Tag Archives: Church Planting and Discipleship

Changes on the horizon for GFM

GFM has been in constant flux since its earliest days. This is the way it should be. We change because we learn, so the day we stop changing is the day we start dying. Our mission remains the same:

Global Frontier Missions is a kingdom-minded community dedicated to mobilize, train, and multiply disciples and churches to meet the physical and spiritual needs of the least reached people groups throughout the world.

Our strategy for accomplishing the mission changes as we seek to fulfill the mission as effectively as possible. Striving for better ways to multiply disciples led to our monumental shift a year and a half ago where we stopped working in villages and started focusing our energies on the market town where we live.

For the next week we will be on our annual staff retreat, and we have a couple of significant issues on the agenda for discussion. The outcome of these discussions may well be more big changes for GFM. Here are the issues with which we will be wrestling:

  1. At the heart of the Great Commission is one simple command: “make disciples”. Those who know GFM know we are a very program-driven organization–Mission Training School, summer internships, mission trips, etc. The difficulty is that programs can be big beasts to feed that make it hard to find time for relational discipleship. On the retreat, we will be discussing what true, relational discipleship looks like. We are asking ourselves whether dedicating so much energy to programs has been misguided, or whether it is possible to effectively make disciples in the context of our programs. Those are sure to be interesting discussions with all our staff and apprentices weighing in, and I can’t possibly predict what will be the outcome of them.
  2. Another intriguing topic on the retreat agenda is what should be the relationship between our short-term work (mobilization branch) and our long-term work (church planting branch). Our philosophy has always been that our short-term work, consisting of mission trips, summer internships, and Mission Training School, should fit into and augment the long-term church planting work. The two reasons we have always had our short-term programs are to help the long-term work and to mobilize people to Great Commission service among the least-reached. The short-term programs continue to be great mobilization tools; that would be hard to deny. The question is whether, with our new focus on our market town, those programs are still an aid to the long-term church planting or if they could actually hinder it. We are seeing plenty of good things come from the programs, but we are also increasingly concerned about the impact of such a strong, visible foreign presence in our town of about 20,000. The questions on the table will be if short-term and long-term can work together, what should be their relationship if they can, or what should we do about it if they cannot. This, too, promises to be a lively discussion.

I’ll try and blog some about our developing thinking on these topics. Stay tuned!

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!

Contextualization: Can a Muslim or a Hindu be a Christian?

Contextualization was the word of the week during our time in Chandigarh. We spent 3 days with a good Hindu-background brother who is doing contextualized church planting, which got us thinking and talking a lot. The idea behind contextualization is that people’s response to the gospel and the life of the Body will never look exactly the same in different cultures. The less the Church contextualizes, the more it will look exactly the same in any culture in the world. The more it contextualizes, the more it can take many different forms.

The challenge for us Westerners in understanding contextualization is that we tend to divorce religion from culture. In our minds, Hinduism and Islam are religions people must leave in order to follow Christ, and we often presume they can do so without leaving their culture. The problem is that, for many people in the non-Western world, religion and culture cannot be separated. When people say they are Hindus or Muslims (or Catholics in Mexico, perhaps), they are not just stating their adherence to a particular religion, they are telling who they are. For non-Westerners, the physical and spiritual worlds are not separate; everything in life has a spiritual aspect to it. Westerners separate the two, and can therefore make a distinction between culture and religion, but for most non-Westerners, the two are inseparable.

If we understand this, is the only option for a person in India to cease being a Hindu or a Muslim (Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, etc.) and become a Christian? Or can a person be a Hindu or a Muslim who follows Christ and serves the one true God alone? Before jumping to any conclusions, let’s consider the matter.

Our host in Chandigarh, who oversees several house fellowships, is contextualizing his work in the local Hindu and Sikh cultures. In other words, elements of Hinduism or Sikhism find expression in the lives of these churches. In saying this, I do NOT mean the people worship false gods–the elements of culture present among them are part of their commitment to Christ, rather than compromising it. This leader is sometimes criticized by ministers from more traditional churches, who would like to see him completely break away from anything having an appearance of Hinduism or Sikhism.

An example of this contextualization is the name by which the believers call their fellowship. They call their community a satsang, which is a Hindu word for a gathering seeking truth. Some say it is wrong to use this Hindu term, arguing that it is a pagan concept. The brothers and sisters we met, though, believe the use of the word helps those of a Hindu background draw near to God. Another example is the use of a coconut for the Lord’s Supper. Coconuts are often incorporated into Hindu worship; therefore, Hindu-background believers break them open and take the flesh and the milk to represent the body and blood of Christ. Something really neat we learned is that, for Hindus, a coconut means fullness of life. So Christ’s body was broken, and through him comes fullness of life.

