Category Archives: Church Planting and Discipleship

Books for beginning missionaries

I’m hardly a seasoned veteran yet, but I’ve now spent over five years learning some of the basics of mission work and helping a lot of new apprentices on the field.  In that time, I’ve developed the following working list of books I think are great for new cross-cultural church planters to read.  This list doesn’t represent an exhaustive library of missiology, and I think certain vital elements are better taught through discipleship than books, but I think these are a great start, hitting on many of the most important issues:

  • A Vision of the Possible by Daniel Sinclair – This is a good book for a team to read before going on the field as it gives a great overall roadmap for cross-cultural church planting.  It’s very practical, dealing with such issues as team formation and leadership, preparation, entrance and residency, language learning, spreading the gospel, discipleship, raising leaders, and church multiplication.
  • Bonding and the Missionary Task by Thomas and Elizabeth Brewster – This one should also be read before arriving on the field.  If there is any book I want a new missionary joining us to read, it’s this one.  This short booklet gets straight to the heart of one of the biggest mistakes missionaries make – not bonding with the local people and culture – and gives practical direction on how to bond effectively.
  • Language Learning IS Communication IS Ministry by Thomas and Elizabeth Brewster – The companion to the Bonding booklet, this one presents language learning as the first important ministry the missionary should have in the host country.  We don’t learn language so that we can minister; rather, our language learning communicates powerfully to the locals and is itself an important ministry.
  • Christianity Rediscovered by Vincent Donovan – This excellent books deals with what the job of a cross-cultural church planter is and isn’t.  Through Donovan’s personal experiences as a Catholic missionary to the Masai of Tanzania, he casts a wonderful vision for mission work.  The vision is that missionaries should carry out the simple task of delivering the gospel message, trust the Holy Spirit to reveal the gospel’s application, make disciples, and then do one of the most important things they’ll ever do – leave.
  • Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? by Roland Allen (available free online from Google books) – This book, overlooked for decades, has gained popularity in recent times.  Vincent Donovan was heavily influenced by it, so it’s a great read after Christianity Rediscovered.  Christianity Rediscovered casts the vision, and Allen’s work lays out the framework of thinking behind that vision – getting rid of extra baggage and simplifying our work to the type of ministry that allowed Paul to establish churches all over Asia Minor in just a few years.
  • Organic Church by Neil Cole – Organic Church gets at the heart of what the Church is in its simplest form and how God intended it to reproduce organically.  I like our new missionaries to read it to give them a clear and simple vision of Church, because complexity kills.
  • Church Planting Movements by David Garrison (either the full-length book or the concise booklet available free from the IMB) – Based on research of movements on several continents, Garrison’s work lays out characteristics common to every movement of rapidly multiplying churches as well as discussing factors that hinder them.  It hits on important topics such as the importance of prayer, broad sowing of the Word, lay leadership, and avoiding restrictive, authoritarian structures.
  • Two Ears of Corn: A Guide to People-Centered Agricultural Improvement by Roland Bunch – I recommend this book not because I think missionaries have to do agricultural development, but because its principles carry over very well to church planting work.  Two Ears of Corn deals with important issues like dependency, reproducibility, and simplicity.

What do you think?  If you were making your own list, is there anything you would add or subtract?  Those of you helping new missionaries entering the field, what are you recommending to them?

Fruitful Practices: What Does the Research Suggest?

The International Journal of Frontier Missions published an article discussing seven practices that were shown to produce fruit in church planting among Muslims.  Their information came from surveys and interviews with 300 church planters in the Muslim world, representing 34 different agencies.  They identified the seven practices by looking at what those workers who had planted the most churches were doing.  Though we are not working among Muslims, I found much of the information in the article pertinent to our ministry as well.

Here are the seven practices:

  1. Ministering in the heart language of the people, rather than in a trade language.  Having at least one team member who is highly fluent in that language.
    These were the two strongest associations with fruitfulness.  Much of the world speaks two or more languages.  This is true in our area, where the indigenous people speak their tribal languages as a first (heart) language, and their second language is the trade language (Spanish).

  2. Sharing the gospel orally through Bible stories.
    Much of the world also learn things and transmit information far more effectively orally than in written form.  Storying is something I’m trying to move into doing more of.

  3. Living out the gospel through an exemplary lifestyle adapted to the cultural values of those one is trying to reach.  Living in a way that shows obvious love and respect for their culture.
    In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, Paul says he became like whoever he was trying to reach.

  4. Using a transformational rather than an attractional model.  In other words, not trying to gather scattered people who have no prior relationship or trust with one another into a church.  Instead, working through already-existing networks of relationships.  When a person/family accepts Christ, help them then reach their family members and friends.
    Does anyone think the transformational model would result in healthier, more reproductive churches in the West, as well?

