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
In John 4, Jesus talks with a Samaritan woman at well outside of her town. During this interaction, the woman begins to suspect and even believe that Jesus might be the prophesied messiah.
Leaving her water jugs, she rushes back to her community where she proclaims, “Come see a man who told me everything I did. Could he be the messiah?”
We don’t know a lot about this woman, but the result of this simple statement is that the people of her villiage come out to see Jesus for themselves and many believed.
Jesus spends two unplanned days with the townsfolk who end by saying, “We no longer believe just because of what you [the woman] said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” [read the story here]
We have learned to use this story as a teaching tool at our E2E training events. It answers a few questions to help us share the gospel:
The woman goes back to her community; her friends and family and acquaintances. This is her relational network. And our own relation networks are who we can begin to share with and for whom we should be praying regularly [Read: Personal Prayer Strategy].
The woman shares two things. The first is a one sentence summary of her story. The second is a question pointing to the gospel. Those are two ways we see the good news shared in the New Testament: personal testimony and gospel presentation.
These are what we can share.
And when does the woman begin to share? After her seminary training? After her confirmation class or new members class? No. The woman begins sharing immediately! She has discovered good news and she will not be stopped.
With today’s article we want to look at that middle question: What do we share?
We’ve previously written about a helpful tool for sharing the gospel called The Three Circles. There are a lot of great gospel sharing tools, but this is one we train people to use at E2E events.
We also train everyone how to share their story in 15 seconds. This is just a smidge longer than the Samaritan woman’s testimony but the purpose is the same: to invite people to learn more about Jesus. This is something we’ve learned from the No Place Left coalition.
We use the diagram below as a teaching tool to help shape our 15 second testimonies. There is also a great training video that I’d encourage you to watch both to craft your own 15 second testimony but also to have as a tool to train others.
We aren't using the 15 second testimony to explain the fullness of the gospel. We use it to open up spiritual conversations that give us a chance to hear someone’s story and to invite them to come and discover Jesus for themselves.
[Read an example of how this was shared]
Crafting Your 15 Second Testimony
Watch the video below and allow Troy Cooper to train you to share your 15 Second Testimony.
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?
Ramadan is a month in the Islamic lunar calendar but it isn’t just any month. Ramadan is the month in which - according to Islamic theology - the first revelation of the Koran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed and it is during this month that all Muslims across the globe are required to abstain from all earthly pleasures - food, water, cigarettes, sexual relations - from sun up to sun down. Fasting like this during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam and it is one of the most important religious and cultural holidays for Muslims. This year Ramadan runs from May 6th through June 4th.
Below is a short video explaining Ramadan. It is a few years old so the dates are wrong and it was created by a secular news source.
Ramadan is a tremendous opportunity to learn, pray and build relationships with Muslims in your community. God is on the move in the Muslim world. More Muslims have come to faith in Christ in the last fifteen years than in the previous 1400 years combined. He is doing a new work and with today’s article I want to offer a number of ideas of how you can be a part of that work during the upcoming month of Ramadan.
Ramadan Prayer Guide
Since 1993, the 30 Days Muslim World Prayer Guide has been helping to both educate and lead Christians into a season of prayer for the Muslim world. This guide is a great resource to help you spend a few minutes each day praying for God to move powerfully. Each page has a few paragraphs about the day’s topic and three ideas to help you focus your prayer. Order one for your family or consider ordering more and enlisting others to pray as well.
Prayercast also has a 30 day prayer email series which you can learn about at this link.
Wish Your Muslim Friends a Happy Ramadan
An easy way to wish your Muslim friends a happy Ramadan is to say “Happy Ramadan.” It's really that simple but you could also say “Ramadan Mubarak” which is a simple way to say happy Ramadan in Arabic and is a greeting used across the Muslim world.
Read a Book or Two
Ramadan could be a great month to choose a book about Islam or the Muslim world to read. An even better idea would be to gather a group of friends to read a book together. Here are a few suggestions:
Show a Prayercast at Your Church
Many in our churches are struggling with how to respond to the world of Islam. There are many voices vying to shape the narrative around how we should think about Muslims. Prayercast is a great resource to help shape that narrative in ways more reflective of the heart of Jesus. You could show the Prayercast Islam video or Prayercast videos from any of the Muslim majority countries in our world at your church on a Sunday morning. Each video is just 3-4 minutes in length.
Attend an Iftar Meal at a Local Mosque
If you live in a city with a local Islamic Center you may be able to attend a community iftar meal. Many Mosques in North America use Ramadan as an opportunity to invite people in for this breaking of fast meal with the Muslim community. They usually set aside one evening of Ramadan for this. Check the website of your local Islamic center to see if they have a community iftar meal.