It can be easy to criticize such contextualization of the gospel in other cultures, and those practicing contextualization have faced their share of attacks. I’m not sure it’s right to criticize, though, until we have had the opportunity to live for an extended period of time in the culture in question, gaining a good understand of the practices and worldview of the people. How else can we understand whether a cultural expression is pagan or not? In our short time with our brothers and sisters in Chandigarh, as far as we could tell we found them to be full of the love of God and committed to Christ and the work of the kingdom.

Ministry in a Muslim context provides some significant contextualization questions that other cross-cultural church planters have had to deal with. Here are a few of these questions:

  • By what name do you call God? Do you tell people that Allah is not God and then try and introduce them to the one true God, giving him some other name? Or do you say that Allah is the one true God and then try and help lead people to a clearer understanding of his true nature?
  • Can a believer worship God in a mosque? Or should s/he never go to a mosque again after beginning to follow Christ?
  • Muslims customarily kneel and pray five times a day. Is this an okay practice for a follower of Christ to continue, or should a Muslim-background believer be encouraged to avoid it?

For the conscientious cross-cultural church planter, questions of contextualization are difficult. If one decides to contextualize, then the question arises of which cultural elements should be practiced as part of obedience to Christ. A good guiding question here can be, “Does this practice help people access God, or does it restrict access to God?” Many traditional churches here in India are quite contextualized in a way. People meet in big “temples” where they come to hear the teachings of a spiritual “guru” who everyone recognizes as being on a higher spiritual level than the common people. But you can make the argument that this model promotes a temple-and-priest Christianity that is closer to the Old Testament than the New, and it restricts access to God. Flowers, candles, incense, and coconuts, though, may all be elements of Hindu culture that can help people draw near to the one true God and worship him. They can especially be powerful when Hindus realize these elements can be part of accessing God personally, rather than having spiritual gurus as mediators between the gods and man.

So what thoughts do you have about contextualization? Can you think of ways the gospel has been contextualized in our Western culture?

Five new church planting apprentices to join our team

During the recent mission trip we hosted, we recognized our incoming church planting apprentices and asked the mission trip teams to be praying for them. They will begin their apprenticeships in late April and serve with our team through August of 2009, with the option of becoming full-time staff members after that. Will you please be praying for them, too, as they dive into language learning later this spring and summer? Here they are in the photo below:

(left to right) J.C., Nick, Tasha, Tucker, (me), Liz

Want to know how to become a GFM church planting apprentice? Click here.

September to February – A timeline of progress

Once a week, I send out a prayer and praise report on our church planting work for a number of supporters who regularly pray for us. I thought I would paste a few excerpts from those reports below, to give you a sense of the progress that has been made over the past several months:

September 23, 2007
Our church planting team (CPT) is hard at work and seeing God answer our prayers. This past week was the second of a four-week emphasis on making a lot of new contacts here in [our town], in hopes that out of those contacts we will establish solid relationships with a number of people who are open to Christ. So far, this effort has been pretty successful, thanks to God. Our team has met a number of people who are open spiritually and is working to follow up on those people as we also continue to make new contacts. Some of the best contacts are people who, seemingly out of nowhere, initiate a conversation with a team member and it comes out that they are interested in studying the Bible. This is God at work!

September 30, 2007
This will be the final week of our four-week extra emphasis on making new friends at the start of the ministry year. It has been hard work for our team, but this is an exciting phase as we are meeting so many new people. I like to think about how we have no idea right now what God will do in any of our friends’ lives, but no doubt we are spending time with people who will be used in great ways for His kingdom someday.

October 7, 2007
We are very grateful for the ways we’ve seen God answer our prayers these past four weeks to help us make new friends. This has certainly happened. We will continue to put quite a bit of effort into making new friends in the coming weeks, while we also work on following up with people and seeking discernment on who to focus the most energy on. This week we will be holding signups for a few new English classes we will begin offering next week at our rented storefront. We are offering classes for elementary students, junior high students, high school students, college students, and adults.

