Disciple to Conversion

DMM counter-intuitives—“Disciple people to conversion.” Jesus: “Go-make disciples-baptize-teach to obey” in Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20).

[Note: These counter-intuitive statements have been used by Disciple Making Movements practitioners to describe truths that are the opposite of what traditional missiology teaches. They have been formatted for Twitter, which limits the length of a post to no more than 140 characters. But I also wanted to include the biblical basis for doing it so differently.]

At the close of the first gospel, Jesus commissions the eleven, who graduate from his personal training system, to turn the world upside down (actually right side up). The beautiful thing for them is they have witnessed this approach while they have followed Jesus for three years. He called them to follow him. He taught them, trained them and mentored them. It is only late in this ministry that he asks the critical question, “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15).

In Western churches we usually attempt to convert people and then maybe sign them up for a six-week discipleship class. Jesus disciples for years and then asks his followers to reveal who they think he is. It is at this point in Matthew’s gospel that they answer their own earlier question, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” (Matthew 8:27).

Peter speaks for the group when he announces, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:16). Jesus indicates that Peter is blessed to have received this revelation from God the Father. Peter did not learn this insight from another human, it was through divine revelation. Peter’s understanding of Jesus’ identity and willingness to surrender everything comes because he has been discipled to this recognition.

When someone comes to recognize who Jesus is, then he/she is ready to be baptized and to be taught to obey all of Jesus’ commands. Discipleship entails obedience to the one who has “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18).

But who will allow you to disciple them to conversion? A Person of Peace. Someone who has already been stirred by the Holy Spirit. Someone who is waiting for the light to shine in his heart. Someone who desperately wants to know the answer to her brokenness. When you find a Person of Peace you have a candidate to disciple to conversion. Here is a person who will walk with you long enough to move from Creation to Christ, fall in love with God along the way and be willing to share what is being learned with others. Find a Person of Peace and you will have the opportunity to watch multiplication come in obedience to the Great Commission.

Let the Lost Lead

DMM counter-intuitives—“Let the lost lead the Bible studies.” Lost people can facilitate reproducible inductive (3-column) Bible studies.

Of all these head-scratching statements, this is probably the most rejected. Last week I spent time with a brother who has introduced disciple making into cross-cultural mission work he has been doing in West Africa. He and his wife also shared these ideas with her brother who lives in New Zealand. His brother-in-law had tried to disciple a study group, but since he had never experienced a Discovery Bible Study he modeled a teaching-heavy approach. While some he was trying to reach were willing to try leading one, none would agree to doing it more than the first time. When my friend visited he offered to facilitate the study. After the study one of the New Zealanders spoke up, “If that is what leading a study looks like, I can do that!” What do you model when it comes to facilitating a Bible study?

“You can’t seriously let lost people lead Bible studies!” is one response we hear. “There aren’t lost people who are willing to lead a Bible study,” is another assumption. Both reflect a failure to understand what a Person of Peace is. The lost who facilitate Discovery Bible Studies are always Persons of Peace.

A Person of Peace is someone God prepares to serve as a bridge to his/her household/affinity group. This person already is looked to as a leader, so we are not putting a lost person into a leadership position. We do equip this person to facilitate a Discovery Bible Study. This coaching is done through a relationship that has begun around the spiritual openness of this person. We have met this person by being “overtly spiritual without being obnoxiously religious.” We openly point to God and what we are learning about him and his expectations for our lives as we interact with people. Our purpose for these comments is to identify and connect with Persons of Peace. After we find them (or they find us), then a relationship is built that leads to the point of willingness to lead their circle of influence in a discovery process.

Persons of Peace do not teach their family and/ or friends. They do lead the group in a process of hearing Bible stories and asking what they reveal about God and people along with what obedience to the passage entails and who they know who needs to hear these stories. The purpose of Discovery Studies is to facilitate a discovery process. No one has to teach. Together the group explores what God is like in the passages they encounter.

The beautiful thing about this type of study is many participants find it easily reproduced. They realize they, too, can facilitate this style of study. Many become willing to take this type of study to other family members, friends and co-workers.  Let the lost lead so many learn how to facilitate!

A Novice Insider? Really!?

Counter-Intuitives—A novice insider is more effective than highly trained, mature outsider.

