125. People of Peace (POP)

Responding to Theological concerns about Disciple Making Movements #3

This article on People of Peace (POP) is the third in a series responding to concerns about Disciple-Making Movements principles and practices (DMM P&Ps). Previous articles addressed Obedience-Based Discipleship (OBD) and Discovery Bible Study (DBS). Fellowship International (FI) has adopted and adapted DMM P&Ps with the desire to be used of God to catalyze kingdom growth around the world. This article attempts to explain FI’s position regarding POPs and invites others to respond in our common pursuit to help each other handle God’s Word well as we participate together in the missio Dei.

Theological concern: People of Peace (POP)
“Person of peace” (POP) is a strategy of DMM that identifies community gatekeepers who are open to the gospel. Through these influential individuals the spread of the gospel is encouraged by establishing DBS groups in the community. Key characteristics of a POP include being influencers within their community, receptive to the messenger of the gospel, and spiritually open. This strategy has been criticized as unbiblical and inappropriate.

In response to this concern, this article will

  1. Summarize three key issues found in public critiques of POPs.
  2. Affirm those critiques that are consistent with Fellowship International’s theology.
  3. Provide a summary explanation of how Fellowship International’s use of POP is theologically consistent and appropriate.
  4. Provide a POP example from Pakistan.

A. Summary of the Case against POP

The following POP critique is summarized from Vegas and Rhodes’ (2022) book, No Shortcut to Success. Bibliographic information can be found in the list of references.

  1. Reliance on Luke 10:6 for POP strategy is not exegetically valid (Rhodes 2022:Kindle Loc 1563): The phrase “son of peace” which can be translated as “person of peace” (POP) is used only once in the New Testament when Jesus gives instructions to the 72 (Luke 10:6), “If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you.” This one reference does not exegetically support the detailed POP strategy used by DMM. The biblical description is of the head of a household who shows sympathy to the disciples’ task and shows them hospitality as they enter the community with the gospel. The phrase has been illegitimately popularized and expanded in DMM strategy to refer to a gatekeeper into a community and one who will make disciples and plant multiplying churches. There is no biblical evidence for this.
  2. It is presumptuous to identify POPs (Rhodes 2022:Kindle Loc 1563): We cannot identify people in whom God will work. It is presumptuous to assume that we can identify beforehand whom God will choose to take on spiritual leadership. Only God knows people’s hearts. Which of the believers recognized that Saul – the most intense persecutor of Christians – would be the one to bring the gospel throughout the known world?
  3. POP strategy is inappropriate: Looking for gatekeepers into silos, communities, or groups is the opposite of how Jesus did ministry. To target POPs with the goal of generating effective, multiplying ministry demonstrates an arrogance that puts the plans of the missionary ahead of the working of the Holy Spirit. The focus on rapidly growing numbers encourages workers to ignore non-influential individuals. This is the key complaint against POP strategy and Rhodes (2022:Kindle Loc 1582) provides a detailed explanation:

[Jesus] reminds us that every lost sheep merits an all-out search (Luke 15:1–7). Jesus was happy to meet with Nicodemus, even though he came to him alone at night, too scared to be seen by others. The last thing Nicodemus wanted was to open his social network to Jesus. But Jesus still ministered to him. Similarly, Jesus could have turned away the children whose mothers wanted him to bless them, and focused his energy more “strategically” on finding persons of peace. But he didn’t. Sometimes, Jesus and the apostles ministered to those who opened doors for the gospel in their communities (e.g., Jesus and the woman at the well; Peter and Cornelius). But they’re never recorded as trying to discern who might be a gatekeeper to a community and then exclusively working with those people. They simply share the gospel with whoever will listen. Some of these people may share within their communities; some may not. Jesus and his disciples aren’t in a hurry. They don’t need to find effective social networkers in order for the gospel to move forward. Their message has its own power to move forward; it doesn’t need the help of social engineering (Col. 1:5–6). They entrust the spread of the gospel to the sovereignty of God, so they’re free to minister to whomever he brings across their path.

B. Fellowship International affirmations of theology in response to critiques

  1. Reliance on Luke 10:6 for POP strategy is not exegetically valid: Fellowship International affirms that “son of peace” is only used once in New Testament (Luke 10:6) and is insufficient grounds on which to build a key missions strategy. Theological grounds for a POP strategy would require broader biblical support to be legitimate.
  2. It is presumptuous to identify POPs: Fellowship International affirms that only God knows people’s hearts and it is presumptuous to assume that we can identify beforehand whom God will choose to take on spiritual leadership. It is only after fruit is evident that we can look back and see how God has used individuals to bring about a movement to Christ within their community.
  3. POP strategy is inappropriate: Fellowship International affirms that ignoring individuals that God brings into our path is inappropriate. Each person has infinite worth in the sight of God. Because the spread of the gospel is wholly dependent on God’s sovereignty, all missionaries are to be faithful to their calling and trust God for the results. The use of strategies and plans is appropriate when done with humility and full dependence on the Spirit of God.

In light of the above declarations, Fellowship International believes that POP is an appropriate and effective strategy within a DMM methodology to lead seekers to saving faith in Jesus and see a multiplication of disciple-makers.

C. How Fellowship International’s use of POP is biblically and theologically appropriate

  1. Is it valid to use the POP phrase in Luke 10:6 to refer to a missional strategy?: Recognizing that the term “person of peace” is only used once in the New Testament, Fellowship International does not base its POP strategy on this one verse. POP is shorthand for a missional strategy that we argue is biblically and theologically legitimate. It is comparable to the phrase “church planting,” which describes a strategy and activity based on the image given in 1 Cor 3:5-7 but is dependent more robustly on the example of the apostles in the New Testament who sought to initiate local church gatherings. The question could be phrased as “Is it biblically and theologically legitimate to identify gatekeepers of communities who are receptive to the gospel?” This brings us to the next two points.
  2. Is it presumptuous to identify POPs?: Having a missions strategy is neither presumptuous nor arrogant when it is grounded in faith and trust in the Holy Spirit and when it is exemplified by the apostles. Four reasons:

a. First, using a strategy to identify people with a spiritual interest can be seen in Paul’s practice of preaching in synagogues and where Jews gathered to pray (e.g., Lydia in Acts 16). The Spirit occasionally gives more direct guidance as with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8), Cornelius (Acts 10), and the Philippian jailer (Acts 16). Someone might argue that any missions activity in the New Testament is precipitated by a calling of the Holy Spirit, such as Paul and Barnabas’ calling in Acts 13, or the call to Macedonia (Acts 16), and therefore any initiative on our part without such a direct call would be presumptuous. We would respond that while such direct guidance of the Holy Spirit can and does happen, the Great Commission and the action of the apostles and others in the New Testament give sufficient reason and authority to call people to faith in Jesus.

b. Second, we believe that all believers are called to make disciples (Mt 28:19-20). Just because only two people in Antioch were set aside for God’s special purpose (Acts 13), did not remove the task of disciple-making from the rest of the church. Thus, having a strategy that calls people to be both disciples and disciple-makers in their sphere of influence is consistent with biblical teaching.

c. Third, missions strategy in the New Testament assumes that God is working in people before the missionary comes on the scene (Mt 9:37,38; Eph 1:3-14). Thus, the missionary is giving an invitation, not generating interest in the gospel; that is the role of the Holy Spirit. The missionary presents the gospel and seeks to identify and respond to those who are interested. Fellowship International considers this activity to be the heart of the missional emphasis in the New Testament and throughout missions history.

d. Fourth, among those who become believers, there are influential people uniquely situated to open doors for the gospel into their community.[1] These are the ones the missionary hopefully and strategically looks to in order to see if God will use them as POPs. These people are not discerned “beforehand” and designated as POPs, that would be presumptuous, rather they are identified by their fruit as they are challenged to be channels of God’s blessing within their spheres of influence. This challenge is given to all people who respond to the gospel; it is those who take on the responsibility within their communities who prove themselves as POPs.

3. Is the POP strategy to identify gatekeepers inappropriate?: This is the heart of the complaint against POPs. Is it legitimate to have as a missions strategy the identification of people who are gatekeepers to their community and who are positively oriented to the gospel? Accepting that we should care about each person’s salvation and that we cannot identify beforehand whom God will choose for the task, is it appropriate to have a POP strategy? Is an attempt to identify POPs inappropriate “social engineering” of human initiative that refuses to “entrust the spread of the gospel to the sovereignty of God,” or is it a legitimate recognition that God places individuals in responsible positions to impact other people’s lives, and that to identify and work with them towards a multiplication of disciple-makers is a “means” (to use Wm. Carey’s term) of missions?

The West tends to focus on the individual but most cultures, both today and historically speaking, put greater emphasis on the group. Waterman (2019) points out that “when the gospel reaches a group, it immediately becomes an outpost of kingdom dynamics in the midst of that culture…. A brief skim through Acts shows that out of about 33 descriptions of someone coming to saving faith, about 30 of those cases were groups rather than isolated individuals.” He goes on to suggest that the POP strategy can be framed as the aim “to reach groups, not just individuals. Look for those people who open the door to reaching the group within their influence.” This is not a call to ignore individuals, rather it stresses the identity of the individual as a member of a group. Focusing on the individual in collective cultures when presenting the gospel can alienate the person from their group and thus create obstacles to others responding to the gospel. Locating the individual within the group and calling upon that person to be a POP for others within their group facilitates the possibility of a multiplication of disciples.

As Rhodes (2022:Loc 1579) notes, Nicodemus may not have wanted “to open his social network to Jesus.” But more to the point is the question of what Jesus wanted for Nicodemus. As an individual with spiritual questions, that was sufficient reason for Jesus to spend time with him. But Jesus’ teaching makes it clear that true disciples do not limit their concern to personal sin and salvation. Nicodemus was a person of influence within a community. He had the potential to be a POP both among the Pharisees and within his extended family. Jesus recognized him as a “teacher of Israel” and goes on to speak in the plural referring to Nicodemus as representative of the Pharisees (John 3:10-12). The argument here is not to perpetuate the misunderstanding that the POP missional strategy is to focus strategically and “exclusively” on those with the potential to be POPs. Rather the call is for all people who have an interest in the gospel to consider the message for themselves personally as well as how they can be POPs (influential channels of the gospel) according to their level of influence. When the woman of Sychar acted as a POP to the people in her village, Jesus responded, entered that village, and brought transformation (Jn 4:42).

Jesus did not say to his potential disciples, “Follow me, and I will give you fish to eat” – even though he did feed his disciples both miraculously and spiritually – rather the call was “Follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people” (Mt 4:19). This was, according to Fellowship International’s use of the strategy, a call for those men to become POPs within their spheres of influence and beyond (i.e., the apostolic calling to cross barriers into “all nations” where they had to earn their influence).

It is this heart for multiplication through influential people that is Fellowship International’s POP strategy. Even though the apostles did not use the POP terminology as Fellowship International uses the term, the celebration of such people is evident throughout the Epistles, such as in Romans 16: the household of Aristobulus, the household of Narcissus, women such as Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis, who “work hard in the Lord.” Through Jesus’ command and the Holy Spirit’s prompting, the apostles were looking for POPs, people open to the gospel who used their influence to bring others to Jesus so that those people could also become disciple-makers. 2 Tim 2:2 is a key verse for this strategy that indicates both the multiplication and influential dimensions of ministry to others: “the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”

D. A POP example from Pakistan

I have previously written about this personal example of ministry in Pakistan on the Cross-Cultural Impact (CCI) blog in “Confessions of a Failed Church Planter,” “Missional Church 2: The Missional Priority,” and “Cross-cultural Leadership Training.” The following is adapted from those articles.[2]

We had been in Pakistan for about eight years working in evangelism and church planting and I was discouraged. This was well before we had been introduced to DMM P&Ps. About ten men had become followers of Jesus from different families and been baptized. We were meeting as a group for worship and prayer. I was trying to help the group to see their identity as a local body of Christ and to this end had chosen one man who had shown, from my perspective, potential to be the spiritual leader of the group. But it was not going well with infighting and distrust as well as many unfulfilled hopes and expectations.

One day, one of the brothers, Nathaniel (not his real name), dropped by to visit. I had not considered Nathaniel a leader. He was able to read but was not educated. He had a hearing problem and found it hard to communicate adequately. He was slow to understand some concepts and struggled to keep up with a group conversation. As we were chatting together, Nathaniel started to list his favorite chapters in the Bible which included Ps 23, Rom 8, and 1 Cor 13. Then he said, “Genesis 7.” Since this is a chapter in which God destroys the entire world, I was taken aback and I asked him why such a chapter would be important to him.  He replied, “Just as God chose Noah to save his family, God has chosen me to save mine.”

Based on this profession, I encouraged him to focus on being an active and intentional believer within his family. At this time, we did not use POP terminology but now I believe that Nathaniel exemplifies this strategy. He is fulfilling a mandate that he believes is from God and is a gateway into his extended family. His efforts focus on a societal structure (family) in which he is an influential member. I have a relationship with his family, but I am not the disciple-maker, Nathaniel is. I encourage, train, and coach Nathaniel, but he is the one with the disciple-making vision and calling within his sphere of influence.

The church I had worked towards did not materialize, but Nathaniel’s vision lives on. He continues to persevere in his faith with three generations of his family coming to Christ: his mother, his siblings, and his children. He is currently visiting 25 families from his tribe and using DBS to help them discover what God has revealed about himself. Several have professed faith in Jesus and he has baptized 21 of them. He is guiding six people, potential POPs, to be facilitators of the discovery process in surrounding villages.  His sister, another POP, baptized 4 people among her connections (Nathaniel walked her through the baptisms over the phone), and is guiding them to discover the way of Christ from God’s word.

Within this context, identifying potential POPs and encouraging them to become disciple makers who make disciple makers through the application of a simple discovery method of Bible reading has proven to be impacting and has resulted in the multiplication of disciple-makers. Because this process occurs within the stability of extended families, the gospel continues to spread and is passed on to the next generation. When influential heads of each family are present this model of ministry is reproducible. Introducing Jesus into social structures through the application of DMM P&Ps and identifying POPs has produced fruit because of the work of the Holy Spirit resulting in glory to God.


[1] See further in Farrah’s (2021, loc 644-663) article on Movements Today for historical and sociological connections between POP and movements.

[2] Material from unpublished Perspectives lectures on the social dimension of church planting (2014) as well church presentations on “Stories of Courage and Faith” (2022) are also used.

Other articles dealing with “People of Peace”

Ken Jolley, Exploring Vegas’ Critique of DMM

Mark Naylor, Response to Stiles’ Critique of DMMs
 Jesus’ Expectation that We Will find “People of Peace”
Defending DMMs

List of References

Farah, Warrick (2021). “Movements Today: A Primer from Multiple Perspectives” in Motus Dei: The Movement of God to Disciple the Nations, Ed. Warrick Farah. Littleton Co: Wm Carey Pub.

Naylor, Mark (2003). 5. Confessions of a Failed Church Planter. https://impact.nbseminary.com/5confessions-of-a-failed-church-planter/

___________(2006). 45. Missional Church 2: The Missional Priority. https://impact.nbseminary.com/45-missional-church-2-the-missional-priority/

___________(2007). 52. Cross-cultural Leadership Training. https://impact.nbseminary.com/cross-cultural-leadership-training/

Rhodes, Matt (2022). No Shortcut to Success: A Manifesto for Modern Missions. Wheaton: Crossway.

Waterman L.D. (2019). A Straw Man Argument to Prove What God Shouldn’t Do: A Critique of Chad Vegas’ “A Brief Guide to DMM”

Additional resources related to DMM controversies

Coles, David (2022) Book Review: Matt Rhodes, No Shortcut to Success: A Manifesto for Modern Mission

___________ (2021) Addressing Theological and Missiological Objections to CPM/DMM in Motus Dei: The Movement of God to Disciple the Nations. Ed. Warrick Farah. Littleton: Wm Carey Pub.

Guenther, Ken (2019). Response to Radius International’s Criticism of Disciple Making Movements (DMM).

Jolley, Ken (2020) 111. Exploring Vegas’ Critique of DMM. https://impact.nbseminary.com/exploring-vegas-critique-of-dmm/

Naylor, Mark (2020). 109. Defending DMMs: A response to Chad Vegas. https://impact.nbseminary.com/109-defending-dmms/ 

___________(2020). 110. Response to Stiles’ Critique of DMMs. https://impact.nbseminary.com/110-response-to-stiles-critique-of-dmms/

___________(2020). 112. DMM Critiques addressed at FI Summit 2020. https://impact.nbseminary.com/dmm-critiques-addressed-at-fi-summit-2020/

___________(2021). 114. Does DMM suffer from NA pragmatic arrogance?https://impact.nbseminary.com/114-does-dmm-suffer-from-na-pragmatic-arrogance/

___________ (2021). 116. Reflections on the Theological Validity of Disciple-Making Movements (DMMs)

Trousdale, Jerry &  Sunshine, Glenn (2018) The Kingdom Unleashed: How Jesus’ 1st-Century Kingdom Values Are Transforming Thousands of Cultures and Awakening His Church. Murfreesboro: DMM Library.

Watson, David L. & Watson, Paul D. (2014). Contagious Disciple Making: Leading Others on a Journey of Discovery.  Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Yinger, Ken (2020) 113. We are all Heretics,

124. Discovery Bible Study (DBS)

Responding to Theological concerns about Disciple Making Movements #2

Critics of Disciple Making Movements (DMM) have raised biblical and theological concerns about some DMM principles and practices (DMM P&Ps).  Because Fellowship International (FI) has adopted and adapted DMM P&Ps with the desire to be used by God to catalyze kingdom growth around the world, such critiques should be taken seriously and answered with care. The previous article on Obedience-Based Discipleship (OBD), this article on Discovery Bible Study (DBS), and the following article on People of Peace (POP) attempt to address three significant critiques with the invitation to respond as we participate together in the missio Dei.

Theological concern: Discovery Bible Study (DBS)
Obedience-based discipleship (OBD) uses an inductive or discovery method of Bible reading where participants discern the meaning of a passage in a group setting through interactive engagement with a passage of Scripture. Usually, these groups follow some form of Discovery Bible Study (DBS) that uses a set of open-ended questions suitable for any passage of Scripture. For example, a core question is “What does this passage reveal about what God is like, what God wants, and what God is doing?” Each meeting is led by a facilitator who reads out the questions and encourages others to respond. The DBS process I prefer is available here.

Discovery methodology prioritizes the engagement of participants, both believers and seekers, to discern the meaning of a Bible passage rather than depending on the prepared explanation of a teacher. Three concerns raised by critics are that (1) people who do not have the Holy Spirit are guiding others in Bible study, (2) without appropriate spiritual oversight by a mature believer, participants will misunderstand or misapply Scripture, and (3) DBS displaces teaching and proclamation so that these spiritual gifts are not given appropriate biblical emphasis.

In response to these concerns, this article will

  1. Describe the three key issues found in public critiques of DBS,
  2. Affirm those convictions that are consistent with Fellowship International’s theology,
  3. Describe the DBS dynamic,
  4. Provide a summary explanation of how Fellowship International’s use of DBS is theologically consistent and appropriate,
  5. Introduce the theology and hermeneutic used in the discovery method, and
  6. Provide examples of how DBS is being used in missions along with reasons why these accord with the way God’s Spirit brings transformation.

A. Summary of the case against DBS

The following DBS critique is summarized from podcasts by Berger & DeMars and articles by Morell, Kocman and Vegas, and Rhodes’ book, No Shortcut to Success. Bibliographic information can be found in the list of references.

The use of this methodology as the primary disciple-making practice has drawn criticism for three reasons:

  1. Unbelieving facilitators: It is inappropriate for someone who is not a professing believer to facilitate a Bible study because they do not have the Spirit of God guiding them. This is unheard of in the New Testament. If DBS is the way people are discipled in DMM, then unconverted unbelievers are engaged in the process of making “disciples” and thus disciple-making movements are being encouraged where there is no conversion to the gospel.
  2. Lack of Spiritual Oversight: Related to the previous concern, but examined separately, is the practice of encouraging Bible study without the oversight of a mature believer. Such a practice is spiritually irresponsible because people can easily misunderstand or misapply Scripture.
  3. Disparagement of preaching and teaching: In DBS, discovery is emphasized while teaching and preaching are disparaged as “knowledge-based discipleship,” as if obedience can be separated from knowledge. The biblical pattern of evangelism is proclamation, not inductive Bible study. After Pentecost the apostles engage in preaching and teaching. They never promote the idea that believers, let alone unbelievers, should facilitate a self-corrected, untaught, Bible study. The biblical methodology is proclamation by Holy Spirit-appointed believers in whom the authority to teach rests. Historically Protestants hold that evangelism is carried out by the preaching of the gospel, not by the study of God’s Word by unbelievers.

B. Fellowship International affirmations of theology

  1. Unbelieving facilitators: Since teaching, prophesying, and evangelism are all described as gifts of the Spirit given for the building up of the church (Eph 4:11-16), it is inappropriate to appoint, promote, or encourage an unbeliever to take on the position and responsibility of teaching others the Bible and the message of the gospel.
  2. Lack of Spiritual Oversight: Mature believers should take seriously their responsibility to give guidance to seekers who are pursuing Jesus and to new believers who are learning how to live out their covenant with Jesus (1 Tim 4:11-13, 2 Tim 4:1-2, Tit 2:1-15). It is irresponsible to refuse, ignore or downplay such interaction and oversight.
  3. Disparagement of preaching and teaching: Since teaching, prophesying, and evangelism are all described as gifts of the Spirit given for the building up of the church (Eph 4:11-16), the proclamation and teaching of God’s Word is to be encouraged, not disparaged.

C. The DBS Dynamic

An understanding of the DBS dynamic is important for clarity before responding to the critiques.

DBS is a method of Bible reading, not teaching: The facilitator creates an environment for people to engage God’s Word directly so that all can discern together how the character, will, and mission of God are revealed in the text.

Discovery at the heart of disciple making: Fellowship International views the discovery method as the heart of disciple making because a deep and appropriate engagement with God’s Word brings transformation as people conform their lives to the revelation of God’s character, will, and mission. DBS emphasizes that the primary and authoritative source for the proclamation of the gospel and the teaching of who God is and what he wants is Scripture itself; God’s self-revelation is the foundation of a true relationship with God. The primary focus of DBS is that both believers and seekers will know how to read, interpret, and respond to God’s Word.

Facilitators not teachers: DBS facilitators are not teachers but participants who hold a posture of submission to God’s Word along with others, expecting a sacred message they can understand. A facilitator provides opportunity for God’s Spirit to act as the teacher rather than being the one to explain what the Bible means.

Anyone can facilitate. Because DBS is primarily a way to come to know God’s character, will, and mission by reading the Bible and discussing the implications, all group members are encouraged to take turns facilitating. This is as simple as following a one-page outline of instructions and questions.

DBS is a means for all believers to be disciple-makers: Fellowship International interprets the Great Commandment as applicable to all believers. Therefore, all believers are called to be disciple-makers and DBS is a clear process that any believer can use to engage interested people – seekers or believers – so that they have opportunity to reflect on what God has revealed.  Not all believers can be teachers, but all can become disciple-making facilitators.  Being a facilitator is not an authoritative position, but a method by which people are exposed to the Bible as God’s self-revelation.

DBS prioritizes the apostles’ teaching and proclamation: DBS is a simple, reproducible method of Bible reading that engages people directly with God’s Word rather than by removing the reader from the text by one degree through the filter of a human teacher.

The discovery process empowers participants to develop their theology:  Since participants read God’s word primarily as God’s self-revelation, they are gaining a biblical understanding of who God is.  The message in a passage of Scripture is not interpreted or claimed as a direct communication from God to the reader but as a revelation of God’s character, will, and mission. From that understanding, an appropriate application can be determined. See below for an introduction to the theology and hermeneutic of the discovery method.

DBS allows for intercultural catalyzing:  Because people discover for themselves the meaning of God’s word, the cross-cultural worker does not need to cross the cultural bridge with their own understanding of God’s word; instead, they create access so that others can read God’s Word for themselves.  This does not negate the need for language and cultural learning, but it provides a pathway into significant disciple-making engagement of God’s word even before the cross-cultural worker has mastered communication skills.

D. How Fellowship International’s use of DBS is biblically and theologically appropriate

Fellowship International believes that DBS is an appropriate and effective disciple-making practice for both believers and seekers because it is centered on God’s Word. The specific critiques mentioned above are now addressed:

1. Unbelieving facilitators: Some have expressed concern that DMM practitioners are encouraging people who are not yet committed followers of Jesus to take spiritual leadership within a Bible study. This would be in violation of the concern laid out in the pastoral letters that spiritual leaders be committed followers of Jesus (e.g., 1 Tim 4). Fellowship International affirms this concern. However, DBS, while an important disciple-making process, is primarily a Bible reading method suitable for anyone, whether believer or seeker. Furthermore, the facilitator is not considered a spiritual leader but a fellow participant, although the hope is that the person will become a committed believer and develop into a spiritual leader.

In FI’s DMM approach, all people whether believers, unbelievers, or seekers, are encouraged to read and engage God’s Word in any setting. The reading of God’s Word is always a good thing and should not be discouraged. The hope is that unbelievers will become seekers, seekers will become believers, and believers will be strengthened in their faith to become mature disciple-makers. In DBS, the authority of the message remains in God’s Word, not in the facilitators or participants. They are the recipients and the ones discovering what God has revealed. It is the Word alone that speaks authoritatively.     

Because facilitation of DBS is a means of reading Scripture with others, it is appropriate for a non-believer to take on a facilitation role and everyone is encouraged to take their turn by following the DBS aims and questions. It is normal for one person to instigate the gathering of the group to guide and monitor the DBS process – referred to in this article as the “facilitator,” even though others are encouraged to facilitate during a meeting – but they do not have the authority of a teacher.

2. Lack of Spiritual Oversight: A key DMM principle is to multiply DBS groups among people who have the desire to discover God’s character, will, and mission by engaging Scripture. Establishing a new group requires someone capable of being a facilitator, either a believer who embraces Jesus’ command to be a disciple-maker or a seeker who wants to read the Bible with their friends or relatives. Where movements are happening, people are establishing their own groups (e.g., reading the Bible at home with their family) even without the instigation of a DMM practitioner.

The history of missions has been founded on God’s Word.  A lack of oversight by mature believers should not be a reason to keep God’s Word from people hungry to learn. In many places, people are being exposed to God’s Word through technology that does not allow for oversight (internet, radio, Scripture distribution). While not ideal, such realities do cause us to rely on the Holy Spirit, especially when we are not able to follow up, like Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch who continued alone back to his home country (Acts 8). DBS anticipates and provides for rapid distribution of the gospel message through a simple, reproducible method of reading to understand and obey that helps seekers understand how to engage God’s Word appropriately and with impact, even without oversight.

To make oversight the limiting factor for the spread of the gospel seems inappropriate in light of New Testament patterns. The apostle Paul expressed thanksgiving for the spread of the gospel (1 Thess 1:8-10), even when it was accomplished through those who were less than sincere (Php 1:15-18).

Nonetheless, in the normal course of catalyzing a disciple-making movement, the DBS process is instigated by a DMM practitioner who continues to monitor and debrief the primary facilitator of a group. This spiritual support and oversight allow the disciple-maker to gauge how the group is engaging God’s word, not by taking responsibility for the group, but through interaction with the facilitator. This approach requires a deep faith in God’s Word and confidence in the Holy Spirit to guide the process as the facilitator is encouraged and empowered. This not only aids the multiplication of groups who engage God’s Word, but also establishes a means for the intentional training, teaching, and disciple-making of facilitators. In addition, the disciple-maker can challenge facilitators concerning their own personal faith response.  If a person has not yet made a commitment to Christ, that will be an essential part of the conversation.

