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!

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Nothing Grows in the Desert Except…

Wow! It has been five years since I first went to the Rutherford County Jail! My regular visits there will stop at the end of April. It is hard to comprehend what God has done through those regular stops.

My first visit was late in 2005. Jonathon had been meeting Jeremy regularly and came to me to say that he was asking Bible questions that were too deep. He said I needed to schedule a visit. I had no idea what was about to happen.

The jail became my learning lab. It became the place where abstractions I was learning from seminars had to roll up their sleeves and put on work gloves. Theories were transformed into realities—hard realities. God blessed me by first calling me to this ministry through a true learner (teachers have to motivate students, but their challenge with learners is staying ahead of them).

David Watson (the brother who has discipled me for years) always stressed that discovery-based discipleship is messy. I got a rude introduction to that reality before my first visit to the jail. While waiting in the lobby to go up to see Jeremy I was shocked by the large list of rules for the family members who were arriving. Some made perfect sense like, “No weapons or drugs allowed.” Others were surprising like, “You must wear underwear.” I have seen why each of these rules had to be spelled out.

This jail is a hard place. No TV or internet. A small radio might play for a couple of hours a day with the news. There is no exercise yard outside and no weights inside. On good days a garage-type door is raised and lets the sun and fresh air into the thirty-foot cube called the ODR. Here the guys walk in circles around the perimeter or play volleyball or hackey-sack with a balled up sock for an hour. Others might sit in a corner to do a discovery Bible study. This facility has often reminded me of a Kevin Youngblood quote from a class on Jeremiah, “Nothing grows in the desert—except faith!” This jail is a desert.

Jeremy, Chris, Michael, Aaron and at least fifteen more became discovery Bible study facilitators during those years. Most of them were in the “hardest” of the sixteen pods. Here many guys passed their days playing cards–gambling for soap, shampoo and other items inmates can buy from the commissary with money their loved ones put on their account. The sharks loved displaying their winnings as though they were gold medals. But a small group of men prized themselves in hearing from God and finding ways to obey what they heard.

The toughest times were learning that a loved one had died and not being able to go to the funeral. Missing your oldest son’s graduation. Hearing the judge’s ruling denying your motion for early release, or being told you could reapply for parole next year. The guys grew to realize others were watching at such moments wondering whether a Bible would be slammed in the trash can and God’s name blasphemed for not answering prayers.

Several of these men grew by leaps and bounds. Their growing faith often amazed me. But none of them were blessed more than I was. God gave me this place to walk out one of the oddest of the CPM Counter-Intuitives—“Expect the hardest places to yield the greatest results.” Guys in this jail took the truths I was sharing to heart because they discovered them for themselves and they were certainly in a hard place. Little did I know that their story would inspire others in Europe and Africa to begin making disciples in jails and prisons. God’s ways are not our ways.

It was bitter-sweet to notify the current chaplain that my regular Bible studies at the jail will end on April 22. I will never drive by 940 New Salem Highway without thinking about how much my faith grew there. God is good. He often takes us on the strangest paths to get us where he wants us to go!

Why Not Here?

Recently I was asked if I have a theory for why Church Planting Movements (CPMs) happen in some places and not in others. I do and I am sharing that answer below.

Simply put, the more “churched” people are, the more likely they are resistant to disciple making movements. We have always seen a strong correlation. CPM works in the highly resistant, radical Hindu and Muslim areas of northern India more than in the southern areas where Churches of Christ, Baptist, et al missionaries have operated for generations.

Our approach (what Western people grew up experiencing) is actually a highly contextualized gospel presentation/modeling that developed in response to the highly individualistic rationalistic-enlightenment of Western Europe and the U.S. But the very same reasons why it appealed to several generations of Americans are the same reasons why it is being rejected by post-enlightenment people in those same regions and why it bore little fruit in pre-enlightenment people groups in other parts of the world..

I know, you are glazing over. I understand. I do too, just reading back over it. While I am tempted to delete that last paragraph, I will leave it because it may connect with other things you have read. Let me use an analogy, though.

Near where I live there is a large farm that is surrounded by subdivisions on two sides and an industrial park on the other two sides. It is just a matter of time before that land is bought out and converted to one of these two uses. Until that happens, there is some high-tech farming going on there to raise cotton. They use herbicides to poison the ground cover in the spring and then use huge no-till equipment to plant the cotton in perfectly aligned rows. At the peak time they use some Star Wars-like apparatuses to apply more herbicides to the weeds growing between those rows and fertilizers on the cotton. Recently they have used specialized machinery to harvest that cotton and pack it in bales about the size of a tractor-trailer trailer.

All of that technology works here in Murfreesboro. Would it work in sub-Saharan Africa? Yes, but would it be practical? No.

Highly educated people like me have tried to take a highly contextualized gospel presentation/modeling method (comparable to the high-tech farming) to people groups who rejected it because it is so foreign. Yes, even if they know it will work for us here, they are quite sure it will not work for them there. Even if we use it there successfully, they will attribute that to us because we are different from them. They have seen lots of our stuff work only as long as we are there to prop it up with our money and our foreign ways.

