Church–How Can We Do It There?

Recently a friend who works in Asia wrote, “I’m always surprised to hear people tell me they don’t know anything about Jesus!!! Absolutely nothing! Today three more souls got to hear the Good News for the first time. I’m so honored to be the one to tell them…” This frequent occurrence should challenge us and remind us how blessed we are if we live in a country with freedom of religion and grew up in godly homes.

I urge you to open your eyes this week, especially when you visit public places. Take note of the people who are obviously from other parts of our world. No, I do not want to fuel prejudice in your hearts; I ask you to consider the possibility that God has them here so they can learn to trust in Jesus and be equipped to start disciple making movements in their home nations.

For such movements to happen back home, many of these folks will have to learn a different model of church than we experience here in the U.S. Mufreesboro is home to a fairly large ELL (English Language Learning) School. More of the students come from Saudi Arabia and China than any other nations. While these students live in our city, it will be wonderful for them to come to know Jesus. But how much more valuable their time will be if they are equipped to facilitate church planting movements back home. It will require training them to “do church” in ways that will not make them a target when they return. If we deeply connect them to church as we know it, we make it more likely they never return because they know such is not possible where they call home.

Still Learning My Way Around

Recently I was encouraged to put an index to some of my more useful blog posts, on this site. I have placed links to similar posts within posts, but I was not sure how to accomplish what was requested.

After I got on my site the next time I decided to check out the “Categories” and the “Tags” links (if you put your cursor over the words that follow either of these two, you will find they change color, meaning if you click on one you will be provided every entry that deals with a specific category, or every one that mentions the tagged topic. So the categories is sort of like a topical table of contents and the tagged words are sort of thematic indexes. This is what you get when you read the blog of a novice–I keep learning more of the features that are built into this blog format.

If you go to the top of this article you will see that just below the title, “Still Learning My Way Around,” there is a box that has “Category:” followed by several items like, “Bible Studies, Communication, Community Development, etc.” Click on any of those and you will get all of the posts I have grouped under than category.

In that same box, just below “Categories” is the option of “Tags:” which is followed by words like “Discovery Bible Studies.” If you click on that you will get the 10-11 articles that mention these.

Hopefully this is old news to most of you. But just in case you are still sort of new to this whole blogging scene (like I obviously am), I want to be sure you know how to use this feature. While I listed all the categories, I only gave you a few of the tags since there are more than 40 of them.

Let me know if any of these posts prompt questions. Some of my best writing happens when people ask good questions.

When Did We See You in Prison? (part 3)

Spiritual warfare began.  It especially dated to Austin and myself beginning to pray for an opening to teach Hispanic guys in the pod.  Soon after these prayers began, INS picked two of the Hispanic guys up.  Another was transferred to the state penitentiary.  The only Hispanics left in this pod spoke little English.

A couple of weeks later a couple of trouble-makers instigated a sit-in breakfast strike that resulted in half of the guys being removed from the pod and taken to the Maximum security pod.  The number of guys in the group study dropped from eight to three.  Austin was disappointed in what had started so well being so quickly depleted.  He began to pray and decided to hand-write an invitation to the group studies and slide it under each cell door (he could do this since he had more freedoms as a trustee).  Several new guys began attending the group.

I had never seen Austin without a smile.  His disappointment was apparent when I arrived for my next visit.  I anticipated something had gone wrong because Austin was no longer on the fifth floor.  I had to visit him on the fourth floor.  He told me what had transpired since my visit the previous week.

Another attack came from some members of the Crypts gang in the pod.  The leader resented the influence Austin was gaining.  He showed his displeasure after Austin reached out to him with the gospel.  The guy directed the other Crypts to begin charging Austin with violating rules.  His desire was to cause Austin to lose his trustee position.  When the charges proved untrue, the administration did not strip Austin of his job, but they realized there would be additional trouble in this pod if Austin remained.  They chose to move him to another pod on the fourth floor and make Austin the assistant trustee there.

My visits for the next couple of weeks were spent encouraging him and focusing on getting a new group started in the new pod.  We also discussed who would be a good candidate to reach out to in that fifth floor pod.  Austin suggested I write Justin * to see if he would step into the leadership position.