3. Disparagement of preaching and teaching: Some have expressed concern that proclamation and teaching are discouraged in the DBS process, noting that the New Testament clearly describes proclamation and teaching as the primary ways people were introduced to the gospel. Three responses:

a. DBS is not a forum for teaching:
Fellowship International affirms the importance of teachers, prophets, and evangelists in the building up of the church and does not discourage or disparage such gifting. However, proclamation and teaching are discouraged in a DBS context because such actions undermine the discovery process that is essential to develop a conviction that anyone can read and interpret Scripture sufficiently in order to discover God’s character, will, and mission.

Preaching and teaching must be true to the authority of Scripture and DBS equips people by developing a familiarity with Scripture so they can engage and even evaluate a teacher’s message based on their understanding of God’s Word.

DBS can also be a welcome correction to an unhealthy dependence on preachers and teachers whose knowledge and competence encourage believers to become passive and rely on the insights of the teacher rather than exploring the Word for themselves. DBS mitigates the concern that people may come to faith with a desire for salvation but without a commitment to obey. Trusting the instruction and guidance of teachers rather than exploring Scripture in order to obey weakens the disciple. DBS begins with and maintains its focus to know God’s character and conform to his will and mission. “What you win them with is what you win them to.” 

The claim that personal engagement of God’s Word through a discovery process is a legitimate priority for a disciple is based on the Protestant doctrine of the perspicuity of the Bible[1]. This doctrine assumes that God intended to communicate a message for all people through his prophets and apostles who were guided by the Holy Spirit in what they wrote, and that he was successful – 2 Tim 3:16-17, Heb 4:12.  Thus, anyone who reads God’s word with care and sincerity can discern God’s message, especially in the self-correcting environment of a group. Through DBS people learn that they can read and discover God’s self-revelation with understanding and confidence. Rather than assuming a position between God’s Word and listeners in order to explain and interpret, facilitators together with all participants, submit themselves to the authority of Scripture. The Holy Spirit remains the teacher; the facilitator and the participants, are the learners.

At the same time, while personal engagement with God’s Word is necessary and foundational for disciples, it is not sufficient because the input of believers who can teach is also important. Such teachers are a gift from God to Christ’s body and are to be encouraged as they help others understand God’s Word and grow in their discipleship journey. Such teachers complement the personal engagement of God’s Word, but should not undermine or become a substitute for personal discovery.

b. DBS promotes direct engagement of the apostles’ proclamation and teaching:
Despite discouraging a teaching posture for DBS facilitators, DMM practitioners encourage people to engage the record of proclamation and teaching in the New Testament. At the time of the book of Acts, proclamation was necessary for people to hear the gospel because the New Testament was not yet written or collated. The New Testament was written by the apostles through the prompting of the Holy Spirit to expand the proclamation of the gospel beyond verbal messages to written text. Reading the Bible is therefore a form of hearing Jesus’ and the apostles’ proclamation and teaching. DBS, therefore, does not downplay proclamation and teaching; it is exposing participants to a God-given, inspired means of proclamation and teaching found in the text itself.

There is much to be learned from other believers about the way of Jesus and how to live in the kingdom of God, and apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers (APEST – Eph 4:11-12) are all gifts to the church for this purpose. We must never quench the Spirit by discouraging those to whom God has given these gifts but give them full scope to fulfill the task God has called them to. A fuller and deeper engagement of God’s Word is gained through the supplementary gifts of preaching and teaching, as long they enhance and do not undermine the primary engagement of Jesus’ and the apostles’ teaching through a discovery process.

c. DBS prioritizes disciple-making over passive listening:
All believers are called to be disciple-makers who make disciple-makers (Mt 28:19-20). This responsibility is effectively carried out in a group setting through a discovery process as participants work out the meaning of God’s message and its implication for their lives. This follows the pattern evident after Pentecost when believers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42) and were often “together” (Acts 2:44,46) for fellowship and worship. The testimony that the “Lord added to their group others who were being saved” (Acts 2:47) likely implies that seekers joined with believers to engage that teaching. Furthermore, the apostles often addressed the whole church in their epistles (e.g., 1 Thess 1:1) indicating that all believers were expected to engage the apostles’ teaching directly, not just through the authority of a local leader. Engaging the apostles’ message in our time occurs first through such readings of the New Testament as DBS offers.

While DBS provides a foundational pathway by which seekers can become disciples and believers can be strengthened in their faith and become involved in making disciples, this process does not displace preachers and teachers within the body of Christ. Rather, it emphasizes the priority of Scripture reading that needs to be complemented and supplemented by the guidance of Spirit-filled believers whom God appoints for such ministry. The discovery process is how disciples are made and the responsibility for this task is not limited to those with APEST gifts.

E. An introduction to the theology and hermeneutic of the discovery method

DBS promotes an important hermeneutic: the Bible as revelation. The Bible is an authentic, necessary, and sufficient revelation of God’s character, God’s will, and God’s mission within cultural, historical, and geographical contexts that are different from the contexts of today’s readers.  The Bible also provides an authentic, necessary, and sufficient representation of humanity and the human condition described within diverse cultural, historical, and geographical contexts. Both unfamiliarity with the biblical contexts and the inevitable influence of the reader’s personal worldview and cultural assumptions challenge the ability of the reader to interpret and apply Scripture. These challenges indicate that to understand the text the reader needs (1) familiarity with the Bible, (2) community support to interpret and apply God’s Word, and (3) teachers and scholars.

The role of DBS is to (1) expose people to God’s Word, (2) guide people to read God’s Word as his self-revelation, (3) help people read the Bible with understanding and confidence, (4) ensure that the Bible is read in community, and (5) challenge participants to respond to what they have discovered. DBS demonstrates a high reliance on the perspicuity of the Bible, the work of the Holy Spirit, and a community of believers and seekers. When the discovery process happens regularly over time an ever-increasing familiarity with Scripture is developed.

The following diagram shows the interpretive process used by DBS:

The Bible is not read in order to find a direct application to life as if contextual interpretation is not needed (bottom arrow). At least two cultural contexts need to be considered: the biblical culture and our own culture. Because of this reality, a direct connection between the Bible and our situation is not possible. Instead, Scripture is viewed as the revelation of God given in another time and place and through a different cultural lens (left arrow). The discernment of God’s revelation in a passage then shapes our beliefs as we integrate the revelation into our theology and belief system (top arrow). Only then does that belief find application as it is expressed through culturally appropriate actions (right arrow).

DBS encourages respect for and integrity with God’s Word as authoritative because the participants read and understand the meaning of a biblical text rather than using a variety of texts to support a particular doctrine. At the same time, readers in a group context are guided to self-contextualize the revelation of God as they explore how these truths can be expressed in their lives. This is a foundational practice for any congregation to become the hermeneutic of the gospel (Newbigin 1989:222) and so moves the group towards a self-identification of “church.” At the same time, this practice does not exclude contextualization of the gospel by outsiders, nor does it undermine or exclude God’s gift of apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers (APEST). DBS allows the text to reveal God to seekers and to empower believers so that they have confidence in what they read, and it demonstrates a crucial process for how to use God’s Word to assess the truth claims of those who teach so that they are not led astray.

F. Examples of how DBS is being used in missions along with reasons why these accord with the way that God’s Spirit brings transformation.

A DBS Case Study in Pakistan
Papu is a believer in Pakistan from a Hindu background whom I am coaching according to DMM P&Ps. He has 13 men from different villages that he calls People of Peace (POPs).  Four are baptized believers, the rest are seekers from a Hindu background who are learning about who Jesus is and what God’s Word teaches. On Sundays they meet as a group. During the time together Papu engages them in a discovery process of Bible reading. He teaches a story to the illiterate men based on a passage of Scripture that is read by the literate men. The men take turns repeating the Bible story until everyone repeats it adequately.  Papu and the POPs then go through a set of DBS questions to work out the meaning and significance of the story followed by a challenge to respond in a manner that fits with what they have discovered about the character, will, and mission of God. These questions are always the same, allowing for this process to be repeated with any Bible story or passage, and for the men to repeat the process when they return to their villages.

During the week each of the men is required to repeat the story or read the passage with their family and/or friends, ask the DBS questions, and then challenge the group members to respond. Papu visits the villages of his POPs and oversees their efforts to guide others in a discovery reading of God’s Word.  These facilitators are not training to be teachers; they are like the woman at the well (Jn 4) telling people in their village what Jesus has said. The goal for the people of Sychar was not to continue learning from the woman but to turn to Jesus and learn from him. Similarly, the POPs point to Scripture so that people can hear God speak and then learn to respond.

DBS and Bible Translation
As a Bible translator, I am intrigued by the history of Bible translation and the stories of the opposition and struggle faced by those who sought to provide the average person access to God’s Word in their own language. In session three of the documentary series, The Adventure of English, the presenter explains how the Bible came to be translated into vernacular English.

At the time of William Tyndale, a Latin translation, which people could not understand, was the Bible of the church. During worship services, the priest would read passages silently so that the ordinary people would not hear, and a bell would sound to let them know when the reading was complete. The Bible was considered too sacred for their ears.

Meanwhile, outside the ornate cathedrals, people were entertained by mystery plays, similar to children’s advent plays today, that were loose portrayals of Bible stories, performed in the vernacular English. These were entertaining but poor reflections of the biblical text.

It was in this context that Tyndale envisioned and worked towards an English translation of the Bible from the original languages[2]. When a Bishop argued that it was harmful for people to have God’s law, Tyndale responded, “If God spares my life, in a few years a plowboy shall know more of the Scriptures than you do” (Brandon 2016).

Once the translation was complete, a group called Lollards who were dedicated to the reformation of Western Christianity, traveled around England secretly distributing handwritten copies of the English Bible at risk of imprisonment and execution. This conviction to give the Bible into the hands of the common person, written in their mother tongue, has been a key commitment of missionaries throughout the era of modern missions. The Gideons movement is an example of the conviction that the Bible should be made available to all so that anyone can read God’s Word for themselves.

Getting the Bible into the hands and thoughts of the average person drives DBS and is based on the belief that the foundational method for the proclamation and teaching of the gospel is God’s Word itself. Familiarity with and love for God’s Word cultivated through DBS ensures that the primacy of Scripture is established from the beginning of the seeker’s journey and that the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ remains the believer’s supreme teacher (Mt 23:10).

DBS and Bible Correspondence Courses
The Pakistan Bible Correspondence School (PBCS) invites Muslims to study the Bible.  A series of lessons are sent out that consist of Bible passages and simple questions. Early on in my ministry I studied one series to help me learn the Sindhi language and religious vocabulary (I even received a certificate!). Whenever a person signs up to study the lessons, they are sent a copy of the Sindhi New Testament with the hope that they will read it, perhaps even together with family or friends. The basic introduction of the courses is supplemented by the staff of PBCS who travel to meet students, engage their questions, and give further teaching. One of their tools is DBS as they encourage seekers to effectively engage and respond to the good news of Jesus Christ.

The point of these illustrations is to demonstrate that DBS is being used as an effective and appropriate Bible reading tool for seekers and believers alike.

There is a claim that we remember 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, 50% of what we see and hear, 70% of what we discuss with others, 80% of what we personally experience, 95% of what we teach others (Dale, We Remember). Whether or not these percentages are accurate, the concept resonates. The more we engage God’s Word with others in order to understand and obey, the more we will retain and the greater the impact will be. DBS lays out some foundational practices for the sincere disciple who desires to follow Jesus fully. It is only one methodology and it is not sufficient for the building up the body of Christ. Leaders, pastors, and teachers are needed. What DBS provides is a foundational and impacting process through which disciples are made and who then know how to go on to become disciple-makers themselves. The goal is to adopt, adapt, and supplement such methodologies so that the body of Christ will be built up and there will be a missional impact of disciple-makers making disciple-makers.


[1] Brackett (2010) informs us that both the 1646 Westminster Confession of Faith and the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith state, “…Those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.” On p. 37 footnote 5 Brackett provides a list of the eight key points of the doctrine.

[2] John Wycliffe had translated the Latin Bible into English more than a century earlier.  That translation had been outlawed in England (Wycliffe Bible Translators).

List of References

The Adventure Of English – Episode 3 The Battle for the Language of the Bible – BBC Documentary.

Berger, Russell & DeMars, Sean (2021). Episode 63: Obedience-Based Discipleship: Is it Biblical? Defend and Confirm Podcast. https://www.podbean.com/site/EpisodeDownload/PB112062DRUZ3N

Brackett, Kristian (2010) “The Perspicuity of the Scriptures:  Presupposition, Principle or Phantasm” in KAIROS – Evangelical Journal of Theology, Vol. IV. No. 1, pp. 31-50

Brandon, Steve (2016). The Plowboy. https://enjoyinghisgrace.wordpress.com/2016/01/27/the-plow-boy/

Dale, Edgar. We Remember.  https://uh.edu/~dsocs3/wisdom/wisdom/we_remember.pdf

Kocman, Alex (2021). Is ‘Obedience-Based Discipleship’ Biblical? https://www.abwe.org/blog/obedience-based-discipleship-biblical

Morell, Caleb (2019); Book Review: The Kingdom Unleashed, by Jerry Trousdale and Glenn Sunshine.

Newbigin, Lesslie (1989). The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. Grand Rapids: Eerdmanns.

Rhodes, Matt (2022). No Shortcut to Success: A Manifesto for Modern Missions. Wheaton: Crossway.

Vegas, Chad (2018). A Brief Guide to DMM.

“William Tyndale: A Master Translator.” Wycliffe Bible Translators.                        https://wycliffe.org.uk/story/william-tyndale?gclid=CjwKCAjw5MOlBhBTEiwAAJ8e1nAJ16UKZvMkSmzJ-LbpXz4bPRayytra9IJCNEM4tYbrBKEYITCpDhoCh4cQAvD_BwE

Additional resources related to DMM controversies

Coles, David (2022) Book Review: Matt Rhodes, No Shortcut to Success: A Manifesto for Modern Mission

___________ (2021) Addressing Theological and Missiological Objections to CPM/DMM in Motus Dei: The Movement of God to Disciple the Nations. Ed. Warrick Farah. Littleton: Wm Carey Pub.

Jolley, Ken (2020) 111. Exploring Vegas’ Critique of DMM. https://impact.nbseminary.com/exploring-vegas-critique-of-dmm/

Naylor, Mark (2020). 109. Defending DMMs: A response to Chad Vegas. https://impact.nbseminary.com/109-defending-dmms/ 

___________(2020). 110. Response to Stiles’ Critique of DMMs. https://impact.nbseminary.com/110-response-to-stiles-critique-of-dmms/

___________(2020). 112. DMM Critiques addressed at FI Summit 2020. https://impact.nbseminary.com/dmm-critiques-addressed-at-fi-summit-2020/

___________(2021). 114. Does DMM suffer from NA pragmatic arrogance?https://impact.nbseminary.com/114-does-dmm-suffer-from-na-pragmatic-arrogance/

Watson, David L. & Watson, Paul D. (2014). Contagious Disciple Making: Leading Others on a Journey of Discovery.  Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Waterman L.D. (2019). A Straw Man Argument to Prove What God Shouldn’t Do: A Critique of Chad Vegas’ “A Brief Guide to DMM”

Yinger, Ken (2020) 113. We are all Heretics,


123. Obedience Based Discipleship (OBD)

Responding to Theological concerns about Disciple Making Movements #1 

Disciple Making Movements (DMM) have made a significant impact in evangelical missions efforts over the past few decades, both in terms of kingdom growth and as a challenge to traditional missions’ philosophy and practices. As with all new initiatives, there have been enthusiastic promoters as well as detractors and skeptics. As a firm believer in the importance and role of the body of Christ, I am encouraged when partners in ministry speak up about their concerns.  Such conversations, when handled with grace, openness, and the desire to grow together can serve to advance the cause of the gospel as we understand each other, learn from each other, and humbly receive correction from each other. In this and the following two articles, I address three significant concerns raised by those committed to the cause of Christ, but who, for biblical and theological reasons, believe that some DMM principles and practices have deviated from what God has called the church to do.

The theological analysis provided in these blogs is not intended to be the “final word;” it is an attempt to shed light on Fellowship International’s (FI) adoption and adaptation of DMM principles and practices (DMM P&Ps) and to encourage an ongoing conversation so we can work with each other to handle God’s word well and discover his will. In the spirit of “iron sharpening iron,” we partner together to join Jesus in his mission as he redeems the world.

The theological concern addressed in this article is Obedience Based Discipleship (OBD). In the following articles I will consider Discovery Bible Study (DBS), and People of Peace (POP).

Theological concern: Obedience Based Discipleship (OBD)
OBD is a key practice of DMM where seekers are encouraged to read God’s Word as a revelation of God’s character, will, and mission, and then respond with obedience to the implications of that revelation. Some critics believe that OBD conflicts with New Testament teaching, primarily because it obscures the nature and doctrine of conversion. If people are taught to obey biblical teaching before they are called to repent and believe, they will downplay the necessary and sufficient work of Christ in salvation and may develop an inappropriate conviction that they can save themselves by conforming to the principles found in God’s Word.  This is human-centered legalism rather than grace-filled humility with the conviction that all is gift, and all is of Christ.

Friends of mine have raised their children with a kind of casual Christianity promoting select values and teachings that are meant to help their children succeed in life. As a result, these young adults approach spirituality as a set of principles and practices that they can adopt (or not) in order to live well. This type of narrative is pervasive in Canadian society and communicates the attitude that, “we can save ourselves. Through science, psychology, or meditation we can gain all we need. The teachings of Jesus are helpful, and we can adopt and adapt them to our personal needs – we can work out our own path.” This narrative has rejected a life commitment to Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Is OBD in danger of teaching people to view the Bible as equivalent to a self-help manual? Does obedience-based discipleship encourage seekers to identify and select appealing principles and commands they can control and live by while ignoring the One who demands submission and allegiance? Rather than being confronted with their sin and helplessness so they humble themselves before the Savior, are people guided to chart their own spiritual course with little concern for repentance and faith resulting in a belief that they can become good people (righteous) through their own actions (works)?

In response to this concern, this article will

  1. Summarize three key issues found in public critiques of OBD,
  2. Affirm those convictions that are consistent with Fellowship International’s theology,
  3. Provide a summary explanation of how Fellowship International’s use of OBD is theologically consistent and appropriate and does not fall into the theological trap outlined above, and
  4. Respond to specific critiques of OBD found in various articles that have particular biblical or theological significance.

A. Summary of the case against OBD

The following OBD critique is summarized from podcasts by Berger & DeMars and articles by Clark, Kocman and Vegas. Bibliographic information can be found in the list of references.

  1. Obedience and faith: Because OBD promotes a process that focuses primarily on obedience as even more important than knowing the truth, it creates a system of works-righteousness through which people believe they can be saved. Reducing the gospel to a call to be outwardly obedient to God’s Word distorts the message that we are saved by grace. OBD conflates faith and obedience by teaching that obedience is a necessary part of faith, thus incorporating our own efforts for salvation together with the working of God’s Spirit in the human heart. This is legalism and undermines the Protestant belief of “Sola fide” – faith alone and “Sola gratia” – grace alone.
  2. Unbelievers as disciples?: OBD is the practice of leading groups of unbelieving “disciples” into regular obedience to the imperatives of Christ, independent of conversion. Calling unbelievers to obedience prior to any proclamation of Christ’s redemptive work and before repentance and belief on the part of the unbeliever is inappropriate and unbiblical. It is contradictory to claim that an unconverted person can be an obedient disciple.
  3. First grace, then obedience: OBD bypasses the call to believe and declares that people must first obey the Father’s commandments in order to merit his forgiveness and favor. The biblical order is first to be saved by grace, and only then obey out of a grateful heart. True Christian obedience flows from a regenerate heart that has been renewed by the Spirit of God. This is the obedience of faith (Rom 1). To reverse the order from faith to obedience is a deviation from true faith since only a regenerated person can truly obey Jesus in any meaningful sense.

B. Fellowship International affirmations of theology

  1. Obedience and faith: Fellowship International affirms that Christians are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as revealed by Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone (sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus, sola scriptura, soli Deo gloria). Any use of OBD as a call to obedience must be in harmony with these truths. Obedience is not a means of salvation, nor is it equivalent to faith. It is not a necessary human act that adds to the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Obedience is a response of submission before, commitment to, and trust in God and is simultaneously a gift of God’s grace.
  2. Unbelievers as disciples?: Fellowship International affirms that unbelieving and unrepentant people who live in rebellion against God and in rejection of the gospel and who do not acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Savior are not true disciples, nor can they participate authentically in a discipleship relationship. Anyone who rejects Jesus and the message of the gospel cannot at the same time be a disciple of Jesus.
  3. First grace, then obedience: Fellowship International affirms that true obedience is a response of belief and trust from the heart. Even as all truth is God’s truth, so all authentic obedience stems from a heart that is being changed by God’s Spirit. Any action that is hypocritical, self-serving, or is viewed as the means of salvation rather than based on the will and grace of God alone is not true obedience.

In light of the above declarations, Fellowship International believes that OBD is an appropriate and effective practice for presenting the gospel as part of DMM strategy/methodology to lead seekers to saving faith in Jesus.

C. How Fellowship International’s use of OBD is biblically and theologically appropriate

1. Obedience and faith: Obedience-based discipleship as perceived and applied by Fellowship International is viewed in contrast to knowledge-based discipleship which describes a tendency to engage in Bible study without evidence, necessarily, of obedience and missional application. OBD is therefore not in contrast to grace-based and faith-based discipleship; it is intentionally consistent with and embraces both. True faith does not include obedience, rather obedience is a response to true faith. True faith has three dimensions: knowledge, conviction (belief that it is true), and trust (allegiance and commitment) (Trousdale 2018:103). It is the third aspect of trust that requires a response expressed through obedience. That is, the fruit of true commitment and trust in Jesus (faith) is seen in active submission to God’s character, will, and mission.

Obedience is not a means of salvation, rather it is an act of, and evidence for, faith. No one can understand the gospel without obedience, for the beginning of Jesus’ gospel proclamation – “repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Mt 3:2, 4:17) – is a call to obey.  The one prerequisite by which the Lord of Life delivers sinners is for them to respond in obedience to his command. Responding to Jesus’ call to repent and committing our lives to him (believing) is not the same as salvation, but it is the necessary faith requirement so that Jesus will save. There can be no salvation without this act of obedience, but the salvation itself is from Jesus.

Similarly, as a seeker discovers God’s character, will, and mission, they are encouraged to respond to what the Spirit is saying to them. This, too, is an act of faith, perhaps not yet the saving faith of commitment to Jesus, but part of the journey towards the time of full submission and commitment. Such obedience is not an act of self-improvement, but an acknowledgment of the Lordship of Christ and a step towards full allegiance.

An attitude of responding to what God has revealed prepares seekers for the covenantal commitment of dying to self and living for Jesus. Knowing cannot be just an intellectual endeavor; to truly know one must respond and act. Until a person begins to conform their life to what God wants, they do not truly understand the message and their faith is not authentic. This reality can be seen in John the Baptist’s response to those who came to him to be baptized:

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

– John 3:7-14

 John rebukes the people for professing repentance without demonstrating the fruit of repentance. He is calling them to change in a way that fits with the call to repentance. The obedient response of those being baptized is part of their repentance. Without it, repentance has not occurred. This is not “works-righteousness” but the response of faith. A person “cannot make himself pure, but he can leave that which is impure; he can spread out the ‘defiled, discoloured web’ of his life before the bleaching sun of righteousness; he cannot save himself, but he can let the Lord save him” (MacDonald 1892:7).

Because of the misunderstanding that can occur from the term “obedience,” which stems from the concern about “works-righteousness,” a more acceptable term than obedience-based discipleship may be “allegiance-based” discipleship[1]. The term “allegiance-based” puts the focus on the Christ-centred relational aspect that motivates the seeker or believer to respond in obedience. As Trousdale (2018:104) points out, allegiance and trust are based on our love for God, and love for God includes obedience (Deu 6:4-5, cf. Jn 14.15,21,23, 1 Jn 5.1-5); the primary motive is our allegiance to the Master. At the same time, the reciprocal is also true: if we do not obey, we are not loving. Love for God and love for others requires action, not just acknowledgment or feelings.

2. Unbelievers as disciples?: Critics of OBD tend to divide humanity into two groups – regenerate/unregenerate, believers/unbelievers, filled with the Spirit/lacking the Spirit, obedient/disobedient. Both groups are evident in this world and in Scripture. However, there is a third category to consider – those whom God is drawing to himself, people who could be considered “seekers” or “Godfearers.” They are not yet committed followers of Jesus, but they are sincere and their hearts are open to the gospel. DMM P&Ps are focused on identifying these people and inviting them into a process of discovery of what God is like (his character), what God wants (his will), and what God has done through Jesus and is doing through his Spirit (his mission). The seekers’ spiritual hunger is interpreted as the Holy Spirit working in their lives, and their journey toward commitment to Jesus is referred to as a discipleship process toward conversion. They are not yet in a covenantal relationship with Jesus, but, through the prompting of his Spirit, they are responding to how he is revealed in Scripture. Perhaps it is helpful to make a distinction between the term “disciple-making” and “discipleship” when speaking of seekers. “Discipleship” points to an ongoing process of faith development for both seekers and believers, whereas “disciple-making” indicates the end goal for seekers to become committed disciples of Jesus.

3. First grace, then obedience: True obedience is a response of belief and trust from the heart whether the person is a committed follower of Jesus or has just begun the journey towards repentance and a covenantal relationship with Jesus. Obedience does not replace or supplement God’s grace nor does it occur apart from God’s grace. Each obedient response to God on the part of the sincere seeker is simultaneously the act of God drawing people to himself. Obedience in the sense of submitting to God’s call for allegiance is part of God’s plan for spiritual development that does not warrant pride or credit; it is our appropriate response to God’s self-revelation.

In OBD both the written word (Bible) and the Living Word (Jesus) are presented as God’s grace to humanity and people are called to respond. In my article, Reflections on the Theological Validity of Disciple-Making Movements (DMMs), a courtship analogy is used to emphasize the relational theology that drives DMM, a relationship with Jesus as Lord and Savior that is initiated and driven by the Spirit of God calling people to life, and that is expressed in their obedient response:

DMM practitioners have observed a process through which people grow towards a covenantal relationship with God through a gradual increase in understanding, commitment and action. Through the DBS method, which is ideally done in a group setting, all are immediately confronted with God’s words and challenged to commit to a path of obedience at the level of their comprehension, conviction, and belief. This is one step in a journey of faith that establishes a consistent expectation and pattern of following Jesus, a pattern maintained both before and after their expression of full commitment to Jesus, thus affirming the maxim, “what you win them with, is what you win them to.” An analogy of courtship is instructive; a couple meets, develops a relationship, becomes engaged, and then commits their lives together in a marriage ceremony. The entire process consists of ever increasing levels of understanding and commitment, culminating in a covenant[2]. In the walk of the disciple, the covenant of faith is expressed through baptism, with the Lord’s Supper acting as the ongoing reminder of that covenant.

Naylor 2021

D. Responses to specific critiques

Is a call to obedience before conversion appropriate?
In his article Is ‘Obedience-Based Discipleship’ Biblical?, Alex Kocman proposes that the book of Acts records an invariable, apostolic pattern of ministry:

  1. The risen Christ is proclaimed as Savior, Lord, and Judge (Acts 2:36, 4:10-12)
  2. Repentance and faith are commanded (Acts 2:38, 17:30-31)
  3. Those appointed to eternal life respond in faith, being baptized (Acts 2:41)
  4. Those baptized are numbered among the disciples and commit themselves to continued learning and obedience to the teachings of Christ and the apostles (Acts 2:42-47)

Although Luke takes occasional authorial liberty to telescope some of the apostolic preaching and conversion narratives in Acts, nowhere is this fundamental order reversed so as to place point 4 prior to point 1.