[Mosque Visit Purpose and Etiquette]
Make a Friend Online
Across the Muslim world people are getting online in search of friendship and language partners. Embassy exists to connect Muslims and Christians so that bold and honest conversations about Christ can happen. They would like to help you get started today.
You too can be a part of Greater Things.
Host a Movie at Your Church
There are a lot of great movies that have been made to help you and your church grow in your love and concern for the Muslim world. Consider having a movie night to watch one of these movies together with others from your church.
Pray for a Muslim People Group
Pick a particular Muslim people group and spend the month of Ramadan learning about them and praying for them. Here is a list of unreached Muslim people groups from Joshua Project - there are over 3,000 groups making up 23% of the world’ population.
[See the List]
Host a Ramadan Prayer Night
Another great opportunity is to host a Ramadan prayer night. We’d love to help you make this happen if you’d like to do this. It could be as simple as gathering friends in your home to pray or you could organize a community wide prayer event at your church.
Get More Training
Maybe you are wanting to dive in deeper, to get more training so you can be better prepared. Crescent Project has an intensive training event every summer called Sahara Challenge.
Whatever you do, do something. Do it in love and do it in prayer.
And we'd love to hear about it so share your Ramadan plans and actions in the comments below.
When I first connected with Musa* online, I was the first follower of Jesus he had ever met. I initiated the first conversation about Jesus that he had ever had. I helped him read the first chapter of the Bible that he had ever read. And I am probably the first true follower of Jesus who has ever committed to praying for his salvation.
Musa lives at the widest end of the gap.
By now it should be obvious that all Christians are born again into the Gap between God’s world-wide purpose and the fulfillment of it. But there’s more than one kind of response to that Gap. Some are asleep, some are on retreat, and some are determined to stand in the Gap particularly at its widest end where billions await the opportunity to hear of Christ for the first time.
David Bryant’s book Into the Gap introduces two ideas: the world Christian and the gap. With today’s article I want to explore the latter.
Every person in the world stands in the same sized gap between their brokenness and their salvation. Jesus Christ is the only way to be saved and that remains the same whether we we are the son of a preacher in Colorado Springs or of an imam in Islamabad.
The distance between death and life, between darkness and light is the cross of Christ.
But there is another gap that Bryant explores; the gap in our ability to hear the good news of the cross of Christ.
In my small Midwestern city, there is never a time when a person is more than a quarter mile from a true follower of Jesus. There is never a place that is more than a mile or two from the nearest church. Twenty four hours a day Christian radio programming runs on multiple stations. A drive down any main boulevard passes multiple billboards advertising churches or Christian schools.
The gospel is accessible. The gap is quite narrow.
But travel into the 10/40 window and the picture changes. The 10/40 window is the area of the earth between latitudes ten and forty degrees north of the equator. It is home to the majority of the world’s Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Animists and Unreligious (China) peoples. It is home to the majority of the world's nearly 7,000 unreached people groups - nearly 3 billion people - who have never heard the gospel. A person living in the 10/40 window would be hard pressed to find a church within 100 miles of their home. They would most likely live their entire life without ever encountering a follower of Jesus. They may never hear a Christian radio broadcast or pick up a Bible. The distance between a person who does not know Jesus and the opportunity to hear about Jesus is enormous.
This is the widest end of the gap.
At Everywhere to Everywhere, our heart is to accelerate movement toward the widest end of the gap. We work to equip and encourage everyone everywhere to proclaim the gospel and make disciples among the unreached locally, nationally and globally.
In the past, the only answer to the wide end of the gap was to send missionaries into it. That is still an answer and the body of Christ throughout the world must send more. 3 billion lost in darkness demands it.
But the context of that gap has changed. Technology has opened up new opportunities to connect with people there. Globalization and world crisis have brought millions out of the 10/40 window and into gospel saturated countries. We live in a new day of world missions and because of that we must be equipped to respond to new opportunities.
I have seen, at different times, the smoke of a thousand villages - villages whose people are without Christ, without God, and without hope in the world.
The smoke of a thousand villages is drifting in through your window. You only need follow it and you will find yourself in conversation with someone like my friend Musa, someone who has never known a follower of Jesus and never heard the gospel. Someone whom you can befriend. Someone with whom you can begin to share the good news of Jesus and to pray for.
Your journey into the widest end of the gap has never been closer.
Will you go?
Help E2E and share this article with your friends.
*For security reasons, names have been changed.
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.
