Category Archives: Church Planting and Discipleship

You might be a wackjob if you try this…

They say that if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got. As we look at the needs of the world today, do we in the Church really want to keep doing what we’ve always done and get what we’ve always got? If not, then we have to change what we do.

I came across a fantastic list of “wakjob ideas” for campus ministers posted a couple of months ago on Shane Deike’s Movements Everywhere. As I read them, I tend to think the only thing wackier than trying one of these would be accepting the status quo.

Here’s a sampling of ideas, and I would encourage you to check out the complete list:

  • Launch 50 churches out of your current campus ministry (small little viral things with 21 year old elders and you as the master apostle – thats with a little ‘a’ in apostle btw). Tell the students that you will gather weekly to worship and train, but you want them each to start a simple viral church . . . . and you can show them how.
  • Never speak at a meeting again – only lets students share what is on their heart in the mission each and every week. Let mission inform theology and worry about the messes as you move ahead.
  • Never meet with someone one on one again. Only in small groups and only with someone besides you leading the discussion.
  • Never get a new believer involved with what is already going on . . . really . . . only help them start something new in their existing community (like Zaccheus or that Ethiopian dude).

I’ll add a couple of my own ideas specifically related to making disciples of all nations:

  • Make it the goal of every small church on campus to disciple at least one student from another country and help he/she plant a church made up of members from that country.
  • Challenge each church to send out at least one student who spends the first 5 years after college in a foreign country making one disciple and helping that disciple start a new church.
  • Get each church to fully fund one foreign missionary.

Radical? Maybe. Crazy? You can decide. Impossible? I don’t know. How content are you with the way things are?

Points to Ponder #5 – How to win the world in one generation

(Click to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 of this 5-part series.)

The last of the Points to Ponder we have been sharing with our mission trip teams this summer:

Have you ever wondered how we could win the world to Christ in our lifetime?

The Great Commission, that command Jesus gave all his disciples to do while He was gone, boils down to this: make disciples. Tragically, we get distracted with programs and organizations and structures and almost anything other than making disciples like Jesus said to do. Making disciples, according to what Jesus said, very simply amounts to teaching them to obey everything He commanded.

Teaching everything Jesus commanded includes teaching disciples to make other disciples. That was one of His commands; therefore, a disciple, by definition, is one who makes other Christ-followers. Jesus spent His public ministry, first and foremost, raising up a group of followers and telling them to do the same. This is because He knows the power of multiplication.

Guess what would happen if just one follower of Christ, in the next year, raised up one new follower and taught him also to make one new disciple each year? On down the line, every new disciple makes one new disciple a year and each new one is taught to do the same. Get the picture? At the end of the first year, you have two followers of Jesus, at the end of the second year you have four since they each made one new disciple, and so on down the line. If things continued this way with no break in the chain of multiplication, the entire population of the world would be following Jesus in 34 years. (And that’s accounting for a lot of population growth.) Amazing!

And, by the way, this year if all people who call themselves followers of Jesus each made one new disciple and taught them to do the same, in four years the entire world would be won to Christ. Four years! That’s the power of multiplication.

When we look at the needs around us and the fact that over 2.5 billion people have no self-sufficient church among them capable of making disciples of the rest of their people group, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. We either get discouraged and do nothing, or we try and do everything, figuring, “It’s up to me to win the whole world”. Neither response is healthy or productive. The second response is the one that runs many professional clergymen into the ground as they try and build gigantic organizations and programs that will somehow turn the tide of lostness. The best action would be for us all to start obeying Jesus and disciple a few people around us as followers of Christ. This should be our first and most important work. If believers everywhere would only take this to heart, we would take territory from the kingdom of darkness on a scale rarely, if ever, witnessed before in human history.

So how about you? Will you take to heart the command to make disciples of all nations and teach them to obey everything Jesus commanded? Or did Jesus just give that command to special people not like you?

Get equipped to plant churches on your college campus

This is for the kind of college students we often see in Mexico for summer internships–the kind who deeply desire to be used for the kingdom of God. If that’s you, I encourage you to check out the following opportunity. It has nothing to do with GFM, but getting intense training in campus church planting looks like a great way to spend a couple of weeks of your summer!