Kocman 2021

Response: Each of the four steps Kocman provides as the pattern in Acts is an invitation for human response. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus begins his ministry with proclamation and invitation, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Mt 4.17). This was a call for people to act, to respond by turning away from a false orientation to life and turning back to God by following Jesus. (Mt 4.19). OBD is that same call: It presents the Bible as God’s self-revelation and the authoritative proclamation of the gospel to give people the opportunity to discover what God is doing in the world and what he requires of them. Response to Jesus is the pathway to faith in Jesus and that occurs by engaging what God has revealed in the Bible.

OBD assumes that even those not yet fully committed to Christ can respond to God as part of their journey to saving faith because the Holy Spirit is already at work drawing people to faith that grows over time to full allegiance. Mt 28:19-20 says “make disciples … teaching them to obey…” The assumption is that from the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus was making disciples. His goal was to teach, not just to enlighten people (knowledge-based), but also to challenge them to move past understanding to action. He said, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ but do not do what I say” (Luke 6:46).  The setting for this pericope is the Twelve, “a large crowd of disciples” and “a great number of people” (Luke 6:17). The expectation that disciples are called to live a life of obedience was not a secret for the inner circle, but a clear call for any who considered following Jesus. DMM practitioners assume that there are people God has prepared; people who are hungry for spiritual life, who seek after truth and who are open to the message that in Christ Jesus there is redemption from sin. Their trust in and love for Jesus grows and develops over time. 

Undoubtedly, there have been people who exhibit only unbelief, rebellion, disobedience, and spiritual death (no influence of the Spirit) until there is a sudden 180-degree turn at the point of conversion. The apostle Paul is the most famous example: from “kill the followers of the Way” to “Who are you, Lord?” in one blinding flash (Acts 9:5). But this sudden conversion is not the only possible scenario. OBD practitioners are convinced that the more likely path is for people to grow in faith as they engage the message of the gospel through a study of the Word. They are people who have the heart of the Bereans and diligently search the scriptures (Acts 17:10-12).

OBD does not replace conversion with a path of obedience; it provides a biblical pathway towards conversion expressed as repentance from sin and allegiance to Jesus.

Can an unconverted person with no faith in the gospel be considered an obedient disciple?
In the same article, Kocman declares that OBD answers “yes” to the above question. He goes on to say,

Biblically, however, the answer is “no.” Regeneration proceeds (sic) not only faith but a life of loving obedience. There are no meaningful definitions of “disciple” or “obedience” that do not assume the reality of regeneration. The natural person’s mind is “hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom. 8:7). Spiritual things, a category which certainly includes the commands of Jesus, can only be understood by those who possess the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14). Jesus taught that without new birth, one cannot even see the kingdom (John 3:3), much less obey spiritual truths. To obey God’s law willingly from the heart can only be accomplished by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit (Ez. 36:26). This is the very content of the new covenant, into which one must enter through faith alone. Only a regenerated person can truly obey Jesus in any meaningful sense.

Kocman 2021

Response: Kocman’s argument assumes that OBD practitioners believe that obedience to Jesus is possible without the work of the Spirit. However, if people are responding positively to Jesus’ teaching, OBD practitioners consider this evidence of the Spirit moving people towards faith in Jesus, even though they have not experienced regeneration.  The apostle Paul describes this kind of person when he states,

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them. 

Rom 2:14-15

No one, apart from the Holy Spirit, is capable of responding positively to God’s will or being convicted of sin (Jn 16:8-9, 1 Co 2:4-5,14). The possibility that God’s Spirit also works within unbelievers and seekers is what drives us to expose them to God’s Word in the hope that they will be led to salvation.

OBD suggests that the last sentence in Kocman’s quote above should be revised to say, “Only a person in whom the Spirit is working to bring them to regeneration can truly obey Jesus in any meaningful sense.” Obedient response to God’s Word is an indicator of a regenerative process through which the Holy Spirit is at work. The natural person is “hostile”; yes, but a seeker is not hostile. Spiritual things can only be understood by those who possess the Spirit; yes, but people impacted by God’s Word do demonstrate understanding.  Without new birth no one can see the kingdom; yes, but seekers are being drawn to the kingdom. They appear to be obeying from the heart, which indicates the power of the Spirit. Such obedience is not a distraction from salvation, but an important part of a process by which their need for a relationship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ is realized. The new covenant is the allegiance towards which they are moving. They are like someone in a courtship who is not yet married, not like a person who despises marriage and the opposite sex.  For a seeker, the “meaningful sense” of their obedience is that they are on a journey towards regeneration.  This, of course, does not mean that all seekers will become disciples and eventually embrace the covenant with Jesus. Even if some make a profession, they may not be truly converted and instead be like the grumblers in John 6:66 who are referred to as disciples (having made a commitment to follow Jesus presumably through baptism) and yet turned away from him.

While Kocman is right to declare that to “advocate obedience among unconverted ‘disciples’ apart from empty-handed faith is bald legalism,” this complaint does not represent OBD which advocates for a fitting response to God’s Word from those hungry to know God’s character, will, and mission. OBD guides them into a journey of knowing what being a Christ follower means (including obeying the command to repent and believe) and evidences spiritual growth towards a covenantal commitment.

Is OBD a rejection of the gospel of justification by faith?
Quoting Gresham Machen, Kocman calls OBD a “drift away from the gospel of justification by faith” so that “salvation is thought to be obtained by our own obedience to the commands of Christ. Such teaching is just a sublimated form of legalism. Not the sacrifice of Christ, on this view, but our own obedience to God’s law, is the ground of hope.”

Response: In Fellowship International, we agree that the Bible teaches that obedience is a work of the Spirit, salvation is a gift, and the ground of hope is the death and resurrection of Jesus. In fact, I have never encountered a DMM practitioner who would not affirm these truths.  At the same time, we agree with the apostle James that faith without works is dead.  Obedience without faith is legalism and faith without works is dead. We obey because of Jesus. Watson & Watson (2014:45) confirm that is it the motive that determines whether obedience stems from legalism or from true faith:

Our motives for being obedient determine if we are doing so out of love or out of legalism. If we obey God’s commands to fit in with peers or to please those in authority, then we are bowing to legalism, whether it’s a response to the rules of the group or our feeling that we can get something positive by behaving in an obedient fashion. Obedience motivated by love is not about any group. It’s about Christ.

This, we believe, is true for anyone, whether believer or seeker.

Critics make the claim that a call to obedience is a move to replace or supplement faith. If obedience is viewed as a human solution to sin, then this critique has merit, for salvation would then be attained by our own efforts. However, if OBD is a call to allegiance to Jesus and obedience is the expression of faith lived out as both seekers and believers engage God’s truth in the Bible, then it is a helpful corrective to mere knowledge-based discipleship. Obedience is the proper and necessary response of faith, whether at the beginning of the journey to Jesus or for the mature disciple. Obedience is the call to live out a life that conforms to a developing trust in Jesus. Faith and obedience are not equivalent, but they are related. Faith finds its expression through action, not mere words.

A young man was led through a discovery Bible study of Gen 2, focusing on God’s purposes for the relationship between men and women. At the end, the question was raised, “In light of God’s character, will, and mission as revealed in this passage, what change should you make in your life?”  To the surprise of the facilitator, the young man humbly replied, “I guess I need to stop visiting prostitutes.” This confession was based on a conviction that he should follow the will of God in his life. Was that an act of faith indicating the movement of the Holy Spirit, or a shift away from faith and God’s grace toward a deception that he could save himself?  We suggest that it is the former and represents one step in the young man’s journey toward the only One who can save him from his sin.

Other articles on OBD

Mark Naylor, Defending DMMs

List of References

Berger, Russell & DeMars, Sean (2021). Episode 63: Obedience-Based Discipleship: Is it Biblical? Defend and Confirm Podcast. https://www.podbean.com/site/EpisodeDownload/PB112062DRUZ3N

Clark, Elliot (2022). The Trouble with Results-Driven Missions. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/trouble-results-driven-missions/

Kocman, Alex (2021). Is ‘Obedience-Based Discipleship’ Biblical? https://www.abwe.org/blog/obedience-based-discipleship-biblical

MacDonald, George (1892). “Salvation from Sin” in The Hope of the Gospel. Public Domain.

Naylor, Mark (2021). 116. Reflections on the Theological Validity of Disciple-Making Movements (DMMs)

Trousdale, Jerry &  Sunshine, Glenn (2018) The Kingdom Unleashed: How Jesus’ 1st-Century Kingdom Values Are Transforming Thousands of Cultures and Awakening His Church. Murfreesboro: DMM Library.

Vegas, Chad (2018). A Brief Guide to DMM.

Watson, David L. & Watson, Paul D. (2014). Contagious Disciple Making: Leading Others on a Journey of Discovery.  Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Additional resources related to DMM controversies

Coles, David (2022) Book Review: Matt Rhodes, No Shortcut to Success: A Manifesto for Modern Mission

___________ (2021) Addressing Theological and Missiological Objections to CPM/DMM in Motus Dei: The Movement of God to Disciple the Nations. Ed. Warrick Farah. Littleton: Wm Carey Pub.

Jolley, Ken (2020) 111. Exploring Vegas’ Critique of DMM. https://impact.nbseminary.com/exploring-vegas-critique-of-dmm/

Naylor, Mark (2020). 109. Defending DMMs: A response to Chad Vegas. https://impact.nbseminary.com/109-defending-dmms/ 

___________(2020). 110. Response to Stiles’ Critique of DMMs. https://impact.nbseminary.com/110-response-to-stiles-critique-of-dmms/

___________(2020). 112. DMM Critiques addressed at FI Summit 2020. https://impact.nbseminary.com/dmm-critiques-addressed-at-fi-summit-2020/

___________(2021). 114. Does DMM suffer from NA pragmatic arrogance? https://impact.nbseminary.com/114-does-dmm-suffer-from-na-pragmatic-arrogance/

Waterman L.D. (2019). A Straw Man Argument to Prove What God Shouldn’t Do: A Critique of Chad Vegas’ “A Brief Guide to DMM”

Yinger, Ken (2020) 113. We are all Heretics,

[1] Suggested by Ken Jolley in a private conversation.

[2] For further development of this analogy and its relevance to the disciple-making process, see Naylor 2020, 109. Defending DMMs.

121. Jesus’ Expectation that We Will find “People of Peace”

Response to a Sept 13, 2022  Gospel Coalition article by Matthew Bennett, Jeff Kelly and Joshua Bowman

One of the practices of Disciple Making Movements (DMM) is to look for a “person of peace,” a gatekeeper who is uniquely placed to bring the gospel to their relational network. This terminology comes from Luke 10 and the incident where Jesus sends out his disciples to heal the sick and preach the coming of the kingdom of God. Bennett, Kelly and Bowman in their article, “Did Jesus Send Us Looking for ‘Persons of Peace’?” argue that the DMM “interpretation of Luke 10 is exegetically flawed, and following this philosophy to identify a person of peace is potentially dangerous.”

The authors suggest that we should not “conflate the announcement from Luke 10 with the post-resurrection gospel [e.g., 1 Cor. 15:1–5] and the message entrusted to contemporary missionaries.” The development of the Christian gospel through the cross and resurrection and Jesus’ post-resurrection directions to the disciples calls “into question the ongoing validity of Luke 10 as a case study for modern missions.” They claim that using this passage to “formulate contemporary strategies” for missions is illegitimate because it “dislocate[s] Jesus’ command from its redemptive-historical setting.” They also protest that using this terminology gives the DMM concept of looking for a “person of peace” the “air of biblical authority.”

The hermeneutical concern of the authors is the contrast between commands that are “prescriptive” and “mandatory” for the church today (such as Luke 24:46-48 – repentance from and forgiveness of sins), and commands that are contextually and historically limited (such as the Luke 10 instruction for the disciples to look for “people of peace”). The authors therefore contend that this command is not “valid” or “prescriptive” for contemporary missions strategies.

The authors are both correct and incorrect in their assumptions and conclusions. With language such as “secret sauce” and “delay gospel proclamation for an indefinite period of time in order to cultivate favor with our hearers” they have described a missionary who is unable to discern between the “prescriptive” message of the gospel (repent and believe) and the “descriptive” methodology of searching for a “person of peace.” This would be comparable to someone reading that we are called to “preach the gospel” and assuming that it is prescriptive of standing in a pulpit and giving a sermon. Or for someone to read Paul’s declaration that the Gospel of Christ “is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom 1:16) and believe this requires them to give the gospel first to a Jew.

Nonetheless, even though we must not “conflate” passages given at different times, what Jesus did and taught before the cross is not disconnected from the post-resurrection message of the gospel. There are many similarities between the missional command of Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20 and the Luke 10 commission of the disciples, and it would disingenuous to see them as theologically distinct and unrelated. One illustration used in missions over the centuries is found in verse 2 of the Luke 10 discourse when Jesus sends out the 72: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore to send out workers into his harvest field.” Not only is there consensus that that the image of the harvest is relevant to contemporary missions, but the command to pray continues in its prescriptive force. Our interpretive responsibility is to consider the purpose of Jesus’ command concerning the “person of peace” within the missional context of Luke 10, and ask ourselves what lesson can be learned that will inform us in our ongoing task of proclaiming the gospel.

Correct interpretation calls us to determine as best we can what the passage meant in its context, what that meaning teaches us about God’s character and his will (which includes his mission), and how such a revelation of God’s character and will can be expressed in our particular ministry context. It is the same Jesus who sent out the 72 and then, after the resurrection, sent out his disciples with the gospel. Therefore, it is legitimate to ask, “What can we discover about Jesus’ will and character from the ‘people of peace’ instruction that will guide us in ministry today?”

Part of the interpretive task is to keep in mind that we all read scripture through our cultural grids. In the article, the authors present us with a caricature of missionaries who read the “person of peace” methodology as prescriptive and then fill the concept with their own “secret sauce” preconceptions that cause them to ignore those without “extensive social network and influence” and to delay presenting the gospel in order to “cultivate favor” with their hearers. While agreeing with the authors that such a missionary has misunderstood and misapplied Jesus’ teaching, I suggest that this description indicates a misunderstanding and misapplication of the DMM principle by the authors as well. Rather than being a reason for rejecting the principle, such misapplication points to the need for a correct understanding of what the DMM principle means and how it should be applied. Is there an interpretation of Jesus’ concerns in this passage that may validate an application of “people of peace” thinking in missions efforts today?

I suggest that Jesus had at least three expectations when he gave his instructions:

  1. The disciples would meet people sensitive to God’s Spirit and their need of salvation. “The especial mention of the greeting in this context must convey some deeper sense; the word ‘peace’ is no longer an empty formality but refers to the peace which is associated with the coming of the salvation of God.”[1]
  2. These people would be receptive to the message of God’s kingdom. “A son of peace would mean a person who is open to or ready for the salvation that is now coming into the world.”[2]
  3. This person or the household would act as a gatekeeper to the village and the disciples would be associated with a member of that community while proclaiming their message to others. The reference to “eating and drinking” may be “an act of table fellowship which seals the acceptance of the gospel by the household.”[3]

More exegetical work should be done in order to substantiate the legitimate use of “person of peace” for missions today. However, I suggest that this preliminary reflection provides evidence that Jesus’ expectations as he sent his disciples into the harvest would be similar for missions today. Jesus sends us, even as he sent the disciples, to be “lambs among wolves” (10:3) with the expectation that we should expect to meet and look for (1) people within whom God’s Spirit is at work, and (2) who will welcome the message of the kingdom of God.  Furthermore, (3) those people will be the beachhead for the growth of the gospel within their network of relationships.

For further responses to critiques of the DMM “Person of Peace” principle see:

Ken Jolley, Exploring Vegas’ Critique of DMM

Mark Naylor, Response to Stiles’ Critique of DMMs


[1] Marshall, I. H. (1978). The Gospel of Luke: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 419). Paternoster Press.

[2] Nolland, J. (1993). Luke 9:21–18:34 (Vol. 35B, p. 552). Word, Incorporated.

[3] Marshall, I. H. (1978) referencing Hoffman. The Gospel of Luke: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 421). Paternoster Press.

119. Paradigm Shifts in Ministry: Pursue Impact

“The most significant change comes when there is a paradigm shift.”
Ken Jolley

NOTE: A video overview of the significance of paradigm shifts in disciple-making ministry is available.

“The most significant change comes when there is a paradigm shift.” 
Ken Jolley

God calls us to be disciple makers (Mt 28:19-20) because he seeks to use us for his glory.  Fruitful ministry requires our conformity – head, heart and hands – to what God desires for us. When we join God in his mission (the missio Dei) as disciple makers, we embrace the NT priority of disciple making that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, can result in multiplying movements.

At the same time, healthy and productive ministry requires thoughtful strategies, planning, and execution. Identifying CPM/DMM principles and practices (P&P) used by effective practitioners sheds light on what leads to fruitful ministry. These principles and practices create a ministry environment in which the fruit of multiplying disciple makers can reasonably be expected. Ignoring fruitful practices inhibit the birth and growth of disciple-making movements.

The following list of CPM/DMM P&Ps[1] are those paradigm shifts that I consider to be particularly significant and impactful. None of them originate with me and all have been discussed in books and articles on DMM. Some of them are practices that I have employed in my ministry, others are practices that I did not focus on and regret not doing so, since I believe they would have resulted in greater fruit. The proposal is that these paradigm shifts in ministry activities, priorities, and resources are needed to “make the road straight” for the Spirit to come (See the previous post for further explanation).

The list is designed to be used as discussion points for your disciple-making team. As you consider these changes keep in mind that there are no shortcuts or silver bullets. Each item is like a facet in a diamond that is significant when viewed as part of the complete diamond. Neglecting a key aspect can hamper the development of a multiplying movement. As your team discusses these shifts, you will reflect on several implications for ministry, from grasping the God-sized vision (WIGtake[2]) to leadership development. Making disciples requires a multi-pronged approach so that multiplication occurs. 

“Q” refers to coaching questions to guide your team towards personal application and contextualization of these paradigm shifts.

Pre-engagement and Preparation (Prayer, Vision, Team)

  1. From “what can we do” to “what is God’s plan (missio Dei).”
    Q: What is God’s vision for the people we are working with?
    Q: Who should be involved in discovering God’s plan (missio Dei)?
  1. From “what can we do” to “what’s it going to take? (WIGTake)” – ruthless, single-focused vision that drives choices, changes, and sacrifices.
    Q: What will it take to see the fulfillment of God’s vision?
    Q: How can we be a catalyst towards God’s vision?
  1. From “ministry strategy” to “movement strategy” (Identifying and networking with potential workers to focus on multiplication. Mobilizing denominations / churches in order to multiply workers / church planters).
    Q: Who should we be partnering with and challenging in order to encourage multiplication potential that goes beyond what we can accomplish by ourselves?
  1. From “satisfaction with early success” to “maintaining a vision for the many.”
    Q: How can we maintain a multiplication mindset based on a commitment to God’s vision?
  1. From “limited vision” to “wholistic transformation” (e.g., not just spiritual but social, not just family but community, not just service but gospel, etc.).
    Q: What other dimensions of God’s vision should we attend to?
  1. From “jumping into ministry” to “being exposed to the fruitful ministry of others” (Visit a thriving movement and experience the Spirit’s presence – find ‘positive deviance’[3]).
    Q: What multiplying ministries can we explore and who are the reproducing leaders we can talk to?
  1. From “what can I do” (independence) to “what can we do” (team / interdependence / cooperation / partnership).
    Q: Who should we partner with in order to multiply efforts?
  1. From “prayer” to “extraordinary prayer.”
    Q: How can we move our regular expressions and activities of prayer to a new level of commitment?
    Q: What special times of group prayer can we engage in that focus on multiplying disciple making?
    Q: How can our prayers be “extraordinary” in terms of bold vision, risky requests, and needing God to miraculously answer?
  1. From “being an intercessor” to “multiplying intercessors.”
    Q: Who should we pray with and challenge in order to multiply prayer efforts?

Initiate a DMM focused ministry

  1. From “passive waiting for people to come” to “initiating contact and pursuing people.” That is, from asking people to “come and see” our space to entering the space of others so that we “go and catalyze” (engage people where they live rather than inviting them into a setting that we are comfortable with and that we control – “crossing the bridge” is the responsibility of the minister).
    Q: What actions should we be involved in to identify and pursue others for the gospel?
    Q: What initiative does God want us to take in order to engage people in their context (this week)?
  1. From “looking for interest” to “generating interest through segue comments that lead to significant conversations.”
    Q: What are some good questions we could ask people to stimulate a significant conversation?
  1. From “good activity (tasks)” to “fruitful activity (reproduction).”
    Q: What good activity needs to stop and be superseded with a fruitful activity?
  1. From “low personal risk” to “high personal risk.
    Q: What risk does God want us to take (this week)?
  1. From “avoid discomfort and persecution” (maintain limits within personal roles and tasks) to “expect / embrace discomfort and persecution” (Address challenges as spiritual warfare – overcome the fear of rejection).
    Q: What potentially fruitful activity are we avoiding because of fear or discomfort?
  1. From “friendship evangelism” (limited number) to “network filters / abundant sowing” (leveraging access to ministries or business for multiple new conversations). Many potential disciples are discovered through an abundant gospel-sowing process that filters out those without serious interest. From “spend time with anyone who is willing based on common interests” to “invest only in those with a hunger for God, looking for those prepared to hear and who willingly respond to the gospel.”
    Q: What filtering activity are we involved in that identifies those who may be potential disciples of Jesus?
    Q: What filtering ministries already exist and are engaging the people group we work with, and how can we connect with them in order to further identify those in whom the Spirit is at work?
  1. From “private spirituality” to “being conspicuously spiritual” (Be about the Master’s business in the presence of and with people, living and speaking about how following Jesus is different from the world).
    Q: How do we communicate our primary identity as followers of Jesus to those we meet?
    Q: What introductory phrase / symbol can we use so that everyone we meet recognizes our commitment to Jesus?
  1. From “wanting to be liked” to “wanting Jesus to be seen in us – in word and deed.”
    Q: How do we maintain a discipline of communicating Jesus as our motivation?
  1. From “serving the community” to “serving with the community” (Seeking connections with leaders in the community to win trust, communicate gospel motives and find People of Peace (POP[4])).
    Q: Who are the community leaders and how can we develop relationships with them?
    Q: What community initiatives can we join that will provide scope to be accepted by the community and identify People Of Peace?
  1. From “building programs” to “building trust” (maintain a solid focus on the relational dimension of connecting and communicating positively with people, rather than assuming that our deeds will be interpreted as intended).
    Q: What are we doing to develop trust with people in the community and what are the indicators that people are coming to trust us?
  1. From “persevere at all costs” to “disengage and move on” (discernment).
    Q: What activities are we doing or relationships are we involved in that are not bearing fruit, and how should we disengage from them?
  1. From “try new methods” / “search for the silver bullet” to “persevere with proven fruitful practices” (Maintain proven fruitful practices even if there is little fruit at first).
    Q: What activities are we doing or relationships are we involved in that are currently not bearing fruit, and yet have a proven track record of doing so, and what should we do to persevere without losing heart?
  1. From “following fruitful practices” to “adapting fruitful practices” (contextualization).
    Q: How can we adapt proven fruitful practices so that they resonate appropriately with our ministry context?
  1. From “practicing a few CPM/DMM principles and practices” to “attending to all CPM/DMM principles and practices.”
    Q: What is our team evaluation process to ensure that we are not neglecting any key CPM/DMM principles or practices?

Disciple Making

  1. From “personal study” to “engaging others in study and growth” (Timothy principle).
    Q: How do we engage others in our ministry and personal walk with God?
  1. From “being the gatekeeper” (by starting a group and welcoming others in / attractional) to “finding the gatekeeper” (finding someone who welcomes us into their sphere of influence).
    Q: Who are potential People of Peace (gatekeepers) who will welcome a disciple-making initiative and how will we introduce them to an exploration of the Bible?
  1. From “decisions” (knowledge / sporadic follow-up) to “obedience” (looking for growth in commitment to Jesus). That is, from “head knowledge” to “behavior” (Jesus’ invitation to follow and obey).
    Q: How do we model and encourage active obedience to Jesus?
  1. From proclaiming the “gospel of salvation resulting in believers” to proclaiming the “gospel of the Kingdom resulting in disciples.” That is, from “personal salvation” to “commitment to Jesus and his mission.”
    Q: How do we communicate the gospel so that new believers become committed and active participants in Jesus’ kingdom mission (“What we win them with is what we win them to”[5])?
  1. From “attendees” to “participators” (people with a disciple-making purpose). That is, from “head knowledge” to “heart desire” (Jesus’ invitation to commitment).
    Q: How do we develop vision and commitment in believers so that they become active disciple makers?
  1. From “focusing on many disciples” to “helping the few go deep in their commitment to Christ.”
    Q: How do we develop vision and commitment in believers so that they pursue a close relationship with God and commitment to the missio Dei?
  1. From “training towards ministry” to “multiplication at every step,” OR from “stability, consistency and maturity” to “multiplication and reproduction,” OR from “Believe-Mature-Serve” to “Believe-Serve-Mature” (The point is NOT that stability, consistency and maturity are no longer the aim, but that a key part of stability, consistency and maturity comes through developing a commitment to participate with Jesus in his mission from the beginning of a person’s spiritual journey. Rather than a 2-step process of first becoming stable, consistent and mature and only then participating in the spread of God’s mission, Jesus’ initial call to “follow me” is a call to participate in what he is doing).
    Q: How can we communicate from the beginning of the disciple-making process that dedication to multiplication and reproduction is a key aspect of following Jesus?

Disciple Making in Groups

  1. From “one-on-one” (extraction) to “group” (body of Christ principle – integrated into life).
    Q: How do we prioritize group disciple making and begin Discovery Bible studies (DBS) as group initiatives?
  1. From “creating groups” to “bringing Jesus into natural / pre-existing social groups.
    Q: How can we identify existing social groups and invite them to explore what it means to follow Jesus?
  1. From “conversion / baptism is an individual’s faith step” to “conversion / baptism is experienced as a step of faith in a group context” (a more communal focus with group identity).
    Q: How do we practice and encourage conversion / baptism as communal participation?
    Q: How can all believers be encouraged to baptize others as an expression of their responsibility to disciple others?
  1. From assumption of/focus on “private faith” to “valuing transparency and accountability over privacy.”
    Q: How do we encourage communal expressions of faith?
  1. From “helping believers strengthen their personal faith” to “helping believers share their personal faith” (Faith is strengthened through interactions with those who do not believe).
    Q: How can communal expressions of faith be cultivated that include interaction with those who do not believe?
  1. From “helping others grow” to “coaching disciples who reproduce.”
    Q: How can a communal commitment to being a reproducing disciple be cultivated?
  1. From “Bible studies for believers” to “Bible studies where believers and seekers discover together” (This is not a denial of the need for deeper teaching; it is a multiplication mindset. The assumption is that there is value in learning how to connect with non-believers around the Bible).
    Q: What communal connections and understandings are necessary to include seekers within a disciple-making group?
  1. From “group conformity” (legalism) to “Jesus conformity” (relational theology)
    Q: How do we avoid mere conformity to group expectations and maintain a focus on following Jesus as our unity?
  1. From using a Scripture passage to “understand a biblical message” to “seeing Scripture as a revelation of God’s will and character.”
    Q: What questions help participants identify descriptions of God’s will and character from any passage of Scripture?
  1. From “teacher” to “facilitator” (asking questions rather than giving information).
    Q: How can we use open questions that will ensure people discover God’s message from a passage of Scripture?
  1. From “controlling the message” to “releasing the message.”
    Q: How can we maintain a humble orientation before God’s word together with other believers / seekers so that we learn from others and let God lead?
  1. From “a learning style based on the thoughts and opinions of teachers” to “a learning style of discovering what the Bible says” (people learn that they can understand the biblical message).
    Q: How can we ensure that a group of believers builds confidence that they can read and understand the Bible as they engage God’s word together?
  1. From “human teacher” to “the Holy Spirit” as teacher (The discovery method as foundational: this does not mean that human teachers are rejected or ignored but that the focus is a commitment first and foremost to trusting Jesus and learning to listen to the voice of the Spirit).
    Q: How does our posture and our actions communicate trust in God’s Spirit to guide his people as they study God’s word?
  1. From “lecturing” to “modelling.”
    Q: How can we appropriately model what it means to be an obedient disciple of Jesus?
  1. From “knowledge about Jesus’ mission” to “commitment to Jesus’ mission” (discipleship is not about head knowledge but obedience).
    Q: How can we ensure that people apply Jesus’ call on their life, rather than just learning about that call?
  1. From “being comprehensive” to “being simple and reproducible”
    Q: How can we ensure that establishing a new group is simple and doable?
  1. From “adding new people” to “creating new groups.”
    Q: What can we say and do to ensure that believers maintain a multiplying disciple-making orientation by initiating their own groups?
  1. From “establishing small groups” to “establishing multiplying groups.”
    Q: How can we be relentless in maintaining a multiplication of groups, and not be satisfied with mere distribution of believers into small groups?

