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
- Summarize three key issues found in public critiques of POPs.
- Affirm those critiques that are consistent with Fellowship International’s theology.
- Provide a summary explanation of how Fellowship International’s use of POP is theologically consistent and appropriate.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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. 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.
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.
 See further in Farrah’s (2021, loc 644-663) article on Movements Today for historical and sociological connections between POP and movements.
 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
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,