But Jesus lived and discipled in a far different culture than our Western world. His life was lived with people with worldviews much more like those of sub-Saharan Africa and rural China than like ours.

CPM feels like a natural fit to people groups who still have a strong sense of multi-generational extended family. Such families feel like our Western evangelism is more closely akin to kidnapping and brainwashing (like we might view a cult). To reach them it is best to use a slower process that simultaneously exposes many of the family members to the worldview-shaping stories of Israel’s God and Jesus, the Father’s final answer to humanity’s problems. When such a process is facilitated by a family member, he/she intuitively raises issues as an insider, unlike we would because we are outsiders. Here the family comes to consensus.

Now here is the challenge for us, if I am correct. How much are the people there in your situation more like the Western worldview than the pre-enlightenment worldview? Maybe the region of the world where you live is in transition. Because of rapid urbanization and increased financial resources, mega-cities more nearly resemble the Western world from the outside. But are they?

Likely you’ve heard the old adage: “You can take the boy out of the country, but you cannot take the country out of the boy.” How does this apply? While they may be doggedly pursuing Western wealth, fashions and power, are they still rural people in their inner being? I do not know.

I firmly believe that the CPM critical elements will have to be applied differently in urban settings than in rural settings. They will have to be tailor-fitted for each people group.

Within one of the African nations where a friend worked extensively, there are multiple CPMs within the same geographic region. One is among people who grew up in an ancient church heritage (comparable to the Russian Orthodox). There is another for Muslim Background Believers. There is another for former Animists. The starting worldview for these three groups is radically different and attempting to address all in the same setting with the same strategies would preclude reaching any of them.

Okay, I anticipate you want me to ground all of this in Scripture—as you should. Think with me about why there are four gospels in our New Testaments.

Each is an accurate presentation of the good news of Jesus for four different people groups with four different worldviews. Matthew presents Jesus for the Jewish background believers. Mark presents Jesus for the Roman worldview. Luke presents Jesus for the Gentile background believer. And John presents Jesus for the Eastern worldview people who were conducting their trading excursions into the province of Asia.

The Jesus film has met with more success in Muslim African regions than in most of Asia. A young Cambodian church planter told a friend he knew why. “The Jesus Film uses the wrong gospel. If it used John’s gospel instead of Luke’s it would be more fruitful here,” he opined.

Now what do we do here in America? We chop up the four and then put the pieces together in chronological order and call it a Harmony of the Gospels. Our actions could be seen as presumptuous. It looks as though we believe God needs our help to get it right. I believe this is an example of our cultural imperialism.

Back to the opening question, again. Why haven’t any of the guys I worked with in jail become church planters planting churches that plant churches? I am attempting to do this in a highly churched area. Every guy in this jail (except possibly a couple of Laotians at one point) brings a mental image of “church” to every Discovery Bible Study. Some of their experiences help and some hurt. Much like a marriage counselor working with a couple, they bring their family of origin and their marriage experiences into every discussion of family—whether they realize it or not. You can deconstruct that (and sometimes you must) and/or you can try to quickly train them in healthy ways to deal with challenges rather than digging through their past dysfunctional coping skills.

I’ve tried the later. My fruit says I probably need to also do more of the former. I thought the brother who trained me was too confrontational on these matters and wanted to try a different approach. I think I have kept some people engaged in the conversation longer than he would, but he certainly has room to challenge whether or not that has produced the results I wanted. He stays overly busy with people who want to give something new a try so he does not worry about those who will have to chew on this for a long while. Because I have stayed with a congregation that I had already spent 13 years modeling very traditional approaches, I was forced to attempt different approaches.

I pray for the day when there are CPMs in middle Tennessee. I am currently training a group of six and then also a couple of individuals who have a passion for refugees and/or college students in this area. Recently I have heard that there are some exciting things happening among Hispanics and Latinos in California. I pray for the day when it happens among some of the 136 different people groups in the Nashville region.

DBS in Jail

Every other Friday I facilitate a discovery Bible study at the Rutherford County Jail, here in Murfreesboro, TN. There are usually about 20 guys who sit on the concrete floor with their backs against concrete walls wearing their bright orange or dull green jump suits (signifying they have not yet been sentenced or were found guilty of a felony and are awaiting the outcome of their appeals).

Today they had obviously been in the recreation room (a thirty foot concrete cube with a four-foot by twenty-foot window that can be opened to let in the only sun they ever see unless they are being transported to or from court) for a while. Their Bibles were open and it appeared that  one of them was sharing from a favorite passage.

I honestly had not selected a text prior to arriving, so I asked where they were reading. Psalm 52 was their text so I asked the inmate who told me the text to read it for all to hear. He read the nine verses from the NIV translation. I asked for one with a KJV to re-read it since these are the two translations the chaplain gives out most of the time.

