To move from modern Christian Ministry thinking to Apostolic Movement thinking we have to have a mindset shift that feels rather seismic in nature. Here are a few that I am exploring.
1. From Trusting the Qualified to Releasing the Willing
The first and maybe most important is our view of the common man or woman (I prefer not to use laypeople). Most all of us will espouse a concept of the priesthood of the believer. Across the denominational and non-denominational landscape, concepts such as “every member a minister” are used to coax people out of the pew into the battle.
Theological statements such as “the ground at the foot of the Cross is level” popularize the truth found in Galatians 3:28, where Paul declares there is no distinction among ethnicity, gender, or economic status for followers of Jesus. There is equality of access to God through the work of Jesus in this world.
But equality is not the practice. Despite all attempts to the contrary, the control-management mind-set is in operation all around us. Most of us grew up in homes where parents set the rules and made the decisions; and we went to schools where teachers and administrator were in charge. Our health care is delivered in such a fashion that we have little say in diagnosis or treatment. We go to work where we have bosses in charge, who make most of the decisions. So it is only natural that, when it comes to designing organizations to further God’s purposes in this world, we adopt the prevailing sentiments.
The plea to “let my people go” may find its origin in Moses’ relationship with the pharaoh of Egypt, but a litany of books traversing almost every denomination have shouted this epitaph openly. Roland Allen, writing in the early 1900s, says that the movement of the good news “is hindered by a very widespread conviction that we cannot trust untrained men to propagate the Faith.”2 Allen stands in a long line of prophetic voices trying to remove the handcuffs from the common man and tap the greatest potential of the Church.
Who is able to disciple? The trained, equipped, theologically educated, seminary graduate, and, of course, the ordained are. Why? Because we are stuck in the mental mind-set that presumes knowledge leads to spiritual maturity. This confounds me because some of the meanest, unloving people I know are chock full of Bible knowledge. Somehow it didn’t work for them. The truth is, it doesn’t work for everyone. It is not about knowledge but about obedience. Paul told us what knowledge does—it puffs us up (1 Cor. 13).
Until we give up our misplaced trust in subject-matter experts and understand that Jesus doesn’t need the equipped but the willing, we will never mine the wealth of Christ followers and discover the viral power of the good news. As soon as someone begins to express obedience to Jesus, you have engaged a potential disciple-making disciple. All they need is a simple repeatable process to help others do the same thing they are doing so movements can begin.
“But oh no, that couldn’t happen!” many will say. But it did. We all are the result of it happening once. No seminaries or trained theologians, just ordinary people willing to obey Jesus. He started a disciple-making movement with a team not even fully on board with who He was or what he was up to. He started anyway.
We fail to see that the gospel is the power of God, not a person’s knowledge or character.
I can hear what you are thinking—He didn’t have a choice, but we do. So you are saying that all-wise, powerful, and knowledgeable God painted Himself in a corner with the disciples he chose. He didn’t have a choice? Surely you can see that you are defending your paradigm and not thinking clearly about God. He can do what He wants, when He wants, with whom He wants, right?
In Why Nations Fail, 3 M.I.T economist Daron Acemoglu and Harvard political scientist James A. Robinson conclude that nations thrive when they develop inclusive political and economic institutions, and they fail when the institutions become “extractive” and concentrate power and opportunity in the hands of only a few.
Maybe the church in the west is in trouble because we are exclusive. Is knowledge the currency of the exclusiveness that we have concentrated in the hands of the trained? Our confidence in the equipped has led to a sterile plateaued pattern of growth. We are like the cherry blossom trees in Washington DC. Everyone loves to look at them when they produce those soft pink blooms. They don’t they produce cherries, only pretty flowers. They are ornamental rather than fruit producing, like many churches today.
Christian leaders need to radically and ruthlessly reexamine the faulty theological frameworks built through centuries of misreading the Bible. Movements of multiplicative disciple making don’t happen in an atmosphere of hierarchal exclusivity. People movements throughout history have happened when people’s bias for action is not stymied by wondering if they have permission or if they are qualified. God the Father is in our world reconciling it to Himself (2 Cor. 5:16–21) and ready to be the Teacher (John 6:44–46). God the Spirit is ready to lead people to God the Son (John 16:8–11). It is time to “let the people go” by giving them a simple, repeatable strategy for making disciple-making disciples.
2. From Making Disciples to Making Disciple-Making Disciples
This isn’t just a play on words; it’s a shift from selfish, me-centered approaches to spreading the good news to a submission of our methods to the last command of Jesus. When we come to believe that Jesus called us to equipped people to make disciples, we catch the replicating nature of the Great Commission. If our disciples can’t make disciples, we fail to obey Jesus.
Making disciple-making disciples demands that our methodologies are submissive to the Great Commission. Rather than making disciples out of our giftedness, passions, and personalities, we must make disciples with simple and repeatable methodologies that can be used by everyone.
3. From Human Reproduction to Viral Replication
Our mental models can control our intake of information and affect how we put truth into practice. For centuries, the paradigm of human reproduction has controlled our understanding of disciple making. From infancy through childhood, humans can’t reproduce, but once adolescence is reached reproduction is possible. The word reproduction has applied the same process of time to the spiritual journey.
