One-size-fits-all?…Nah!

About twenty-five years ago I took a graduate course titled, “Matthew as Story.” Jack Dean Kingsbury’s book by the same title was required reading. This literary (narrative) critical examination of the first gospel launched me on a trajectory that I could little anticipate. It is only within the last five that I consciously realized the connection.

Comparing/contrasting the plot of the four gospels reveals important information about their contexts. Reading today’s writers does likewise. I do not believe “one size fits all” works well with gospeling. Yes, our early attempts will likely follow more closely to one of the four than the other three, but even that reflects something about us. Either we are reflecting the choice of those who discipled us, we are reflecting which of the four has become our personal favorite, or we are reflecting a conscious decision based on our knowledge of the people group to whom we are speaking.

Before you invest the money in getting Choung’s book(s) translated into the language of your people group and distributed among them, make sure you do the same rigorous testing he did. Make sure the thought structures used in his books translate well into the worldview of your context. Recruit believers among this group to evaluate how helpful these resources will be.

When my friend tweeted me about Choung’s video, I responded from a cross-cultural context. My friend recently completed a master’s degree. He desires to move to Asia and serve as a cross-cultural missionary. I initially responded in light of our shared context (academics and love for missions). Later I Googled Choung’s web site and read his blog. As I have noted, I have not read his second book. My replies seek to apply what I have discovered on that web site to the video.

 

Why Discovery Is Important

As people begin to hear these new stories that affirm divine intention in creation and redemption, new possibilities arise. Maybe the fatalism their worldview demands is not the only option. Maybe the world did not come into existence by accidental forces. Maybe life can become more fruitful by journeying within this story.

Too often those who know the Biblical answer to the question, “What is truth?” get excited or impatient at this crucial point. We want to hurry these sojourners to the destination. We start to distill the story down to a summary and want them to accept reality upon the weight of our testimony. We want them to believe. Please, slow down and reconsider.

Will you always be there to hear these stories and choose how these people should live? Do you want their faith to rest on the foundation of your investigations of truth? Would it be better if they discover for themselves?

No, I am not going to tell you to butt out and leave them alone. But I am going to advise you to practice some restraint. Trust Papa God. Trust the Holy Spirit to bring conviction. Trust the hunger in their spirits to be “fed” by the bread of life!

Encourage them in a discovery process! Learn to rely on God and not yourself. Remember, these stories have to become their story. They have to see themselves within this journey to come to see how God really views them!

Worldview—What is Real?

Last we come to understand what is real for a people group. Their worldview answers four fundamental questions:

  1. Who am I?
  2. Where am I?
  3. What has gone wrong here?
  4. What can be done about it?

How do children receive their worldview from their parents? They receive it from the people and experiences in their lives. They especially receive it from stories these key people tell. We each have stories that shape how we see ourselves and our world. Change the guiding stories and a person’s worldview begins to shift.

The ultimate answers to these “What is real?” questions are found in the Creation to Christ stories of the Bible. Each person was created in God’s image. As Paul notes in Athens, “The God who made the world and everything in it…made every nation of men….Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:24-31).

[NOTE: Diagram comes from Lloyd E. Kwast’s article “Understanding Culture,” pages 397-399 in the 2009 Perspectives Reader, which was edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthore.]

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!

Hand It Over!

Next week I will return to this issue of discipling givers. But today I want to explore the matter of turning work over to the people among whom missionaries work. This has long been a troublesome topic. The team that worked in Kenya is but a microcosm of missions history.

Before we consider what has happened, let me share that my friend, and mentor, David Watson takes an extreme position on this matter. He counsels that you never start anything without a local partner, so you are raising up a leader to keep it going from day one. Since they are involved in leadership with you, it is never yours to turn over. Wrapping your brain around that counter-intuitive approach will “field dress” many of the Western pioneer mission strategies. We have to turn it over, because we do too much to begin with. We hold on too long because we want to make sure the local people will be able to do it our way when they are in control.

For some of us, that last word is the bottom line! C-O-N-T-R-O-L is the point of many struggles.

We wonder why so many Western boards have such struggles with local boards. We wonder why local leadership systems are stacked against foreign ownership. Maybe there are examples where we find ourselves in control battles because our controlling nature attracts local controllers!