If you have read my last two articles, you know that we focus on discipling disciple makers. Our goal in identifying a Person of Peace is not just to see him/her come to know Jesus or even to reach the extended family—our ultimate goal is to reach a community in such a way that they are discipled in how to reach another community.

While cross-cultural workers make significant contributions to Disciple Making Movements (DMMs), this counter-intuitive statement emphasizes the strategic value of insiders. But note, it explicitly highlights the value of a “novice” insider. Why? Why would we value novice insiders so highly?

True movements only happen when the process is infinitely reproducible. When your strategy depends on expensive, time-consuming practices, you will not launch a movement. Let me use an illustration to help you see the point. While American football is the most popular professional sport in the United States, it has not spread to other parts of the world. The name, football, is reserved throughout most of the rest of the world for what we call soccer. Why? Why is soccer so wildly popular throughout the world?

Soccer is infinitely reproducible. It is a simple game that demands very little equipment. You can travel most anywhere in the world and you will likely find a soccer field. If you travel internationally I encourage you to carry a couple of new soccer balls and a small hand pump. I assure you children will know what to do with a ball after you air it up and give it to them. They will be incredibly happy to put your gift to use.

When you train a Person of Peace to facilitate his/her extended family in discovering who God is, you are launching the reproductive engine of a DMM. Any of that first group can reproduce what they experience anywhere they have friends or family who are open to the gospel. The fact that this person is not highly trained is actually a blessing. Others recognize they too can do it because the process does not require Bible college degrees or decades of experience.

Most of the Western church models a slow form of reproduction because we make our Bible studies dependent upon highly-trained, highly experienced Bible teachers and preachers. By contrast, Disciple Making Movements tap into a sweet spot that every evangelist knows already. The best resource for evangelistic outreach is a brand new believer. The first two years after coming to faith is a fruitful sweet spot. One reason this is true is because most of their closest relationships are with not yet saved people. Another reason is the transformation in those years is the greatest—God’s impact on their walk is evident.

When God stirs the heart of a Person of Peace and brings a disciple maker into the picture, powerful things can happen. Stop spending your time frustrating people who do not want to hear the gospel (yet) and start using your time looking for the lost people God is preparing. This is where an abundant harvest arises!

Ready or Not, Here I Come

DMM counter-intuitives—“Share only where Jesus has prepared someone’s heart to hear.” Start with a person of peace (Luke 10:6).

Too often we butt in with a gospel truth where no one is interested in hearing it. Jesus warned his disciples, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:6). Why won’t we listen to our Savior?

For hundreds of years, traditional missions directs evangelists to walk into the middle of a village as the people return from their fields and proclaim in a loud voice, “We are here to tell you about Jesus and the Cross.” Many are ridiculed, beaten and martyred. Christianity seen as an invading religion provokes a violent response.

If indigenous evangelists keep getting driven out and even killed, how can there be a Disciple Making Movement? In Northern India a strategic coordinator returned to Scripture for an answer. He found it implemented the Person of Peace strategy outlined in the Gospels.

Initially no one believed the results. Over the next five years indigenous evangelists planted more churches than had been in the previous 50 years. Now there are more that 40,000 new churches in North India. The Person of Peace principle played a significant role in this Disciple Making Movement.

Believers among Unreached Peoples still face tremendous persecution. Yet, rather than being driven out and even martyred, the evangelists use the Person of Peace strategy and it allows them to share the gospel in places that earlier were totally closed to traditional methods. The principle is not new; Christ gave it to the disciples. God’s way is truly the best way.

How can I determine whether or not a person’s heart is prepared to hear the gospel? The great need, as my mentor puts it, is to be “overtly spiritual without being obnoxiously religious.” Every encounter with a person gives us an opportunity to talk about a spiritual reality. The goal is to quickly assess whether this person is currently open, or at least curious about spiritual things. Often people who are closed to religious discussions are intrigued by spiritual ones. Many who refuse to debate religious squabbles are intrigued by spiritual dialogue.

Some Persons of Peace are open to spiritual things because of things God has been doing in their lives for a long time. Note that Cornelius’s prayers and helping the poor had caught God’s attention (Acts 10:4). Lydia was gathered with a group of women for prayer along the river (Acts 16:13). By contrast, though, God used remarkable circumstances to open the heart of the Philippian jailor (Acts 16:22-34). Paul’s authentic spiritual conversations resulted in these two later encounters. But sometimes, like with Cornelius, the Person of Peace finds us! It is an incredible joy to be God’s speaker to a prepared heart!