Church Establishment

  1. From “being kind” to “showing unusual / sacrificial practical love.”
    Q: How do we encourage a group to be a communal expression of the kingdom by showing the love of Jesus to others inside and outside of their group?
  1. From “measuring churches” to “measuring disciples.”
    Q: How do we ensure that “disciple making” remains the primary focus of groups that transition to an identity of being “church”?
  1. From “individual expressions of faith” to “group expressions of faith” that include obedience, baptism, Lord’s supper, making disciples, telling others, perseverance in suffering, valuing community and relationships over individualism.
    Q: How can we maintain a group identity as the body of Christ as participants learn to apply key spiritual practices?
  1. From “teaching theology” to “discovering theology” (teach people to depend on scripture for their theological foundation – saturation in God’s word and obedience are the basis for theology. This does not remove the importance of teachers, instead it emphasizes a priority of grounding personal and communal theology in God’s word rather than in the authority of a teacher).
    Q: How can we ensure a discovery process so that a group establishes their theological foundation on God’s word as their primary authority?
  1. From “encouraging cooperation in ministry” to “empowering disciples to fulfill God’s calling as disciple makers.”
    Q: How can believers recognize God’s call on their life as disciple makers that goes beyond mere cooperation in ministry?
  1. From “pastoral leadership” as the focus / center of being the body of Christ to “priesthood of all believers” as the focus / center of being the body of Christ.
    Q: How can believers recognize their position as “priests” in God’s kingdom so that they take on the responsibility of prayer with and pastoral care for others?
  1. From “preconceived ideas of church models” to “community as the hermeneutic of the gospel.”[6]
    Q: How can believers become an expression of church[7] that communally lives out the gospel in a transformational manner?
  1. From “proven models” to “contextualized models.”
    Q: How should our expression of church be adjusted to fit the ministry context, facilitate the multiplication of disciple-making, and maintain integrity with God’s word?
  1. From “attraction based on personal needs” to “attraction based on community transformed by obedience.”
    Q: How do we keep the identity of the church focused on following Jesus?
  1. From “complex church” to “simple church.”
    Q: What expressions of church in this context are viable, sustainable and reproducible?
  1. From “individuals gathered” to “community gathering” (identity as the “body of Christ” is emphasized).
    Q: How can a gathering of the church reinforce identity in Christ, welcome engagement, and develop ownership?
  1. From “flourishing church” to “multiplying churches.”
    Q: What practices enhance a multiplication mindset?
  1. From “baptism and communion controlled by leaders” to “baptism and communion expressed by all believers.”
    Q: How does a gathering of believers engage all believers in church practices so that multiplication can occur?

Leadership Development

  1. From being a “doer” to being a “catalyst.”
    Q: How do we develop in others a vision to serve God’s mission?
    Q: How do we model what we are doing for other potential leaders?
    Q: What is our plan to discuss with potential leaders what we are doing and why?
  1. From “disciple making” to “multiplying disciple makers.”
    Q: How do we ensure that those we are guiding to be disciples are also disciple makers?
    Q: How do we model a multiplication of disciple makers for other potential leaders?
    Q: What is our plan to discuss multiplication with potential leaders?
  1. From “controlling the ministry” to “releasing the ministry.”
    Q: How can we maintain a humble orientation as fellow servants before other potential leaders so that they are empowered to serve?
  1. From “leader as visionary” to “leader as catalyst” (vision developed together with others)
    Q: How can we use a discovery process of leadership development that creates ownership?
  1. From “role expectations” to “growth expectations” (that is, discipleship results in transformation and fruitfulness).
    Q: What do emerging leaders need so that they have both a growth and multiplication mentality?
  1. From “assuming” to “communication.”
    Q: How can we connect with potential leaders on an ongoing basis so that we listen (attend) to them and they know that we understand and care?
  1. From “maintaining control of groups” to “appointing leaders” OR From “few well-trained leaders – status/trained/educated focus” to “many mentored leaders – function focus.”
    Q: How can we release people to the ministry God has called them to and ensure that they have the same desire to release others?
  1. From “leader who shepherds others” to “leader who disciples and creates disciple-makers” (as a priority) OR From “leaders are priests who make disciples” to “all believers are priests who make disciples.”
    Q: How can we focus on guiding believers towards being disciple makers as their primary calling?
  1. From “individual ministry” to “mentored / coached ministry – apprentice mentality of having a ‘tag along’” (even if that person is not yet a committed believer, be about the Master’s business with people).
    Q: How can we communicate and develop an expectation and value of multiplication so that leaders do ministry with others?
  1. From “supporting leaders” to “coaching leaders.”
    Q: How can we empower leaders so that they fulfill their plans, rather than advising them about our ideas?
  1. From “formally trained leaders” to “leaders coached in context.”
    Q: How can we engage in competency-based leadership development of head, heart and hands[8] in the ministry context?
  1. From “paid leader” to “self-supporting leader.”
    Q: How can we multiply leaders without requiring a multiplication of resources?


[1] This list is a development of the file, “DMM Coaching track.”

[2] Galanos, Chris. From Megachurch to Multiplication: A Church’s Journey Toward Movement.  2018. Experience Life. P. 19. Wigtakedmm.com.

[3] “Positive Deviance.” This terminology is from Patterson et al. in the book Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change 2nd Ed. 2013. New York: McGraw Hill. p. 54, who state, “A positive deviant is a person who, by all rights, ought to have a problem but for some reason doesn’t.”

[4] POP = Persons of peace (from Luke 10:5-6) and refers to community gatekeepers sympathetic to the gospel message.

[5] A saying introduced to Fellowship International by Richard Flemming.

[6] Newbigin, L. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. 1989. Chp 18. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

[7] The phrase “expression of church” is used to emphasize the body of Christ in a functional, rather than organizational manner. That is, “church” as Christ-centered communities of multiplying disciple makers is expressed in a variety of forms dependent on the context as believers discover and live out a biblical vision of God’s people.

[8] Head = knowledge and understanding, heart = character, commitment and desire, hands = skill.

118. DMM P&Ps Described as Paradigm Shifts towards Fruitful Ministry

NOTE: A video overview of the significance of paradigm shifts in disciple-making ministry is available.

In a previous blog post I made the claim that “DMM principles and practices are a recognition that there are ways and means of doing ministry that better disseminate the gospel, connect with the spiritual hunger of those who need the salvation of Jesus, and provide a greater opportunity for multiplying movements.” This was not intended as a critique of methodologies other than DMM/CPM;[1] it was primarily an acknowledgement that much of my time in Pakistan during the 1980s and 1990s was spent in activities that were less strategic and productive than they could have been.

I was (am) a product of my Canadian context and training and so while I tried to do ministry faithfully, my cultural sensitivity, disciple making skills, and understanding of ministry was limited. When I was introduced to DMM principles and practices and contrasted them with my former assumptions and activities, I realized that I had been “running the race” encumbered by burdens, distractions and a lack of perspective. I praise God for the work of the Holy Spirit who overrode my ignorance and incompetence to bring people to faith – believers who continue to serve God to this day. Nonetheless, if I had to live those years over again, I would do many things differently, and one key change would be the adoption of DMM P&Ps.

I am no longer an intercultural church planter; my role is as the “Coordinator of International Leadership Development” (CILD) with Fellowship International and Northwest Baptist Seminary. My goal is to ensure that those who now seek to be disciple makers cross-culturally are aware of and equipped to implement DMM principles and practices. I want them to start where I ended up – with clarity concerning what constitutes healthy and fruitful activity in ministry. I want them to spend their years of sacrifice engaged in ministry that holds the best promise of spiritual fruit because it conforms to the way God is at work. As mentioned in “How DMM is like a High-Density Apple Orchard,” it is possible to be “content with activities that we assume to be the normal modes of ministry and ways to live out the Christian life, but cause us to miss out on different actions that are channels for the abundant fruit God can supply.”

I have prepared a list of paradigm shifts towards fruitful ministry (uploaded in the next post) that is the result of my reflections on activities that I neglected in ministry. It describes activities that I would engage in if I had a “do over” for the years I spent in Pakistan. The list reflects many of the practices identified in current literature about DMM/CPM, but is reshaped as “shifts” from the way I did ministry to the way I wish I had done ministry.

In preparing this list of paradigm shifts, my thinking was stimulated by a debate between Dave Coles and Don Little on DMM. Their exchange is a pleasant conversation between friends in which the critiques are presented as cautions about misstating or misunderstanding DMM principles and practices. Their goal in ministry is to pursue fruitful and God-honoring disciple making that leads to the establishment of Christ-centered communities of multiplying disciple makers, i.e. “church.” Coles and Little’s nonconfrontational approach has encouraged me to think of DMM not as a methodology or system that is contrasted with or designed to replace a “traditional” method or the “legacy”[2] church, but as a series of personally impacting paradigm shifts that are indicators of productive ministry without implying that they are solely the purview of one specific methodology.

A few examples from my list of paradigm shifts towards fruitful ministry – key practices associated with DMMs – will illustrate lessons I have learned.

From “passive waiting for people to come” to “initiating contact and pursuing people.” A significant part of my ministry in Pakistan was dependent on men who had spiritual interest taking the initiative to contact me. While this resulted in some people coming to Christ, it was a passive approach that required me to spend a lot of time with people who came with motives other than a desire to pursue Jesus. The limited success of this approach also prevented me from thinking creatively and strategically about how to proactively seek out those who had a spiritual hunger.

From “what can I do” to “what is God’s plan (missio Dei).” My hope in ministry was that the few people I could introduce to the gospel would in turn reach out to others, but my thinking was limited by my own tasks and abilities. The power of this DMM principle is that it starts with God’s plan which encompasses far more than my vision and perspective. Rather than having my limitations shape my ministry, a better question is “what would it take” (WIGtake[3]) to complete God’s mission vision, and then shape my ministry accordingly.

From “Friendship Evangelism” (limited number) to “Network filters / abundant sowing.” There is a ministry in Pakistan that identifies seekers wanting to know more about Jesus. While I was associated with this ministry and did some follow-up work, I did not appreciate the value of a close relationship with them. They were already filtering seekers to identify those in whom the Holy Spirit was at work, but I did not take advantage of this ministry by prioritizing my time for those seekers. Investing the majority of my time with those who are truly pursuing God would have led to greater fruitfulness.

These are only a few of the paradigm shifts that I wish I had adopted in my ministry in Pakistan. I trust that the list of paradigm shifts in the following post will be insightful and challenging for those who are on a journey to discover DMM principles and practices they need to adopt for fruitful ministry.


[1] There are important distinctions between Church Planting Movements (CPM) and DMM, as well as a variety of approaches represented in disciple-making movements, such as T4T and Four Fields. However, since this article focuses on the process of disciple-making principles and practices (DMM) as opposed to the result in terms of churches (CPM), and due to the preference for DMM in the author’s mission agency, Fellowship International, the terminology of DMM is preferred. See Reflections on the Theological Validity of Disciple-Making Movements (DMMs) for further discussion.

[2]The terms “traditional” or “legacy” can be distracting since, in this context, they may be understood as confrontative and pejorative descriptions of ministry that God has blessed. I believe it is more helpful to identify paradigm shifts focused on activities that can potentially lead to more fruitful ministry. Some ministry practices hamper the work of God; some are more likely to be fruitful than others. Fruitful practices may occur in other ministries, but it is DMM thinking that has awakened me to the paradigm shifts I wish I had encountered earlier in my ministry.

[3] Galanos, Chris. From Megachurch to Multiplication: A Church’s Journey Toward Movement.  2018. Experience Life. P. 19. Wigtakedmm.com.

Contact Mark

First Name
Last Name
Email 2
Type the characters you see.
Type the characters you see.

117. How DMM is like a High-Density Apple Orchard

DMM = Disciple Making Movements

My understanding of apple orchards comes from my youth. I remember walking through an orchard – large trees were spaced far apart with foliage and branches providing great shady areas. Harvesting the fruit required climbing ladders, and there was significant waste as apples fell and were bruised when inadvertently shaken from the tree.

One day, when I drove by an apple orchard in the Okanagan region of BC, I was astounded to see fruitful apple orchards that looked different from what I was used to. What surprised me was that these were not large trees spaced far apart taking up vast areas of ground. Rather, the “trees” looked like short, skinny branches stuck in the ground close to each other. Yet, they were full of large, delicious looking apples.High Density Apple Orchard

Modern apple production has benefited from the development of more fruitful ways to grow apples. A traditional orchard has about 36 trees per acre.[1] In recent years “high-density” orchards have been replacing classic rows of fully-grown trees. The trees in these high-density orchards are referred to as “leaders” and are slight enough to require support like vines and they are planted much closer together than trees in traditional orchards. Because “high-density” orchards have more apple trees per acre, the result is a greater crop yield on the same amount of land. They also produce fruit more quickly after planting – from three as opposed to eight years – and, while being more labor intensive, in some ways these trees are easier to manage as well as harvest.[2]

These insights into productivity and fruitfulness of apple farming can be helpful in understanding the principles and practices promoted by Disciple Making Movements (DMM).[3]  DMM asks the question, “Are there fruitful activities[4] that would result in increased growth of the Kingdom as people come to Christ and join in the mission?” Such thinking assumes that it is possible to spend time in activities that are unfruitful, or less fruitful, in advancing God’s kingdom. It is also possible to be content with activities that we assume to be the normal modes of ministry and ways to live out the Christian life, but cause us to miss out on different actions that are channels for the abundant fruit God can supply. It also opens the possibility that we can better conform our ministry efforts to the ways God works in and through people.

Such fruitful activities are not “shortcuts” or “silver bullets” as some claim.[5] Even as an increase in apple production requires experimentation and labor that is not needed with traditional methods, so DMM principles and practices require as much or more dedication, hard work and contextualization as is required in any area of ministry. The promise is not one of easy ministry or quick fruit. Even as apple growers have discovered methods of cultivation that provide better results, so DMM principles and practices are a recognition that there are ways and means of doing ministry that better disseminate the gospel message, connect with the spiritual hunger of those who need the salvation of Jesus, and provide a greater opportunity for multiplying movements. Such efforts require dedication and sacrifice that can be more rigorous than what is observed in less fruitful activities. This could be compared to the traditional method of apple production which takes less thought, experimentation and effort than modern apple production, with less yield.

Neither does the pursuit of more fruitful activities circumvent the role of the Holy Spirit. The only way apple production can become more fruitful is to work with God’s design of how apples are grown. The “spirit” or life of the apple is found in the tree that produces apples. Apple growers seek to enhance the environment, the cultivation, and the harvesting of the fruit to generate a better yield. But this comes about by working with the reality of God’s created dynamic of apple growth. Similarly, the only thing that counts in Christian ministry is the one thing that we, as ministers of the gospel, cannot do – change people’s hearts. This reality requires us to conform what we do with the way that God works so that the transforming message of the cross is not limited, but given the greatest possible scope for impact. Setting our sails for the wind of the Spirit has also been used as a metaphor for this truth,[6] recognizing that the Holy Spirit also works in and through the minister of the gospel.

Apple growers who were dissatisfied with traditional ways of cultivating apples began to discover more fruitful ways to increase the yield. Similarly, Christian missionaries, working among people who had been closed to the gospel for years, were driven by a “spiritual discontent” because of the lack of spiritual fruit. They were not creating a new model so much as discovering ministry activities that fit better with the way God works to draw people to himself. The Spirit was ready to be poured out and God was calling them, like John the Baptist, to “make straight paths for him” (Mk 1:3). In the spirit of the 16th century reformers, these innovative missionaries continued the tradition by cultivating the mindset of “always reforming.” By reflecting on how God worked in Scripture, they sought ways to reflect such practices in their ministry context. DMM is the attitude that says, “What are the practices that God blesses with fruitfulness? What should I stop doing? What do I begin doing, and how do I do it?”

In the next article we will begin to look at a few paradigm shifts of those activities that have produced fruit and hold the promise that they will continue to do so. Those willing to learn from others who have planted orchards in which the Spirit of God has brought forth significant fruit know that these activities are not easy and they require sacrifice and commitment. But, as will be seen, many of them reflect the heart and effort of the apostle Paul who wrote:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Co 4:16-18 NIV).


[1] Seebregts, Greg. So, How Many Apple Trees to Plant per Acre? https://thehomesteadinghippy.com/apple-tree-density-per-acre/ accessed May, 2022

[2] McIntosh, Matt. The Science Behind Apple Farming. https://canadianfoodfocus.org/on-the-farm/the-science-behind-apple-farming/ accessed May, 2022

[3] There are important distinctions to be made between Church Planting Movements (CPM) and DMM, as well as acknowledging a variety of approaches represented in disciple-making movements, such as T4T and Four Fields. However, since this article focuses on the process of disciple-making principles and practices (DMM) as opposed to the result in terms of churches (CPM), and due to the preference for DMM in the author’s mission agency, Fellowship International, the terminology of DMM is used. See Reflections on the Theological Validity of Disciple-Making Movements (DMMs) for further discussion.

[4] The focus on ministry “activities,” rather than “models,” is deliberate. Viewing DMM as a “model” and then comparing and contrasting DMM with traditional “models” or the “legacy” church can result in less than productive push-back and defensiveness. DMM should be challenged and critiqued in order to be evaluated properly, but the blanket condemnation from some quarters has curtailed or even cancelled healthy dialogue. There is much overlap between models which all ground their methodology on the authority of Scripture as they seek to advance God’s Kingdom. But these are often downplayed in order to focus on the contrasts, which tends towards misrepresentations and  distorted generalities, and result in harsh and discouraging judgements. I therefore prefer to focus on “fruitful activities” as distinct paradigm shifts that result in more productive ministry, rather that proposing a comprehensive model that replaces other methodologies wholesale. These will be developed in future blogs.

[5] For example, see No Shortcut to Success: A Manifesto for Modern Missions (2022) written by Matt Rhodes and Matt Devers. Dave Coles has carefully and appropriately responded to the misunderstandings and misrepresentations within the book. See his article here.

[6] This popular adage has been used by DMM practitioners who see it as a call to critique, evaluate and adjust ministry practices with a focus on the fruit of multiplying disciples.

116. Reflections on the Theological Validity of Disciple-Making Movements (DMMs)

Reprinted by permission from NIMER

NIMER: Northwest Institute for Ministry Education Research


During my years as an evangelist and church planter among an unreached people group (1985-99), I struggled because of misconceptions I had about my role as church planter, my vision of church, the meaning of disciple making, and the activities I needed to be involved in to plant a church. My failure to accomplish what I had hoped resulted in a period of reflection and research as I interacted with missiologists and learned from mission practitioners who have experienced a moving of God’s Spirit in their ministry. My theological development has led me to embrace Disciple-Making Movements (DMMs) as one effective way God is using to bring about his kingdom in this world.

Embracing a phenomenon as a movement of God requires theological justification. This article seeks to sketch a way forward, or at least stimulate current dialogue, by following D Bosch (1980 and 1991) and CJH Wright (2006) in their focus on the missio Dei, the mission of God, and suggesting that the missio Dei serves as an appropriate and adequate theological framework and hermeneutic to justify the methodological emphases of DMM principles and practices. It argues that DMMs are appropriately grounded in a dialogical process between the biblical text and context – an ongoing missional praxis[1] – that reflects the priorities and purposes of God’s mission revealed in the Bible. As such, this article is more metatheological[2] than theological by considering how DMM functions within a missio Dei framework than by providing theological conclusions.

Following a brief overview of Disciple Making Movements and DMM principles, a proposal of how the missio Dei can function as a hermeneutic to address theological questions and concerns about DMM is presented. Three questions about DMM are then explored using the missio Dei lens:

  1. Is the DMM approach of deducing effective methodologies from successful movements consistent with the missio Dei?
  2. Is the form of church that results from DMM principles and practices an appropriate expression of the missio Dei?
  3. Is the practice of welcoming nonbelievers into a discipleship journey consistent with the missio Dei?

The Phenomenon and Methodology of Disciple Making Movements

The  modern phenomenon of rapidly multiplying Disciple Making Movements (DMM) in Christian missions was brought to the attention of missiologists and missions practitioners in the 1990s through the work of David Garrison[3] and others who observed “streams of multiplying churches within ethnolinguistic people groups” (Slack 2011). The name given to the phenomenon was originally “Church Planting Movements” (CPM), out of which emerged the strategy and model of Disciple Making Movements (DMM) that leads to a CPM[4]. DMMs have continued to grow with a reported 1,369[5] movements by the end of 2020, up from approximately 600 movements in 2017 (Long 2020). The measure used to consider a response to Jesus in a people group as a “movement” is when, within a few years[6], a minimum of

four generations of disciples [have] gathered in churches, in multiple streams. Although not every movement has a minimum measure of total disciples, most use the 1,000 disciple minimum. Even if they don’t use that measure, four generations in multiple streams means a movement would normally be close to or greater than 1,000 disciples. Counting this way, we know of 1,369 movements…. [Once] a movement reaches four generations, it rarely ends.

Currently, “at least 77 million disciples in 4.8 million churches” have been “documented”[7] in these movements (Long 2020).

The change in focus from church planting (CPM) to disciple making (DMM) shifts the attention from the end result of the phenomenon – churches – to the means that drives the movement – disciple making. This shift also represents a change of focus from an observed work of God, since Jesus claimed the power and authority to “build his church” (Mt 16:18), to the efforts of believers who are commanded to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19 NIV). In an article outlining a history of CPM/DMM, Moran (2021) states that while Garrison’s CPM label described the result, others

preferred to describe the process – disciple making. Multiplying churches was the result. It is not clear who first said, “When you make disciples, you always get churches, but when you plant churches you don’t always get disciples’” but this phrase brings clarity to the two terms, start with making disciples, and you get churches.

Watson & Watson (2014), and Trousdale & Sunshine (2018), among others, have outlined characteristics and practices of DMM practitioners. At the heart of DMM are the DMM principles and practices[8], which are being adopted by missions practitioners, including the missions agency I am connected to, Fellowship International, with the desire to replicate such movements in people groups around the world. The “principles” are promoted as foundational commitments by which we join God in his redemptive mission. The “practices” are adopted and lived out in order to make disciples, resulting in multiplying movements[9]. The strong pragmatic and methodological framing of this approach to ministry calls for theological reflection[10]. The missio Dei is proposed as an appropriate theological framework sufficient to embrace a DMM methodology.

The missio Dei as a theological framework and a hermeneutic

Missio Dei or the mission of God is the greater reality within which the biblical story unfolds (Bosch 1981, 75-83) and functions as a hermeneutic that interprets the Bible through the lens of Jesus as the redeemer of the world. CJH Wright (2006, 41) refers to this as the “missional story… that flows from the mind and purpose of God in all the scriptures for all the nations. That is a missional hermeneutic of the whole Bible.” If we define missions as the role and responsibility of the people of God in fulfilling the Great Commission (Mt 28:18-20)[11], then the mission of God – the missio Dei – for the world is the source and framework for missional activity of the church. The Father sends the Son (Jn 17:8) and the Son sends his followers to join in the mission (Jn 20:21), but at no time is the primary role of God as the missionary God displaced. The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is not “passing the baton” to the apostles, but rather an affirmation of the believers’ role in God’s mission and the sign that Jesus was in them and working through them. The “resurrection of the Messiah means that Jesus’ exaltation has resulted in, not the displacement of the primacy of God’s mission, but the continuation and expansion of that mission through the ‘pouring out’ of the Holy Spirit upon God’s people (Acts 2:33)” (Naylor 2013, 242). God is revealed in Jesus as redeemer, the Holy Spirit draws believers into that mission, and the outworking of that salvation is the experience of God’s kingdom through God’s people (i.e. local expressions of the church).

An important corollary of the missio Dei hermeneutic is the recognition that the Bible is not to be read as a manual or guidebook for our lives in the sense of directly addressing the questions of our time. Instead, the Bible is approached as a revelation of God: God reveals his character, will, and mission within a variety of contexts and historical events. From that revelation, believers develop a theology of who God is and what God desires for his people. That understanding is then translated into relevant words and concomitant actions for each context and generation. Believers are called as a community to be “the hermeneutic of the gospel” (Newbigin 1989, 222) as they work out what it means to express and advance God’s kingdom in their setting. In particular, the events in the book of Acts and the instructions and encouragements found in the epistles are viewed as examples of a methodology for contextualizing and advancing the gospel. Rather than handbooks given to resolve the questions for the church today, these writings are a model for how those questions are to be addressed. For example, the New Testament (NT) does not provide a church pattern or form that is to be replicated throughout the centuries regardless of the context. Rather, we have an example and model of how “church” was envisioned and worked out within a particular setting as the apostles grappled with the implications of the gospel. Our response is not to assume that the apostles worked out how to express gospel, church and ministry for our setting so that we need only mimic the pattern and model. Instead, we are called to embrace and engage in a process similar to what they modeled, wrestling with gospel, church, and ministry within our settings through a missional praxis that maintains a creative tension between text and context resulting in contextualized patterns and models that express and advance the kingdom of God. God’s revealed word, the gospel and the nature and desire of God remain the same, it is our context that needs to be freshly engaged. We follow in the steps of the apostles as we find suitable expressions of gospel, church, and ministry for the world we live in.

This hermeneutic is the basis for the following arguments. Verses are not quoted with the assumption that the biblical text directly supports and outlines a DMM methodology. Rather, the claim is that the biblical text is a revelation of God and God’s mission to the world; the DMM principles and practices are examined within the light of that theology. Validation of DMM principles and practices is not found through a direct correlation with NT practices, but through correspondence with the missio Dei as revealed through the writings of the apostles.

This approach may appear to contradict DMM practitioners who claim that DMM principles and practices are a restoration of NT practices and Jesus’ commands concerning how we are to advance the kingdom. For example, Chad Vegas (2018) condemns the assertion of DMM practitioners who believe that they have “restored the proper biblical understanding of missions methodology that has been lost for nearly 1600 years.” He quotes Trousdale (2012, 16) as saying “All the principles that we are seeing at work are clearly outlined – indeed, commanded –  in the pages of Scripture” and “…we have seen the Disciple Making Movement ministry model before, especially in the Gospels and the book of Acts … actually throughout the Bible.” (38). Vegas quotes Paul and David Watson (2014, 26) who say, “The DMM is about doing what was done in the first century….” Vegas reads this as a claim that DMM is a move back to Jesus’ or the NT methodology which gives it divine authority and implies a rejection of methods that have not had the same claims of fruitfulness.