  5. Using a variety of creative means to communicate Scripture.
    Examples in the article included culturally relevant storying, radio and video dramas, oral and literate inductive studies, incorporating Scripture presentations in festivals, lifecycle celebrations, everyday use of proverbs, interactive websites, and phone texting.  What did NOT work were most of the Bible study packages from the West, which were culture bound and not relevant to local believers.

  6. Intentional reproduction.  Making spreading the gospel to other people part of new believers’ DNA from the very beginning.
    This is one of the main reasons we’re currently trying to win new believers more than we’re trying to work through existing churches.  We need new DNA in believers here, DNA that includes winning others to Christ.

  7. Fruitful workers are known as people of prayer, individually and corporately.
    Need I say more?

Advice from Grant and Jenn

Recently, our church planting team sat down with Grant and Jenn Haynes to get their parting words of advice based on years of ministry in southern Mexico.  Here are some of the points they shared:

  • Be really careful whose house a church meets in.  Because there are so many divisions and gossip around here, choosing the wrong house can cause a lot of problems.
  • Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.  Don’t latch on to one person too fast when they become receptive to God.  Keep working with a few different people.
  • “We’ve never seen it go well when money gets involved with anyone.”  Be extremely careful about finances being any part of your relationship with someone.
  • As much as possible, never do anything by yourself.  Always have a Mexican on your hip.
  • Discipleship in small groups (say, 3 or 4) is better than one-on-one around here, because with a couple of Mexicans present a person can’t lie about what they’ve been doing.  In one-on-one situations, people are often tempted to lie in order to save face.
  • It’s time for a season of broad scattering of the seed of the Word among many people.
  • Don’t get too married to any one model of church or ministry.
  • The goal is to see the gospel spreading through people’s natural relationship groupings (oikos is the Greek word).  The problem around here is that people’s oikos are small because of divisions and gossip.  Most people don’t have many good friends.  Really pray against that stronghold of gossip.
  • Keep hanging out with God and getting His perspective.  Only talking strategy and looking at the size of the task can be depressing.  Look at the Promised Land, not at the giants.

There’s a lot of good stuff there!  I’m glad we got that time with Grant and Jenn before they leave.

Being a connector of people

I realized not too long ago that an aspect of my job I have neglected somewhat is being a connector of people.  In cross-cultural church planting and discipleship, I find it easy to get tunnel vision.  Without noticing, I start focusing almost exclusively on the one-on-one discipleship that our team is doing with different people.  We meet with this person over here, disciple that person over there, but very little of it ends up being connected to much of anything else.  Each relationship is in its own little bubble.

I see two problems with that:

  1. One of the outcomes of this discipleship should be to see people coming together into new church fellowships.  It’s hard for that to happen if each disciple is on an island, not connected with any other followers of Christ.  It seems harder to connect people later on, when one-on-one discipleship has already happened for a while.
  2. This is a more communal culture than our own.  Focusing on your “personal relationship with God” doesn’t get you quite so far around here, because culturally it might not be quite so personal.

We have never wanted to be the leaders of church fellowships.  We have wanted to see them come together somewhat naturally and help the locals step into leadership almost from the very beginning.  I think God is showing us, though, that we have an important role to play in connecting people.

Before, my mentality was more that we would disciple new people individually, and then when they are ready (whatever that means) we’ll bring them together into groups.  But it could be that bringing people together into groups is what needs to happen first, and then the discipleship will come a little later.  I’m wondering what it would look like to get groups of neighbors together for nothing more than fellowship, and then from there see what kind of spiritual interest there is.  Before having to suddenly go home, Pam and Tucker were working with their friends in a village to see about putting on a meal for the people of the village.

Around here, I think establishing the connections with people first can help remove many of the barriers to them living as the Body of Christ later on.  It may be that one of the best things we could be doing right now is throwing parties!

A crisis of identity

Or at least that’s what it feels like I’m having right now. We on CPT have been taking more care the past year and a half with the answer to the million dollar question asked by locals: “Why are you here?”

We have stayed away from saying, “We’re missionaries.” This because what we mean by the term ‘missionary’ and what locals understand by it are two entirely different things; their understanding carrying quite negative connotations. So officially, we belong to a non-profit community service/development organization that is here to meet the physical and spiritual needs of our region.

People always want to know where we get our money from. Saying something like, “Well, people back home send us money to live off of and then our job is to go around and talk to people all day,” has never seemed an entirely satisfactory answer for them. It makes us come off as somewhat rich and lazy in the eyes of the locals. We do try and work jobs in keeping with the mission of our community service organization (and hopefully in keeping with the kingdom of God). That’s what has three of us trying to start a water filter business right now and Pam teaching English classes. The problem there is that the 10-20 hours of “real work” we do each week is still a far cry from the taxing 60-hour-a-week schedule many of our friends here have.

