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.
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.
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’ve been enjoying Paul Kroeker’s book In The Way of Jesus. It is a book I’d easily recommend to anyone concerned with the state of the church and disciple making today.
One part of the disciple making journey is humility.
Kroeker relates a story of a time he took a group of young adults to inner city Chicago for a week of ministry among the urban poor. Their first day of action found them serving at a soup kitchen where they washed dishes most of the day.
The second day found them back at the soup kitchen and back at the dish washing. When the third day rolled around and they found themselves headed back to the drudgery of the dishwasher, the group became visibly upset.
When asked about it one young man replied, “I didn’t come all this way just to do dishes. I could do that at home. I thought we were here to do something more exciting, like ministry.”
The response from the leader of the ministry was this:
“Until you can do dishes to serve the poor, I’m not sure we can use you anywhere else. Humility is the posture of Jesus. When we see that quality in you, we know we can ask you to serve anyone, anywhere, at any time.”
What does true humility look like though? The anointed and future King David gives us a picture of humility in 1 Samuel 19.
Once more war broke out, and David went out and fought the Philistines. He struck them with such force that they fled before him. But an evil spirit from the Lord came on Saul as he was sitting in his house with his spear in his hand. While David was playing the lyre, Saul tried to pin him to the wall with his spear, but David eluded him as Saul drove the spear into the wall. That night David made good his escape.
I’ve most often been drawn to the spear in this story. It’s hard to miss Saul trying to pin David to the wall with it. But in this passage we see the true character of David.
It begins with war and glory. David leads the men into battle and once again routes the enemy. He is the top dog, the leader of men, the hero of the hour. He should be given the key to the city, a ticker tape parade, his picture on the front of The Jerusalem Times.
But rather than all of that, David returns to playing his lyre as a servant of the king.
He returns not to a hero's welcome but to step again into his position as one of the court servants.
David doesn’t dwell on what he deserves or what is the best use of his time. He skips all the questions of prestige and honor and his rights.
He has just one question to answer. It's a question we all need to answer:
How can I serve the King?
In the great commission, Jesus commands his disciples to “teach them (new disciples) to obey everything I have commanded.”
Here is a question for you:
What is the first command that you would teach a new believer in Jesus to obey?
Teach them to obey?
If you’re like me - someone who grew up in an American evangelical church - then maybe that phrase sounds interesting, legalistic or even a bit funny.
Shouldn’t the question rather state, “What is the first thing you would teach a new believer to know?”
It’s an interesting distinction but to be true to scripture, Jesus doesn’t command us to teach them to “know” what he has commanded. Knowledge seems secondary - important, but secondary.
If we are to become a people who make disciples who make disciples then this is a distinction we must understand. We must move toward teaching and modeling obedience to Jesus.
And if a push toward obedience sounds interesting, legalistic of funny then either Jesus got it wrong or we have gotten it wrong.
What do you think?
“If you love me, obey my commands.” --Jesus
*I've added this great video from Curtus Sergeant.
How Many Loaves Do You Have?
It is an interesting question that Jesus asks his disciples. After all, they are standing amidst a crowd of 4,000 hungry people who have been with Jesus for three days and don’t have any food. They find themselves in a remote place, far from any eating establishments or bakeries.
But Jesus has something he wants to accomplish and so he asks them, “How many loaves do you have?”
It’s a familiar story, one of many similar stories recorded in the gospels. Jesus takes what resources the disciples have, seven loaves and a few fish in this case, and miraculously multiplies it to feed the whole crowd, leaving seven basketfuls of leftovers for them to deal with when the day is done.
This story reflects an important principle in the kingdom of God. The resources are in the harvest.
Think of the parable of the growing seed. Where did the seed come from that the farmer was scattering in the empty field? It came from last year’s harvest.
Think of Jesus giving his disciples the great commission. One of his greatest Apostles was not there with Jesus to hear the commission. He was still in the harvest. He was Saul but God would use him in mighty ways after he came to faith.
Jesus demonstrates this principle when he sends out the disciples. In Luke 10 he sends the seventy two into every town and place where he was about to go. First he instructs them to pray for more harvesters.
Where are those harvesters going to come from? From the harvest!
Then he instructs them to find the house of peace and stay there. Don’t move around from house to house. My thinking would say, “I’m the Christian. I have to be the one to tell everyone about Jesus.” It seems however that Jesus is asking me to take off my superman cape and realize that the one he will use is in the harvest. So he instructs the disciples to stay.
Stay and invest in this household. They know the context of their village. They have the relationships. They will be the ones to plant the church in their home.
The Apostle Paul also sees the resources in the harvest. He doesn’t take teams of twenty believers to plant an already functioning church. He and a few of his guys enter a town, preach the gospel, invest in new believers and then leave. He encourages them from afar through letters, sends back his young Timothys to equip and encourage and comes back for a visit to encourage and help appoint elders.