What is it going to take to reach all of Jefferson High School?*
This was the question being asked by students working with Collision, a local ministry focused on catalyzing movements to Christ within every school in their city. One student leader shared a plan to identify every relational group within the school: football players, skaters, the theater crowd, cross country runners, Latinos, Somalis, Nepalis, etc. They were wrestling with the idea of entry strategy.
In the four fields to kingdom growth framework, understanding how to identify and enter fields of lostness is a key concept of the first field.
As these students made their lists, they were beginning to do just that. Remember, their vision was to reach ALL of Jefferson High School, one of the biggest schools in the state.
Theirs was a God sized vision!
They started by identifying each relational group in their school. They then moved on to the second half of the entry strategy concept: How do we enter those fields?
How do we ensure that every person, in every group has the opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel?
Exploring Entry Strategy
As we work to raise up disciples who will make disciples, we must train entry strategy. If our disciples are going to obey Jesus and make disciples then we must teach them tools and strategies that they can employ and teach others to employ.
Entry strategies should lead to opportunities to share the gospel. If our only entry strategy is to ask disciples of Jesus to invite the lost to come to events so someone else can share the gospel with them, we are inadvertently communicating to them that making disciples is someone else’s job.
But movements aren’t built on the expertise and charisma of a few but on the priesthood of all believers equipped and released to make disciples who make disciples.
At the start we must teach entry strategies that challenge the faith of new believers and release responsibility to them. Anything else will lead to passivity and stagnation.**
Entry Strategy Examples
There are hundreds and thousands of entry strategies. These strategies allow us to get in front of people who are far from God. Almost all of them are valid and almost all of them produce fruit and lead to salvations.
Sat 7 broadcasts the good news of Jesus all across the Muslim world.
Billy Graham shared the good news of Jesus to stadiums filled with people.
Tracts have been left on windshields in the Walmart parking lot.
And we all know someone who was invited to church where they heard the gospel and came to faith. God has and will continue to use these types of entry strategies.
But if we want our disciples to become disciples who make disciples, then they must be empowered and released to enter new fields, to proclaim the gospel and to disciple new believers.
We must raise the expectations on what it means to be a disciple and equip everyone to be active participants in God’s work rather than just mere consumers. Anything less leads to passive faith, stunted growth and soon becomes a barrier to kingdom expansion.
The students at Jefferson high school could have looked outside for a special speaker that Collision could bring in. They could have planned a large rally at a nearby church and invited every student to come.
Their job then would have been to hand out flyers and invite students. And some would have come. Some would have heard the gospel and some would most certainly have come to faith.
But then these young disciples would not have had the opportunity to be Christ’s ambassadors.
They wouldn’t have needed to know how to share their faith or how to lead someone to Christ.
They wouldn’t have needed to enter into the mess of students’ lives.
They would not have needed to know how to disciple new believers.
They wouldn’t have needed to obey Jesus and make disciples.
And most at Jefferson high school would not have heard the gospel because most would not have come to a large rally.
The vision was not to reach some of Jefferson High School. The vision is to reach ALL of Jefferson High School.
And so these students are wrestling with discovering entry strategies that will allow them to reach ALL of Jefferson High School.
They are beginning in prayer and listening to the Holy Spirit for guidance.
They are themselves becoming disciples worth multiplying.
They are starting with their relational networks, praying for those they know who don’t yet know Christ.
They are learning about the person of peace and praying that the Lord will lead them to such people in each of the groups that they identified.
They are coaching new believers to gather their friends together to discover the truths in God’s word.
They are finding creative ways to serve and meet other students.
They are asking Wig-Take questions.
They are setting goals and prayerfully holding one another accountable to reach those goals.
Each week new students are coming to faith. Each week new groups are starting on campus.
God is on the move because a group of students believe that God wants to use them on their campus.
In Matthew 10, Jesus sends out the twelve two by two with a number of instructions. Verses 9-10 in the Message read this way: Don’t think you have to put on a fund-raising campaign before you start. You don’t need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment, and all you need to keep that going is three meals a day. Travel light.
The students at Jefferson High School have come to believe that they are the equipment that God wants to use and their example should encourage you.
God has placed you in a job, in a neighborhood, in a group of friends and in a family because He wants to use you there. Your relational networks is your first entry strategy.
You also live in towns, cities and regions filled with people who are far from God, people you do not know.
How will they hear?
Begin to prayerfully discover the entry strategies that will allow you to share the good news of Jesus in these places.
**Nathan Shank, starting on page 29 in Four Fields of Kingdom Growth, offers a helpful list of questions for evaluating tools and methodologies.
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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.