These complexities have me and the rest of CPT asking some tough questions right now about exactly what our role is here and what our identity in the community should be. Add to the mix a number of tough challenges and considerations (a number of which I’ve shared on this blog) coming out of our reading of Donovan’s Christianity Rediscovered, and we’re not exactly sure which way to turn.

  1. We could completely discard any attempt to have a legitimate, respectable identity with the people and spend all our time preaching, teaching, and praying. That’s something close to what Donovan did among the Masai of Tanzania, and some might argue it’s close to what the Apostle Paul did.
  2. We could continue on as we are doing, making a bit of money and establishing something of an identity through community development/tentmaking jobs, and then preach, pray, and make disciples on the job and with our time outside of work.
  3. The economic problems have been hurting some of us financially. We could truly focus on trying to earn a significant portion of our finances through some type of job (which would probably have to be online). This would satisfactorily answer the questions people here have about how we support ourselves, but it would also cut into discipleship time.
  4. Maybe another option exists that we haven’t considered?

Contemporary wisdom on multiplication and church planting movements says we should never minister in a way that cannot be easily reproduced by our disciples. If that’s the case, we wonder if living fully off of missionary support and spending all our time in prayer and meetings can ever be easily replicated down here, or if locals trying to adopt that model would hinder a movement. Dabbling in “work” a few hours a week and then doing a lot of discipleship outside of that also doesn’t seem very reproducible, though it is expedient. Working a full-time schedule and getting in what disciple-making work we can on the side is what most or all of our followers here will probably need to do. So in that respect, the model can be replicated. But one can ask whether our role as outside missionaries should be different, even if it’s not reproducible.

I really don’t know, but I think I need some answers.

(Above photo courtesy of Pizamanpat)

Who appoints leaders in the church?

I have said that this year I want to learn more about leadership and authority structure in the church. Alan Knox intrigued me this past week with his republished post “The Holy Spirit has made you overseers“. Here’s an excerpt:

According to Acts 20:28 (above), it is the Holy Spirit who makes someone a pastor. Does the Holy Spirit do this as a response to the actions of a church? I don’t think so. Instead, I believe that the Holy Spirit makes someone an overseer regardless of the actions or lack of actions of the church itself.

In other words, the Holy Spirit places someone in a group of believers and subsequently gives that person the responsibility of “caring for” (that is, being an overseer for) that group of believers. The church is then supposed to respond to the work of the Holy Spirit and to recognize that individual as an overseer.

This is an interesting thought, one that has some scriptural support, and one that goes against a lot of our actual practice in the church. Alan’s post caught my attention because I was thinking about similar things this past week.

Last Tuesday, at our weekly church planting team meeting, a couple members of our team were relating challenges they’ve been facing with a budding home fellowship. This fellowship has two couples who meet together semi-regularly for Bible study, prayer, etc. One man is viewed by the four adults involved as the leader of the group, though he has not officially been given that position. Some holes in his leadership, possibly rooted in some sin issues, were concerning our team because of the negative effect they could have on the fellowship. They asked my advice.

Though this man is not an “official” leader in the fellowship, I focused on the fact that the rest of the group views him as a leader. They are placing themselves under his authority. God has driven home to me recently that (without arguing technicalities) the only time to disobey someone in authority over us is if that person tells us to sin. The leader in question was not telling others to sin.

Some might say this man shouldn’t be in leadership or doesn’t actually have any authority. Maybe the other members of the fellowship should resist him if he’s not leading in a good way. Whether or not humans have formally placed this man in authority, though, I could not see advising other members of the flock to step out from under his covering if they have submitted themselves already to his spiritual authority. It seems that they have given him authority. And maybe their submission to him is actually an extension of the Holy Spirit giving him authority.

If this man is not in leadership, the only other choices are the other man in the group (who is great but doesn’t seem cut out for leadership), the two wives in the group (we won’t raise those questions here), or members of our expatriate church planting team (we are trying to empower local leaders and work ourselves out of a job). I advised our team to instruct the rest of the group to continue to submit to this leader’s authority and then pray that God would bring about any needed changes in his life.

Our conversation took place Tuesday morning. By Saturday morning, our two church planters who raised the issue already had a great testimony of a noticeable change taking place in the life of their disciple.

This post is more just a “thinking out loud” regarding a situation, rather than a tidy box of something I feel like I’ve figured out. I welcome any perspectives or additional thoughts you, my readers, would like to contribute in the comments.

What do you think of my advice to our church planting team? Can the Holy Spirit place someone in a position of authority in a church without it ever being formally recognized by the people?