October 14, 2007
We are all very excited that two friends of ours, a girl named [S.] and a guy named [A.], have committed their lives to Christ and were baptized on Sunday evening! Though our church planting team has spent some time with both of these new believers, [S] and [A.] have mostly been ministered to by our missionary training school students, their families, and local Mexican Christians. It’s exciting to see how God is using all of our combined efforts in the work of making disciples…We are making progress with several other people right now and hope to be baptizing more new converts before too long.

October 28, 2007
We have exciting news! [G.] and [C.], two women that Pam and Ali have been meeting with, were baptized on Friday! Praise God for this step of faith they have taken. They have been studying the Bible the last couple of weeks, and were recently convicted of their sin and need for cleansing. They gave their lives to Jesus Christ and obeyed Him in baptism. Thank you for praying for them!

November 4, 2007
CPT enjoyed a short retreat this past week on the coast of Oaxaca and then spent a couple of days in Oaxaca City renewing visas and being mentored by another missionary couple. We are now back in Tlaxiaco and ready to dive into ministry again. Our team will be working to disciple new believers [Ca.] and [Sa.] and [G.] and [C.], and will also be hoping to see [M.C.] and her husband [Go.], baptized. We also are developing relationships with a number of other friends and studying the Bible with some of them.

November 18, 2007
We are hitting some tough spots with several of our friends and people we are discipling, which is something we have expected. Prayer is so important in these times. A spiritual battle is being waged for the souls of those to whom God has called us to minister. We need God to break through in people’s lives and free them from spiritual bondage.

December 2, 2007
I wrote some about spiritual attack last week and appreciated hearing from you all about how you’re praying for us. We know that attack comes because we’re doing things that Satan doesn’t like. That became evident this past week as Tino and Jason baptized another new believer, [Juan] from Tino and Angela’s English class. Praise God for [Juan’s] decision to follow Christ! It’s really exciting to see the ways that God is working, answering prayers, and changing the hearts of those who haven’t known Him.

January 27, 2008
As we have come back together as a team, we have…heard God calling us to a greater commitment to prayer. As a result, we are now meeting together as a team five days a week to pray for the people of Tlaxiaco. We believe that prayer is absolutely the most important element in church planting work, and we thank you so much for your role in that important ministry.

February 3, 2008
This past week we had a milestone event in our church planting efforts when two couples came together for a self-led church meeting for the first time. This is just one small step among many along the way, but it is an important step towards self-leadership and self-sufficiency. It was [Ca.] and [Sa.] and [J.L.] and his wife [D.R.] who met, with [Ca.] teaching from Philippians and doing a good job of inviting discussion from everyone. Everyone enjoyed the time a lot and decided to meet again this week, this time with [J.L.] teaching.

February 10, 2008
We can kind of get lost in the trees of the week to week church planting work sometimes. But when we step back to see the forest, we recognize that God is moving. Progress is being made. Our team started September with two baptized believers we were discipling. Now there are five baptized believers, a small church group that has been meeting, and a number of other people are open. Our team has deeper friendships with many of the people we know.

February 17, 2008
If you have been following our church planting strategy, you know that we are working to plant reproducing churches here in [our town] that will spread out to all the villages surrounding us. Many of these villages are without any Christians or any established church. This past weekend gave us a little glimpse of this vision being played out. Pam, Liz (a mission training school student), and [C.] went out to [G’s] village to visit her. [G.] and [C.] accepted Christ and were baptized in October, and then in early January [G.] and her husband returned to their village to live there. The women found [G.] doing well and encouraged with the fact that there are others in the village who are open spiritually. Some of this openness is due to the fact that a believer visited their recently and laid hands on some sick people and prayed for them and saw them healed. [C.] noted that people have been healed recently when Pam has laid hands on them and prayed for them as well.

It’s going to be a difficult road for [G.], and we appreciate your continued prayers for her, but we are excited to think about the power of transformation for this region as believers in [our town] take the gospel back to their villages. Situations like [G’s], where a family lives in [our town] for a time and later returns to their village, are quite common. As we make reproducing disciples here, in time we can send a small army of church planters into all the surrounding villages–church planters who already have established relationships, know the culture, and speak the indigenous languages.

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?

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?

Let’s stop planting sterile churches!

I came across this great article by Carol Davis, entitled Let’s Stop Planting Sterile Churches, via Guy Muse’s blog.  In it, Carol talks about the difference between church growth and church reproduction.  In Manila, Philippines, she noticed that some churches were planted quickly, always produced their own leadership, were never dependent on outside funds, and always reproduced.  Other churches, by contrast, were planted slowly, were dependent on outside help, never reproduced, and could never produce their own leadership.  Why is this so?  I’ll let you read her article for the answers.  It’s not too lengthy, and well worth the time.

