I've found the story of Jonah to be a helpful starting place for the North American church when it comes to exploring our attitudes and actions toward people from groups other than our own - Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Atheists or the LGBTQ community.
Jonah is at best, the reluctant prophet. His reticence to go along with the mission of God to save the Ninevites becomes almost a distraction to the main message of Jonah's book: the heart of God to save. But God does save the Ninevites who repent and believe and turn from their wicked ways.
Meanwhile, Jonah heads out to a hill beside the city in hopes that fire will still fall. It's there that the curious event with a shade plant growing and then dying occurs.
Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”
Jonah was concerned about the plant and the comfort that it afforded him.
The heart of God however was to save.
The heart of Jonah was somewhere else, focused on something he thought he was loosing. Something he thought was important but that God didn't think was important. At least not as important as saving the Ninevites.
This particular point in the story has had me thinking lately about the plants in my own life that I elevate above the mission and purposes of God -- the old wine skins that Jesus is inviting me to let go of in favor of new wine skins.
Jonah is not a Bible character that we should emulate. His is not an example to follow. God seems to place the story of Jonah in the scriptures first and foremost to demonstrate His heart for the nations - even nations bent on evil.
But there is an important opportunity in the story of Jonah to reflect on our own hearts.
Take fifteen minutes to read or listen to the story of Jonah and then answer the following questions:
Feel free to interact with these questions and the E2E community in the comments below.
The Gospel of Mark is an action packed biography of the life of Jesus. The very first chapter begins with John the Baptist preparing the way, Jesus getting baptised and then heading into the wilderness for forty days of fasting and temptation from Satan.
By verse fifteen Mark jumps straight into ministry as Jesus comes into the region of Galilee announcing, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Jesus calls the twelve to follow him at the sea and then heads into the town of Capernaum where he preaches in the synagogue, heals a man with an unclean spirit and later heals Peter’s mother-in-law.
Verse 28 tells us that “immediately his fame spread everywhere throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.” Before the day is out, people are lined up at Peter’s door wanting to see Jesus, to be healed and to be set free from demons. I imagine this went on late into the night.
Not a bad first day of ministry. Exhausting let’s assume, but good.
If we were to stop the story there and pretend we didn’t know what Jesus did next, how would we finish the story?
I think I would probably sleep in the next morning. It was a long, hard day of ministry and I’d need to be good and rested up. Once I did get up, I’d probably start looking for a big hall to rent knowing that the crowds are back. I’d maybe print up some flyers to let everyone know when and where we’d be meeting again and I’d encourage everyone to invite all of their friends.
But of course this isn’t the path of Jesus.
He rises very early in the morning to head out and spend some time in prayer with the Father (verse 35). When his disciples find him, all excited about the crowds that are already forming (verse 37), Jesus’ response must have seemed just a bit counter-intuitive. “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out (verse 38).”
And that is exactly what Jesus did. “He went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons (verse 39).”
From the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus defaults toward going. We see this over and over again in the ministry and teachings of Jesus.
Here are a few examples from the book of Mark:
Jesus prepares the disciples to go and expects them to go (Acts 1:8). It is his prayer that as he has been sent into the world, he will send his disciples into the world as well (John 17:18).
And the commission given to his disciples in Matthew 28, “to go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything he had commanded”, is the strategy of Jesus.
Making disciples who make disciples is His plan A.
Jesus promised he would build his church. We are to go and make disciples.
We are to be church. To do that, we must gather. It is the example that the first church gives us (Acts 2:42-47; Acts 4:32-37) and is clearly taught in scripture (Matthew 18:20; Hebrews 10:25; Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 4:11-13).
But the purpose of church is not to gather. The purpose is to gather so that we can scatter, so that we can go and make disciples, proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ and make him famous all over the earth.
Jesus’ invitation to us is to follow him. And Jesus is on the move.
So let’s go.
I've been investing some time this summer working my way through the #NOPLACELEFT Strategy Coordinator Training that Steve Smith lead in 2016.
Trainers include Steve Smith, Stan Parks, Chuck and Deb Wood, Fred Campbell, and Ray and Sara Vaughn. It was held in Houston over seven very full days. There are four sections of teaching with forty three sessions.
This is a training that I wish I could attend in person, but for now I am blessed to learn from movement practitioners and to watch them model how to effectively train groups of people through videos.
I've learned so much and if you are asking the question, "What is it going to take to reach my entire city, region or people group?" then this training will be super beneficial.
You can begin going through the training videos for FREE HERE.