I suggest that the reality is that these practitioners have not recovered principles lost to the church, but rather they, along with others throughout Christian history, have re-discovered missional principles that appropriately conform to the missio Dei. Following in the footsteps of those with apostolic calling throughout the centuries, they have begun to apply principles that are needed to shape missions endeavors for our time. Rather than an expression of arrogance, it is an expression of humility and submission to the demands of the missio Dei. These principles are not patterns drawn from NT practices that others may have missed or ignored; they are reflections on the missio Dei that answer the call to join Jesus in his mission and discover what that should look like within our time and context. The fruit is evidence of God’s blessing on that dedicated pursuit.

With that orientation to a missio Dei hermeneutic in mind, the three questions proposed earlier are now addressed.

Theological question 1: Is the approach of deducing effective methodologies from successful movements consistent with the missio Dei?

Evidence for the DMM phenomenon is strong because of the communication and documentation that is possible today. However, the connection of the phenomenon to DMM methodology requires reflection. Is the phenomenon due to the methodology, or are these practices just coincidental? Perhaps the results are more related to the character and passion of the dedicated practitioner than a particular methodology (Prinz & Coles 2021). Maybe these movements are a sign that God is at work and calling those people to himself, rather than evidence for human agency and insight. It could also be that these movements are due to contextual distinctives that are conducive to such movements. After all, if these DMM principles and practices are God’s prescribed method for reaching the world, should not the phenomenon be global? Currently there are few, if any, movements in the global north; DMMs are primarily occurring among people groups that are communally oriented rather than individualistic and among groups that have respect for sacred texts (such as Muslims). Some have evaluated the methodology and claim it is heretical (Vegas 2018) or just a fad (Stiles 2020)[12].

Each of these questions requires separate consideration beyond the scope of this article; what is proposed here is that the missio Dei provides an appropriate theological framework to view the methodologies associated with DMM as activities through which a practitioner joins with God as the Spirit creates a disciple-making movement. Allen (2011, 87) states that such practices “are a benchmark of applied wisdom, not an exhaustive catalog of formulas. They are descriptive, not prescriptive, they are correlative, not causative. They do not replace the ‘God factor,’ and are not necessarily universal in scope.” The wording used by Allen[13] reflects the tension felt by practitioners who are focused on making disciples and disciple makers, while affirming that it is God who brings about essential spiritual growth and multiplication. How can methodology be associated with the work of the Holy Spirit without undermining the freedom of the Spirit to move where he pleases (Jn 3:8) or claiming too much control for human actions?

It is simplistic to assume that DMM practitioners first discovered impacting practices from Scripture and then applied them resulting in the observed phenomenon. Neither would it be correct to assume that such multiplying disciple-making movements appeared on their own without the intervention of human agents, as if it was only from observing existing movements that appropriate practices were deduced. Instead, as with all successful ministries, it is more reasonable to suppose there were periods of setbacks and failures as dedicated workers sought to creatively work out the tension between text and context in an effort to discern how to participate in Jesus’ redemptive work by stimulating disciple making movements. Indeed, DMM practitioners have insisted that they had many difficult and unfruitful years before the blessing of a DMM[14]. It is an ongoing pattern in missions that missionaries take up the mantle of John the Baptist and seek to “Prepare the way for the Lord [and] make straight paths for him” (Mk 1:3 NIV). The power is in the Holy Spirit who changes people’s hearts; the labor is in the perseverance of those called to an apostolic ministry of preaching the good news. The emergence of such movements is evidence of the Spirit of God coming along the prepared paths.

The pattern of the missio Dei is a merging of human labor and the empowering of the Spirit; the God- and human- dimensions integrated for the purpose of redemption in this world. Dedicated missionaries seek contextually sensitive pathways to communicate the relevance of the gospel so that it resonates with people and they begin to follow Jesus. This human dedication and action is not separate from the work of the Holy Spirit, but evidence of the Spirit at work in and through those God has chosen and called. It is important to avoid a false dichotomy between the work of the Holy Spirit and the human initiated means of missions. A recognition of the impact and cause of human effort goes back at least to the father of modern missions, Wm Carey, whose famous thesis, “An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians, to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens (1792)” (Anderson 1998) insists that human means do facilitate change. The determination of God to use his people to reach others is consistent throughout Scripture. When God calls a prophet, that person is called to be the voice of God (e.g., Jer 1.9). God delivers his people from Egypt through the hand of Moses, and the voice of Aaron (Exo 4.15-17), as one example among many.

The incarnation and work of Jesus is the climatic movement of the missio Dei. All God did previously pointed to Jesus (Lu 24:25-27). The Word of God revealed as a human being did not diminish the role of people in fulfilling God’s purposes, but rather brought believers to a greater involvement in God’s redemptive work. Jesus’ statement, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (Jn 15:15 NIV), welcomes his disciples into the mission of God. With the coming of the Holy Spirit, the apostles became empowered for God’s work. What they then did to exhort people to enter the kingdom was not just coincidental to the work of the Holy Spirit, but impacting and effective expressions of the Holy Spirit’s power. The lesson is that it is futile and artificial to define a division between the work of the Holy Spirit and human efforts. God chooses people to be his means of breaking into the world. To try to discern where people’s labor ends and God’s begins is as impossible as seeking to distinguish language from speech. The message is Jesus, the power is the Spirit, the kingdom is God’s; the means by which God advances his mission is the actions of his people.

In parallel to the argument that the moving of God’s Spirit is distinct but indivisible from the labor of God’s people in the missio Dei, consider that the word for spirit in Greek, pneuma, and in Hebrew, ruach, is the same word for wind and breath. God breathed into Adam the breath of life (Gen 2.7). Our breath is our spirit.  Remove our breath and our spirit departs. This does not mean that spirit and breath are identical; they are distinct but indivisible. The spirit is our life, which cannot be reduced to the air that moves in and out of our lungs. Yet, the act of breathing is a key experience of the spirit of life granted to us. So it is with God’s Spirit working through God’s people, distinct but indivisible.

When we see God at work because people are coming to Jesus and being obedient to his call on their life, then the methodology used is validated as a pathway that prepares the coming of the Holy Spirit. To deny God’s hand in such a result would open us up to the rebuke that Jesus gave to the Pharisees when they refused to see the hand of God in Jesus’ miracles. Jesus called their attitude a “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” (Mt 12:31 NIV). It is not merely justified, but crucial that the fruitful practices through which God is drawing people to himself be identified, adopted and multiplied. These are the means of missions and the actions through which the Holy Spirit is bringing people to repentance and redemption.

“By their fruit you will recognize them” (Mt 7.16 NIV) refers to the character and actions of those who truly follow Jesus. But the principle also holds for discerning methodologies. When the “fruit” is multiplication of disciple makers who are living out kingdom values, such methodology is worth emulating. This is not pragmatism or a guarantee of success; without the moving of God’s Spirit, there will be no spiritual fruit. It is the acknowledgement that there is a pathway that God has used, a “straight road” along which the Spirit has moved. To adopt such pathways is an act of humility before God, an act of prayer, that God will bless equivalent practices in a new setting. The practice of DMM to discover fruitful practices is an appropriate and necessary response to join Jesus in the missio Dei

At the same time, such methodologies cannot be plucked out of one context, analyzed abstractly and then plugged into another context in a mechanistic fashion. Discovering impacting practices that result in fruit is not a call to uniform transference, but to translation, using Sanneh’s (2015) terminology. That is, a missional praxis of action coupled with reflection is required, one that pursues the contextualization of gospel, ministry, and church within a particular setting so that fresh and resonating expressions are discovered by insiders as they encounter God through his word. Missional praxis requires an ongoing evaluation of the applied methodologies to determine if the “fruit” does reflect the missio Dei. The remaining theological questions are an attempt to engage in such reflections on two of the more contentious issues.

Theological question 2: Is the form of church that results from DMM principles and practices an appropriate expression of the missio Dei?

DMM principles and practices challenge traditionally and historically assumed patterns of missions and church planting. One DMM emphasis is multiplication and reproducibility. The descriptor “rapidly” in “rapidly multiplying movements” (Trousdale & Sunshine 2018, 201) is not an incidental characteristic of DMMs, but a key outcome. Whatever does not promote the “rapid” advancement of more groups of disciple-making disciples is discarded. If the method cannot be easily reproduced by new believers, it is rejected. This approach creates relational and ecclesiastical tensions. How can the goal of multiplication be maintained without reducing ministry to an algorithm or compromising the essential inter-relational nature of engaging people with love and compassion? How does the commitment to “rapid multiplication” recognize and allow for the time required for a disciple to mature and become fit for leadership? How does this emphasis on growth, change, and expansion accommodate the need for Christ-centered communities to provide stability for families and sustenance for the suffering?

 “Rapid,” in “rapidly multiplying movements,” is not a description of short-term tactics used by DMM practitioners to achieve quick results. In fact, workers commit to the slow process of developing relationships in order discover those in whom God’s Spirit is working so they can disciple them towards obedience to Jesus. “Rapid” refers to the exponential result – disciples become disciple makers who, by following DMM principles and practices, continue to promote the gospel so that others become obedient disciples and disciple makers (cf. 2 Tim 2:2). The reality is not that there are tactics that speed up the process, but that there are strategies that create disciple makers. As these disciple makers multiply through the same slow process that began the movement, there is the appearance of a rapid movement because of the exponential growth of disciples. This pattern is seen in the epistles of the apostle Paul, who labored with much opposition, often with little fruit. Nonetheless, his persistence in advancing the gospel (Php 1:12-14) was repeated with multiplying effect in some areas, such as among believers in Thessalonica, so that Paul called them a “model to all believers in Macedonia and Achaia [because] the Lord’s message rang out from [them, and their] faith in God has become known everywhere” (1 Thess 1:7-8). This movement of an exponentially growing number of disciple makers is a valid expression of the missio Dei and follows naturally from Jesus’ vision for the gospel to reach to “the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8), as well as from the vision of multitudes who will stand before the throne (Rev 7:9)[15].

With this orientation, “rapid” does not indicate a lack of depth, but its opposite. The conviction is that obedient disciples committed to Jesus’ mission will look for those in whom God’s Spirit is at work and challenge them to obey the call and conform their lives to the will and nature of God. With DMM, depth is developed through obedience and commitment to Jesus’ mission since disciple making is the first priority. Such obedience is less about holding right opinions or obeying specific commands, and more about a journey with others learning how to conform to the image of God in everyday life. That is, biblical commands are recognized as context specific; the goal, therefore, is not to obey commands given to others in a different time and place, but to use them as a lens to discover the desire and nature of God. Becoming a disciple is about learning together how to be children of the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Obedience is more than doing what he says, it involves being like him. The biblical text reveals the Father’s will and nature. This gets to the heart of the missio Dei: the redemption of the world is to be “in Christ,” so that we can live in community together as images of God, little icons that bring others into God’s presence. The missio Dei vision is that God’s people become the church of God with a missional purpose for the redemption of others.

There is no rigid dichotomy[16] at play when comparing DMM to traditional or conventional assumptions about how churches are to be established. There is a different emphasis, but this does not necessarily imply a negative judgment upon the orientation another group may have towards their ministry. The goal of DMM is narrow: rapid multiplication of groups of disciples who are an expression of the church of Jesus Christ. This goal requires an intentional strategy which distinguishes it from the methodology of conventional church planting efforts[17]. Consider these contrasts that reveal a different focus, but are not necessarily incompatible:

  1. Conventional church emphasizes depth – establishing believers in their faith, while DMM focuses on breadth – seeking the expansion of the kingdom through a multiplication of disciples.
  2. Conventional church focuses on correct doctrine – establishment of an agreed faith declaration as a basis for unity, cooperation, and expansion, while DMM views a commitment to obey Jesus as the sole basis for fellowship, maturity and reproducing groups.
  3. Conventional church seeks an expression of God’s people visually, institutionally, and permanently established within the broader community – a process requiring a large investment of resources, while DMM establishes small, flexible groups with obedience to Jesus as their central creed and activity – low visibility, non-institutional, and relationally oriented groups.
  4. Conventional church follows forms and patterns that provide stability and conforms to established expectations, while DMM groups have a functional orientation to being the body of Christ that narrowly focuses on obedient discipleship.
  5. Conventional church prioritizes worship services attended by congregations with appointed leaders preaching and teaching, DMM arranges small groups of people who gather around God’s word to discover, communally and individually, what they are called to obey.
  6. Conventional church locates authority in mature and established leaders, while DMM practitioners empower even new believers to facilitate group disciple making.
  7. Conventional church develops a few leaders through an educational process that may take years before candidates are considered prepared and sufficiently educated to lead, while in DMM disciples are challenged and supported to invest in others early in their spiritual journey.

A key strategy in DMM methodology is Discovery Bible Study (DBS) through which a group of interested people are not taught, but guided through a series of questions to discover for themselves the will and nature of God in a passage of Scripture[18]. Quoted in Cocanower & Mordomo (2020, 75-76), George Terry suggests that this approach may be a reaction to the passivity seen in some believers who rely on experts to explain the text. Some assume that the Bible cannot be understood without the guidance of those who are dedicated to the study of God’s word. In contrast, the facilitated discovery process, a priority in DMM, (1) motivates disciples to personally engage and understand God’s word for themselves, (2) guides them to read God’s word as a revelation of God’s nature and will, (3) challenges them to conform their lives to what they have learned (obedience), and (4) ensures a reproducible disciple-making methodology through a set of simple but profound questions. Farah (2020) adds, referencing Dyrness’ work (2016), that this inductive approach to mission bypasses the contextualization step in which an outsider attempts to formulate a resonating message of the gospel, and instead relies “on God’s active presence within new contexts as hermeneutical spaces for people to work out what the Bible says to their situation in ways they understand.” This direct engagement of God’s word that avoids the mediating human teacher challenges people to attend directly to God’s word – “thus says the LORD” – and, by doing so, is bearing fruit.

The approach of DMM, as is evident from DBS, is to avoid imposing an external form of church while emphasizing the function and purpose of church as a Christ-centered community. By practicing key elements[19] of being the body of Christ, focused on obedience-based discipleship, the group together develops a contextualized expression of their growing faith. By keeping the theology of the will and nature of God front and center[20] as they conform their lives to Jesus, the group learns how to be the church. This is not an idealistic vision suggesting that such groups will not have the disagreements, divisions and struggles prevalent in other church settings, but the process encourages them to face those challenges from an posture of obedience to Christ.

At the same time, the DMM methodology should not be an excuse to reject the many resources that God gives to advance his kingdom and guide his church[21]. Teachers and prophets, Christian traditions, and historical interpretations also play an important part, as well as the “communion of saints” through which Christians engage the studies and meditations of godly men and women throughout the centuries and around the world. Nonetheless, the priority in DBS is to establish the discipline of attending to God’s word directly and from that posture engage the broader community of believers.

Theological question 3: Is the practice of welcoming nonbelievers into a discipleship journey consistent with the missio Dei?

Including nonbelievers as disciples in the disciple-making process has soteriological implications. Rather than maintaining a sharp distinction between evangelism to nonbelievers and disciple making with believers, DMM incorporates evangelism into the disciple-making process by discipling people before they become fully committed followers of Jesus[22]. The DMM position is that leading people to obedience is equivalent to leading them to faith (cf. Jas 2:17). To choose to obey God and live to please him is an act of faith. Here obedience is understood not as compliance to biblical commands, but the act of trust, submission and conformity to the revelation of the character and will of God as revealed in Scripture. It is the response to Jesus’ call to “repent” and “follow me” (Mk 1:17 NIV).

DMM practitioners have observed a process through which people grow towards a covenantal relationship with God through a gradual increase in understanding, commitment and action. Through the DBS method, which is ideally done in a group setting, all are immediately confronted with God’s words and challenged to commit to a path of obedience at the level of their comprehension, conviction, and belief. This is one step in a journey of faith that establishes a consistent expectation and pattern of following Jesus, a pattern maintained both before and after their expression of full commitment to Jesus, thus affirming the maxim, “what you win them with, is what you win them to.” An analogy of courtship is instructive; a couple meets, develops a relationship, becomes engaged, and then commits their lives together in a marriage ceremony. The entire process consists of ever increasing levels of understanding and commitment, culminating in a covenant[23]. In the walk of the disciple, the covenant of faith is expressed through baptism, with the Lord’s Supper acting as the ongoing reminder of that covenant.

The priority communicated through the discovery process is “Begin to follow Jesus and see where the journey takes you.” Throughout the NT we see such a progression as the apostles grow in their understanding of and commitment to Jesus. They hope Jesus is the Messiah, but they do not know what that means and often misunderstand. But as long as they maintain their commitment to Jesus (Judas did not, many other followers also turned away – Jn 6:66), they will continue to learn how to walk in the way of Jesus and experience the power of the resurrection and the filling of the Holy Spirit. Because “many are called [and] few are chosen,” (Mt 22:14 NIV), it is not our place to know who is chosen. It is the role of disciple makers to invite all to follow Jesus. That orientation to follow begins with the seeker’s first response and continues consistently throughout a disciple’s life.

The journey towards Jesus begins with an invitation, rather than covenant. It is a paradigm of a centered faith that looks to obedience as the key indicator of faith, rather than a bounded faith that requires adherence to particular doctrines for acceptance[24]. This orientation is a form of relational theology, a commitment to the person of Jesus, rather than a declaration of beliefs about Jesus, and as such it reflects the heart of the missio Dei: The mission is God’s mission. It is Jesus who builds the church. It is the Holy Spirit who convicts people of sin and chooses them to become children of God. Our role as disciple makers is to give the invitation to know “the only true God, and [know] Jesus Christ” (Jn 17:3) and lead those interested into a confrontation with God’s word – a word “alive and active [and] 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” (Heb 4:12 NIV). 


DMM is one exciting and impacting way through which God is working out his mission in the world. In proposing the missio Dei as the theological framework and hermeneutic that validates DMM, this article is a limited beginning and does not develop a theology so much as describe a theological process that invites further conversation and challenge. Nonetheless, by identifying theological assumptions observed in the DMM phenomenon that reflect the missio Dei, there is the promise of that a DMM practitioner truly joins Jesus in his mission. While the missio Dei is a helpful framework and hermeneutic by which to comprehend this moving of God’s Spirit in the advancement of the Kingdom, there is much more that needs to be considered.

Soli Deo gloria.


Allen, D. 2011. “Eyes to See, Ears to Hear” in From Seed to Fruit: Global Trends, Fruitful Practices, and Emerging Issues among Muslims. Edited by J. Dudley Woodberry, 79-90. Pasadena: Wm Carey.

Anderson, G. H. 1998. “Carey, William (1761-1834): English Baptist Bible translator, pastor, and father of the Serampore mission” Available online at https://www.bu.edu/missiology/missionary-biography/c-d/carey-william-1761-1834/.

Bradshaw, B 1993. Bridging the Gap: Evangelism, Development and Shalom. Monrovia: MARC.

Bosch, DJ 1980. Witness to the world: the Christian mission in theological perspective. Atlanta: John Knox Press.

_________1991.  Transforming Mission: Paradigm shifts in theology of mission.  Maryknoll: Orbis.

Cocanower,B & Mordomo  J. 2020. Terranova: A Phenomenological Study of Kingdom Movement Work among Asylum Seekers in the Global North. Self published.

Coles, D & Parks, S. 2019. 24:14 A Testimony to All Peoples. Spring, Texas: 24:14.

Dale, T., Dale, F. and Barna, G. 2011 (2009). Small is Big! Unleashing the Impact of Small Churches. Tyndale Publishing.

Disciple Making through the Discovery Method (DM2) Workbook 1:Understanding the Discovery Method. 2021. A Fellowship International Curriculum.

Dyrness, W. 2016. Insider Jesus: Theological Reflections on New Christian Movements. Downers Grove: IVP Academic.

Farah, W. 2015. “Towards a Missiology of Disciple Making Movements” Circumpolar. Available online at http://muslimministry.blogspot.com/2015/11/towards-missiology-of-disciple-making.html.

_____ 2020. “Motus Dei: Disciple-Making Movements and the Mission of God.” Global Missiology. Available online at http://ojs.globalmissiology.org/index.php/english/article/view/2309.

Farah, W. and Hirsch, 2021 “Movemental Ecclesiology: Recalibrating Church for the Next Frontier” ABTS. available online at https://abtslebanon.org/2021/04/15/movemental-ecclesiology-recalibrating-church-for-the-next-frontier/.

Fellowship International Disciple-Making Coaching Manual. 2021. Available online at https://www.fellowship.ca/downloads/sb_febv4/DMMManualEssentialElementsandstrategies003.pdf.

 Garrison, D. 2000. Church Planting Movements (Booklet). International Mission Board.

_____  2004. Church Planting Movements: How God Is Redeeming a Lost World. WIGTake Resources.

_____  (2014). A Wind in the House of Islam: How God is Drawing Muslims around the World to Faith in Jesus Christ. WIGTake Resources.

Hiebert, P.G. 1994. Metatheology: The Step beyond Contextualization in Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues. Grand Rapids: Baker, 93-103.

Kraft, CH. 1979. Christianity in culture: A Study in Dynamic Biblical Theologizing in Cross–cultural Perspective. Maryknoll: Orbis.

Kritzinger, JNJ 2010. Nurturing Missional Integrity. Unpublished paper presented to the annual meeting of the American Society of Missiology (ASM), Techny, IL, June 2010.

Long, J. 2020. “1% of the World: A Macroanalysis of 1,369 Movements to Christ” Mission Frontiers. Available online at http://www.missionfrontiers.org/issue/article/1-of-the-world-a-macroanalysis-of-1369-movements-to-christ.

Moran, R. 2021. “Disciple Making Movements – a History and a Definition” Discipleship.org. Available online at https://discipleship.org/bobbys-blog/disciple-making-movements-part-1/.

Naylor, M. 2013. Mapping Theological Trajectories that Emerge in Response to a Bible Translation. Unpublished thesis.

_____ 2020. “109. Defending DMMs” Available online at http://impact.nbseminary.com/109-defending-dmms/.

_____ 2020. “110. Response to Stiles’ Critique of DMMs” Available online at http://impact.nbseminary.com/110-response-to-stiles-critique-of-dmms/.

_____ 2020. “112. DMM Critiques addressed at FI Summit 2020” Available online at http://impact.nbseminary.com/dmm-critiques-addressed-at-fi-summit-2020/.

Newbigin, L. 1989. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Prinz, E. & Coles, D. 2021. “The Person, Not the Method: An Essential Ingredient for Catalyzing a Movement” Mission Frontiers. Available online at http://www.missionfrontiers.org/issue/article/the-person-not-the-method-an-essential-ingredient-for-catalyzing-a-movement.

Sanneh, L. 2015. Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture (Revised and Expanded). Maryknoll NY: Orbis.

Slack, J. 2011. “Just How Many Church Planting Movements Are There?” Mission Frontiers. Available online at http://www.missionfrontiers.org/issue/article/just-how-many-church-planting-movements-are-there.

Smith, S. 2015. “The Lens of Kingdom Movements in Scripture” Mission Frontiers. Available online at http://www.missionfrontiers.org/issue/article/the-lens-of-kingdom-movements-in-scripture.

Stiles, Mack. 2020. “What Could Be Wrong with ‘Church Planting’? Six Dangers in a Missions Strategy” desiringGod. Available online at https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-could-be-wrong-with-church-planting.

Trousdale, J. 2012. Miraculous Movements: How Hundreds of Thousands of Muslims are Falling in Love with Jesus. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Trousdale, J., and Sunshine, G. 2018. The Kingdom Unleashed: How Jesus’ 1st-Century Kingdom Values Are Transforming Thousands of Cultures and Awakening His Church. Murfreesboro TN: DMM Library.

Vegas, C. 2018. “A Brief Guide to DMM” Radius International. Available online at https://www.radiusinternational.org/a-brief-guide-to-dmm/.

Watson, D., & Watson, P. 2014. Contagious Disciple Making: Leading Others on a Journey of Discovery. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Wright, C. J. H. 2006. The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. Downers Grove: IVP Academic.


[1] Praxis refers to the “constant interplay between theory and practice, acting and thinking, praying and working, towards any kind of transformative religious or social goal” (Kritzinger 2010, 7).

[2] Compare Hiebert’s (1994, 101-102) use of “metatheology” as a set of procedures “by which different theologies, each a partial understanding of the truth in a certain context, could be constructed.” His focus on the “primary test” of Scripture and the “humility and the willingness to be led by the Spirit” is strongly reflected in DMM.

[3] See Garrison’s 2004 seminal work, Church Planting Movements: How God is Redeeming a Lost World.

[4] See Cole & Park’s (2019, Loc 4397ff) distinctions between a number of movement strategies leading to CPMs, in which DMM is included in “Appendix A: Definitions of key terms.” New Generations states that “since March 2005, the Lord has used the Disciple Making Movement (DMM) process to catalyze … new churches” (https://newgenerations.org/about-dmm/). Note that even though the DMM terminology may be used to describe methodologies with different emphases, the strategies and definitions given by New Generations/24:14/Trousdale/Watson & Watson are in view in this article.

[5] This number is based on a set of criteria that Long (2020) describes in his article.

[6] Watson & Watson (2014, 4) suggest “a minimum of one hundred new locally initiated and led churches, four generation deep, within three years,” while Garrison (2014, loc 385-91) refers to 11 movements in the last two decades of the 20th century and 69 in the first 12 years of the 21st century.

[7] Justin Long has been involved in mission research for over 25 years working on the global documentation of unreached places, peoples, and efforts to reach them. He is currently documenting movements (Long 2020).

[8] While there is variety in the lists of essential elements that describe DMM principles and practices, the following are consistently present in some form:

  • Passion for prayer
  • God-sized vision
  • Commitment and perseverance
  • Abundant sowing
  • Sympathetic gatekeepers (“people of peace”)
  • Small group disciple making
  • Discovery methodology for disciple making
  • Rapid multiplication of leaders and groups

[9] As explained in the Fellowship International Coaching Manual for DMM practitioners (2021):

  • Essential Elements are 10 key biblical principles that keep us focused on the goal of joining Jesus in the expansion of God’s Kingdom.
  • Strategies are the practices identified by missiologists and mission practitioners around the world and through the centuries that focus on a particular essential element.

[10] DMM theology is relatively new. Warrick Farah offers “a constructive appraisal of DMM missiology” and has coined the term “motus Dei” (movement of God) as an expression of the missio Dei (mission of God) in his 2020 article, Motus Dei: Disciple-Making Movements and the Mission of God. A previous article by Farah in 2015, Towards a Missiology of Disciple Making Movements, also discusses emerging theological concerns.

[11] The assumption is that Jesus has brought together under the call to “make disciples” all the dimensions of what it means to join God in his redemptive mission to the world. The church is called to be the people of God, “holy and beloved” (Col 3:12 NRSV), and the bride of Christ (Rev 21:9; Eph 5:25-27). The mission of the church, then, flows out of that relationship into active participation in God’s mission by inviting others to repentance and into the kingdom of God (Mt 4:17) so that they, too, can experience Jesus’ transforming redemption (Lu 4:18,19). The heart and primary activity of the church’s mission is to “make disciples” towards this end.

[12] These critiques have been responded to by a number of DMM advocates.  For example, see Naylor (2020) “109. Defending DMMs” and “110. Response to Stiles’ Critique of DMMs.”

[13] Although the study Allen was involved in did not study DMMs, the description is fitting for DMM practices as well.

