Tag Archives: discipleship

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.

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.

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!

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?

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.

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?

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.