You can find future trainings that are similar HERE.
And you can watch Steve Smith's introductory session to the training below.
Moran explores a number of topics through the lens of the paradigm shifts made at his church in Kansas City. One of the elements that Shoel Creek Church has adopted is the use of Discovery Bible Study (DBS) for their weekly groups.
Who can lead a DBS?
We commission both doubters and worshipers to facilitate these groups. Our comfort level comes from two places. One, Jesus showed no anxiety when He commissioned both groups to take His mission forward. And two, we make the Bible the authority in these groups, so we aren’t leader dependent.
Why DBS is helpful for those with little Bible experience?
We have discovered that when you have people who are inexperienced in the Bible, staying in one simple passage makes their initial experiences comfortable rather than making them feel dumb. When a flurry of Bible passages starts being tossed around, they shrink from the discussion and try to find a place to hide. The tragedy is they may never come back.
We also want our facilitators to understand that this is a process of discovery. People buy into, believe, and act on their own conclusions far more than the conclusions given to them by other people. The group is designed for people to hear from God themselves, so the idea of teaching or telling people what to believe about the passage doesn’t belong in a Journey (or Discovery) Group.
Thoughts about facilitating a DBS
Many facilitators have the gift of hospitality and love having people in their homes. They may unintentionally hinder the flow of the generational growth of the gospel with this gift. If every person in a group is to be seen as a potential disciple-maker, facilitators must not do anything that others think they can’t do.
Another important shift is shared facilitation. If one facilitator is still doing all the facilitation after the third group meeting, he or she is doing a bad job! The process is so simple and repeatable that after being in a Journey/Discovery Group a few times, it is simple to ask the seven basic question and bring the accountability piece to the table. So, in effect, our facilitators are facilitator coaches.
Dependency is a subtle and evil issue. The hard truth is that many of us love spiritual leadership because of the dependencies that it creates. Often others’ dependency on us gives us purpose and meaning. It can even provide a diversion from our own pain as we help others deal with theirs. In the guise of wanting to follow Jesus, we inherently stunt people’s growth by teaching them to depend on us, and we create unnecessary stress on ourselves.
The more we do for people the worse off they are. It is no wonder we have a lethargic church in the West. Most of what flies under the name of ministry is a subtle codependent relationship between leaders and followers: leaders who need to be needed and followers who want someone besides themselves to be responsible for their spiritual journey.
Group members often share by mentioning to friends that they learned something while reading the Bible. Since these group members are coming from pre-Christian relational networks, this mention creates a conversation, one that can lead to replication. When friends learn that someone is in a group reading the Bible, and no one is shoving religion down their throats, it piques their interest. Some might even want to join the group. This is where the DNA of replication begins. Groups need to multiply, not grow.
The Bible is the authority in the discovery process, so no need exists for a subject-matter expert to explain it to people. God’s Word is not being taught, but read and obeyed. God is the teacher leading people to Jesus (John 6:44–46).
When a friend asks to join, a facilitator can suggest that, instead of adding to this group, which will further create time issues, start another group. This is a winnable argument, because the process is so easy anyone can do it. Just do what has been done in the initial group.
There is no traction in the spiritual journey without getting your fingerprints on the Bible.
In last week's article, I said that everyone, everywhere is being discipled by something. The dominant messages in our lives will shape our worldviews, beliefs and thus, the way we live our lives.
So what do we do about that?
We have no power over the shaping but we do have the power to chose what will shape us.
We have a choice. Our world is filled with messages but we decide what messages we allow ourselves to be exposed to and shaped by. And the choice we must make as followers of Christ is to immerse ourselves in the word of God.
It is not so much that we must shield ourselves from every message in the world but that we must top load with scripture, worship, prayer, listening and fellowship. When we do this, when the word of God becomes the dominant message in our lives, then we allow the Holy Spirit free reign to use the word of God as the filter through which all other messages flow.
A friend of mine once shared the story of his interaction with an older saint. He was worrying about raising his children in an increasingly secular world to which this older sister in Christ told him, "Honey, just make sure that the melody of Jesus is strong in their hearts. Then everything of this world will sound off pitch and ugly."
The Melody of Jesus
One of the primary ways that we can develop the melody of Jesus in our hearts is by immersing ourselves in the story of Jesus.
As we daily spend time in God's word, reading it and identifying the ways in which God is inviting us to respond to it, the word will shape us. And as we progressively spend more and more time reading and interacting with the word, we grow in maturity.