Everyone in the churches that Paul plants come out of the harvest.
Dependence on our own giftings, calendars and resources always limits our vision of what God can do. When we move into new or challenging contexts with the confidence that Jesus will provide all that is needed to see his Kingdom expand, we are able to enter into the God sized vision of making disciples among all nations.
And so we have to learn to look for the resources for completing the great commission out in the harvest.
Because who knows, your next church planter might be a crack dealer.
He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
Throughout the gospels, Jesus presents principles for ministry through parables. These principles are then modeled by Jesus and applied in his assignments for the disciples. This particular parable includes a number of important principles for discipleship and has been an influential part of shaping the Everywhere to Everywhere training weekend event. Nathan and Kari Shank, long term workers and movement catalysts in India, have unpacked the parable of the growing seed in their training manual Four Fields of Kingdom Growth.
[Download the manual for free HERE]
The Five Parts of the Four Fields
In Four Fields of Kingdom Growth, Shank points out that in the parable of the growing seed there are four contexts or fields. There is also a fifth element that is important in every movement of God. He offers a key question for each that focus both our kingdom work strategy and our training of new believers.
Field #4 - The Harvested Field - Eventually a season of harvest comes and the farmer is there to cut and bundle the harvest.
Key Question: How do I form a new believers into groups or churches?
Leader Multiplication - Generational Multiplication Potential - Out of the harvest comes both fruit for this year and seed for the coming growing season.
Key Question: How do I develop and multiply movement leaders?
Jesus says that this is what the kingdom of God is like. It seems then that the parable of the growing seed could be a helpful framework around which to build a life of discipleship and ministry. It is the framework that has shaped much of the training we do at Everywhere to Everywhere events across the Midwest. And within it are principles that have been observed in every movement of kingdom expansion throughout history.
Every disciple of Jesus should be trained and able to identify and understand how to enter the fields of lostness in their context, whether that be a Muslim village in Central Asia or their suburban neighborhood in Wichita or Fresno.
Every disciple of Jesus should be trained and able to proclaim the good news of the gospel with anyone, anywhere and anytime.
Every disciple of Jesus should be trained and able to disciple new believers into a mature, healthy and growing relationship with Jesus and into the lifestyle of disciple making.
And every disciple of Jesus should be trained and able to gather believers together as the body of Christ.
The final element, leadership multiplication, is an important part of healthy discipleship and kingdom growth. The Apostle Paul always had two to three disciples with him who he was training up and releasing into ministry.
Without the multiplication of leadership, the making of disciples will always come to a bottleneck. But as young disciples take what they have learned and pass it on to other disciples who will pass it on to others (2 Timothy 2:2), the kingdom will expand, our churches will grow and great commission discipleship will be a reality.
This is exactly what we see in this parable, in the workings of Jesus and in the unfolding story of the the growth of the early church in the book of Acts. This is what we see in the the great movements of kingdom expansion throughout history. And this is what we see happening in the kingdom movements spreading across countries all around the world today.
The Kingdom parables serve as a framework for understanding Jesus’ kingdom agenda across the gospel accounts. Jesus’ kingdom agenda serves as a working job description for both his disciples and our lives and ministries.”
The four fields framework also creates a helpful rubric against which we can assess our own discipleship journey. It is a bit of a diagnostic tool which can help us see the places where we need more discipleship and training so that we can become the kind of kingdom agents that Jesus has called us to be.
Just as he was sent, he is sending us into a lost and broken world to be his ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20) and witnesses (Acts 1:8).
Work through the following questions to help you understand where you might need additional training in order to step into your role as an ambassador and witness.
If you answered “no” to any of these questions or just felt unsure of whether you understand what or how to step into these kingdom assignments, find your pastor or a trusted mentor and ask them to help you get equipped.
Reach out to your nearest Multiply regional mobilizer and ask them to come and do some training with your congregation.
Consider coming to an Everywhere to Everywhere three day missional training event or hosting one in your region.
And check out the great training opportunities at the No Place Left website.
However you respond, do something!
Amidst this need to learn to do the work of the kingdom, we must remember that applying the principles of this parable to the ministry of making disciples and planting churches demands dependency on the Holy Spirit.
It is the work of the Holy Spirit - the unknown doer in the parable - that causes the seed to sprout and to grow.
As Christ’s disciples, there is a path laid out in the parable for how we can join in the work of the Spirit, but it is the Spirit that brings the growth. This was the understanding of Paul, who in 1 Corinthians 3:6 says, “I planted, Apollos watered but it was God who made it grow.”
There are things that Paul and Apollos need to do and to train others to do, but spiritual fruit is always because of the power of God.
My hope is that this parable will help you discover some of the places where you need more training or encouragement to become those who go and make disciples.
The E2E Community
We are a collection of practitioners and trainers dedicated to equipping and encouraging everyone everywhere to proclaim the gospel and make disciples among the unreached locally, nationally and globally.