I asked if any of these guys had a twelve-year-old son or daughter. Then I asked one of the men to re-tell the text in his own words as though he was explaining its meaning to his son or daughter. After he finished I asked the rest to fill in additional details that stood out to them.

Psalm 52 is an interesting text for twenty inmates to be reading. It says, “

Why do you boast of evil, you mighty man? Why do you boast all day long, you who are a disgrace in the eyes of God? Your tongue plots destruction; it is like a sharpened razor, you who practice deceit. You love evil rather than good, falsehood rather than speaking the truth. Selah

You love every harmful word, O you deceitful tongue! Surely God will bring you down to everlasting ruin: he will snatch you up and tear you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living. Selah

The righteous will see and fear; they will laugh at him, saying, “Here now is the man who did not make God his stronghold but trusted in his great wealth and grew strong by destroying others!”

But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever. I will praise you forever for what you have done; in your name I will hope, for your name is good. I will praise you in the presence of your saints.

Collectively they touched on every significant section of the psalm. The last one to commented about God’s mercy. After re-stating what he said about God, noting the NIV translates this as “God’s unfailing love” (52:8), I asked them, “What else do we learn about God from this Psalm?”

One noted that God will punish the wicked liar being mentioned here. Another pointed out that God blesses the godly.

Next I asked them, “What do we learn about humanity from this Psalm?” They said that some of us become arrogant and speak boastful things. They discussed the metaphor of the tongue being like a razor (52:2). I asked if they could have a straight razor and was quickly told, “Of course not! It would be used as a weapon and someone would be cut!” We pondered the ways we can use our speech to cut someone down.

Then I asked them what the meaning of the second metaphor of a man being “like an olive tree” signified. Since no one had a suggestion I noted that grain, wine and olive oil were three of the items that were exported from Israel. Then I asked, “What was olive oil used for?”

One noted it was used for anointing. I added that it was also used as cooking oil and as a fuel in lamps.

When I asked them again what the significance was for this word picture was, they responded differently. One said, “This is like Jesus talking about not putting a lamp under a bushel basket.” Another noted that good men are to be a blessing for the people around them. A third man said, “We have to disseminate good things to others.” (Not everyone in jail is uneducated!)

I used the last comment to ask them who they know in their pod or family who needs to hear the message of this Psalm. Several looked as though they were going through their mental list of associates.

Then I asked, “What do we need to do to obey this passage?” I could tell they were taking the text seriously.

One replied, “It troubles me to hear a guy talking all the time at Prayer Call and at church and then cursing every other breath back in the pod!” He went on to say that our walk and our talk needs to be the same.

I reminded them that the passage ends with a statement about praising God. Then I asked, “What has happened lately that you praise God for?”

Some praised God for what they were learning from incarceration. One praised him that he was arrested for a minor crime rather than the serious trouble he was headed toward. Another wanted to praise God for the patience he had been learning.

At that point one of the guards and a nurse were giving out daily medications to the inmates in one of the pods. Several of the guys had to step out of the exercise room, back into their pod. Most had returned and then there was loud angry shouting. The last two guys returned and the doors behind them were noisily slammed by the guard.

There was a moment of awkwardness because one of these guys was the one who suggested we look at Psalm 52. The other was the one praising God for learning patience. Non-verbal clues indicated these two are among those who talk better than they walk.

Imagine getting that deep into their world in less than one hour. Imagine how all of us felt stripped bare of our usual facades.

Our silence was interrupted by the same guard entering the adjoining pod, calling for anyone who needed meds. Oddly enough there were none, so he felt compelled to step into where we were to make sure they heard him. As he exited the walls shook as he slammed the two heavy steel doors.

“Why does the devil always have to mess up a good thing?” one of the two guys, who had been part of the earlier angry shouting match, asked. I let the question hang in the air.

One of the inmates said, “Sometimes we just have to turn the other cheek.” Another said, “I know I must be doing something right if Satan feels like he has to come after me.”

You have just witnessed what can happen when people open Scriptures and ask some basic questions. I entered that exercise room wanting to model a discovery process. I chose to go with the text one of them had already opened. I did this to demonstrate that the approach works with any section of the Bible.

There are some basic questions that can be answered from every text:

1. What do we learn about God here?
2. What do we learn about humanity?
3. Who do I know who needs to hear this?
4. What will obedience to this look like?

We modeled praising God for the good things he is doing in our lives. We modeled asking him for the things that we need (the one who had praised him for patience and then promptly lost it asked us to pray for him).

All I try to do with guys in jail is show them how to hear from God. All I try to do is model for them a study method they can use for the rest of their lives. All I want is for them to open themselves to hearing, trusting and obeying God’s will for their lives.

Will they change? Will they put this into practice? I do not know. I am responsible to plant the seed and/or water it. God gives the increase, depending on the soil. But I have no doubt they will never forget today’s study! The Holy Spirit was in control. I could not have planned what transpired. I got the joy of being an instrument in God’s hands. I was able to be a catalyst. I anticipate some good fruit will come from today. That’s my prayer!