Points 2 Ponder #2 – Scaffolding vs. Building

This is Part 2 in a series of Points 2 Ponder that we are presenting to our mission trip participants this month.

Read the first post in the series here.

Our church planting coach, Rob, explains that as cross-cultural missionaries, we are the scaffolding, not the building. The function of scaffolding is support. Scaffolding is temporary, and once the building is done, the scaffolding is moved elsewhere to work on another building. The scaffolding goes; the building stays behind. For a building to stand, therefore, the scaffolding cannot be a part of it. If bricks or support columns or parts of the foundation are built on top of the scaffolding, then when the scaffolding is removed, the building will crumble.

This analogy holds important truths for the cross-cultural minister. New churches must be self-sufficient. They must be built upon the foundation of Christ, not the foreign missionaries. Cross-cultural church planters should plan on serving among a people group for a finite amount of time and should have a clear exit strategy. It can make us feel good to be in control and have positions of leadership and authority, but doing this puts the churches we plant at risk of crumbling when we leave.

This belief is having a lot of practical implications these days for GFM and the way we minister. For example, in the short-term, it might be helpful for us to provide salaries for local pastors. What happens when we leave, though? Or can we ever leave if we have an arrangement like that? At some point, church leaders we raise up will have to be financially self-sufficient, rather than dependent on foreign funds. It seems a whole lot easier to help them be self-sufficient from Day One, perhaps by working with them to develop new businesses, than to get them dependent on us and then try and cut those ties later on.

Also, when a new church begins to meet, we have the new believers run all aspects of the meeting almost immediately. We disciple them outside of the meetings, but in the meetings we generally won’t do or lead something after about the third time the group gets together. This includes teaching. As long as we are properly discipling the converts, they should have something to teach right away. And after all, to teach something, you don’t have to know everything, right? You just have to know one thing.

By understanding our role as scaffolding, we are able to encourage, support, and disciple, without being the primary pastors or leaders. This allows new churches to quickly mature and become self-sufficient, rather than being weak and dependent on outsiders for years or even decades.

A milestone event in our church planting

What I describe here is just one small step among many along the way, but it still represents a milestone in our church planting work.  The first real meeting of our team’s new disciples, led by the disciples themselves, took place this past week.  Two couples came together with two members of our team and had a good time of sharing from the Bible.  One man led the study and did a great job of inviting discussion from the entire group.  Both couples enjoyed the time and agreed to meet again in a few days, this time with the other husband doing the teaching.

A couple of key things need to take place for our work to be done here:

  1. Disciples must eventually take responsibility for their own spiritual lives and communities of faith, without outside help.
  2. Disciples must reproduce themselves by making more new disciples.

This week’s meeting was an important event along the road towards self-leadership and self-sufficiency.  It is an encouraging sign.  We will be looking to see this church body continue to mature, and we are praying for these new believers to begin reproducing themselves.  Will you join us in praying for the work here in southern Mexico?

Won’t get fooled again

I’m learning that one of the jobs of an effective blogger is to point my readers to good material that others are producing.  Accordingly, I would like to direct you to a very thought-provoking post by Alan Knox, entitled Won’t Get Fooled Again.  Here is an excerpt:

Once upon a time, God used pagan prophets and philosophers. How foolish! Not today. Nothing good can come from culture. Today, God wants his people to read Christian books, watch Christian movies, and listen to Christian music. If God has something to say, he would never be so foolish as to speak through a pagan.

Once upon a time, God ate with prostitutes, drunks, thieves, and other malcontents. How foolish! Not today. God has enough good people now that he doesn’t need to hang out with that sort anymore. It would be foolish for God to be found among the dregs of society today.

I don’t want to take away from Alan’s blog traffic, so that’s all I’m going to give you here.  But if you have read this far, I strongly encourage you to take a couple of minutes to click over to his site and read the entire post.