Justin was interested in meeting with me.  The group had continued to meet each evening to pray for one another and any other requests that other guys in the pod shared.  They had not continued the study since all the materials had been taken when Austin was moved.  I sent Justin a set of the God and Man studies so he could resume where Austin had left off.

It was interesting to start working with one of the guys Austin had been discipling.  He had mentioned Justin to me on a couple of occasions.  This guy had always asked deeper questions.  His inquiries often resulted in Austin writing them down and bringing them to me on my next visit.  Austin believed Justin had a desire to understand the Word.  He was right.  I started with him the same way I did with Austin—I would continue to teach as long as Justin would make an effort to teach what he was learning to someone else.  He agreed.

Meanwhile, Austin was excited and anxious to have me meeting with Justin.  He wanted me to assess whether or not he had done a good job.  Justin often wanted more depth than Austin could provide, so he had been a challenge in some ways.  Austin wanted this feedback so he could incorporate any needed changes in the new group he was launching.  He had some fears that he had done some things “wrong,” but he wanted to know so he could do a better job this second time around.

Austin’s second start has gone much better.  He earned the respect of the guys in this new pod by his lifestyle.  His infectious smile and his joy in the Lord were apparent.  Also, during the first couple of weeks, when he was still in shock over the move, he cleaned up the pod (part of his job assignments).  This pod was grungy.  They did not have adequate tools or cleaning supplies.  Austin knew what was available on the fifth floor so he respectfully requested the same items for this pod.  Instead of using a worn-out scrap of a mop, he requested and received two new mops.  He requested and received bleach that he used to scrub away the mould and mildew that had developed.  As he cleaned the place he learned that there had been quite a bit of sickness on this floor and people felt that what he was doing was going to make it a healthier place for them to live.

This group study quickly has grown to a high of sixteen.  They are alternating their study between the Old Testament and Matthew’s gospel.  They continue to study some of the God and Man stories as a foundation for their understanding of God and as a way to prepare themselves to teach others these important insights into God’s character.  During their studies from Matthew they are watching Jesus develop spiritual leadership in the men he called to be his disciples.

Because of this move, Austin has become more aware of how important it is to not only get the group to learn the biblical material, but also to be discipled in the process.  He is becoming more intentional in looking for leadership potential in the group and pouring more into the guys who exhibit potential.  Justin is also understanding at a deeper level because of what happened.  Also, he is gaining greater insight into why Austin did things the way he did.

[* NOTE: Names have been changed. All other details are accurate.]

When Did We See You in Prison? (part 2)

I had encouraged Jason to teach what he was learning to other guys in the pod.  This was a principle that I had been learning from listening to the CPM training CDs that recorded David Watson’s seminar in Freetown, Sierra Leone.  You learn quicker and more deeply when you teach others the new material you are learning.  Jason had been teaching others in the daily Bible study group, but he was especially discipling Malcolm.

I continued meeting with Jason, but added a weekly visit with Malcolm, too.  It was encouraging to begin to see how much Jason had passed on.  Discipling someone to disciple another really works even though it may seem counter-intuitive.  Involve your disciples in the process of discipling someone else from day one.  Do not wait until they get some body of knowledge down, start them immediately.  Make this a condition for you continuing to disciple them.  They learn more and deeper because their information is coupled with experiences.

Malcolm was farther along than I could have imagined.  I began encouraging him to disciple other guys in the pod.  I wanted him to prepare for the eventual day when he would be released.  He would have to pass on what he was learning to keep the fire burning in that pod.  As time drew near for his release Malcolm told me that there were two young guys he wanted me to meet with.

I began meeting with Paul * and Jimmy * after Malcolm was released.  Here I saw some evidence of generational degradation of information (a copy of a copy of a copy…shows real losses).  David Watson had talked about this in the training CDs emphasizing the need for training centers that bring each generation up to the original level.  There were some pieces of the discipling process that were not repeated in subsequent generations that resulted in significant weaknesses.  This was an important realization for me to experience.

Jimmy did not disciple anyone.  Paul wrestled with being shy and not easily finding someone else to teach what he had been learning.  I began to wonder if I had failed to keep the process alive and question whether I had invested too much time in people who were not teaching what they were learning.  As Paul’s release approached I asked him to pray about someone else in the pod who would like for me to visit each week.  Paul informed me the next week that the trustee, Austin *, would like a visit.

