Reflecting on Discipling a Nation

From: Aiming to disciple individuals.
To: Aiming to disciple a nation.

In the Great Commission Jesus tells his disciples to “make disciples of panta ta ethne” (all ethne / every ethnos). The question is: “How do you disciple an entire ethnos?” The only way is through multiplication — of disciples who make disciples, churches that multiply churches, and leaders who develop leaders. (Copied from: https://2414now.net/2020/09/22/mindshifts-in-movements-part-1/)

Too often kingdom workers in the US focus either on isolated individuals or faceless masses. Jesus never does either of those. NEVER! He often interacts with individuals, but he does not isolate them from their family/friends and other social connections. Yes, I know there are individuals among the apostles about whom we know nothing of their families or friends, but we need to be careful about arguments from silence. We need to pay more attention to the information which is given to us.

Andrew brings Peter. James and John are brothers and their mother is among the women who helped fund Jesus’ itinerant travels. He heals Peter’s mother-in-law. Zacchaeus opens his household to Jesus, not just the dwelling where he resided. One of our great challenges is what I call rank individualism. Our culture places strong influence upon us to see ourselves as automatons.

A person’s extended family and friendship groups play a significant role in the biblical material when we read it without our individualistic glasses. Social groups are crucial to the undergirding of any society. In the Great Commission Jesus directs us to the highest level of social structure, the ethno-linguistic group. Tragically, our tendency to connect the translation of “ethna” (nation) to a geo-political entity has produced much misunderstanding, neglect and disobedience to the mission Jesus gives us.

But recognizing that “people groups,” or “ethno-linguistic groups” are what Jesus is referencing does not automatically simplify our responsibility. Disciple the Anglo-English speaking segment of the world is quite a calling. Disciple the Mandarin-speaking Chinese is massive. Disciple the Spanish-speaking Westerners is quite the calling. Here is a God-sized vision that most of us have ignored.

Multiplying the number of disciple makers is our only possible avenue for success. It is no surprise that is exactly where Jesus focused most of his ministry efforts in the four Gospels. We see him deploying the 12 in Matthew 10 and the 72 in Luke 10. He busied himself in discipling disciple makers and that is how a people group segment of our world is impacted.

In the desert regions of West Africa there is a people group with 1.2 million estimated population who live in five different countries. Historically they have been highly resistant to the Gospel, but God has birthed a remarkable Movement among them which we get to celebrate. One of the early evangelists among them came to faith while in prison. Upon his release he went to the pastor of a traditional church who sent him back to his family rather than welcoming him into that community of faith. Because his relatives saw a remarkable transformation in his life, they were open to reading and discussing the Bible as family. God is bringing forth a harvest of thirty-fold, sixty-fold even one-hundred-fold today.

Increasing numbers of people are coming to faith in Jesus and reaching their families, too, because this leader did not extract this new believer from his household, but trained and coached him to obey Jesus by becoming a disciple maker. I praise God that he came to faith through Discovery and was not side-tracked by his own efforts to join a body of believers and alienate his household without them getting the opportunity to discover the God who brings radical transformation!

Reflecting on “A God-sized Vision”

From: “This is possible; I can see a path to accomplishing my vision.”
To: A God-sized vision, impossible apart from His intervention. Waiting on God for his guidance and power.

One of the main reasons so many CPMs seem to have started in modern times is that people accepted a God-sized vision of focusing on reaching entire people groups. When faced with the task of reaching an unreached group consisting of millions of people it becomes obvious that a worker cannot accomplish anything on their own. The truth that “apart from me you can do nothing” applies to all our endeavors. However, if we have a smaller goal it’s easier to work as if fruit depends on our efforts rather than on God’s intervention. (Copied from: https://2414now.net/2020/09/22/mindshifts-in-movements-part-1/)

A verse from Proverbs might come to mind as we reflect on this Mindshift: “When there is no clear prophetic vision, people quickly wander astray. But when you follow the revelation of the word, heaven’s bliss fills your soul.” (Proverbs 29:18, The Passion Translation). Note how the Message restates this proverbial saying: “If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; But when they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed.” (Proverbs 29:18, The Message).

When you reflect on your city, campus or beloved people group what do you think? Can you envision what a blessing they would become to other groups? Does your heart overflow with joy pondering how many people they will reach with the Gospel?