[14] David Watson is one example. The first chapter of Watson & Watson’s (2014, 3) book, Contagious Disciple Making, is entitled “Disciple Makers Embrace Lessons Taught from Failure.”

[15] Steve Smith (2015) provides an overview of multiplying or exponential growth evident in Scripture as God fulfills his mission.

[16] Farah and Hirsch (2021) provide a chart illustrating a “paradigm shift in church mindset” that contrasts “typical ecclesiology” with “movemental ecclesiology.” They also recognize that such distinctions may be “better understood as a continuum and not an artificial dichotomy the way it is portrayed.”

[17] “Conventional church planting efforts” refers to methodologies that usually result in “additional” growth rather than “multiplication.” The comparison between the reproductive abilities of elephants versus rabbits has been used as a provocative analogy, e.g. Dale, Dale & Barna (2011).

[18] For an introduction to a simple DBS process, see https://discoverapp.org/.

[19] For example, in Appendix D of Disciple Making through the Discovery Method (DM2) Workbook 1: Understanding the Discovery Method, a benefit of DBS is given as introducing “the major practices required of a local church”:

  • Worship and praise
  • Prayer and requests
  • Engaging God’s word
  • Conformity to God’s nature as revealed in Jesus
  • Obedience to God’s will
  • Evangelism
  • Supporting each other in our commitment to obey
  • Serving others

[20] A key question used in DBS is to describe “the nature and will of God as revealed in the passage.”

[21]See further in Naylor (2020), “112. DMM Critiques addressed at FI Summit 2020.”

[22] Note that the “believer/unbeliever” terminology comes with significant polarizing baggage in which “unbeliever” can imply a rebellious or antagonistic spirit. See Naylor (2020), “109. Defending DMMs,” for the suggestion of a transitional term, “seeker,” as more appropriate.

[23] For further development of this analogy and its relevance to the disciple making process, see Naylor 2020, 109. Defending DMMs.

[24] See further Kraft (1979, 240-245) and Bradshaw (1993, 154-156) for the directional movement of centered sets in defining believers in terms of their orientation to scripture rather than an overt commitment to a religious tradition or a statement of doctrinal faith. The point is not to disparage doctrine or declarations of faith, but to point out the priority of covenantal commitments that are supported by such doctrinal statements.

114. Does DMM suffer from NA pragmatic arrogance?

DMM principles and practices rely on the concept of “fruitful practices.” Is it biblically and theologically appropriate to assume that there are certain practices that will lead to spiritual fruit in the form of people coming to faith in Jesus? After all, Jesus said that he would build his church (Mt 16:18), not us. The only thing that counts in missions is the one thing we cannot do – change people’s hearts. That is the role of the Holy Spirit. So how can we presume to think that we can engage in practices that lead to an expansion of the kingdom of God, when all growth is of God? Is it legitimate to think in terms of fruitful practices or is this arrogance?

I suggest there are fruitful practices we can adopt that are an expression of how we are joining Jesus in his mission, even as there are unfruitful practices that can hamper the mission. When John the Baptist was called to prepare a path for the Messiah (Mk 1:2,3), there were certain practices he engaged in to fulfill that task. This, and other models and exhortations in the NT[i], move us to action and practices that lead to fruitful results.

It seems fitting to consider our labors as a contribution to the harvest (Mt 9:37) which, as followers of Jesus, we identify as the work of Holy Spirit. Like a farmer, we are privileged to have a part to play, but the growth and the fruit is solely God’s. Although a farmer cannot make a grape, what the farmer does do by creating an environment for grapes to flourish is important. A lazy, careless or ignorant farmer will likely have a lesser crop than a diligent, careful and understanding one. This analogy is appropriate in the realm of cross-cultural disciple making when we pay attention to what Jesus called the disciples to do, as well as when we consider the practices of the disciples after the coming of the Holy Spirit. The observation is that there are orientations and practices that lead to spiritual fruit, as well as those that hamper the growth of the kingdom.

If a diligent farmer has hard, stony and weedy soil (cf. Mk 4), the crop may be far less than that of a lazy or careless farmer who is blessed to work with good soil. This does not discount the value of fruitful practices, but it does caution us not to use fruit as the sole criterion to determine success, and to use care when identifying a fruitful practice. In fact, there are times and seasons when a fruitful practice when done in the spring would be an unfruitful practice in the fall. This analogy has biblical parallels and resonates with the reality of ministry. While there are different approaches to ministry, there are ways to do things well (i.e. fruitfully) and ways to undermine the message and push people away (as well as practices between these two extremes). As people called to serve God by making disciples, it is our responsibility to adopt and become competent in practices that best advance God’s kingdom according to our calling and realm of influence.

North American missionaries have a tendency to be pragmatic, looking for the right methodology or a key that can be discovered and applied with success. However, ministry is not about finding an algorithm, universal principle, or system that we can follow like a manual in order to produce the right kind of fruit. Nonetheless, there are practices that reflect what Jesus intends for disciple making and it is those that I believe we should learn and employ.  

Another concern with DMMs is the desire for and attempt to generate “movements.” As missionaries, we may imagine that God will hold us responsible for this outcome and feel guilty if we fail. However, we are not responsible for the salvation of one soul, let alone for a movement. If God does not bless our efforts we should not be discouraged any more than we have a right to be proud when God gives blessing in our ministry. God’s kingdom vision is not derailed by our limitations and failures.

At the same time, our vision based on Jesus’ vision of the harvest guides us towards fruitful practices that best create a path for those kind of results. Jesus’ kingdom vision encompasses the world and is built on the multiplying effect of disciple makers making disciple makers. No matter our ministry and the limited role we play (and all of us play small roles), I believe that we can best play/design our part when we adopt Jesus’ kingdom vision as our own. Considering again the farming analogy: planting a small vegetable garden by the side of a house requires a different vision and different practices than creating an environment where acres of wheat grow to harvest.

How can we adopt Jesus’ vision for the world so that we too have a multiplication and obedience-based focus, without the arrogance of thinking that we are the ones making it happen?  How can we ask WIGTake (what’s it going to take)[ii] without putting the responsibility for results on our efforts and ingenuity? Some thoughts:

We are called to be dissatisfied with the status quo – Jesus’ vision of the kingdom drives us to be engaged in praying for God’s kingdom to come in the setting we live.

We are called to join Jesus and do “greater things” than he did (Jn 14:12), according to a vision that is not ours, but his. These are not “other things” than Jesus did, but more expansive works because of the multiplying factor of seeing more and more people enter the kingdom.

We are called to action in disciple making with a view to seeing that vision fulfilled (Mt 28:18-20).

We choose actions that are fitting for such a vision and that demonstrate the greatest dependence on the Holy Spirit to act.

We call people to obedience to Jesus, conformity to what is good, right and true as revealed in Jesus

We challenge people to the same light we have seen is Jesus and which we also seek to reflect.

For Fellowship International, DMM begins with a humble dissatisfaction with what we have done that has not advanced the kingdom in ways that reflect Jesus’ multiplying vision. Our goal in DMM is to focus on “God’s kingdom come” (Mt 6:10) along with a commitment to obedience and “whatever it is going to take” for us to be involved in fruitful practices that result in disciple-making disciples. We also strive to do this with humility, recognizing that we cannot do the only thing that counts – change people’s hearts.

[i] For example, Paul and Barnabas “sent” into missions (Acts 13), Philip joining the Ethiopian eunuch to explain a passage of Scripture (Acts 8), Peter following his vision to baptize Cornelius and his family (Acts 10), Paul’s exhortation that people cannot believe unless someone brings the gospel message (Rom 10).

[ii] Galanos, Chris. From Megachurch to Multiplication: A church’s Journey towards Movement,  Experience life 2018. Chp 1.

113. We are all Heretics

Ken Yinger is a colleague with Fellowship International with many years of cross-cultural experience in Latin America and now Spain. He has agreed to be a guest author in the ongoing discussion about the legitimacy of the Disciple Making Movements (DMM). His submission addresses the challenge that an undirected exploration of God’s word through Discovery Bible Studies (DBS) could lead to heresy.

We are all heretics… to someone.

I think we need to keep this in mind as we move forward with DMMs around the world.  The DBS method of inquiry is certainly a promising method to help engage people with the scripture and to ultimately engage them in a personal walk with Jesus Christ as their Saviour and LORD.

Jesus was a heretic.

I know that we don’t like to think of him that way, but that was largely what caused him to be persecuted and unjustly killed.  I truly believe that some of those who killed him thought they were doing God a favour by getting rid of a pesky and powerful heretic.

Paul was a heretic

He thought the Christians were heretics until he became one.  He persecuted them with zeal in the belief that he was protecting the true Jewish religion.  He persisted in that belief until he had a personal and powerful encounter with Jesus.  Then he became a heretic.  He became the object of derision, persecution, unjust imprisonment, and death.

When Constantine allowed Christianity to be legal, new “rules” seemed to come into play to determine who was in and who was out of the Christian boat.  Once it became the state religion, it was even more imperative to decide if anyone was trying to subvert that religion, and by extension, the state that underpinned it.  Soon the lines were drawn ever tighter around the “truth,” and even more importantly, around those who were able to determine what that “truth” would be.  So, Nestorians were out, based on their understanding of how the divine and human natures of Christ related.  Yet, among non-Nestorians many began to exalt Mary as the Theotokos to the point that as the “Mother of God” she took on more importance than Jesus.  Now, I am trying to help people from the “orthodox” camp to become “heretics” and leave behind centuries of the established “Christian order” to become Jesus-following apostates.

Luther was a heretic

He was thrown out of the church because he dared to read and interpret the Bible for himself.  He dared to question the established norms.  Nevertheless, in a short time, Philip Melanchthon had Lutheranism well on its way to developing a standard orthodoxy of its own.  Calvin wrote his Institutes, and many people began to use it as a tool to decide who was “in” and who was “out.”  And the Anabaptists were out.  They were heretics to everyone – the Catholics, the Calvinists, the Lutherans, everybody.  They were even heretics to Zwingli who had taken the Bible even more seriously than Luther.  Zwingli had replaced the mass with expository preaching, he rid the Gross Münster of all the images, and put his focus on Christ.  I remember standing in the church in Zurich and having chills at its starkness, and even a few tears flowed as I thought of this brave “heretic.” Nevertheless, when approached by Conrad Grebel and George Blaurock about adult believer’s baptism, which they deduced from their own “Discovery Bible Studies,” they were branded heretics and drowned in the Zurich See.  I stood in that place and cried.

Thomas Helwys and Joseph Smyth were heretics.

The first Baptists that we have record of in England baptized each other, as the Anabaptists, Grebel and Blaurock did.  They had come to the same conclusion in a different part of the world and a few decades later.  They were heretics to the Church of England.  They were such heretics that Helwys even supported the freedom of conscious and religion.  Helwys wrote A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity[1], which he addressed to King James.  Yes, the same King James that some Baptists bow down to for the “Authorized Version.” His letter landed him in prison for, you guessed it, heresy and sedition.  Here are a couple of examples of the heresy that sent him to prison, where he died:

“[Is] there so unjust a thing and of so great cruel tyranny under the sun as to force men’s consciences in their religion to God, seeing that if they err, they must pay the price of their transgressions with the loss of their souls. Oh, let the king judge, is it not most equal (fair) that men should choose their religion themselves, seeing they only must stand themselves before the judgement seat of God to answer for themselves, when it shall be no excuse for them to say we were commanded or compelled to be of this religion by the king or by them that had authority from him” (page 37).

“For we do freely profess that our lord the king has no more power over their consciences than over ours, and that is none at all. For our lord the king is but an earthly king, and he has no authority as a king but in earthly causes. And if the king’s people be obedient and true subjects, obeying all human laws made by the king, our lord the king can require no more. For men’s religion to God is between God and themselves. The king shall not answer for it. Neither may the king be judge between God and man. Let them be heretics, Turks, Jews, or whatsoever, it appertains not to the earthly power to punish them in the least measure. This is made evident to our lord the king by the scriptures” (page 53)

This “heretic” was the first person to put forward a clear call for religious liberty.  Do we consider that heretical?  Yet, perhaps the most relevant passage relating to the value of a discovery process is found on page 43:

“And now let the king hear with an ear of compassion, and see with an eye of pity, the cruel spiritual bondage that his poor people are kept under by the second beast in these particulars.  The king’s people have the Word in their own language and may pray in their own tongue.  But they must not understand the Word but as the lord bishops will have it understood.  And they must not pray nor administer in the holy things but as they appoint.  Now let the king with a godly wise heart consider in what woeful spiritual bondage God’s people and the king’s are kept by this hierarchy.  ….And they keep the Spirit of God in bondage, and then is the Word of God of no effect, debarring the people of God thereof, tying them to their spirits in the understanding of the scriptures which none may test to see whether they be of God or not, but must believe and obey, or else go to prison, and if they will not yield, either be hanged or banished.”

This was written in 1612, and yet we are still struggling to let people read the scripture for themselves and to interpret it as the Holy Spirit leads them for fear that some might become heretics.  I suspect that if we all read and obeyed the scripture recognizing how our denominational, nationalistic, and political filters colour our understanding, we would be better “heretics” than we are now.  Maybe there is more that needs to be done to continue the Reformation.  Do more Luthers, Zwinglis, Grebels and Helwys’s need to arise and take radical obedience to the scripture more seriously than conformity to the norms of a movement or denomination?  I think the DBS model allows that to happen because it allows and encourages the individual to wrestle with the word of God, allowing God to speak rather that forcing conformity.               

[1] A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity (1611/1612) – Thomas Helwys – Google Books.

112. DMM Critiques addressed at FI Summit 2020

Overcoming Obstacles in Disciple Making Movements (DMM)

In their book, TerraNova: A Phenomenological Study of Kingdom Movement Work among Asylum Seekers in the Global North – which provides an overview of DMM critiques in chapter 3, Cocanower and Mordomo divide these critiques into theological, ecclesiological and methodological issues (p. 55). The following focuses on 4 critiques that are pertinent for what Fellowship International is seeking to implement through its DMM efforts.

1. Is it valid to prioritize a discovery process in disciple making over teaching and preaching? (Ecclesiastical).

Is a discovery process such as DBS sufficient for disciple making, or should it be supplemented by more directive and instructional teaching? Does an emphasis on discovery learning as superior for disciple making devalue traditional means of transferring information from the knower to the learner? Is a discovery process appropriate from a biblical and theological perspective? Do discovery Bible studies result in the increase of heretical ideas?

An explanation of the concern:

God uses those with experience and training to help others see new things, things they may be blind to and understanding about what God wants in their lives. Being the church as a community means that we rely on our different perspectives to help each other grow as disciples. Is it possible to become too extreme in embracing a discovery process that we do not engage when we should? Trusting the Holy Spirit to guide is not just an individual issue, but an issue of God speaking through community and through those who are well versed in the Scriptures (cf the apostles seeing their role in community as proclaiming the word) – Phil Webb (private correspondence).

CPM churches have no identifiable leadership gifts in accordance with Ephesians 4, no emphasis on the central role of teaching or proclamation of the Word, and a de-emphasis on the role of the shepherd. – John Massey (quoted in TerraNova, p. 75).

In seeking to avoid one extreme – i.e., passivity – the T4T paradigm has gone to the other – i.e., antipathy  towards knowledge or expertise…. Here the dichotomy is between either absolute dependence on the Spirit as Teacher on the one side, or on the other side an excessive dependence on human teachers…. This excluded middle is T4T’s most puzzling and serious failure. – George Terry (quoted in TerraNova, p. 75-76).

My response:

There is a tension between the responsibility of each believer to engage and be obedient to God’s Word trusting the Holy Spirit alone to guide them in faith and obedience and the role of mature leaders to speak prophetically or pastorally into the lives of individuals. The struggle of all DMM practitioners will be to establish a “both-and” approach that ensures (1) a discovery process in which people grow in confidence that they can understand and obey because of their personal relationship with God through Jesus and (2) a communal setting in which mature leaders shepherd believers and speak into their lives. At least part of the answer lies in avoiding the extremes of JUST discovery without the input of competent teachers and JUST following a human teacher as a substitute for discovery and personal obedience.

The discovery process may be a necessary pendulum swing away from an unhealthy dependence on human teachers that sidelines the work of the Spirit, the clarity (perspicuity) of Scripture and the personal responsibility of obedience.

One argument for prioritizing the discovery process is that establishing disciple making through a discovery process leaves open the possibility for teachers to supplement that learning process, while early dependence on a teacher can undermine the responsibility of disciples to learn dependence on the Holy Spirit as they engage God’s Word directly.

2. Are DMMs biblically valid and worth investing in, or are they a recent “fad” that will soon be replaced? (Theological).

Are we so certain that DMMs are a valid, biblically-based mission strategy that we should abandon traditional approaches? If CPMs and DMMs are a renewal or revival of New Testament practices does this undermine the value of the way missions has been practiced to this point? Or has DMM strayed from an appropriate biblical approach?

An explanation of the concern:

CPM is new — and it is new in the overall history of missions. But in the world of modern missionary methods, CPM (circa 2001) is old. It is already being shelved for something newer. Another missionary friend says, “DMM (Disciple-Making Movement) is a kind of next-generation CPM with a focus on obedience-based discipleship and discovery Bible studies, and with less focus on planting churches.” But this new method only serves the point: Missionary fads come and go. Clear proclamation of gospel truth in the context of healthy biblical churches will last until Jesus returns. – Mark Stiles (What could be wrong with Church Planting).

Are the proponents of DMM correct? Is their model as biblical as they claim? Have they restored the proper biblical understanding of missions methodology that has been lost for nearly 1600 years? We will examine these claims of DMM as we shine the light of biblical revelation on each aspect of DMM methodology. We will see that DMM is not the biblical methodology it claims to be. Quite the opposite is true. Major components of DMM are built upon a faulty understanding of the gospel, conversion, discipleship, and the church. – Chad Vegas (A Brief Guide to DMM)

My Response:

The history of the church has been a series of reformations as committed followers of Christ have revisited the teaching of the Bible and then moved towards practices that more closely align with God’s will and nature. DMM principles and practices are an example of such a re-orientation that brings both challenge and hope to those whose current strategies have not been fruitful. This is not a condemnation of past practices, but a recognition that mission practices require evaluation in the light of Scripture that includes acknowledgement of those practices that God is blessing.

By embracing a DMM orientation the goal is not to blindly adopt new tactics, but to reconsider our own practices in light of what is possible, along with a willingness to do whatever it takes. We recognize DMM fruitful practices as strategies that are biblical and effective and therefore should be adopted by those seeking to initiate movements to Christ, while at the same time promoting contextualization of those strategies. Responsible missions looks to what God is doing in the world and seeks to be challenged and informed by what we find. As practitioners we are called to recognize the pattern of the missio Dei that is evident in DMM fruitful practices and adjust our vision and efforts in that direction.

3. Do DMM principles and practices work in every context, or only in specific places? (Methodological)

Are DMM principles and practices universal, requiring only contextualization in specific contexts? Or are DMM principles and practices only valid under certain conditions, such as communal societies that have a respect for Scripture?

An explanation of the concern:

Though T4T may have the most rigid and aggressive approach to evangelism, all Kingdom Movements have some sort of intentional, fast-paced and reproducible model for “seed-sowing.” George Terry expresses a series of concerns, including the biblical basis for such an approach: “The T4T model undervalues the importance of context in evangelism and proof texts [the parable of the sower in Matthew 13] to support its indiscriminate approach” (TerraNova, p. 67).

George Terry [suggests] that, “The more resistant a context is, the more important the relationship becomes. And in this context, I do believe we need to slow it down a bit and take more time, not necessarily to negate our responsibility to share… we share early, but in the context of relationship” (TerraNova, p. 68).

My research and experience have lead me to believe that Kingdom Movements undervalue incarnational ministry prior to sharing the gospel. This is partly a pragmatic issue ― knowing that each person has a limited amount of time that can be invested in discipleship relationships and wanting to prioritize those individuals who are eager to move forward (TerraNova  by Bradley Cocanower, João Mordomo, p. 68).

My Response:

Contextualization is essential. I believe this is a key message of the New Testament from Acts through Revelation as the apostles work out the message of the four Gospels in a first century setting. We have a similar calling to take the contextualized message of the New Testament and contextualize it again for the settings of our ministries. In DMM principles and practices we have an example of modern day contextualizations that God has blessed. Our goal is neither to unconditionally embrace DMM practices that work elsewhere and thoughtlessly practice them, nor to reject the principles as impractical within our contexts without doing the work of contextualizing them.

For example, the principle of “abundant gospel sowing” asks if there is a way to “filter” contacts to discover those with spiritual hunger and openness who become the people we invest in and develop relationships with. Such an approach does not deny the need for building relationships. Rather it suggests that (1) alongside of other relationships we are developing, it is good missions strategy to cast a wide net in order to discover those within whom God is working, and (2) when we find people with a spiritual hunger to know Jesus, those are the ones we invest in.

4. Is it appropriate to include seekers in obedience-based disciple making (OBD) before full faith commitment? (Theological)

Does the maxim “What you win them with is what you win them to” apply to disciple making so that seekers are invited to engage God’s Word as if they were believers, or does disciple making only occur after conversion? Is the claim “faith is obedience” biblically appropriate or does it undermine true faith that requires a two-step process: faith followed by obedience?

An explanation of the concern:

Jesus called us to make disciples. But when we place an emphasis on any particular aspect of discipleship, obedience or otherwise, we can stray from the type of holistic and balanced discipleship that Christ calls us to. – Joey Shaw (quoted in TerraNova, p.66).

[Discipleship should be] neither primarily knowledge-based, nor obedience-based, but rather doxologically based, “an intrinsic motivation, a desire and passion based upon love and recognition of the great worth of the Lord Jesus Christ, who desires and deserves to be glorified” – João Mordomo (TerraNova, p. 66).

We simply never see a command, nor a pattern, from our Lord, nor his Apostles, where unbelievers are discipled through regular obedience until they finally have sufficient trust in Christ to be baptized. Rather, the consistent method is the proclamation of the doctrine of the gospel. The proper response is faith and repentance, followed by baptism and teaching toward maturity in Christ. – Chad Vegas (A Brief Guide to DMM).

My Response:

DMM proponents consider obedience to be an essential element of a faith commitment. This contrasts mere faith acknowledgement that does not respond in submission and obedience. When James said, “even the demons believe – and tremble” (Jas 2:19) he was not commending the demons for making the first steps of belief, but condemning them for not having saving faith, which is submission to the will of God.

This commitment to obedience is reflected in the conviction within Fellowship International that “What you win them with is what you win them to.” As people come to saving faith through obedience to God’s Word, that practice and response will continue as the way they live out their faith. Consider the following quote from G. MacDonald:

Do you ask, ‘What is faith in him?’ I answer, The leaving of your way, your objects, your self, and the taking of his and him; the leaving of your trust in men, in money, in opinion, in character, in atonement itself, and doing as he tells you. I can find no words strong enough to serve for the weight of this necessity—this obedience. It is the one terrible heresy of the church, that it has always been presenting something else than obedience as faith in Christ.

Instead of asking yourself whether you believe or not, ask yourself whether you have this day done one thing because he said, Do it, or once abstained because he said, Do not do it. It is simply absurd to say you believe, or even want to believe in him, if you do not do anything he tells you (Unspoken Sermons: The Truth in Jesus).

111. Exploring Vegas’ Critique of DMM

Kenneth R. Jolley is a colleague with Fellowship International with many years of cross-cultural experience in Latin America. He has agreed to be a guest author in the ongoing discussion about the legitimacy of the Disciple Making Movements. His submission is an evaluation of the article posted on the website Radius International by Chad Vegas: “Defining and Evaluating the Ideas Impacting Missions Today” (Jun 11, 2018) in which he critiques Disciple Making Movements[1]

     In this article Chad Vegas presents a critical and negative evaluation of Discipleship Making Movements (DMM). He summarizes his evaluation of DMM as:

  1. an unbiblical methodology and
  2. a faulty understanding of the gospel, conversion, discipleship, and the church.

These are serious charges, and in essence, Vegas does come out and say that he finds elements of DMM to be heretical.

     To his credit, Vegas cites numerous advocates of the movement, giving proponents of DMM a voice in what he has to say. When it comes to assessing any debate, it is essential to establish the premises upon which opposing sides present their case. In the case of Vegas, I find that I must do so more by inference and deduction from what he seeks to defend, and as such, I have a number of questions that I would like to ask of him, in order to verify my own assumptions in fairness to him. When it comes to his quotes and presentation of DMM advocates I find that he is selective, and while acknowledging many of the foundation principles and premises of DMM methodology, he has not dealt with all of them. As such I am not sure that he has a complete appreciation for the premises upon which DMM methodology is built and particularly the “why”.

     Therefore, in evaluating Vegas’ presentation I find there are two areas that need to be explored more fully with him. First, is the area of general understanding; I would like to see whether or not both sides are in agreement on the premises (e.g. the authority of Scripture and guidance of the Holy Spirit in the life of individuals and community, believers and unbelievers, over and above that of preachers and teachers), because it is on the level of foundational premises that an evaluation needs to take place. It seems that Vegas’ negative critique has to do more with how Vegas perceives DMM threatens the definition and practice of traditional protestant understandings of “gospel, conversion, discipleship and the church”. I would like to explore whether or not he acknowledges that our traditional theological definitions and practices are historically and culturally defined, and what his understanding and appreciation for the need of contextualization is; as Jesus expressed it, “New wine requires new wineskins.”  On several points, I find that “a defending of protestant tradition in theology and practice” is what is driving Vegas’ presentation, rather than an understanding and appreciation of how DMM practitioners are also seeking to be biblical in what they do and why they do it. Vegas’ strength is that he uses Scripture to back up his arguments. However, with regards to several of his biblical arguments, I would like to ask Vegas to affirm whether or not he accepts what others perceive those same biblical texts to be saying.

     Secondly, Vegas’ critique does seem to focus on DMM methodology more than on the premises upon which the methodology is built. This too, I would like to clarify with Vegas. In one sense, this is understandable. In my own journey in DMM, there has sometimes been a greater emphasis on being faithful to a methodology, the “hows” as well as the “do nots” of DMM, rather than firmly establishing the premises, the “why,” and importance of the methodology. In this regard, Vegas does proponents of DMM a service in that perhaps greater emphasis should be given to this, and not just the methodology itself. While some proven principles have been established, I believe there is a need to be conscious of contextualization in DMM, and recognize that in some contexts the methodology may need to be adapted if the foundational principles are to be maintained.

     Hence, my personal evaluation of Vegas has to do with establishing what these general premises are, and not only the substance and content of his arguments. In spite of the fact that he weighs more heavily on critiquing the methodology and not so much on whether or not the premises upon which DMM is built are legitimate or not, I will attempt to evaluate what Vegas has presented based on the three categories of his critique of DMM methodology:  1) Obedience based discipleship (OBD), 2) Person of Peace (POP) and Discovery Bible Study (DBS).

Vegas on Obedience Based Discipleship (OBD)

In this section, Vegas tackles the idea that people are “discipled towards conversion” and cites Jerry Trousdale significantly in doing so. He questions Trousdales’ emphasis that this is what Jesus did with the 12 disciples. Many of Vegas’ points here are valid. In the calling and discipling of the 12, one should not view the disciples as “unconverted and without faith about Jesus.” Vegas observations about how some were followers of John the Baptist and began following Jesus because of the testimony of John the Baptist are well taken. I believe in this, some proponents of DMM made be presenting ideas of understanding that “push the limits” of acceptance and Vegas’ observations need to be taken seriously.