I like David’s idea. But I have to confess it is a hard goal. It makes the front end very slow. It precludes our American efficiency model. It keeps us from rushing and making something happen by our drivenness, resources and/or ingenuity. But it may also save us from ourselves. Maybe we would not be seen as the brash, know-it-all Americans. Maybe we would be saved from witnessing the dead, empty carcasses of ministry ideas that were too foreign to work where we might attempt to force them to work. Maybe God will raise up locals who can be bridges into their communities.

Being Doers of the Word (Part 1)

Living out of our identity as sons and daughters of the Creator looks like an apprenticeship. We once marched to the beat of a different drummer (a death march). But now, in Christ we hear the Father and seek to do His will.

Discovery Bible Studies (DBSs) call us to hear the Word and put it into practice. We obey out of love, just like Jesus did. We know that our obedience does not earn us standing before our Father. We know that it opens us to being channels of His blessing for others.

One of my teammates has a supporter who works in the water/waste management field. He is an engineer who is a consultant for numerous municipalities. Grease can be incredibly damaging to a city’s sewers. A business that chooses to run grease into the sewer system will block the flow of waste behind them in the system. Trust me, you want sewer flowing all the way to the treatment facility! Blockages are a nightmare. The technology this guy has developed to monitor such potential problems makes him a valued specialist.

Disobedience blocks our spiritual flow. It creates problems that prevent us from experiencing the richness our relationship with God offers. It also restricts the blessings our Father desires to pass through us to others.

 

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!

You Will Lose Your Job!

DMM counter-intuitives—“It’s about discovery not preaching.” Jesus used questions so people discover the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 13:44-46).

I first heard about what we are calling Disciple Making Movements (DMMs) in November of 2003. My wife and I had been invited to a fund-raising dinner and we just could not say, “No.” As we listened to stories about what God has been doing among the Bhoujpori in Northern India, I noticed a passion in my heart to go to West Africa to envision what he might do there. While I did very traditional up-front teaching there that first trip, I was invited back to do something that was revolutionary the next year.

Between those trips in 2004 and 2005 I listened to CDs of the training that was held in March of 2005, many times. As I began to formulate my plans for training Africans in doing their own inductive Bible studies, I shared some of my thoughts with a College/Young Adults class I was teaching. One of the students told me after class one Sunday, “You realize that if people here buy into this you will end up losing your job, don’t you?” I told him I was willing for that to happen for real transformation to happen, but I figured there would be training I could do even if my position as a preacher was no longer needed.

DMMs are not dependent upon preachers, pastors or other religious professionals. These roles often become obstacles to movements. As we know them, they generally reflect a spectator/performer cultural role more than the biblical function of proclamation upon which they were originally based. But I am talking more about Western traditions than the heart of this counter intuitive.

Biblical proclamation calls hearers to investigate truth claims. It engages the audience in a process of evaluation of spiritual insights. Jesus was the best at it the world has ever seen. He called his disciples and his audiences to a process of checking out the validity of his claims. He launched them into an exploratory process of discovering what God has revealed of himself and whether or not Jesus truly is God’s Son—his exact representation. Everyone comes to personal faith through a discovery process—everyone! God does not have any grandchildren. You don’t get into his family on someone else’s faith. You may start down the road on the faith of others, but ultimately you will accept or reject it based on your life experience (which includes others much more significantly in non-Western areas of our world).

Watching Jesus make disciples in the gospels has convicted me of the incredible role good questions play in the process of discovery. He asked the disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13). They needed to chew on the options that people were batting around. After that happens, “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15). Are they going to agree with one of the current theories? Does Jesus make them think of John, Elijah or Jeremiah?

After Peter answers, Jesus pronounces a blessing upon him for getting this revelation from God. Who taught Peter, Jesus’ identity? Who is going to teach the identity of Jesus to people today? We intentionally pursue a process of discovery for this very reason.

Yes, it is easier for us to give people the answers, in the short-term. But there are tragic consequences when they don’t learn to discern them. We avoid damaging dependency through discovery.

Yes, I lost my job. Not because people decided they did not need me any longer. I fell in love with the discovery process and my passion for training others in that overwhelmed my desire to have people dependent upon me.

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!