One of my friends who is a cross-cultural missionary in East Africa wrote the following in reflecting on this shift: “This one was a challenge for our team. I like the idea of having a God-sized vision, but when we tried to set massive goals we just felt like we were pulling numbers out of the air. I think this one deserves even more prayer and fasting until God really lays the vision on your heart.” Yes, the vision we seek to see become a reality must shape our goals, but I think he identifies why many of us are scared off by a God-sized vision. We set massively impossible goals for ourselves. How can 12 reach millions?

The answer is not to create smaller goals for ourselves, so much as it is to clearly acknowledge and communicate with God that we realize he must do the “heavy lifting.” A God-sized vision for your neighborhood will only become a reality when God’s resources are mobilized. But you are one of his resources. Will your heart learn to beat in rhythm with His heart? If so, then there will be realistic goals you can formulate for yourself which align with the vision he is giving you for them.

Consider a Campus ministry to a university with an enrollment of 11,638. When you check you discover that they have 3,600 beds in their on-campus housing. Either number will be too large for any team to reach, especially with the turnover expectations. But one DMM minded catalyst has prayed fervently and arrived at the idea of raising up 80 disciple makers. Why 80? There are forty floors in those campus dorms and he believes that Jesus’ strategy of sending workers out in pairs has incredible value.

His goal is still a steep hill to climb. It will stretch him and his team greatly. While 80 is more manageable than 3,600 or 11,638, it still is a stretch. But it also shapes the kind of training he is doing in his attempts to raise up 80 (by the way, he says they started with 3, then 5 and is up to 8, so there still is much to be done). The goal is to equip everyone trained to be able to start a Discovery Group in a way that other students not only come to faith, but they are simultaneously equipped to start new groups with other people. Generational multiplication is not fast on the front end. It actually can be rather slow, but it carries in its DNA the explicit goal of increasing the capacity to equip others to facilitate new groups in ways participants can be equipped to start new groups.

Global DMMers were pushed to develop simpler strategies because our desire was to raise up disciple makers more quickly than we had previously thought possible!

Reflecting on “Mindshifts in Movements”

Before reading this post, I encourage you to click on the following link and read the article to which I am responding: https://2414now.net/2020/09/22/mindshifts-in-movements-part-1/. This was written by two authors. One I know well and the other I have heard great things about her. I highly commend this article and the second portion which is also available.

I copied the article and sent it out to a host of people who I know who have an interest in seeing Movements begin among people groups here in North America, too. With the article I asked some questions: What paradigm shifts were the hardest for you to make? Which shift are you still challenged to make? Which ones do pastors and other church leaders struggle with the most (in your experience)? I am not wanting you to confine yourself to the shifts mentioned below. Maybe your biggest challenge has not been listed, yet?

My goal was to provoke deep thinking and reflection. It was to challenge these would-be catalysts to identify the highest hurdles to Multiplication thinking and practices. What deeply worn ruts in traditional Christian thinking hold us back, or keep us doing what we have always done?

If you went to that link and explored the article, you have seen the list of mindshifts we will need to make to see Movements begin. I plan to explore each of these over several weeks. Some of them I will be able to share some of what my friends wrote to me about how they have been challenged in the same area. My prayer is these thoughts will be valuable to you and assist you in making changes in your behaviors and practices, too. Thinking which remains void of action will not be fruitful.

Unimaginable (# 3)

Last week I published a couple of posts centered around the theme of vision and imagination. I found it ironic to recount the crazy advances in technology which allowed me to have a video conference meeting with a teammate in another state, while sitting in a car outside a coffee shop.

What if this kind of technology was used for kingdom advances?

What if shifts in our strategies and tactics will actually open us up to multiplication, rather than addition?

What if our normal blinds us to new possibilities?

What if the Parable of the Sower is not talking about farming? It amazes me how many people in the church who are taken back to that detailed analogy want to call into question the farming abilities of the guy in the story. “He needs to learn how to recognize good soil so he doesn’t waste so many seeds!” is the way some people verbalize their criticism. “Any fool ought to know that it is wasteful to sow seeds on the path!”

What if the purpose of the parable drives the makeup of the story? While you can easily identify which soil is packed path, which is shallow because of bedrock (might be a little harder to see) and which is thorny (if they have already sprouted), this is not so easily discerned just by looking at people.