Vegas then analyzes the actions of these disciples as apostles, and argues that neither Jesus, nor the apostles engaged in discipling unbelievers, but rather preached the gospel, calling people to repentance and hence conversion. They discipled people only after they had converted to Christ. All to emphasize that the traditional pattern in which the church does the same, is the biblical pattern. Vegas does not say this directly, but I believe it is implied that Vegas does not like the idea that “we disciple people towards conversion”. For him, discipling is something we do with believers. You first of all have to be a disciple in order to be discipled.

While Vegas’ observations are valid, I do not believe that he has dealt adequately with the question of “discipling unbelievers towards faith.” The great commission implies a discipling of the nations that leads them to a declaration of conversion (baptism) followed by ongoing insistence to obey Jesus’ teachings. It is one thing to give testimony to the gospel of the kingdom amongst those who have a foundation and acceptance of the knowledge of God (e.g. the 12 disciples). It is another to do so amongst those who have no knowledge or awareness of him, or who follow other faith systems. For those who live in non-Christian or post-Christian contexts, most discover that there is a discipling of unbelievers towards faith, and that faith is about obeying (responding in belief) to what God has said. I wonder how Vegas would respond to this? The road to discipleship is a road of growing in faith and obedience is key. In making disciples of the nations, is this not what we encourage unbelievers to do? I would like to know how Vegas would response to the apostle Paul’s discourse in Athens (Acts 17:16-34) which seems to be an invitation for unbelievers to acknowledge and know God as their creator and judge, as much as it is a call to repentance. Could we consider that Paul was discipling people towards faith, as much as he was calling them to conversion to the one true God (note: Paul does so without mentioning the name of Jesus directly or what we might consider a traditional presentation of the “gospel”)?

However, Vegas’ greater contention with OBD is his conviction that DMM is in error (he hopes it is just ignorance) in understanding “gospel, conversion and the Holy Spirit”. He believes that DMM understanding of the gospel is false and he takes offense at equating faith with obedience. For Vegas, faith and obedience are two distinct things and should not be equated, and he fears that DMM is appropriating Roman Catholic doctrines.

There are other details to question Vegas about and to challenge him on, which for the sake of time and space I will not do. However, Vegas has pointed out something that is a concern of our times and that has been a source of debate amongst protestants and evangelicals for over a century; namely, adequately defining what is “saving faith”? Where we land on that definition determines whether we can appreciate the emphasis of DMM or agree with Vegas. Ultimately, Vegas seems to be concerned about defending a particular protestant/evangelical historical understanding, and for him, to deviate from that is heresy.

There are other Scripture passages that I would like to explore with Vegas, for it can be strongly presented from the Scriptures that there is no true faith without obedience.  This is affirmed by the apostle Paul, who speaks of calling gentiles to “the obedience of the faith” (Ro. 1:5; 15:18) and James, who makes the point that faith without works of obedience is not true faith (Jam. 2:26). Even Jesus seems to be clear on this when He says, that confession of faith in calling him “Lord” and serving in his name are no guarantee of entering the kingdom of heaven. Rather it is only those who “do the will of the Father” who have any such guarantee (Matt. 7:21). I would like to know how Vegas would respond to these teachings of Jesus and the apostles. With respect to his critique of equating faith with obedience, I find significant biblical support (including the Old Testament) to challenge his position of seeking to separate them. Saving faith is obedient faith and without acknowledging this, it is understandable that it would be difficult to accept this foundational premise and practice of DMM.

Vegas on Person of Peace (POP)

In this section, Vegas again presents ideas that I believe can be challenged, both in terms of how he perceives what proponents of DMM are emphasizing, as well as his own interpretation and understanding of a POP. So, once again, I will not attempt to address all that he presents but to point out a few areas that I believe need to be addressed.

Vegas emphasizes ideas proposed by DMM and takes them to an extreme that in so doing distorts what is being said. For example, I believe he pushes the point when emphasizing that finding a POP and walking with them is the primary or main role of a missionary. I do not think most DMM practitioners would agree. To take what many propose as a key element of the DMM missionary strategy and make it the primary focus is to misrepresent the strategy and methodology. This is one example where Vegas attempts to convince us of what he is saying in order to conclude that to perceive otherwise would be wrong. I question whether he understands the why behind these concepts, let alone their nature and I would like to explore his understanding.

 Similarly, I believe Vegas’ presentation of a POP can be challenged. Using Scriptural support he argues that,The phrase “son of peace” is not a description of an unbeliever who has been prepared for the gospel. It is a description of someone who, upon hearing the gospel preached, receives the gospel, and thus “peace” belongs to them.

Vegas concludes that a “son of peace” is a person who has experienced “the supreme peace of reconciliation with God. To argue that the Jewish cultural greeting “shalom” is only valid for those who have experienced reconciliation with God would appear to be a big leap. He also equates the greeting to the blessing of Aaron, and hence concludes that a POP is a person who already believes the gospel. Although Vegas uses Luke 10 as one of the foundations of his argument (as does DMM), I find his exposition weak. For example, Vegas argues that Jesus´ instructions to his disciples involved finding the home of a believer. Jesus’ instructions seem to be about finding “receptivity” when the disciples “blessed” a home, and not only the receptivity of a home, but of a village. It is ironic that Vegas emphasizes Jesus’ own words of “being received,” but in deference to Vegas, it would seem that Jesus’ emphasis is on receiving the disciples, not the gospel, so that the disciples may then proceed to not only preach the gospel of the kingdom, but also to express it through actions of concern, care and where able, restoration.

Vegas goes on to analyze other biblical examples, but his basic premise that a POP is a believer affects how a text is read and what the conclusions will be. I have questions for Vegas regarding the texts he looks at. For example, when the Bible describes Cornelius as a man who “feared God” and “had God’s favour”, is he not a “peaceable” person, even though he has not yet heard the full gospel regarding Jesus Christ? After being instructed by God, Cornelius sought for Peter, invited him into his home so that all of his household and some from the community were present to hear Peter. Did Cornelius have to become a believer who had received the gospel before he could be considered a “son of peace”?  According to Vegas, yes, for as he clearly states, a “POP is not a spiritually interested unbeliever who is hospitable, and who will lead other unbelievers in the process of discovery.” According to his definition, Cornelius is not yet such an individual. I think that there is more to explore here and other biblical examples to consider, including Rahab of Jericho, who harboured the Hebrew spies and the gentile widow who received Elijah. Can they not be understood as “persons of peace” who are open and curious to learn from, and care for God’s servants? I wonder how Vegas would respond to this? Jesus’ instructions seem to imply the openness and willingness of a household to receive and promote a servant of God, and do not emphasize the condition that they must first of all believe and be reconciled with God. I believe Vegas takes a theological leap to make this point.

Vegas on Discovery Bible Study (DBS)

     As in the previous section, I find Vegas takes DMM elements with regard to the role of Scripture and the Holy Spirit in individuals and community and carries these to extremes that DMM proponents would not accept. Once again, there are a number of details that could be challenged, but instead, I will attempt to examine what I perceive as general points of concern.

     Would Vegas accept the premise, upon which DBS methodology is based, that the Scriptures and the work of the Holy Spirit are the primary and authoritative agents in the life of an individual and community? Would he agree that their authority supersedes that of teachers and preachers?

     I think Vegas comes to conclusions about DBS that are not what happens in reality. He implies that, potentially, unbelievers will be participating in a DBS without the involvement of believers. In this he fails to recognize that a key element in seeing anyone participate in a DBS is because of the power of personal testimony of those who have already had an encounter with the word of God and the call to obedience to what God has said. If the experience is positive (in terms of authoritative impact and response), then they are on a journey of faith and growing in it. To share with others, what one is discovering about God and themselves (which involves the gospel of the kingdom as it is found in the Scriptures) is how DBS continues to grow. Likewise, the whole element of accountability in DBS speaks to the fact that different kinds of relationships are being developed that extend beyond just getting together to study the Bible. In general terms, I believe Vegas has yet to grasp these other elements and dynamics that go beyond the discovery and application of truth. To have a DBS as Vegas paints it, would not be a true DBS.

     One of Vegas’ primary concerns is the diminished role of preachers and teachers. In this, Vegas gives strong biblical support for understanding the key role that they do play, as called and gifted by God to equip, ensure sound doctrine, correct, etc. This observation of Vegas is legitimate and needs to be considered. An element here is that of course, during the 1st century A.D., people did not have access to God`s word personally, nor were necessarily capable in terms of literacy as we are today. So the role of preachers and teachers then, was more crucial than it is today. However, Vegas’ observations regarding the role of preachers and teachers in the Scriptures, need to be considered in the light of DBS. Do they have a role, not in terms of being authoritative and central sources of teaching – the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit should not be supplanted by them as contemporary expressions in the church sometimes do – but in understanding the nature of God’s word in its historical, cultural and literary contexts, and the impact those have on determining understanding and meaning? At some point, an encounter with the Scriptures will be similar to that of the Ethiopian who said, “How can I understand what I am reading unless someone explains it to me?” (Acts 8:31). For many today, the Bible can be confusing, but with some basic orientation to its nature and context, it can make sense to them. So the role of teachers and preachers is something that I believe needs more exploration as they relate to DMM. Is it possible to maintain the engagement of individuals and community directly with the Scriptures as their primary authority, and teachers facilitate that, not supplant it, as they help others understand the Scriptures, allowing them to do the hermeneutics? What would this look like? In this I think there is room for exploration.

     Vegas believes that missionaries, preachers, and teachers should proclaim the gospel in order to assure its’ propagation and faithfulness to its’ content. However, my question for Vegas is, cannot the Scriptures proclaim the gospel of the kingdom, just as well, or even more effectively in terms of hearing directly from God, than preachers and teachers can? If they are looking to the Holy Spirit to help them, with encouragement to obey, would this not be effective communication of the gospel? 

     Another of Vegas’ primary concerns in seeing a change of the centrality of the teacher and preacher role in Bible study, is that such a change opens the door to error and heresy. I would hope that Vegas would acknowledge that it is also because of the central role of preachers and teachers that false teachings and movements occur, are propagated and maintained. The best way to combat bad theology is with good theology and I believe that Vegas would concur that the Scriptures should be our primary, if not complete, source of good theology, and not just what preachers and teachers say is good theology. If people are taught to recognize the authority of Scripture and are obedient to it, over and above what teachers teach, would Vegas say that this might be a better defense against heresy? Similarly, if people look to the Holy Spirit to aid them in understanding, would that be better than just looking to the interpretations of teachers? In a similar vein, what if hermeneutics are best done and affirmed in community, so that we do not just have to believe what anyone who speaks in the name of God says. Instead, as the apostle John encourages us to do, we test such individuals and their teachings, as well as the “spirit” behind what they say, and do so in order to discern what is true and false when someone speaks on behalf of God (1 Jn 4:1-6). Does not DMM and it’s methodology promote such a possibility? It would be interesting to explore these ideas with Vegas for our own understanding and encouragement of what DMM communities could potentially be.

In addition, while Vegas acknowledges that church groups and missionaries have planted their own “brand” of protestant or evangelical Christianity amongst other peoples as his quotes of proponents of DMM express, he does not address it. I would like to know his thoughts; does he recognize it as a problem or not? And if so, why or why not?


     Key to understanding is clarity in our premises. Although Chad Vegas has sought to give DMM proponents a fair voice, I question that he has fully understood the premises upon which DMM is built. His presentation largely focusses on a critique of elements of DMM methodology, but it is not as clear to me if he fully understands and appreciates the why and purposes behind the methodology. Certain elements of his critique communicate to me that he may not have such a full appreciation. To a certain degree, Vegas is analyzing key elements of DMM from the lens of the traditional forms of biblical interpretation and communication (primarily the central role that teachers and preachers should have), which naturally and understandably he perceives as a dangerous threat to these traditional roles. But unfortunately, this can also limit our understanding of DMM principles and the purposes behind them.

     DMM proponents should learn from Vegas. Perhaps there are elements to be better communicated and emphasized as foundational, other than stressing adherence to a methodology. DMM does change traditional definitions and practices, indeed even the nature and function of the church, but in that Jesus has always been active in renewing his church in every place and every generation. “New wine requires new wineskins”. God has spoken and everything else is commentary. I have come to understand that God welcomes our commentary in order that we may lean hard into Him as we learn to lean into each other redemptively. By God’s grace and the illuminating presence of the Holy Spirit may He continue to help us be faithfully obedient to what He has spoken. 

[1] https://www.radiusinternational.org/a-brief-guide-to-dmm/  . Last consulted September 30, 2020.

110. Response to Stiles’ Critique of DMMs

Response to Mack Stiles’ article “What Could Be Wrong with ‘Church Planting’? Six Dangers in a Missions Strategy

I appreciate Stiles’ irenic tone in which he seeks to point out “weaknesses” and give “cautions” for “Church Planting Movements” (CPMs) or “Disciple Making Movements” (DMMs).  Such push back is important in missions since we all have blind spots and can get excited over new developments without noticing potential problems.  The need for careful examination is especially true for us in Fellowship International since we are promoting and investing in a DMM strategy.  Where the weaknesses or cautions are invalid, we need to have a good argument for why we see things differently.  Where they are valid, we need to be alert and avoid the danger as much as we can even as we move ahead.

For ease of reference, the following 9 responses are provided in the order they appear in Stiles’ article.

  1. Critique: Local rather than Biblical Culture (under Critique 1. Sloppy Definitions of Church)

Because CPM advocates say that they “don’t want Western church,” Stiles assumes (correctly) that CPM advocates want a church that is contextualized within the local culture.  He opposes the idea of producing “a church that imitates local culture,” claiming that the goal is a “biblical culture.”  He goes on to explain that ethnic and cultural identities should not be erased, but should be “secondary to our new identity as the people of God.”

Summary answer: God intends churches to be culturally appropriate expressions of the body of Christ.

Detail: Stiles’ concern is that any expression of church should not compromise God’s intention for the body and bride of Christ with the “blindnesses and brokenness” of any culture. This is important and should be affirmed. Where he errs is by stating that a church should not “imitate” culture, which implies that it should not be a part of, or an expression of culture. In fact, missiologically speaking, the opposite is true: each congregation should “own” both gospel and church as an essential part of their culture, rather than as a foreign import.

Stiles’ error is partly categorical and partly theological. “Biblical culture” in the sense Stiles is using the term is a different category than is intended by referring to human “cultures.” Anthropologically speaking, “culture” is the way a self-defined group of people create meaning in their interaction with their environment. It is the “total process of human activity” which comprises “language, habits, ideas, beliefs, customs, social organization, inherited artifacts, technical processes, and values” (Niebuhr, 1951. Christ and Culture. p. 32) within any given community. It is therefore impossible for a church to exist without worshiping and serving through cultural expressions. Similarly, it is necessary for an individual to maintain their cultural identity on one level while claiming a new identity as a child of God.  These two aspects are not contradictory, but complementary.

By using “biblical culture,” Stiles is likely referring to biblical values and principles that believers are to live by within their culture – a necessary and appropriate goal. But he has used “biblical culture” in a way that wrongly implies a contrast with the local culture. Because “biblical culture” cannot replace a local culture nor fit within the definition of culture as described above, it belongs to a different category. Using “biblical culture” as if it is a substitute for local culture ignores the reality that the changes the gospel brings occur in and through culture, rather than supplanting it. A simple example that demonstrates this misuse of the term “biblical culture” is language. Language is an integral part of any culture. If one culture was supplanted by another, the first culture would lose its language, among other things, because the dominant culture’s language would replace it. However, it is not the goal of any missionary to replace a local language with a “biblical language,” any more than a local culture should be replaced with a “biblical culture.” In fact, when one culture assumes the use of its language in worship, it can be an indication of the dominant culture imposing itself upon another people group rather than respecting the depth of identity and significance found in each culture. Lamin Sanneh (1989) powerfully argues for the “translatability” of the gospel (with parallel implications for the church) in Christian mission in Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture. This approach to culturally shaped expressions of church and gospel is in contrast to the Islamic orientation towards its mission: “[C]ultural diversity belongs with Christian affirmation in a way that it does not with Islam” (p. 212). 

Theologically, Stiles’ mistake is a lack of recognition that both gospel and church are intended by God to have unique cultural expressions, rather than importing or imposing gospel and church expressions from one culture to another. Of course, Stiles’ argument is not that a foreign culture should dominate; his concern is that a church should conform to biblical teaching, rather than to culture. However, this is a false dichotomy; there is no church or gospel without culture. “Biblical teaching” is analogous to content while culture is analogous to language. Culture is the “language” through which the “content” of human thought or action finds expression. Thus the incarnation of Jesus is God’s expression of salvation within human life and culture; God’s salvation did not occur in a cultural vacuum. Culture is the locus of gospel and church, and they cannot exist separate from it. Culture is to be redeemed; it cannot be avoided.

In Acts 2 the disciples begin proclaiming the gospel in other languages, a theologically profound message from God of how he accepts all cultures as the media within which  church and gospel find expression. The rest of the book of Acts and the Epistles are lessons of how contextualization of the gospel message and church takes place in different cultural settings. The consideration of circumcision in Acts 15 is a prime example, as well as the rejection of clean and unclean food distinctions (Mt 15, 1 Cor 10). Part of the apostle Paul’s amazement in discovering the “mystery” of God’s plan was how God’s intention was to include other cultures in “God’s household” (Eph. 1-2) – a unity that embraces cultural diversity. Contextualization within a local culture is the methodology that all missionaries should aspire to, as expressed by the CPM missionaries quoted by Stiles: they did not want their own cultural preferences to override local expressions of church.

  • Critique: Speed (under Critique 1. Sloppy Definitions of Church)

Stiles suggests that churches should be established on biblical principles and “here’s the rub: it takes time.” At the end of the article he repeats the idea with “Speed is not the call.” The implication is that CPMs and DMMs are focusing on getting the work done quickly.

Summary answer: the concern in CPMs and DMMs is not speed, but multiplication.

Detail: The danger of prioritizing efficiency and speed in church planting is a valid concern because as humans we look for shortcuts and want results now. A harvest requires patient waiting for the plants to germinate, grow and mature. God usually does things slowly and missions is a slow and methodical process because it focuses on building relationships.  Nonetheless, the implication that DMMs are trying to bypass the more appropriate, but slower, path of God’s church planting methodology, is unfair and misses the point.  The goal of DMMs is not speed, but multiplication. The vision and hope is one of planting the Gospel in “good soil” resulting in an exponential response with a vast “harvest.” Because this is a biblical vision given to us by Jesus, it is a possibility and something God wants to bless.

Stiles focuses his criticisms on the word “church” in “Church Planting Movements,” but the key to this phrase is the last word: “movements.”  The vision of DMMs is that the Gospel can be spread through a multiplication process whereby those who are learning to obey Jesus through studying the Bible can pass that “virus” of disciple making on to others.  The power in the DMM dynamic is the move away from leadership-heavy organizations towards disciple making movements in which all believers are encouraged to (1) use the Bible as the primary authority and to obey what it says, and (2) spread that methodology through their relationships with others.

Is it valid to encourage believers early in their walk with Christ to lead a Bible study with unbelievers or other new believers?  Or should the process be slowed down with a greater reliance on the teaching of trained leaders within traditional church structures and processes, as Stiles prefers?  Church history suggests that there may be a pendulum effect between the passion of movements spreading the gospel quickly, and the establishment of organizations. As churches form and communities are organized with pastoral leaders, the fire of multiplication stimulated by apostolic leaders dies down and a “new normal” in the community is established.  Perhaps, because of global communication, we are able to observe something like this pendulum happening today – the complete life-cycle of the rise, establishment, stagnation, and demise of faith can be seen in real time around the world.  These expressions have their parallel in the NT as seen in the celebration of thousands coming to Christ in one day in the book of Acts, the establishment of Christ-centered believers in a particular locality throughout the Epistles, and the threat of at least one church having their “lampstand” removed in Revelation.

Stiles cites with approval the suggestion of a friend that Paul’s extended time in Ephesus (3 years) indicates that he “delayed total indigenous leadership.” Perhaps this was not “delay” but a time to raise up leaders so that Paul could move on.  If leaders were prepared so that Paul could leave, then it is likely they were serving as leaders very early on, maybe even leading studies of the Scriptures, so that Paul could feel comfortable leaving.  This latter scenario fits well with the DMM call to raise people up quickly into a disciple making ministry. This is not incompatible with training and appointing leaders; effective DMMs demonstrate good strategies for developing leaders.

In his conclusion, Stiles suggests that people “dial it back.”  This is an unfortunate choice of words.  When there is a movement of God’s Spirit toward revival, or even people working and praying for revival where results are few, I don’t think the advice should be to “dial it back,” but to “bring it on.” I would not criticize his methodology of church planting that he describes near the end of the article. It is one way to go about the task. But I would suggest that perhaps even his church’s approach to “grow and teach and model and correct” may find benefit through adopting and adapting some of the CPM practices that he is criticizing. It may also be true that established churches that are taking it slowly could benefit from the fire of a passionate pursuit to obey Jesus that is seen in DMM movements.

  • Critique: Calling gatherings “Church”(under Critique 1. Sloppy Definitions of Church)

Stiles’ experience is that DMM practitioners demonstrate an “inability to define a church” and are promoting gatherings that are not biblical churches because they are not grounded in “basic foundational principles.”

Summary answer: A focus on making disciples is the way to a healthy and indigenous expression of church.

Detail: The key strength of DMMs is found in Stiles’ third “tweetable” sentence: “The overarching mission of the church is the Great Commission: to disciple all nations, teaching them to obey everything Christ has commanded.”  This is where DMM begins, with the goal of seeing expressions of church emerge from gatherings that are shaped by their obedience to Scripture.  The goal is for culturally appropriate expressions that include all the elements of a Christ-centered community.  The DNA of the church is actually instilled from the beginning in the DBS process:

  • Worship and praise
  • Prayer and requests
  • Engaging God’s word
  • Conformity to God’s nature as revealed in Jesus
  • Obedience to God’s will
  • Evangelism
  • Accountability

The DMM approach is not what Stiles is familiar with, or even comfortable with, but as long as the leaders of a movement remain biblically grounded and obedient, the establishment of commonly held truths (doctrine) should not be a problem. As Newbigin states (1989. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. p. 222), “The congregation [is the] hermeneutic of the Gospel.” The goal of DMMs is for people to live out this principle as a congregation, centered on Jesus, within their context.

  • Critique 2: Vulnerable to Error and Heresy

Stile’s states that “CPM calls for an extreme commitment to indigenous leadership, they often leave these young believers open to destruction”

Summary answer: This danger is not unique to DMMs and safety measures are built in.

Detail: When multiplication occurs, it is “messy.”  In stable traditional church structures, hierarchal control keeps things in order under the guidance of recognized leaders. In DMMs, however, rather than maintaining a repository of truth in the hands of a few leaders, there is greater freedom and responsibility for average believers (disciples) to determine what God has revealed. This is done with group encouragement, input and correction in Discovery Bible Studies (DBS).  There is potential for error and heresy.  However, it is also possible for error and heresy to be entrenched within an ecclesial organization and perpetuated through the leaders. So this danger is not unique to CPMs and DMMs, but is a warning for all believers and church structures.

It could also be argued that DMMs principles hold the key for preventing and correcting error even more so than traditional church structures in which control of accepted truth is held by a few.  In the DBS process, the Word, rather than a human authority, is the teacher.  The focus is to discover what the Bible says, and people’s ideas are constantly challenged by the question, “where is that found in the passage?”

Furthermore, it could be argued that, historically, heresies have not arisen from the rapid spread of people engaging God’s word, but from those who proclaim themselves as teachers with special or authoritative insight into God’s Word. Again, in such a scenario, it is the ones steeped in God’s Word with a habit of seeking the truth (like the Bereans of Acts 17:11) who are less likely to be vulnerable to being led astray.

A word should be said about the “extreme commitment to indigenous leadership.” I suggest that the adjective “extreme” is a better descriptor of autocratic leadership found in hierarchical structures. DMM leaders are taught not to have confidence in their own experience and education, but to consistently lead people back to the Bible in a discovery process, making young believers less “open to destruction.”

Another concern raised is that “mature teachers and preachers are sidelined in the CPM model in the name of indigeneity.” Although I am not aware of an example of leaders being “sidelined” in CPM, it is true that CPM has a strong focus on empowering local believers to become competent leaders rather than relying on cultural outsiders.  This does not mean that outsiders do not have a role to play, but the priority is on training insiders to become leaders as a way of encouraging multiplication. This can be appropriately described as a “commitment to indigenous leadership,” but it can scarcely be called “extreme.”

  • Critique 3: Temptations to Pragmatism

Stiles’ fear is that people “jettison scriptural principles about the church” out of a desire for results.

Summary Answer: The solution is to continue testing all methodologies to ensure that they are consistent with Jesus’ mission and vision for the church as revealed in the Bible. Such a practice of testing the spirits in the light of Scripture is consistent with CPMs and DMMs.

  • Critique: Missionary fad? (under Critique 3: Temptations to Pragmatism)

Stiles notes that “missionary strategies come and go” and suggests that CPMs fall under that category. He emphasizes this by saying that it is new (circa 2001) in the overall history of missions and yet old in the world of modern missionary methods.  Since CPMs have morphed into DMMs as “a kind of next-generation CPM with a focus on obedience-based discipleship and discovery Bible studies,” this is more of a “missionary fad” rather than a “clear proclamation of gospel truth in the context of healthy biblical churches will last until Jesus returns.”

Summary answer: Identifying what God is doing in the world is responsible and appropriate.

Detail: The idea of “fad” is pejorative and quite unfair to and dismissive of this current movement in missions.  It is much better to recognize that missionaries and missiologists have always looked for ways to describe what they see God doing and to share with each other those activities that have been fruitful. In this day of global communication, it is a positive and not a negative development that we can quickly discover and analyze where there is a movement of the Spirit so that we can seek to pattern our ministry after fruitful practices. Looking for healthy patterns is not new, it is a matter of respect for what God has done and is doing through his people. Two historical examples are the prayer meetings that preceded revivals in various parts of the world, and the three “self-“ principles (self-governance, self-support, self-propagation) promoted by Henry Venn and Rufus Anderson as a basis for the establishment of indigenous churches for the American and British Protestant mission in the 19th century.

It is also important to realize that any new methodology is constantly being tested and evaluated for biblical support and appropriateness to the task of seeing the message of the Gospel proclaimed and people being discipled and gathered into Christ-centered communities.  Those who have become seriously involved in DMMs have critiqued the concepts and recognize that this approach is not a “magic bullet” or a “fad” but a process of engaging a culture using proven fruitful practices so that multiplication is encouraged and people are saved.  It is not a “one size fits all” shortcut but an approach that takes both Bible and context seriously so that adaptation of the methodology occurs in each setting in such a way that integrity to the Word is maintained.

  • Critique 4: Lack of Clarity

Stiles thinks that CPM is often “fuzzy” about biblical conversion and what constitutes the gospel.

Summary Answer: I do not know what Stiles is referring to.  Since a major fruitful practice found in DMMs is to study and obey the Bible, people encounter Jesus as Lord and Savior in the Word. (I have a suspicion that Stiles may have a particular theory and formulation of the gospel and salvation that is used as a lens to interpret Scripture. See below on “Over-Contextualization”).

  • Critique 5: Ethnically Homogenous Congregations

Stiles claims that “All churches should desire to be international churches.”

Summary answer: The “person of peace” principle looks for natural networks.

Detail: The concept of culturally homogenous churches actually has a strong and healthy history with respected missiologist Donald McGavran (1954) bringing the reality of family and kinship ties to prominence in his book The Bridges of God.  He recognized that people have distinct ethnic identities and the gospel needs to cross cultural boundaries and become part of the worldview of a people group in order for them to be transformed by the gospel.  God must “speak a person’s language” both literally and metaphorically. That is, the gospel must be seen as relevant for them to accept the message for themselves.  Respecting other cultures prevents an outside culture from acting in a colonizing manner by forcing them into a mold.