I’m quitting church planting

That’s right, I’m getting out of the business of starting churches.  The reasons are simple, but they have taken me until the past few months to grasp:

  • Jesus never told us to plant churches.  He said that He would build His church.  (Matt. 16:18)
  • Jesus did tell us to make disciples.  (Matt. 28:18-20)

Part of making proper disciples is teaching them to come together in community, living out what it means to be the Body of Christ.  This involves obeying all the “one another” commands of the New Testament.  So if we do a good job of evangelism and discipleship, the natural result of that will be new churches springing up – new communities of faith.  But that part is the work of Jesus.  He said so.

This has been a very freeing realization for me as a church planter (wait, an ex-church planter).  In the past several months, I worried a lot about what the structure of the churches we planted would look like.  We would love to see an awesome network of house churches spring up in our region of southern Mexico, so we had been trying to figure out how they would be linked together, what authority would look like, etc.  Our church planting coach, Rob, set me straight by basically saying, “Hey, don’t worry about it.  You just organically network new believers and groups by giving them opportunities to befriend one another, and rest assured that they will define the structure at some point.”  And you know, I can see that Rob is right.  We missionaries and church planters can get off track worrying about things that aren’t ours to worry about.  Jesus told us to make disciples, that’s the command we have to obey, and the rest we can leave up to Him.

I’ll still call it church planting, I suppose, just because that’s a widely understood term, but whenever I speak of it you can know that what I really mean is that we’re making disciples and God is working through us to start churches.

Any other church planters want to join me in walking off the job?

The most important spiritual discipline for new disciples

Three of our mission training school students have been working with a church group here that is in its formative stages.  This past week, they sat me down to ask my advice on a couple of things.  (At this point, I should acknowledge their humility in doing this, because although I oversee our church planting team, I still know very little, especially by way of practical experience.  This is not false humility on my part; this is the reality of us being desperate for leaders in a quickly growing ministry.)  I did have one thought that literally crystalized as it came out of my mouth, and I wanted to share it here.  It came as they were talking about the challenges in trying to get their disciples to do their daily devotions.

My concern in sharing this thought is that I think it could possibly get me burned at the stake in a lot of churches if we still were doing that kind of thing.  It’s hard for me to fully express myself in a short blog post, so if this strikes you wrong, then please dialogue with me about it to get at my real meaning, before writing me off as a heretic.  (The comments section of this post would be a good forum for dialogue, hint, hint.)

What is the most important individual or internal spiritual discipline for a new believer to be developing?  When I’ve gone through evangelism training, I’ve always been given a short list of things we’re supposed to tell new converts to do–read your Bible, pray, go to church, witness to others, etc.  If there is one of those that we emphasize above the others, I feel like it is reading the Bible.  It’s tied up in the whole idea of personal devotions.  But the more I think about it, I disagree that studying the Bible is the most important spiritual discipline for a new believer.  Consider this:

  • In its simplest form, discipleship involves teaching people the commands of Christ (Matt. 28:18-20–see my recent posts on this topic here and here).  The earliest believers, including the ones in all those churches Paul planted, managed to follow Christ without having a complete New Testament, so there must be some way to create good disciples even when all 66 books are not available.  However, we were commanded to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).
  • Jesus never gave a Bible study model, but He certainly gave a model prayer (Matt. 6:5-13)
  • Jesus read the Scriptures in the synagogues on Sabbath days, but He spent many late hours at night praying.  I’m going to guess that He made it through his 40 day fast without a scroll in hand.  The point I’m making is that the Gospels give me the feeling Jesus’ Bible reading probably happened on a weekly basis, but I think His prayer was much more frequent.

Before you go out looking for firewood to roast me with, think through what I’m saying.  Do not hear me saying that studying Scripture is unimportant, but do hear me saying that prayer is important, and maybe we should shift our focus to more prayer emphasis when helping our disciples grow spiritually.  I would put forth that the new believer’s prayer life is a far better measuring stick of his spirituality than the number of days a week he reads his Bible.

We North Americans are studious book learners, so I think this can be tough for us to swallow.  But put yourself in our shoes here in Oaxaca, or maybe in the shoes of some tribe in Africa or down in the Amazon.  A lot of cultures are much more group oriented than we are.  We’re very individualistic, as seen in terms like “personal devotions” and “personal Savior”.  Especially for other cultures, reading the Bible once a week in a meeting, as was probably done in New Testament times, makes a whole lot more sense than emphasizing personal devotions where you read a passage of the Bible.  Many people are not literate.  But they can all pray.  I think it’s reasonable for prayer to be an always-happening, group or individual activity, and for Bible reading and study to be more of a group activity.  I think there is decent support for this in the New Testament.