Here are a couple of excerpts:

Now I have a very simple mind. I knew that anything that was alive was reproducing. It is a natural thing for trees and plants to drop their seeds and spontaneously spring up. We don’t try to have babies, we try to not have babies. In fact, if an organism does not reproduce, we say it is sick, dead or sterile…

…The second thing Charles told me was, “I never do anything that a one-week-old Christian can’t do. If I preached like I did in my home church they would think they couldn’t carry the gospel until they had my skills, my abilities, my training. If I prayed like I did in my home church they would think they couldn’t talk with God until they had words and phrases like mine. I don’t bring a worship leader because if I did they would think they couldn’t worship God until they had someone trained.

“Everything they see me do, they can do. Sometimes I don’t get back to the area for several weeks. But since they didn’t know they couldn’t do it, they went and told their cousin in another area and they already had another group started.”

That’s simplicity. We have made things so complex and required so much training…

How to make disciples – the simple way (part 2)

You can read Part 1 of this post here.

Okay, so in the first post on this subject, we established that, according to the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20), making disciples boils down to baptizing them and teaching them all that Jesus commands us.  We should find our curriculum for discipleship, then, by looking in the Gospels for the commands Jesus gave His disciples.  Remember, the earliest disciples did not have the New Testament; therefore, we should be able to find all essential material for discipleship without having to go to the Epistles.  I do not say this to devalue the complete Word of God in any way, but if Jesus told his disciples to teach new disciples all He had commanded them, this must be able to be done without the aid of the written New Testament.

Let’s look at seven major commands Jesus gave His disciples that we should be passing along as we teach others:

  1. Repent, Believe, Be Baptized, and Receive the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:15; John 3:16; Matthew 28:18-20; John 20:22; Luke 24:46-49)
    Repentance and belief are essential for entering into the Kingdom of God.  If you look at the messages preached by John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, Paul, and others in the New Testament, you will find that they always preached a message of repentance.  As seen in Mark 1:15 and elsewhere, we are also commanded to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus told His disciples in John 20:22 to receive the Holy Spirit, and He told them to wait in Jerusalem until they had been clothed with power from on high.  The importance of the Holy Spirit in the life of the disciple is confirmed through the early Church in Acts.
  2. Baptize New Believers (Matthew 28:18-20)
    Fundamental to being a disciple is making other disciples.  If I am not making new disciples, I cannot rightly say that I am a disciple of Jesus.  In making new disciples, we are to baptize those who are responding to Christ in repentance and belief.
  3. Make Disciples of Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20)
    The second part of making new disciples is to teach them everything Jesus commanded us, which would mean teaching them to obey these same commands that we are trying to obey.
  4. Love (Matthew 22:34-40)
    Jesus said that love for God and love for others was the essence of the Law and the Prophets.  In many other places in the Gospels and throughout Scripture, we are given more precise instructions as to what loving God and loving others looks like.
  5. Pray (Matthew 6:5-13)
    Jesus gives basic instructions on prayer in Matthew Chapter 6.  His model prayer found here gives us direction on what kinds of things should be the subject of our prayers.
  6. Break Bread (Matthew 26:26-29)
    At the Last Supper, Jesus gave His disciples an observance that was to be passed down through the generations.
  7. Give (Matthew 6:1-4)
    Jesus commanded His disciples to give, and this is emphasized in many places in Scripture outside of the Gospels, as well.  It’s worth noting that the kind of giving most talked about in the New Testament is giving to those in need.  (As opposed to building buildings, paying local church leaders, etc.)

Okay, so there is our curriculum for discipleship.  Notice how everything listed above comes out of the Gospels.  In fact, if you only had one book of the Bible with which to disciple a new believer to maturity, you could do quite well with Matthew.  Again, this is not to say we should not be teaching disciples other things from Scripture, but we need to get back to majoring in the basics.  Who cares if someone can debate all kinds of difficult doctrines, if they are not obeying the seven basic commands given above?

So what do you think?  Are you able and willing to go make disciples according to the pattern Jesus gave?  It’s not easy, but it is simple.

Note: Thanks to Rob and Anne Thiessen and George Patterson for the material that I am borrowing this list of commands from.  You can download their excellent set of Bible studies for evangelism and discipleship based on Old and New Testament stories and the seven commands of Christ by clicking here.