An assumption of the DMM strategy is that in order for the gospel to penetrate and transform a people group, it must first be seen as speaking to them within their context.  Their identity must not be compromised or overruled by those with a different cultural identity.  Thus the principle of “person of peace” (POP) has been promoted.  These POPs are the gatekeepers of a network who metaphorically open the door for others to engage God’s word.

Culturally distinct expressions of the gospel and the church are valued and not disparaged with DMMs. These varied expressions are considered to be like facets of a diamond – each providing insights that further the church’s appreciation for and worship of God.  This picture is ultimately fulfilled in Rev 7 where a multitude of nations are before the throne, each praising in their own tongue and manner, reflecting their love for and submission to God.

While it is not wrong to be an “international church,” as Stiles insists, it is only one local expression of the universal church.  It, too, has its limitations and difficulties that are not found in distinct ethnic expressions of church. A more inclusive and (I believe) appropriate approach is to encourage local churches to have an international agenda with respect to other churches and believers in a manner that maintains each congregation’s cultural and ethnic integrity.  That is, they desire to be connected with their brothers and sisters across geographical and ethnic boundaries for fellowship and correction (For further reading, see my article, “Navigating the Multicultural Maze: Setting an Intercultural Agenda for FEBBC/Y churches” in Being Church: Explorations in Christian Community, 2007).

  • Critique 6: Over-Contextualization

Stiles also believes that “Many involved in CPM … cut and paste the gospel, even giving different interpretations to clear biblical texts so that we can fit the gospel to culture, [and so give] up the biblical narrative.”

Summary answer: Stiles has confused syncretism with contextualization.

Detail: Contextualization is inevitable in our preaching and teaching, including the way the gospel message is communicated. The question is: does the message we present resonate with the culture AND maintain biblical integrity?  If the message maintains biblical integrity, but does not resonate, we are in danger of creating dual systems.  That is, we are presenting a foreign system that is added to the systems lived and understood by the insiders because it is not perceived as relevant to who they are. If the message resonates with the context, but does not maintain biblical integrity – i.e., the gospel has been compromised – that is syncretism.  One of the best and well-known examples of good contextualization of the gospel is “Peace Child” (1976) written by Canadian missionary to New Guinea, Don Richardson.  His first presentation of the gospel to the Sawi people was accurate, but did not resonate the way he intended – it was not appropriately contextualized. When he retold the gospel message with Jesus as the “Peace Child,” it resulted in a contextualized presentation of the gospel that maintained integrity with Scripture while resonating with the context. (For another example and further explanation, see my own contextualization journey among Sindhis).

Stiles has confused an appropriate representation of the gospel message that can be understood by the audience with a distortion of the gospel message due to some kind of compromise with cultural values.  The way to deal with the problem of syncretism is not to have one particular presentation of the gospel that is considered universal – this only results in dual systems. It also reveals a mono-cultural blindness that says, “The way I express the gospel is the only true way,” and does not recognize that our own expression is also culturally shaped.  The solution is to use the Bible as the final authority and ensure that people engage all the teachings of the Bible so that their beliefs and practices are challenged by what God has declared and what Jesus has revealed.  There is a reason why the first four books about the life of Jesus the New Testament are called the Gospels. The gospel may be summarized into a short statement, but all such statements are contextualizations designed to fit a particular way of viewing the world and they come with unspoken assumptions. The full message of the gospel is as broad and deep as Jesus himself, who declared that he is “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6).


  • McGavran, DA 1955. The Bridges of God: A Study in the Strategy of Missions. New York: Friendship Press.
  • Naylor, M 2007. “Navigating the Multicultural Maze: Setting an Intercultural Agenda for FEBBC/Y churches” in Being Church: Explorations in Christian Community. Langley BC: Northwest Baptist Seminary.
  • Newbigin, L 1989. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
  • Niebuhr, HR 1951. Christ and Culture. New York: Harper & Row.
  • Richardson, D 1976. Peace Child, Ventura: Regal Books.
  • Sanneh, L 1989. Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture. Maryknoll: Orbis.

109. Defending DMMs

A response to Chad Vegas, A Brief Guide to DMM

Using critique to support, correct and build up ministry

I would like to raise a caution about criticizing those who do ministry in a way that is different than our own. By using our own perspective as the standard, we may wind up opposing what God is doing. Consider Jesus’ response to the Pharisees when they criticized him for healing on the Sabbath. Their theology and traditions were built on God’s law and were the only filters they had for judging Jesus. Their complaint was that Jesus’ approach to ministry was “unbiblical” and an affront to a clear command. I do believe that we should examine and test what is being promoted as good ministry practice; it is right to voice our concerns, as long as we do so with an openness to correction and do not hold too tightly to our “settled convictions,” lest we find ourselves calling what God is doing “unbiblical.” I, too, have been guilty of judging others before understanding their perspective and to remind myself of this tendency, I have on my screensaver a saying (not my own), “Lord, help me forgive those who sin differently than I.”

Through Disciple Making Movements (DMMs), we are witnessing a phenomenon of God at work; thousands of people are coming into the kingdom and communities are being transformed through faith in Jesus. It is a movement of the Spirit of God. Those privileged to see such movements first hand and experience the blessing of God through the fruitful practices of DMM, seek to ground it in God’s Word. They are responding as practitioners who want to be biblically based and so seek to interpret and validate their practices through that lens. However, in general, they are not robust theologians and some of their biblical conclusions may need to be questioned and developed. Their explanation of the connection between the moving of the Spirit and how they interpret such phenomena through the light of God’s word may not be entirely legitimate. This does not disqualify the movement of people to Christ through these methodologies, rather it challenges us to be careful and thorough in expressing how the revelation of God’s actions in the Bible corresponds with the movement we have the privilege of observing.

When the disciples of John came and asked Jesus the question, “Are you the one John said was going to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Luke 7:20), Jesus did not give a biblical argument about his identity but pointed to what God was doing through him. John and his disciples were challenged to shape their theology around Jesus, not fit him into the framework of what they expected the Messiah to be. Similarly, we need to view DMMs as the work of God’s Spirit and view these movements as a challenge to revisit our theological and ministry frameworks, making sure that our theology and ministry practices conform to both what God has said in scripture and what he is doing in this world.

I encourage those inclined towards academic and theological pursuits to recognize God’s hand in what is happening and then come alongside and help practitioners appropriately shape their theology and understanding as it relates to what they are experiencing. The goal is not to find reasons to dismiss or squelch DMMs, but to provide thoughtful responses about how to biblically partner with each other in what God is doing. We need apostle Pauls who can help the rest of us connect the moving of the Spirit we see and experience to the revelation of God’s nature and will in scripture. Let us be true partners of the gospel who act as faithful exegetes and theologians and so come alongside the practitioners in order to generate biblical interpretations in a way that builds up and advances the kingdom. 

Addressing Vegas’ Critiques

That said, I am grateful to Vegas for his critiques in the paper A Brief Guide to DMM. These critiques need to be considered seriously and carefully. He has done the church a favor by raising issues that make us take a step back and consider the biblical legitimacy of the DMM approach to ministry. Ken Guenther has already provided a helpful Response to Radius International’s Criticism of Disciple Making Movements (DMM). Continuing to follow the concerns as set out by Vegas, I will summarize Guenther’s response and then add a few comments of my own. Because Vegas’ and Guenther’s points are only mentioned briefly for reference in a summarized fashion below, I am assuming that the reader will access the original documents in order to read the full arguments in context.

1. DMM as rediscovered biblical discipleship

Critique: Proponents of DMM have “faulty and dangerous understanding of church history” because they think they have “restored the proper biblical understanding of missions methodology that has been lost for nearly 1600 years.”

Early on in his article, Vegas interprets Watson as claiming that he has rediscovered God’s way of doing ministry, a restoration of New Testament methods and practices that have been lost to the church, and a corrective to the mistaken methodologies he had been taught in the traditional church. This is unfair to Watson. What Watson realized was that a key principle of obedience was missing in what he was doing. This is not something that the church has forgotten or not known for 1600 years. However, in his ministry Watson realized that it had been neglected. He realized that there was a difference between being a disciple of Jesus and being a disciple of his denomination, of obeying Jesus’ commands as opposed to denominational doctrines. This is not intended to be understood as a unique discovery unknown to the church, but Watson’s own discovery for his ministry.

Also, it should be noted that this act of “discovery” is something that has occurred over and over again in church history, and it will continue to happen. Perhaps it is necessary for missionaries to continue to “rediscover” obedience in order to make sure that they are focused on what is truly biblical. It is not that DMM proponents have been the only ones to discover what Jesus intended missions to be. Rather they have come to realize a key principle that has always been there for those following Jesus in his mission and that has been “discovered” by missionaries through the ages.

2. Obedience-based Discipleship

a. Critique: obedience-based discipleship does not follow the biblical pattern

Vegas sees as biblical a strict progression of “faith and repentance, followed by baptism and teaching towards maturity in Christ.” His conclusion is that encouraging “unbelievers” towards obedience before faith is “unbiblical.”

Guenther proposes that there are “multiple examples” of Jesus calling people to obedience who are not “believers in Him as Lord and Saviour” and gives several references.

My comments:

It appears that Vegas defines “biblical” as instructions or patterns that are described in God’s Word, and “unbiblical” as any initiative that does not have a clear precedent in the Bible. However, in common language usage “unbiblical” not only means “not in the Bible,” but also implies “opposed to biblical teaching” and therefore wrong. Thus Vegas seems to be arguing that if a practice is not explicitly outlined in scripture, it is “unbiblical” and therefore wrong. Granted, what Vegas is responding to is a similar perspective from DMM proponents, such as Trousdale, who provide a disapproving description of the practices of the “church today” in contrast to “the model of disciple making that Jesus gave us.”[1] Such a categorization of the church today, which in reality is diverse in form and practice, is a caricature that misrepresents many good initiatives.

What is unfortunate about both Vegas’ and Trousdale’s positions as they dismiss practices different from their own, is that they base their argument on perceived ministry patterns described in the Bible, while arguing that the other ministry pattern lacks biblical support. Universalizing NT patterns of ministry reveals a hermeneutic that views the Bible as a missions or ministry manual that needs to be implemented as is without reference to contextual concerns. A more appropriate understanding is that the issue is not if a particular impacting methodology is described in the Bible, but whether or not it is consistent with the gospel message and the purposes of Jesus as he builds his church – does this contextualized methodology advance the gospel or not?

The theological basis for DMM methodology is addressed by Vegas and examined under the next point. It is a more important critique than identifying patterns because DMM, as with any ministry effort, needs to be aligned with the purposes of God and the gospel message.

b. Critique: obedience-based discipleship is not “consonant with a biblical gospel”

Vegas makes the serious charge that DMM proponents have misunderstood “faith” and as a result are promoting a “false gospel.” He claims that to be “obedience-based” as promoted in the DMM methodology is to move away from a “gospel-based or grace-based” discipleship. If correct, this could invalidate DMM movements as heretical, rather than acknowledging them as a movement of the Spirit advancing the kingdom. 

Guenther points out that the Watsons’ comment that “Faith is defined as the continuous act of choosing to be obedient to God’s Word”[2] is not intended to equate faith with obedience as if the word “faith” is synonymous with “obedience.” Rather, obedience is a description of how faith is expressed; it is faith “acted out.”[3] He asserts that DMM practitioners “believe it is essential to establish the clear understanding (the DNA) that obedience, not just knowledge, is the appropriate response to the Word of God.”

My comments:

Both Vegas and Guenther believe that obedience is necessary for all who follow Jesus. However, the pragmatic concern of DMM proponents is to establish that “DNA” from the first time the gospel message is communicated. The first recorded gospel invitation is a call to obedience – “Follow Me” (Mark 1:17) – and DMM proponents see such obedience as the needed orientation of a faith commitment, in contrast to mere faith acknowledgement that seeks understanding instead of responding in submission. This difference is reflected in one of Fellowship International’s beliefs that “What you win them with is what you win them to.” The way people come to Christ will be reflected in how they live “in Christ.” When people come to Jesus by learning obedience through studying God’s Word, that orientation continues as the way to grow in Christ after they have become committed followers. Vegas, on the other hand, believes that this practice reveals a “deeply problematic understanding of the gospel, conversion, and the work of the Holy Spirit.”

The essence of Vegas’ argument is that if obedience is an essential part of faith, then, contrary to reform doctrine, human works – the act of obedience – has become part of justification, rather than all the work of Christ. Love and obedience cannot be part of saving faith, but only the “fruit” of faith.

Vegas has confused the distinction between works that earn our salvation and the human response required to receive salvation. The former is the heresy that the reformers fought against, the latter is what we are called to: repentance and commitment to Jesus. Repentance, turning from darkness to light, was the first act Jesus commanded when he began to preach the gospel message (Matthew 4:17). Jesus’ invitation to his disciples to “follow me” required an act of obedience that, after time, led to a commitment to Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

Vegas has made a categorical error by equating “obedience” with “good works.” Good works means “I have earned a reward because of what I have done. I deserve salvation.”  Obedience as a response to the Master is not an action that “earns” a reward, but an act of submission, trusting Jesus to be that salvation. Dallas Willard articulates this point well, “Grace is not opposed to effort. It is opposed to earning. Effort is action. Earning is attitude…. That grace is, of course, ‘unmerited favor.’ But the form it takes is the action of God in our lives and with our actions. If we wish to know more of this and see the deliverance it works in and around us, we must do the things that will bring it to pass.”[4]

Faith, whether saving faith or an ongoing life of faith, includes both knowledge and action. Saving faith as an action on our part “saves us” in the same way that the action of people crying out to Jesus saved them. As Jesus said to the woman who had been living a life of sin, “your faith has saved you” (Luke 7:50).  This does not mean that we can save ourselves or that what we do merits salvation; it means that our response to the Saviour has saved us. We must accept and trust in order to be saved and this is expressed by “following” when Jesus says, “Follow me.”  These are not “good works.” As an analogy, consider the act of a drowning man grabbing a life line. In one sense grabbing hold of the line “saves” the man, one could even suggest that he “saved” himself by accepting the offer, in the same sense that the woman’s faith in Luke 7 “saved” her. But the greater salvation is accomplished by the one who did the saving by throwing out the lifeline.

Faith expressed as obedience is also true in an ongoing sense of sanctification, which is also by faith alone. To be delivered from sin is not a passive experience, but an ongoing action and commitment on the part of the one who is saved. Even as we are saved from sin and walk in the light, we recognize that “all is gift” and it is the light that saves us, not our cleverness or our strength or our wisdom. The word “obedience” is a word of submission, a giving over of all to God. We are like children who must come to our parents in order to take a bath and be made clean. Our “coming” is the obedience that cleanses us. But the obedience is not a “good work” of cleaning ourselves as if, instead of coming to our parents and the bath water, we somehow clean ourselves up first.

3. Person of Peace (POP)

Vegas argues that the description of the POP as well as its key place in the strategy of DMMs does not have a solid biblical foundation. He argues that (1) a POP as described in the Gospels is actually a believer, not a spiritually interested and hospitable unbeliever, and (2) the biblical pattern is that the gospel is preached by the missionary to which the listener responds in belief. I.e. faith does not come by means of a Bible study in which unbelievers engage God’s word.

In response to Vegas, Guenther suggests that (1) the key attribute for the person of peace in Luke 10 was that they were receptive to the message, not that they were committed to Jesus, and (2) the fact that the New Testament was not written down makes Vegas’ argument against the method anachronistic. He further suggests that the POP should be viewed as one methodology that recognizes those who are “receptive to the Gospel and who can open the door to larger groups and families studying the Bible.”

My comments:

Vegas is correct that DMM proponents have not been careful in how they have used the Bible to support the DMM concept of POP. I suspect that the use of the phrase “person of peace” came after practitioners discovered the importance and impact of identifying and cultivating relationships with the gatekeepers of a community. Because Evangelicals value a biblical foundation, it was important to show biblical support for this methodology, and the concept of POP resonated. This approach in ministry has been effective and has led to further development of the concept, in some cases, resulting in an overstatement of the biblical claims for the POP. DMM proponents may not be happy with this analysis, but no methodology is precisely the methodology we see in the Bible, all are contextualized and shaped according to the needs and perspectives of the particular setting in which they are used. Such contextualization is not only appropriate, but necessary.

Nonetheless, as Guenther notes, the key attribute of the Luke 10 description of a person who is receptive and hospitable, is a principle that fits both the biblical POP profile and the DMM methodology. The openness of Lydia and Cornelius to hear the message also resonates with this general description of receptivity. I suggest that the narrowness and harshness of Vegas’ conclusion declaring POP biblically invalid is unwarranted because it misses this broader principle of receptivity. This might be due to some excessive, perhaps even exclusive claims he has encountered in DMM writings. However, rather than completely dismissing the DMM methodology, it would be better to provide a biblical corrective that supports and validates the appropriateness of looking for those who are receptive, as Guenther suggests.

The validity of holding discovery Bible studies (DBS) with unbelievers will be looked at in the next section.

4. Discovery Bible Studies

a. Critique: DMM undermines the role of the teacher

Vegas questions the DMM claim that the Bible is sufficient for unbelievers to interpret, obey and evangelize “without the instruction of a Christian minister who has been sent in the power of the Holy Spirit to preach the gospel and teach the Word.”

Guenther makes four points in response:

  1. It is anachronistic to demand biblical examples of DBS in a 1st century setting,
  2. The epistles sent to churches are examples of the expectation that people can read and obey scripture without a teacher,
  3. Even though the practice of “facilitation” is emphasized, DBS is also an effective teaching methodology, and
  4. Claiming that the Bible cannot be understood without a teacher contradicts the “Protestant affirmation of the perspicuity of the Scriptures” and demands a human mediation to connect people to God. In contrast, 1 Tim 2:5 declares that there is “one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus” (NLT).

My comments:

Vegas again seems to be reacting against an extreme view that DBS is the only valid methodology and that human teachers, beyond the Bible and the Holy Spirit, are unnecessary. However, even though DMM proponents are convinced that a discovery approach is the most effective tool for disciple making (which is why it is emphasized), Vegas’ understanding that the DMM emphasis invalidates other teaching methods is incorrect. There are three primary dialogical dynamics in any disciple making process: the relationship between the individual and the Bible, the individual and others, and the individual and their context. In DMM, the first dynamic is foundational to establish God’s authority through scripture, and the last is essential to encourage faith lived out in obedience. The second dynamic is the DBS practice of studying the Bible in a group setting. DMM proponents do not want these important dynamics undermined by relying on human teachers rather than the Holy Spirit and scripture. Prioritizing the DMM process does not require a denial or rejection other methodologies, any more than approval of the methodologies advocated by Vegas requires the disapproval of the DMM process.   

Nonetheless, there is a sense in which DBS seeks to correct an abuse by teachers who have (even inadvertently) turned people away from trusting God’s Word to trusting in their interpretation of God’s Word. DBS may even be seen as a correction of the idea that the Bible can only be understood by the elite: those who have access to the original languages and are well versed in the whole Bible. The average believer is intimidated by such knowledge and many do not believe they can understand God’s Word without the filter or mediation of someone with special knowledge; they prefer to listen to someone expound God’s Word rather than reading it for themselves. In that case, DBS is important foundational training of the perspicuity of scripture, reinforcing the conviction that people can discover God’s truth for themselves. The DBS process helps missionaries avoid being teachers who, either overtly or inadvertently, say, “Think and believe as I do.” Instead they orient seekers to look at what God says, discover with others who God is and what God wants, and then consider how that is to be lived out. DBS moves the disciple towards an orientation similar to the Bereans who searched the scriptures to see what God has truly said (Acts 17:11).

b. Critique: DBS is harmful as an evangelistic tool

Vegas also claims that DBS as an evangelistic method is wrong and harmful. He believes that the biblical directive is that while converted disciples can interpret scripture, obey scripture, and evangelize others, “unbelievers” cannot be corrected or guided by scripture and the Holy Spirit, they need to be preached to.

There are two theological understandings in conflict. The traditional view is that people are evangelized to conversion, at which point they are baptized, become disciples and begin to grow in faith and obedience. Vegas accentuates this distinction by using the terms “believers” and “unbelievers.” The DMM orientation is that discipleship, faith and obedience begin well before conversion and continue in a similar fashion after conversion. The former orientation comes from Reform theology which makes a strong distinction between the saved and the unsaved (The historical Protestant reaction against the Catholic church is at the heart of this concern, but beyond the scope of this discussion).

Is the strong distinction advocated by Vegas biblically required? Are there only these two categories or can we entertain the idea that people can live somewhere between being an “unbeliever” who denies Jesus and is in rebellion against God and a “believer” totally committed to saving faith? Perhaps someone in transition could be designated as a “seeker.” This could correspond to the biblical example of those who “would see Jesus” (John 12:21), people who “fear God” like Cornelius (Acts 10:1), or those who have not received the Holy Spirit and “only received the baptism of John” (Eph 19:2-4). Can a seeker obey Jesus? The term “unbeliever” implies rebellion, denial and disobedience, but it seems there is room for a time of transition and turning towards the light when a person is attracted to Jesus but is not yet a committed believer. Perhaps the three-year journey of the disciples towards faith in Jesus, and Jesus’ perspective that the unbelieving crowds are “sheep” needing a shepherd (Mark 6:34)  rather than wolves needing to be opposed, would indicate a nuanced description of a faith journey rather than the black and white dichotomy of “believers” who can be disciples and “unbelievers” who are rebellious and unable to obey.

Vegas’ view is a bounded faith, DMM is a centered faith. With the former, people are either “in” (believers) or “out” (unbelievers). The apostle Paul is a good example of this strict distinction. One day he is fighting Jesus by persecuting Jesus’ followers, the next he is a committed follower (Acts 9:18). The metaphor of being dead in sin and then resurrected to new life in Christ (Col 2:13) fits well with this concept of an immediate change from spiritual death to spiritual life, from rebellion to full commitment. 

DMM accepts a centered view of a person’s spiritual journey. Whether committed followers of Jesus or not, the important issue is whether people are moving towards Jesus or away from him. This view does not deny the significance of baptism and the covenantal commitment of submitting fully to Jesus, but views conversion as a critical transition point within the context of a spiritual journey. From this perspective, rebellion and commitment, and metaphors using the stark contrast between death and new life, are read as end results of our orientation towards Jesus.

As an analogy for centered thinking, consider two people falling in love. It is a long journey, but a willing one. The couple are interested in each other and realize they are in love. They know they are moving towards marriage and they get engaged. Finally, they celebrate their wedding by entering into a covenant. Their marriage is the fruit of their previous journey and the beginning of another journey lived together. Although they had been pursuing a relationship for some time, their marriage commitment raises their relationship to a significant new level.

DMM proponents see DBS like a courtship process in which people grow to love, trust and obey Jesus. They continue to move towards commitment until their relationship is permanently established through a covenant, symbolized by baptism. As an example of “What you win them with is what you win them to,” they are won through a developing relationship of obedience to Jesus, which is strengthened and deepened at the point of commitment.

c. Critique: Unbelievers cannot evangelize

Vegas claims that it is unbiblical for unbelievers to be involved in the work of evangelism.

For DMM proponents “evangelism” refers to the witness of DBS participants (whether or not they are committed believers) to what they have learned about Jesus. Like the woman at the well, such sharing is encouraged. In communally oriented cultures, a journey together, inviting friends and family, should be encouraged otherwise the spread of the gospel will be hampered. Once a person becomes a committed follower of Jesus they become personal witnesses to the saving power of Jesus. Encouraging seekers to share what they are learning and gaining as they engage God’s word prepares them to be a light for others throughout their lives.


Rather than seeing DMM “crumble under even minimal biblical scrutiny,” I suggest that Vegas has employed faulty arguments in seeking to undermine this work of God, and I encourage those engaged in DMM ministry to press forward in confidence that those who study the Word of God in order to obey it will not be disappointed and that the Holy Spirit will continue to open people’s eyes to the truth and move them to obedience. Despite this difference in opinion and exegesis, I encourage Vegas and Radius in their work of preparing people for the work of the ministry. Together with them I also affirm: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever! Amen” (Rev 5:13).

[1] Trousdale, Jerry. Miraculous Movements: How Hundreds of Thousands of Muslims Are Falling in Love with Jesus (Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition), 101.

[2] Watson, David; Watson, Paul. Contagious Disciple Making: Leading Others on a Journey of Discovery (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 37.

[3] Ibid, p. 49.

[4] https://dwillard.org/articles/live-life-to-the-full.

105. Is God more inclined to answer when more people pray?

At the Fellowship National Convention 2018 in Richmond BC, Paul Watson provided an intriguing story about research done on the disciple making movement (DMM) occurring among the Bhojpuri people during 1990-2010.  The one fruitful practice identified from the research common to those who planted the largest number of groups (80+ each) was that they each spent about 4 hours in prayer a day, getting up at 4 am.

As an application of this, Watson encourages anyone attempting to initiate a DMM to raise up 1000 prayer warriors to stand with them.

This brought to mind a question that was raised in an Immerse instructional seminar: “Is God more inclined to answer prayer if 10,000 pray than if 3 or 4 pray?” That is, do numbers make a difference?

I also reflected on Jesus’ words about the amount of prayer in Mt 6: “7 … do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

My reflections highlight the need for an appropriate theology concerning prayer so that we fully commit to a belief in and a practice of prayer so that DMMs will occur. Prayer is tied to the work of the Spirit in creating DMMs, but how? It would be a mistake, or even more forcefully, idolatry and heresy to think that what moves God is the number of people who pray, or the length of our prayers, as if there is an algorithm we are running that moves God to action. I suggest that it is not our prayers or even our passion that moves God, as if he checks to see how serious we are before he answers. Such a formulaic view reduces prayer to a cause and effect, as if it is our prayers that are required for God to act.

Rather, I wonder if prayer, true prayer, is best understood to be in and of itself an act of the Spirit.  It is not that when we pray, then God acts, but rather the reality is that our prayers are how God’s Spirit acts. We do not pray so that God will fulfill his mission, rather our prayers are birthed from God’s desire to fulfill his mission through us. That is, when we pray, it should not be viewed as our initiative, but as God’s Spirit moving us towards his mission. God does not act after we pray, rather when we are praying that is already the initiating act of the Spirit within us.

Perhaps this is the connection between prayer and Pentecost.  Jesus did not say, “Go to Jerusalem and pray so that the Spirit will come.”  Rather he said, “You will receive power when the Spirit comes upon you.”  And so they returned and every day joined in a spiritual practice of prayer (“They all joined together constantly in prayer” 1.14).  This was the Spirit of God at work, and how God does his greatest work – through prayer.

So when 2 or 3 are gathered together in prayer, God’s Spirit is at work. But when 10,000 are praying, that is an even greater work of the Spirit (cf. Jn 14.12-14).  From our side we may say, “God is moving!” However, from God’s side he was already moving with the 2 or 3; with the 10,000 now there are many more aligned with his unstoppable Spirit. When we spend a half hour in prayer, God’s Spirit is awakening us and drawing us into the Father’s presence; when we spend four hours in prayer, we have the privilege of being even more saturated with the presence of God.  This, I believe, is why Paul says, “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5.17), because that is how the Spirit lives in us, and how we live in the Spirit.

My takeaway from these reflections is to cultivate a hunger for prayer in myself and others. I will not pray more and get others to pray so that God will work.  Rather, a development of hunger for prayer and time spent in prayer, as well as urging others to pray, is an act of submitting to God’s call to join him in mission. God is on mission and through prayer we join him in his mission. When the Spirit moves us to prayer then there will be the fire of transformation, because prayer is where the Spirit lives. Without that prayer, we will be all alone in Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones trying to assemble skeletons with wire and crazy glue.