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!

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.

STARTING RIGHT

CPM counter-intuitives—“Start with creation not Christ.” Our view of God impacts our capacity to understand Son of God (Acts 17:22ff).

Many cross-cultural missionaries have taken a Western evangelistic approach to other parts of the world resulting in numerous unintended consequences. We have failed to recognize that our presentation of the gospel is highly contextualized, therefore it should not be wholesale administered to diverse contexts.

Okay, let me unpack that paragraph. If you grew up in Europe or North America you probably have a Western worldview. You likely view faith decisions as matters for individual choice. You have been schooled by your culture to demand that no other groups or individual has the right to control how you choose to express your spiritual or religious convictions. Guess what? Much of the unreached world does not share that conviction with you. You may be right, but they do not share your understanding. And you will not readily win them over to your way of thinking—and maybe you don’t have to change their mind. Maybe there is a better way to evangelize people who disagree on this issue.

Because our perspectives have been shaped by an individualized society, our most fruitful evangelistic strategies were actually developed for our context. Because we have failed to recognize this we have uncritically exported it to very different cultures and not realized why it has worked so poorly. “But it was how I came to know Jesus, surely it must be THE way others will come to know him!”

Another part of our Western culture that shaped our evangelistic strategies is our assumption that everyone here knows of God and just needs to know Jesus. While that may have been a safe assumption at some points in our history, we can no longer assume it here and we should never take it for granted in the least reached people groups of our world. How people view God directly shapes how they hear the phrase “Son of God.”

How did God reveal himself? Did he jump in with the story of Jesus?

Notice what is written in Hebrews 1:1-3—“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” These last days were prepared for by the past ways God revealed himself.

Most people need at least an overview knowledge of God to be ready to grasp the significance of the message that Jesus is the Son of God. When we fail to help them discover God’s character as the Creator who calls men into relationship and establishes a sacrificial system, then many of the descriptions of Jesus have no context to be deeply meaningful. DMM requires us to begin with creation, unless God miraculously accelerates the timetable. He is sovereign and can do that. We always go with him. But then our discipling will be sure to help these new believers to be grounded in God’s self revelation so they can know how to disciple disciple makers, too. While God accelerates things at times, there are other times when he does not. We start with Creation. We start where scriptures begin.

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.