Going Slow to Go Fast!

Recently I posted the following to my Twitter feed:

CPM counter-intuitives—“Go slow 2 go fast…focus on few 2 win many.” Equip indigenous family heads 2 facilitate discovery of God (Ax 10:33).

Since that is linked to my Facebook account, it showed up there, too. A Facebook friend commented, “Sounds like Confucius. Haha.” I chuckled with him. Later I realized that this is a pretty good way to describe the list of Disciple Making Movements (DMM) Counter-Intuitives.

These Counter-Intuitives are short pithy observations of typical things that happen in DMMs which swim upstream when compared to general mission/evangelistic practices. Let me unpack the one mentioned earlier by way of illustration.

“Go slow to go fast.” Every day the population of the world increases. The growth rate is significantly higher among the nations and people groups who are most resistant to the spread of the gospel. If we keep getting the results we have typically experienced we will grow further behind. This awareness pushes us to find quicker ways of spreading the gospel of the kingdom. Mass evangelism, for example, is an attempt to get the Word out to larger numbers of people at the same time in the hopes of going faster.

But what if the best way to go fast is actually to slow down? Sounds contradictory! We have found that Jesus actually modeled a “slow” method to reach the world. Mass evangelists have often taken us to the passages where Jesus spoke to multitudes as the grounds for their strategy. For example, they might say, “Jesus preached to a huge group through the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chs. 5-7). Yes, the multitudes overheard Jesus teaching on the Mount, but he directed it to the twelve that he had hand-picked. While the crowds heard, Jesus models the practice of intentionally training a few. He knew how fickle the crowds are prone to be. He knew he personally had only a short time to set in motion the process by which the world would hear the gospel. He was not going to turn the future over to the crowds; he was going to put it in the hands of his disciples.

If you want to disciple your youth group, hand-pick a few disciplers and train them to train, coach and mentor the members of the youth group. Spend most of your time pouring into them so they can and will reproduce what you are doing (not only discipling, but discipling disciplers). That is the way to produce fruit that lasts.

If you are called to reach a city, it will require you to focus on a few to reach the many. Duplicate this several times and equip them to duplicate it, too, and you have the means to reach the city.

But this Counter-Intuitive has another element that you should not overlook—the people you disciple should be seen by the target audience as insiders. Indigenous family heads are the best means to reach people groups who still have strong family-based systems.

When we transplant Western individualistic strategies into these places we set ourselves and our disciples up for failure. To pick-off an occasional person from these large, tight-knit families insures that they despise Christians. They view us much as we view a cult—“They’ve kidnapped and brain-washed the weakest member of our family!” Such a strategy only works in the Western individualistic worldview regions of our planet (and causes problems with some here, too). We will have greater success if we slow down and train an insider to facilitate a process by which his/her family discovers together who God is and how great his loving provision is for our spiritual needs. Rather than rupturing families, this strategy holds hope for the whole household to come to faith together. Even some of those who do not come to personal faith value being given the opportunity to consider it as part of the family.

But this process can be slower on the front end. You have to find such a person who is open to learning the process and facilitating the discovery. How in the world will that happen?

In Luke 10 Jesus sends the 72 out in 36 pairs. These teams are looking for “persons of peace”—those who are receptive to the peace that comes with the proclamation of the kingdom of heaven. They are not to go from house to house, but find and stay with the receptive person who is hospitable to the gospel. Focus on equipping this person to lead the family in a guided discovery of God’s nature and what surrendering to Jesus’ Lordship entails.

Luke reveals a story of just such a person in his sequel (Acts 10). Cornelius is an excellent example of a Person of Peace. He spends the three days between when he sends for Peter and his arrival gathering the people he influences and has them ready to listen to anything God will tell them to do. God’s Spirit still prepares people like this in our world. God wants the nations to come to know himself. His Son modeled for us a strategy of going slow in order to go fast. (The speed comes because the process is infinitely reproducible and new harvesters are able to come from the harvest. Disciplinig disciplers needs to become our strategy.