The book of Acts tells the stories of households which we are not surprised there is a big harvest: good reputation people like Cornelius and Lydia. But God’s grace sparks the imagination of new possibilities in the hearts of others like the jailer, too. Then there are the stories in the Gospels like Demoniac and the woman at the well. Maybe we need to spread the seed of the Gospel more widely than we have in the past!

Unimaginable (# 2)

The reason I am in the rental car is I will be using Zoom to have a teleconference meeting with a teammate. He’s in Tennessee and I am in Iowa. Crazy–never would’ve thought this possible twenty years ago!

As I drove from Marshalltown to Ames I came through lots of farmland. I saw many grain storage bins. You know, the round galvanized steel structures with their cone-shaped tops?

The recurring sight took me back more than forty years. One summer I was hired by a local farmer to help him erect one of those bins on his farm. A circular pad of concrete had already been poured, the steel panels and boxes of nuts, bolts and washers were waiting on us. There were also four contraptions he called jacks, but they could raise the structure less than four feet tall. How could only two guys build something which would rise more than thirty feet tall with such simple tools?

There are many strategies and tactics which are easier to learn by watching rather than reading a description. This is the reason YouTube “how to” videos are so valuable to do-it-yourselfers. How long did it take that first engineer to design a grain storage bin and develop the process and tools needed to erect one?

It is much easier to facilitate a Discovery Group after sitting in on one for a couple of sessions than it is trying to imagine one from an article or technical description. But many people won’t sit in on one unless they first read a technical description (reply to this post and I can email you such a technical description). It is easier to appreciate the value of a good coach after you shadow one doing a couple of coaching sessions.

Teaching Perspectives is good for me. These interactions remind me that a big first step is helping people imagine new possibilities. They also push me back into the work of crafting analogies. How do we use what people already know to help them envision something they have never seen?

Grain Bin assemblyYou actually erect grain bins from the top down! The top band of round panels are bolted together in a big circle. Then the triangular shaped pieces which form the domed top are assembled on that ring. After that is completed, the whole structure is jacked up tall enough to assemble another ring under that top ring. After this is completed the jack cables are moved from the bottom of the upper ring to the bottom of the lower ring. Now everything is jacked up enough to repeat the process. You keep repeating until the bin is at the desired height. Last of all the metal structure is connected to bolts which secure it to the concrete pad.

Grain Bin assembly 2Building a grain bin is a good analogy of counter-intuitives (it goes together different than you probably picture from the description). It is much easier to visualize Disciple Making Movements from inside one than it is only imagining what they might look like.

But who will dare to be the first builders? Who will dare to practice what is working in Africa, Asia and Central America long enough to know and trust the strategies and well enough to adapt the tactics for here in Iowa, Tennessee or Texas? Who will tailor-fit tactics for middle-class Anglos who have given up on church as they know it?

This daring group of ordinary people and unusual church leaders are the kinds of people Final Command is looking for here in the US. If you know anyone this daring, share this blog with them. I will be honored to connect with them and help them explore new possibilities!

Unimaginable

I am sitting in a rented car outside a coffee shop. Using WiFi writing a blog post which will go around the world as a series of 01 combinations. Makes me shake my head–Digital Morse Code.

I am in Ames, Iowa where I will teach Perspectives Lesson 13: “Spontaneous Multiplication of Churches” in a few hours. I taught this same lesson Sunday night in Des Moines to about 100 who were mostly in their twenties and thirties. Last night I taught the same lesson to about forty people in Marshalltown, Iowa. Tonight I will teach the last segment of this loop.

What I try to do when I teach this lesson is tell stories of what God has been doing in Africa through Disciple Making Movements. I see shock on the faces of some as they hear stories that sound like those in the book of Acts. But I also see disbelief and concern because most of us have never seen multiplication of church planting.

Maybe these numbers have been fabricated (exaggerated at least!), some communicate via their nonverbal responses. Others are easily convinced that we “must be watering down the Gospel to see these results.” But God really is doing something remarkable in our lifetime.

If we can dare to believe, then we can be open to learning some strategies and tactics that are more fruitful. We can shift from addition to multiplication, but we will have to shift and that can be a hard process.