Having learned from my failures, as well as successes, I decided to start out differently with Austin.  From the first day I communicated my expectation that Austin would have to teach what I taught him if my visits were to continue.  He agreed.  Quickly he began to tell me of his efforts to teach Tommy.  Eventually I learned that Tommy brought his cousin into the study group that was forming.  Austin was taking seriously the expectation and the pace was picking up.

While spending some time with David Watson he asked how Austin’s 3-column studies were going.  I said I did not know.  David suggested I provide money for Austin to be able to photocopy his studies and send them to me through the mail.  I noted that the inmates do not have access to a copy machine.  I decided to have Austin hand write a copy and mail it to me.

Soon Austin sent me a stack of 3-column studies that had been completed by several others in his pod who were now participating in the group.  Each exhibited insights into the text and showed evidence of grasping the need to apply the passage.  Several needed to work on stating the third column in the “I will…” format that forces personal application.  These were mailed back to Austin to redistribute to the participants.  (Regretfully, these were never returned to Austin.  I do not know if they were lost in the mail or misplaced at the jail. Months later they were finally returned to me, because inmates are not allowed to receive mail from one another, they refused to deliver them all to Austin.)

[* NOTE: Names have been changed, but all other details are accurate.]

Spiritual Warfare (continued)

Felicity Dale posted a link to my most recent blog on her Facebook page. One of her friends raised some good questions and we had the following dialogue:

[Question:] Enjoyed the article, John… thanks for (re-)posting it, Felicity. I too have had first-hand experience of spiritual opposition (and deliverance, for that matter), so I agree that a disciple must engage in spiritual warfare.

However, could I be (potentially) controversial? Ref. for example, “Mobilizing intercessors is essential for disciple makers.” Now, I may be showing my ignorance here, because I wouldn’t call myself an ‘intercessor’! But are there really certain gifted people with ‘special’ access to the Throne for the purpose of intercession? Don’t we all have access to the Father (i.e., Eph. 2:18)? Is not intercession just part-and-parcel of being a disciple, rather than an exclusive role in the Body (i.e. 1 Tim. 2)?

[Reply:] Great question! Jesus has given every single one of us special access to the throne. While there are not “certain gifted people” there are those who will pledge themselves to the role. There are people who will take up Paul’s request, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should” (Ephesians 6:18-20). Those who will storm the gates of hell need to know they are being lifted up to heaven by people who will persevere in the heavenly battle. Jesus wanted that in the garden.

[Question:] I see and respect your point, John. However, was Paul addressing Ephesian disciples, or Ephesian intercessors? I see no subtitle, ‘and to you intercessors in Ephesus I write…’. Again, all Jesus’ disciples were with Him at Gethsemane, not just a few intercessory ‘experts’.

My point is this: we’re all called to ‘make disciples’. I cannot say, “I am not called to make disciples… I’m an intercessor.” I would argue that we’re all both / and.

[Reply:] I am not speaking of roles in the sense of titles. I am speaking of those who take up the responsibility with diligence and perseverance. With you, I disciple people to pray—to plead God’s promises. I disciple them to intercede. While I encourage that in all of them, I learn which ones will persist in prayer. These are the inner circle (like the three that Jesus took deeper into the garden) upon whom I lean more heavily.

[Question:] Yes, I see now. Thanks John. May He bless your work in Him.

[Reply:] Have a great day. I love the dialogue!

I really do love the dialogue. One of the things I dislike about preaching is the absence of interaction. I allow questions and comments on my blog because I want dialogue. It is hard to know whether or not you are addressing the challenges and needs people have without giving them the opportunity to discuss.

Knowing that people are serious about interceding on my behalf is a tremendous blessing. Being confident that I can send out an email and the situations I raise will be lifted into the throne room is so meaningful. Paul noted, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 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” (Ephesians 6:10-12). Satan is a schemer. We are in a battle in the heavenly realms. Our greatest resource there are our intercessions.

Be sure when you commit to pray for someone that you do. Discipline yourself to pray kingdom passages and promises for these people. It was in this vein that I wrote several articles about praying Scriptures a couple of years ago. Check them out:

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!]