In an article I was recently reading about movement catalyst Ying Kai, the author shared the story of one of Ying's disciples:
"One old farmer who had never before planted a church started twelve house churches in two months and 110 in the first year. He began every day reading his Bible from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. Then he worked in the fields until 5 p.m., at which point he went home for dinner and family time. At 7 p.m. he went back out again, and he worked in “God’s fields” until midnight."
This man was immersing himself daily in God's word!
A Plan of Action
I have found a number of tools that help me to move toward a life of immersion in the word of God. There are others of course but these are ways I've learned to live in an immersive and interactive relationship with God's word.
These tools work toward reading 3-5 chapters of the Bible every day. You may need to work toward that - we crawl before we walk - but do get started!
The basic idea is to read large chunks of scripture daily, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal things that He is wanting you to hear, apply to your life and share with others.
Then take time to write down your observation, how you'll apply what your learning and who you can share your insights with that day.
Journaling about these things creates a deeper interaction with the scriptures and a way to record what you are learning from the Lord through the word of God.
Sharing with others drives lessons even deeper, allows you to encourage fellow followers of Jesus and have gospel conversations with those far from God.
Two Helpful Tools
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
Everyone is being discipled by something.
All the time.
The messages we hear, the words we read, the shows we watch - all of it is shaping us. Drip by drip our worldviews and beliefs are being formed and these shape the way we think and the actions that we take.
The dominant messages in our lives will shape us. There is no way around that. If we listen to talk radio all day long, guess what - we will begin to think and process our world through a lens shaped by the message of the radio shows we listen to.
If we watch prime time television and late night talk shows daily, guess what - we will begin to think and process our world through a lens shaped by the messages of the shows we watch.
What we watch, listen to and read are all shaping us.
We have no power over the shaping but we do have the power to chose what will shape us.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
What is shaping you?
Persecution is a reality that most Christians around the world face on a daily basis. It was part of the experience of the first followers of Jesus. He regularly warned his followers that they would face persecution.
The apostles, save John, all died martyrs death and the first century expansion of Jesus' kingdom vision was built in the cauldron of persecution. The New Testament is a collection of stories, letters and revelations written by persecuted men to persecuted fellowships of believers spread across the Roman world.
And so how do I as a believer who has been raised in the safety of the North American Christian experience - an experience that is the anomaly of church history when it comes to persecution - help prepare my brothers and sisters in Christ (and myself) for the realities of persecution.
Open Doors CEO David Curray recently said that American church leaders are not teaching a theology of persecution. If this is the case, then from what place can we teach and train our brothers and sisters coming to faith out of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism or Atheistic Communism to persevere through persecution.
The reality is that we can’t.
But Jesus can and he has given us His Spirit and the word of God. I was trained with a simple study of God’s word over ten years ago and I recently came across that study and so want to share it today. I hope it will be helpful.
Look through the study below, but I have also put it into the form of a bookmark so you can print it off, cut it up and give several to those you are training. It was created to be used by sitting down with your friend and discovering in God’s word how we can persevere through persecution.
Help your brother or sister apply these truths to their own life and then encourage them to train others!
Persevere Through Persecution Study
Four Strong Legs
God’s Word: God’s word is our final authority.
(2 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 4:12; Psalms 119:105)
Prayer: There is power in prayer - our prayers and the prayers of the saints.
(Hebrews 4:16; 1 John 5:14-15; Romans 8:27-28; Acts 12:1-16)
Evangelism: We share our faith regardless of persecution.
(Acts 14:19-22; Acts 16:25-33; Acts 18:1-11)
Worship: Worship sustains us in persecution; use songs, memory verses and prayer.
(Acts 16:19-25; Psalms 115:2-3)
It is not my desire to be sensational with the title of this article. I'm not sure that I actually believe that "church planting" is not Biblical. It's just that I've been hard pressed to find any examples of the apostles or disciples planting a church.
To be sure, the church always emerges - Jesus promised he would build his church after all.
But what we see happening throughout the book of Acts seems to be obedience to the great commission, not church planting. As disciples are made -- disciples who are equipped to immediately obey Jesus and to make disciples themselves -- the church always emerges.
There is an adage bouncing around the West that says, "Planting churches is the best form of evangelism." But does that not fly in the face of both the final command of Jesus and the example of the New Testament church?
It would be wise to try to emulate the teaching of Jesus and the example of His first followers before we move on to other methods.