Change begins with a new Vision. New possibilities. “What if…?” thinking. That’s why I share stories. Stories give meaning to the numbers.

Critical Elements for Starting (pt. 5)

  1. Embrace Multiplication: As God blesses this process, churches multiply and the kingdom spreads out.  In order to allow this process to work, some ideas have to be embraced, and our paradigms must shift.  As I’ve said, this method is a tool for anyone who wants to spread the gospel.  Here’s the possible rub, this system is empowered by God, and not overly controlled by the church.  Through prayer, and obedience-based disciple making, the church allows these groups to spread as the Holy Spirit leads.  This process may start a church we don’t even know about, and that’s okay. Multiplication comes when we learn to constantly search out and disciple two types of people—Persons of Peace and Multipliers.
  • Multipliers—these are believers who will be open to learning how to reach people in bunches (like the way you harvest bananas and grapes), not just one by one. Almost all Western evangelistic strategies focus on one on one approaches. But we have found that using these can actually increase the resistance of people groups with strong family and friendship ties. Multipliers will be open to learning group strategies. They are willing to shift their focus toward discipling disciple makers. They are willing to learn to use approaches which can easily be reproduced by the people they are reaching. Multipliers are very coachable.
  • Scriptures:
    • John 15:1-17 (Those who abide in Jesus bear fruit, vs. 2; much fruit, vs. 5; and fruit that will last, vs. 16).
    • Matthew 28:1-10, 16-20 (The message of the resurrection culminates in the Great Commission).
    • Acts 2:42-47; 4:1-4; 5:12-16; 6:1, 7 (These passages reveal the growing spread of the gospel of the kingdom).
    • Acts 8:1-3 & 11:19-30 (The gospel is spread by ordinary disciples as their response to persecution).
    • Acts 19:1-20 (Paul and his team see the gospel spread throughout the Roman province of Asia from Ephesus).
  • Activities:
    • Guide church leaders through an exploration of what will be needed to replicate themselves and their ministries.
    • Brainstorm what will be required for our church to plant “Rabbit Churches” (i.e., those which rapidly multiply).
    • Share in your cohort the Paradigm Shift which has been most difficult for you to make. Pray for one another to be patient with those who are just starting down the road of embracing multiplication.
    • Celebrate successes!

Critical Elements for Starting (pt. 4)

  1. Start Discovery Groups: Please request a copy of the document “The Discovery Process Overview & Explanation.” It is a good explanation of this simple inductive Bible study, which we are happy to share with people who request it, free of charge. There are stories of Discovery groups facilitated by unbelievers (e.g., Jessie the Chinese girl who was taking her mother through a Discovery study before Jessie had made a profession of faith, herself. Grace, the RA who was leading the DG Jessie was in did not realize this until it came up unexpectedly.) It is so simple, it doesn’t even need a Christian to facilitate it.
  • Discovery exhibits deep trust that the Word of God illuminated by the Spirit of God is enough to produce the people of God. It places great confidence in people listening to what the God says and being able to identify specific ways to put it into practice in their lives, either individually or collectively.
  • Scriptures:
    • John 6:41-51 (Note verse 45 which says, “They will all be taught by God.”).
    • Matthew 23:1-12 (In Matthew’s Gospel only Jesus is to be called “Teacher”).
    • Matthew 13:1-23 (Jesus uses parables with the crowds which means they have to “discover” the meaning by asking him).
    • Hebrews 8:1-13 (Through Jesus God writes his laws on our hearts).
    • Luke 10:25-37 (Jesus models the use of questions in guiding an exploration of truth). .
  • Activities:
    • Invite those who are facilitating Discovery Groups (DGs) to get together monthly to debrief what is transpiring in their groups. This gathering will be called a Facilitator Cohort—a learning community. The first two questions of a DG make excellent prompts: “What has been going well in your group meetings?” “What challenges have arisen during your groups?”
    • Encourage your group facilitators to complete one of the DGs Report Form (request this document, also) each week and scan/photograph it and email it to you as a way to give you data which will help you to coach them. [NOTE: Movements come through coaching, not just training. Coaching coaches is essential to catalyze the generational growth seen in Disciple Making Movements.]
    • Celebrate successes!

