passion for sending some of the best and brightest out to nearby villages and regions. These new believers have a passion and zeal to spread the gospel to those they know and love.

The other advantage they have is the strategy that was implemented in reaching them is reproducible by them. Like us, they attempt to replicate what proved so powerful in them coming to know God. But unlike traditional missiology, the strategy they will employ has been stripped of the cultural elements that always appeared to be evidence of foreign oppression. Our approach is infinitely reproducible by new believers because it is simple enough to be implemented by not-yet believers who God has prepared.

Returning to Acts, Luke never mentions Paul leaving Ephesus during the three years he worked in that city. So why did Demetrius credit him with leading astray large numbers of people throughout the whole province of Asia? Read Colossians with an eye out for Epaphras.

How Long Will it Take?

DMM counter-intuitives—“Prepare to spend a long time making disciples, but anticipate miracle accelerations.” Jesus took 3 years (Mark).

Before a team of apostolic disciple makers enter a new region to find Persons of Peace, there will have been a devoted season of intercession, careful research and deliberate tactical planning. The goal behind each of these is to determine, to the best of our abilities, what God is already doing in this region and discover how we can join him. Making disciples is about obeying Jesus. It is about surrendering our plans to his will.

Often we have found that this process takes time (months, if not years). We anticipate it will be three months or longer before the first disciples come to faith in Jesus—and that is counted from the time you have already discovered the first Person of Peace. But we have learned that God’s ways are not our ways when it comes to this timetable.

We have discovered that when intercession reveals God is ready for a village or region of a city to be reached, when those who are entering have good insight into the world view of the inhabitants and when there are good tactical plans for gaining access into the lives of these people there are often surprises. The God who spoke the world into existence is not restricted to the normal harvest cycles (consider for example the remarkable events surrounding Aaron’s staff, Numbers 17:8). While experience correctly teaches us to expect months before planted seeds yield a harvest, faith reminds us God is greater than the process he created.

Making disciples is a time-consuming process. It is relational. Unless hearts are knit together by a supernatural process, friendships take time to form. Trust is earned. Through the ebb and flow of life the right to speak into a life is incrementally developed.

The God who snapped the Philippian jailor awake by an earthquake is still able to move mountains today. The Creator who opened Pharoah’s court to Joseph by a dream can still invade the sleep of people. We are learning to praise God for miraculous accelerations whenever they come!

We are also learning that the training, coaching and mentoring needed to produce disciples who make disciples still must be accomplished. While we intentionally plan to “disciple people to conversion,” we realize God is free to call them spontaneously and miraculously. But he still calls us to help them grow up into the image of Christ. He still calls us to equip them to reproduce. He calls the body of Christ to disciple them into disciple makers.

God is not restricted by the “Creation to Christ” counter-intuitive. But when those who were miraculously transformed enter another village we want them equipped to sow, water and harvest. We want them to know a process that exposes other people to the Word over a period of time. By such training we do not limit the function of the Holy Spirit any more than Jesus did when he invested three years into the twelve, discipling them. We trust Jesus to not only provide the content of our discipling, but the strategy also. We expect God will use us to equip people to make disciples. To call others to Christ is inadequate for fulfilling the Great Commission! We must make disciples who make disciples of all the nations.