We say that following Christ is about a relationship and not just head knowledge.  Prayer emphasizes relationship, whereas Bible study increases head knowledge.

Christianity Rediscovered

Our friend and church planting coach, Rob, loaned me a book called Christianity Rediscovered by Vincent J. Donovan.  I have been picking through it just a few pages at a time before I go to sleep at night.  Donovan is a Catholic priest who was a missionary to the Masai tribe in the country of Tanzania in East Africa.  He became disillusioned with the seeming ineffectiveness of many of the traditional missions tactics (schools, hospitals, etc.) that had not yielded one adult believer after seven years of work.  He got permission from a bishop over him to pull free from those activities and “just go and talk to them about God and the Christian message.”  In the book, he shares many of his experiences with evangelizing and discipling the Masai, and he offers reflections on what he learned about God, missions, and the Church through it all.

I have found Donovan’s book both interesting and challenging.  It has stretched me and caused me to reflect.  I’m realizing lately how much you learn about Christianity when viewing it through the lense of a different culture, and that was Donovan’s experience, too.  I think his book is a little more off the beaten path of popular books with Western missionaries, and I recommend it for precisely that reason.  He offers a somewhat unique perspective.  I thought I would share an excerpt I read a couple of days ago, where Donovan reflects on inward versus outward turned Christianity:

“How does one prevent a distorted meaning of Christianity from creeping into a community right at the start?  It is only in the imparting of an outward-turned Christianity that we have any hope of achieving Christianity.  An inward turned Christianity is a dangerous counterfeit, an alluring masquerade.  It is no Christianity at all.

The salvation of one’s own soul, or self-sanctification, or self-perfection, or self-fulfillment may well be the goal of Buddhism or Greek philosophy or modern psychology.  But it is not the goal of Christianity.  For someone to embrace Christianity for the purpose of self-fulfillment or self-salvation is, I think, to betray or to misunderstand Christianity at its deepest level.

The temptation to look inward is one that affects not only individuals, but also whole communities, parishes, dioceses.  In such cases the physical or spiritual well-being of the Christian community becomes the very goal of the community, the whole reason for its existence.  Any ulterior motive for the community’s existence is completely forgotten.  Indeed the only valid reason for the community’s existence is forgotten.

Christianity must be a force that moves outward, and a Christian community is basically in existence ‘for others’.  That is the whole meaning of a Christian community.  A Christian community which spends all its resources on a building campaign for its own needs has long ago left Christianity high and dry on the banks.  Or all its resources on an education program or youth program for that matter.  A Christian community is in existence ‘for others’ not for ‘its own.'”

What thoughts do you have as you read what Donovan says?

Which of these criticisms of house churches is most accurate?

Over the last year, we have begun focusing on planting house churches.  There are important reasons for this, which I intend to explain over time on this blog.  A lot of debate goes on these days about house churches, though.  Naysayers point to many dangers they perceive in house churches.  That’s why I found this post by Guy Muse so interesting.  I encourage you to read it; it’s a good post.  I love the house church meeting he describes.  In many ways, it is a vision of what we hope to see happening here.

But I would like to invite some participation from my readers here.  Whether you are in favor of, against, or indifferent towards house churches, of the objections listed below that I pulled off Guy’s post, which do you think is the most valid criticism of house churches?  Leave a comment and explain your point of view!

…accountability and proper doctrine would be my two red flags

…the rise of house churches is more [a] mark of unhealthiness

…house churches are dominated by people who do not want to submit themselves to the leadership of the church

…the lack of biblically trained leadership would often create an environment rich in heresy

…early churches meeting in homes, is that descriptive or prescriptive?

…I tend to think of this as more a reaction against the mega church and mega-wannabe

…I think that house churches work better in some cultures than in other cultures

…To me, the key biblical point is not where the church meets. The key point is whether the pastor meets the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.

…House churches work well in places where there is persecution and a need for secret meeting places.

…I don’t think it would work in my context