I've spent the last few months digging into the emergence of the church in Thessolanica. Timothy observed a church a few months after Silas and Paul's initial visit in Acts 17 when he was sent to check on the disciples they had left behind. But the question is, did Paul plant the church in the three sabbaths that he was there?
I can't find any evidence in the Biblical record but a church had certainly formed!
As I read through the book of Acts, church formation seems more a natural by product of disciple making than vice versa.
When you plant a seed in the ground it naturally sprouts and grows into a plant.
I'm convinced that if we make disciples, we will get church. I'm not convinced that by planting churches we automatically get disciples.
And disciples are what Jesus commanded us to make. They were His plan A.
Some of this is recognizably, just semantics. But there is an important distinction to be explored. If our church plants (and all churches really) are not producing disciples who are capable of making disciples, we may need to ruthlessly evaluate our methods in light of scripture.
Before you write this idea off, I'd like to invite you to look at the establishment of the Thessalonian church. Feel free to use the pdf study below to explore for yourself how one of the healthiest of New Testament Churches came to be.
Establishment of the Thessalonian Church 4 Fields DBS *
(and Facilitator Notes)
*(You will need to be familiar with the Four Fields Framework before you begin the study - Learn More)
That last command that Jesus gave in the book of Matthew was to go and make disciples. It’s a command repeated in all four of the gospels and the book of Acts and becomes the driving mission of the early church.
Making anything requires some sort of process. Making disciples is no different. It may be formalized or informal, but disciple making requires an intentional investment of time, energy and teaching. It requires content - the commands of Jesus and the teaching of the Apostles.
But what is the most important ingredient to a good discipleship plan?
What was at the sharp edge of the discipleship spear for Jesus and for Paul?
My own journey in learning to obey Jesus and make disciples has been a constant search for the best curriculum or book or training plan; something I can implement with my disciples. Something I can do and that they can then do as well.
As I immersed myself in the establishment of the Thessalonian church these past few months, I discovered that the majority of Paul's time was not spent implementing the right teaching plan or training program.
He was in Thessalonica just three sabbaths before he was forced to leave. He certainly taught them things. He certainly modeled things for them. The story in the Book of Acts and the two letters he wrote them point to his teachings and the lifestyle he modeled and expected them to imitate.
But the thing that comes up over and over again, and the thing that is the pattern in all the letters he writes to all of the churches he was a part of establishing is that he was praying fervently for the new believers.
As I study the scriptures I am coming to believe that Paul's prayer for his Timothy’s was at the leading edge of his discipleship process. It was the first thing he was focused on for his disciples.
Prayer was the default activity.
My default has been to focus on content or methods or strategies. I’m always praying but it has too often been the afterthought activity. I’m trying to grow in this and to shift my own paradigm around prayer and disciple making.
How about you? How much are you praying for your disciples?
Don’t take it from me, I’d encourage you to download this simple discovery Bible study and go through it with a group of friends.
Disciple Making Prayer DBS
Discover for yourself Paul’s (and Jesus’) focus on prayer for their disciples.
I was first introduced to Steve Smith through another book he was a part of writing: T4T: A Discipleship Re-revolution. That book detailed the work of Ying and Grace Kai as they labored toward a church planting movement in China. For me this was a paradigm shifting book and one I’d highly recommend.
And so last year when I saw that Steve had a new book coming out, I knew I’d want to read it. As I learned more about the book and then started reading it, I quickly realized that it would be even more important for me than the first.
Smith’s new book is called Spirit Walk: The Extraordinary Power of Acts for Ordinary People.
It was written for people just like me. I grew up in a wonderful church environment but one which we sometimes joked believed in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Bible. I had a tremendous foundation of Biblical knowledge but the working and power of the Holy Spirit was sometimes lacking.
I also had a strong Midwestern work ethic and desire for results which inevitably lead to the constant search for the silver bullet - the right method or tool or program that would get results.
Spirit Walk is a book that will guide you into a new understanding and relationship with the Spirit of God.
Here is a snippet from the preface:
At the core [of church planting movements around the world] is not a method (though simple, Biblical methods are important). At the center is not a discipleship process (though life on life interaction is critical). What is driving and sustaining the explosive growth of God’s kingdom is the age old Spirit Walk that God designed us for. Disciples are learning to keep in step with the Spirit of the Almighty God who knows no boundaries, opens every closed door, and produces fruit that lasts for eternity.
Spirit walk is an important book for anyone wanting to live a life of kingdom impact. It’s practical, relatable and a helpful guide into a more abundant relationship with Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
RECEIVE A FREE COPY OF SPIRIT WALK
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