For Roland Allen fans (or fans-to-be)


I read Roland Allen’s work Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? four years ago, while a student in GFM’s Mission Training School. I blew through the book so quickly then, that I didn’t learn much that has translated to practical application in my ministry. BUT, I know enough and hear enough good recommendations of it from people I trust, to know it’s well worth reading. That’s why I’m starting to dig into it again.

Alan Hirsch (of The Forgotten Ways fame) lets us know that Allen’s two most-read books are available online for free. If you’re not familiar with Allen’s work, these might be worth checking out. Here are the links:

Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?

The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church: and the Causes which Hinder it

For those who have been challenged by Alan Hirsch, he says of these two Roland Allen books, “All interested in missional movements MUST read them.” Not a bad endorsement!

Martin Luther liked a house church model

This I was interested to learn, since we are finding that simple house church fellowships seem to be an effective model for our work in Mexico. I’m not trumpeting house churches as the only good church model, because it’s clear that God is working through all kinds of models. House churches do have some upside, though.

Check this out:

The following characteristics summarize Luther’s “Order of Divine Service” as to the “how” churches should be organized.

  • Self-organized
  • Home-based
  • Lay led
  • Full sacramental life
  • Stewardship and social ministry
  • Simple catechetical instruction
  • Ideal context for loving accountability after Matthew 18
  • “Form and Order” are not imported but emerge spontaneously from community life.
  • From Tim Thompson via Guy Muse.

    Apparently, Luther would have liked to see things happen this way, but felt at his time that he lacked the necessary leaders and that people weren’t into it. If Luther were alive today, I wonder if he would be trying to lead a reformation in the direction of home fellowships and lay leadership? What do you think?

    Alan Knox on what discipleship is and isn’t

    Thanks to Alan Knox over at The Assembling of the Church for linking my post ‘What discipleship is not‘. In the comments, Alan adds these three thoughts to the discussion:

    • It is not education (information).
    • It is not one-sided.
    • It is not accidental.

    In his post, Alan shifts the discussion to what discipleship is, and he asks the following questions:

    What is discipleship? What role does God play in discipleship? What role does the disciple-maker play in discipleship? What role does the one being discipled play in discipleship? Can there be a blurring between the disciple-maker and the discipler? Is that type of blurring good or bad?

    What is the goal of discipleship? Do certain activities lead to that goal? Are certain settings more conducive to reaching that goal? Is discipleship only one-on-one or can someone disciple a small group or a large group? What role does teaching play in discipleship? How is education related to discipleship? What about other spiritual gifts?

    These are good questions; important ones for us to be asking if we are to effectively disciple others. In the comments on Alan’s post, I shared the following thoughts in response to his questions and the comments of other readers:

    I’ve become a big fan of life-on-life discipleship (though other modes exist), and I think that one important type of discipleship relationship is that of a believer helping a less mature believer grow in obedience to Christ. I also like the thought about blurring the lines between discipler and disciplee, though.

    Something I have been thinking about lately I’ve been calling the “round table of discipleship” for lack of a better term. I serve with a team of missionaries, several of whom are older than me. One man, the oldest, has probably the most life experience and overall spiritual maturity. He can teach the rest of us a lot. The leader of our team, much younger than this man, can learn from him but can also teach him some things about effective cross-cultural mission work. Everyone around me, younger or older, can teach me things in various areas, and in certain areas I can help even those who have more experience than me with a thing or two. So there is a lot of give and take, not a clear-cut hierarchy.

    Do you have any thoughts about what discipleship is and/or what discipleship is not that you would add to this discussion?

    We need some clear idea of what discipleship is (even if we have different ideas) in order to effectively make disciples, thus fulfilling the Great Commission.

    What discipleship is not

    As I have been learning more the past year and a half about what good discipleship is, I’m also learning what it is not:

    It is not a class

    The end goal of discipleship must always be obedience. In Matthew 28:20, Jesus says that discipleship is “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (emphasis mine). James 1:22-25 underscores the importance of doing the word, not just listening to it. “Discipleship” that focuses only on gaining knowledge and correct doctrine with little practical application is not true Jesus-style discipleship at all.

    It is not control

    Jesus did not make all his disciples’ decisions for them. Disciples must be free to act according to their own volition and, sometimes, to mess up. Failure can be a great teacher. Disciplers who don’t give their disciples room to err may be stunting the growth of those under their care. Overcontrol can cause a disciple to have an unhealthy level of dependency on his/her discipler.

    It is not a 12-week program

    Discipleship is ongoing. Because the goal of discipleship is obedience to Christ, and because obedience to Christ takes a lifetime to live out, no believer ever graduates from needing discipleship.

    It is not an activity to be performed by an elite few

    Jesus commanded His disciples to make disciples, so if you’re a disciple you must be making new ones.

    Is there anything you would add to this list? Who are you discipling, and who is discipling you?