Critical Elements for Starting (pt. 3)

  1. Find Persons of Peace: Taken from Luke 10 and Matthew 10, as we serve, we are prayerfully seeking out a worthy person, or a person of peace.  This will be someone who is open to discussing spiritual things, and curious about the idea of following Jesus.  A lot of times these are people who have some type of influence in the community or group you are trying to reach.  For example, in Africa, it may be the village chief, or it may be the village drunk.  If either come to the path of following Jesus, their change can drastically impact other people around them.  Once you have this truth seeker, you invite them to experience a Discovery Group with you, and you encourage them to invite their friends and family, and/or to share what they are learning with them.  If you share the the reign of God with someone within the group God calls you to reach, and they are disinterested, you move on because they are not yet ready to hear and further efforts may actually increase their resistance.
  • Persons of Peace—these are not yet saved people who God’s Spirit is preparing to be bridges for the Gospel to enter their families and communities. These are the kinds of people Jesus sent the 72 out in pairs to find in Luke 10:1ff. Cornelius (Acts 10), Lydia and the Philippian jailor (Acts 16) are examples of Persons of Peace. In each of these situations “households” came to faith together and that is what we anticipate can happen. Remind people in the harvest force that when you are harvesting apples and oranges you pick them one by one, but with grapes and bananas you harvest them in bunches.
  • Scriptures:
    • Acts 11:1-18 (Cornelius was responsive, but a vision and tongues from the Holy Spirit were necessary to get the messenger to go).
    • Matthew 10:1-16 (Jesus sends the 12 out two by two looking for “some worthy person”).
    • Luke 10:1-16 (Jesus sends 72 others looking for Persons of Peace).
    • Acts 16:6-15 (The gospel enters the “oikos”—household of Lydia after Paul listens to the Holy Spirit).
    • John 4:1-42 (the woman at the well contrasts greatly with the thinking of the disciples in this story). .
  • Activities:
    • After practicing the Discovery Group format for three weeks, do the fourth week in public places (e.g., a Starbucks, a mall food court, at your gym’s cool down area). Be sure that there are no more than four people in each group. In addition to doing the study, watch for people around you who are eavesdropping on your Discovery Group.
    • Every week Question # 3 is focusing on our efforts to obey what we heard and to share about our efforts to find Persons of Peace.
    • Celebrate successes!

Critical Elements for Starting (pt. 2)

  1. Serve with Purpose: This doesn’t necessarily mean volunteering at the rescue mission. The idea is to prayerfully begin to identify the needs of the community or group God is directing you to reach, and meet one of those needs which they highly value as a way to genuinely love on them in the name of Christ. It may be a for-profit service you begin providing. The goal is to genuinely care for the people with the love of God, and allow the Holy Spirit to open doors of opportunity to communicate the love of Christ. Our ultimate purpose is to create natural opportunities to interact with enough different people to find Persons of Peace. Some access ministries which are places for service are ELL (English Language Learning classes and other forms of assistance offered to refugees) after school tutoring at a laundromat near a trailer park, inner city boxing gym for troubled teens, halfway house for ex-cons, employment programs for released felons, coffee shops in city areas undergoing gentrification, etc.
  • Access Ministries open the door for finding Persons of Peace and lead to community transformation. Ministry should precede efforts to disciple people to Christ and evangelistic Discovery Groups must always be the end goal of ministry.  Timing is important and necessary so prayer and fasting open us to God’s insight and timing.
  • Scriptures:
    • Matthew 25:31-46 (Meeting needs serves Jesus).
    • Philippians 2:1-11 (Having the mind of Christ entails caring for the interests of others).
    • Acts 10:30-38 (Him doing good was a fundamental part of the message about Jesus).
    • Acts 3:1-16 (James and John heal the lame man and that opens doors for talking about Jesus openly).
    • 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 (Paul’s exemplary life involved sharing the Good News and loving care of people, too).
  • Activities:
    • Get your people into pairs and have them “role play” inviting someone to “read what the Bible has to say about marriage, child rearing, God’s character, or some other biblical topic.” Rotate all the groups and work through the room.
    • Go to a restaurant and tell your waiter, waitress: “We pray before our meals. Do you have a need which we can pray about for you?”
    • Prayer walk or drive through the neighborhoods where the people God is calling you to reach live and ask God to reveal a need these people have that will give you a way to serve them with the purpose of finding people who are open to spiritual conversations.
    • Celebrate successes!