This picture of spiritual infancy to childhood to adult holds the Great Commission captive. One cannot reproduce until they from infancy to adulthood. Coupled with an addiction to content-driven disciple making, these two errant ideas keep us from seeing the true nature of Jesus’s last command. Although a person may grow in her understanding of the Creator God and His great work in this world, there is no biblical reason to press the pause button on the disciple-making process for this to take place. The maturation process will take place for all eternity as we grasp, from our finite nature, the infinite nature of our Father in heaven. Once again, we confuse ends and means. Disciple making is the means, and spiritual growth is the end. We disciple so people can grow; we don’t grow them so they can disciple.
There is nothing of human reproduction in the Great Commission. It resembles more of a viral replication. Many viruses are most potent near the transfer from one organism to another. The longer you wait the more likely the host organism is to fight the infection and render it non-transferable. In Matthew 28, Jesus lays out a viral replication metaphor for us to follow: “Identify them with my cause and teach them to obey.” Simple, repeatable. Disciple making is not about the accumulation of content but the submission of will.
It is biblical but counter-intuitive for us to think that once people start obeying Jesus they could actually be a part of discipling others. I know that their hearts are inclined to believe that what they are learning about Jesus matters more than anything else. If a simple, repeatable process is used to help them begin obeying Jesus’ command, they can use the same process in their relational networks to spread the good news by discipling their friends, relatives, neighbors, and work mates. In turn, they create a viral movement of the good news that spreads unimpeded by forms.
4. From Form to Function (Planting Churches to Making Disciple-Making Disciples)
Jesus said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:19).
Jesus said, “Go, make disciples” (Matthew 28:19).
Paul heard Him loud and clear and taught his disciple, Timothy, the same. “And what you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others” (2 Tim. 2:2 NIV).
Our role is not to get wrapped up with organizational forms that promote the spread of the gospel but to call people into obedience based a relationship to Jesus. He promised that He would build His church. History has proven that when Christians make disciples churches are built, but when we plant churches we don’t always get disciples.
5. From Conversion to Making Disciples
Although persuasive evangelism might be effective in some cultures, in many western contexts as well as other highly religious cultures it has difficulties. It certainly is not the biblical standard and should not be considered the standard approach to spreading the good news.
The twenty-first century is littered with people who trust in a prayer they prayed or with the comfort that they have “accepted,” when in fact they may not understand the good news that Jesus brought. To demand allegiance without addressing the will, without teaching to obey, is to attempt to spread the good news in a way that is foreign to Jesus.
6. From Individuals to Groups
In Luke 10, Jesus trained His disciples to find a household receptive to the faith and stay put. This is known as the “person of peace” principle. Jesus’ intent was to plant the good news in existing relational networks and let it run free. Of the thirty gospel encounters in Acts, only three are individual. Simple, repeatable disciple-making strategies make it possible for an outsider to find an inside person of peace, begin the disciple-making process with them, and coach the progress through the social network.
7. From Knowledge Focused (Transfer of Content) to Obedience Focused (Transformational Experiences)
Our Western traditions have polluted the stream of disciple making. Knowledge has played a pivotal role in the economic development of the west. As such it has infiltrated modern Christianity to the point that most of our disciple-making activities consist of knowledge transfer rather than teaching obedience. It is as if we heard Jesus say “teach them all things” rather than “teach them to obey all things.” In accordance with the Great Commission our efforts should be aimed at designing learning experiences that equip people to obey all of Jesus’ wisdom.
8. From Thinking Like a Marketer to Thinking Like a Terrorist
Church today is often described as a program-driven organization. There is nothing inherently evil with an organization. In fact all organisms have organization. The Creator God brought order out of chaos in creating the world.
Our concern shouldn’t be to abandon the organization but to learn how to influence it. Programs come and go in the West; therefore, they have to be refreshed constantly. But changing a culture via its DNA changes it for a lifetime. Marketers deal with programs (forms); revolutionaries focus on DNA (functions). Marketers focus on tactics while revolutionaries develop strategies. Tossing out our old ways of thinking and being willing to work with a few holy dissatisfied saints gives us the chance to embed movement DNA. It might be slower but it has greater potential.
9. From Leading Toward to Leading From
Reformation requires a new kind of leader. Brian Eno, an Ambient music composer, says of Ambient music that it must be ignored to be engaged.5 That seems a strange statement from someone who creates music. However, he understands that his style of music is made to be in the background.
Movements need leaders who understand how to influence in the background. They don’t move with a sense of personal power and vocal influence. Their power is not seen or felt in traditional ways; therefore, it doesn’t create dependence. Their presence is not needed for the good news to keep moving. Their influence comes in connecting people to the Bible and God rather than to themselves. They know how to disappear, work behind the scenes, play a lesser role, and avoid credit for God’s work.
10. From Being a Content Provider to Being a Learning Designer
This new Reformation needs leaders who have patience for people to discover the truth rather than taking short cuts to tell them what they are looking for. In this trained and equipped world, emotional maturity is required to stop using vocal power and mental knowledge. Movement catalysts focus on simple repeatable processes, the DNA of movements.
Movement catalysts understand that doing is the preferred style of learning, not listening. They eagerly design learning environments for people rather than display their grasp of content. They are not eager to display their knowledge or answer questions. They understand that teaching means to help people make meaning of God’s truth in their reality.